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One of the biggest teen dreams of his era, Jordan Knight achieved global superstardom as a member of one of the most lucrative and popular teen idol acts ever, New Kids on the Block. The boy band raked in hundreds of millions of dollars by selling out arenas, moving oceans of merchandise, and scoring a string of smashes that included the chart toppers "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)," "Hangin' Tough" and "Step by Step" as well as additional hits like "Please Don't Go Girl" and "You Got It (The Right Stuff)." Thoroughly dominating their pop cultural era, NKOTB mania defined the childhoods of countless young girls, but by the mid-1990s, their moment was over, due in part to an ever-growing backlash. Knight, known as the band's vocally talented heartthrob, had co-written a 1990 No. 1 for Tommy Page, "I'll Be Your Everything," and launched a solo career with his 1999 self-titled debut, which included the sexy Top Ten hit "Give it to You." Although his solo career never completely crystallized, Knight remained active in music on his own as well as with his bandmates, who reunited for multiple projects, including a stint with Backstreet Boys known as NKOTBSB and a 2013 tour with 98 Degrees and Boyz II Men known as The Package. Although the overwhelming, juggernaut shadow of New Kids on the Block proved impossible to escape, Jordan Knight remained a beloved icon to fans around the world, both new and old.
Born May 17, 1970 in Worcester, MA, Jordan Nathaniel Marcel Knight was the youngest child of six, which also included his older brother, Jonathan. Blessed with an exceptional singing voice and a natural affinity for music, the 14-year-old Knight would find an opportunity to put his talents to use when his former elementary school classmate Donnie Wahlberg tapped him to join a new singing group, Nyuk. The burgeoning group came with an impressive pedigree; it was created by Maurice Starr, who had formed the immensely successful boy band New Edition. After losing New Edition in a contract dispute, Starr set out to form a white version, recruiting rapper-singer Donnie Wahlberg, who in turn brought on his younger brother, Mark Wahlberg, Jamie Kelly, Danny Wood and Knight, who in turn brought in older brother Jonathan. After Mark Wahlberg and Jamie Kelly dropped out due to the punishing rehearsal schedule instigated by Starr, they were replaced by 12-year-old Joey McIntyre, whose entrance into the band proved rocky at first, since he was considerably younger than the others and they resented him for replacing their friends.
Displaying an impressive potential, Nyuk landed a recording contract under one condition: their name was changed to New Kids on the Block, after a rap Wahlberg wrote. Although their 1986 debut album, New Kids on the Block sold poorly, it gave the members the opportunity to begin cutting their professional teeth on the local touring circuit. From the beginning, Starr had an iron grip on the band's direction, writing and producing the majority of their songs and controlling their image, but in the wake of their fizzled debut, members Wahlberg, Wood and Knight pushed for more creative control. Steering away from straightforward bubblegum pop, 1988's Hangin' Tough featured a harder, R&B-flavored sound and proved to be their breakthrough to global teen pop superstardom. Buoyed by the Top Ten ballad "Please Don't Go Girl," Hangin' Tough went multiplatinum and spun off the No. 3 hit "You Got It (The Right Stuff)," the No. 2 hit "Cover Girl," and a pair of No. 1 hits, "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)" and "Hangin' Tough."
All the stars aligned perfectly for the group, who ignited a white-hot furor among young girls that was reminiscent of Beatlemania and was so intense that it turned their debut album into a multiplatinum success, the band into a cottage industry, and the New Kids themselves into something akin to gods for a certain fanbase, even earning their own Saturday morning cartoon series. Although each member appealed to a different "type," Jordan Knight was considered by many to be the most attractive and talented, and fans saw him as the first among equals. The worldwide pop cultural dominance found NKOTB gracing a staggering amount of tie-in merchandise that helped rake in hundreds of millions and to further spread the screamingly devout army of "Kidiacs" or "Blockheads." As with any act who achieved such massive success, especially those appealing to younger audiences, New Kids on the Block endured a particularly scathing backlash by critics and others who disparaged their packaged nature, their youthful naiveté and their perceived artistic and personal inadequacies.
Another point of contention for many was the perceived cultural appropriation of the white New Kids performing "black" music for a mostly white audience, and despite their obvious performing ability, the group members were frequently dismissed as talentless hacks or simply serving as puppets for Starr, who had himself been an aspiring singer in his youth. Helping to dismiss these charges was the behind-the-scenes artistic growth of several of the members, especially Knight and Wood, who possessed the ability to play keyboards. Although Starr was reluctant to allow the New Kids to write their own songs without his input, he missed a major opportunity when Knight and Wood joined forces with aspiring singer Tommy Page to pen the song "I'll Be Your Everything," which Page took to No. 1 in 1990. Nevertheless, the New Kids machine chugged along, turning out the 1989 holiday album Merry, Merry Christmas, which featured the hit charity single "This One's for the Children."
The band's next studio album, 1990's Step by Step, proved a turning point for the New Kids, who showcased more of their songwriting and producing chops, but scored the biggest hit of their careers as well as one of the most popular of the decade with the title track, which hit No. 1 around the world. Although the album only yielded one more Top Ten hit, the No. 7 "Tonight," the album marked the moment where the already supermassive star of the New Kids flashed supernova, with merchandising revenues topping hundreds of millions or more in the early 1990s. In 1991, Wood and Wahlberg displayed impressive creative and business acumen when they helped former New Kid Mark Wahlberg launch his own act, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, who managed to score their own No. 1, "Good Vibrations." As the band hit the peak of its tidal wave, however, they faced the inevitable decline, sparked by a lawsuit alleging the band lip-synched their vocals, which was eventually dropped, although they admitted to using a backing track during some live performances.
Perhaps most damning for the band's success, however, was the fickleness of younger audiences who found "outgrowing" their childhood idols was a necessary part of adolescence, and the impossibility of sustaining a globe-sweeping mania. Tastes and times changed, and the world in which the band released 1994's mostly self-written and self-produced Face the Music was a very different place than that of their debut. Dropping Maurice Starr and their band name in an attempt to start anew, New Kids shortened their name to NKOTB, but neither their new name or sound caught on, and the band broke up shortly thereafter to go their separate ways. After some time away from the spotlight, Knight reappeared on the musical scene sporting a sleeker, more adult sound and image with his 1999 self-titled debut. Although the catchy, sexy lead single "Give it to You" went Top Ten around the world and seemed to augur a new era in Knight's career, he was unable to sustain the momentum and faded from view, eclipsed by the then up-and-coming Ricky Martin.
After releasing 2004's regrettable Jordan Knight Performs New Kids on the Block: The Remix Album, Knight seemed to stop chasing pop superstardom and reinvented himself again, this time as an adult contemporary singer. The Fix (2005) and Love Songs (2006) proved modest successes, with Knight's duet with fellow teen pop veteran Deborah Gibson, "Say Goodbye," becoming a minor hit off the latter album. Although several failed attempts to reunited the New Kids had occurred, the bandmates finally joined forces once again for 2008's The Block, which earned them a hit, "Summertime," and kicked off the second chapter of their career, in which the warmth of nostalgic fans replaced the bitterness of their haters. Settling into a comfortable, lower-wattage stardom, the New Kids continued to perform around the world and made headlines when they joined forces to tour with their spiritual descendants, the Backstreet Boys, as the supergroup NKOTBSB. Each member also continued to work on solo projects, and Knight released 2011's Unfinished, which was a moderate success. As with many of his contemporaries, Knight found a latter-career outlet on reality TV, with appearances on such projects as "American Juniors" (Fox, 2003), "The Surreal Life" (The WB, 2003-04; VH1, 2004-06) and "Cover Me Canada" (CBS, 2011- ), as well as high-profile talk show appearances, including "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (syndicated, 1986-2011). Knight and the New Kids made global headlines in January 2013, however, when they announced a tour billed as The Package, which promised to feature the ultimate boy band concert: New Kids on the Block, 90 Degrees and Boyz II Men.
By Jonathan Riggs
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