New Kids on the Block released a video for their new song “Bring Back the Time” last week that’s perhaps the most potent expression of nostalgia we’ve ever seen. It’s the past in its purest, most uncut form, like it was created in Walter White’s secret basement laboratory and injected directly into the veins of their fans.
The video, which doubles as a commercial for the group’s upcoming Mixtape Tour, features Rick Astley, Salt-N-Pepa, and En Vogue (who are all on the tour) re-creating classic Eighties videos like Journey’s “Separate Ways,” Devo’s “Whip It,” Duran Duran’s “Rio,” and Billy Idol’s “Flesh for Fantasy” down to the tiniest details.
The lyrics are, of course, all about the endless joys of being young. “The heart never changes,” the New Kids sing. “And inside we’re still the same kids/We were back in ’89/So bring back the time/You know we still got the magic/There’s nothing that can take away this/Feeling that we have tonight.”
Salt-N-Pepa kick in midway with a rap: “Back in the days we was young/We had a ball/Bikinis small/Heels tall/Hangin’ all day at the beach and the mall.”
The clip is more nakedly nostalgic than Don McLean’s “American Pie,” American Graffiti, Grease, American Reunion, The Big Chill, or even the 2018 Weezer tour where they started the show by re-creating the “Buddy Holly” video. (And that was a redo of a 1994 video that remade a 1974 TV series about teen life in 1955.)
To some viewers, the New Kids video might come off like pandering, but we find it oddly refreshing. A lot of heritage acts pretend that they’re selling something other than the past when they tour. They’ll release a new album and claim that’s their reason for going on the road, but they’ll perform, at best, one or two songs from it. The New Kids played that game themselves in 2008 when they first reunited and pretended it was all about their new LP The Block.
But they haven’t released a new album since 2013’s 10 and their tours since then have become unabashedly nostalgic affairs. They hit the road every two or three years and always bring other oldies acts along with them. They started with the Backstreet Boys in 2011 and have since featured 98 Degrees, Boyz II Men, TLC, Nelly, Paula Abdul, Naughty by Nature, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, and Salt-N-Pepa. (They almost landed Wilson Phillips this year, but Chynna Phillips didn’t feel like committing to three straight months on the road.)
The New Kids put a fresh spin on the concept in 2019 when they stopped giving the other artists traditional opening-act sets. Instead, they brought them out at random times throughout their set to play their biggest hits, and then quickly cede the stage back to the New Kids. It was basically a mixtape come to life, and an acknowledgment that most people don’t want to hear anything from Tiffany other “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “All This Time,” and “Could’ve Been.”
It’s very hard to look in the mirror and realize that the most valuable thing you have to offer the world is memories of the past. But New Kids on the Block understand this on a gut level. Their fans yearn to return to the world of 1989 when they were young, free of responsibilities, and able to imagine a future of infinite possibilities. It wasn’t a life of mortgages, credit-card debt, back pain, medical bills, and ungrateful kids demanding dinner. It was a life where the only thing that mattered was that poster of Donnie Wahlberg on your wall and waiting for the New Kids’ tour to come to town.
As with many boy bands, the New Kids’ heyday was brief. They may have formed in 1984 and split in 1994, but they were only superstars from 1988 to 1991. That’s a very narrow window of time, but millions of people were teenagers then. The group has been able to package memories from that time and sell them back to those people for the past 13 years.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Fabian has been selling memories of 1959 to his fans for the past 63 years. That means we could be seeing New Kids tours for another 30 years. It might be hard to picture Donnie, Joey, Danny, Jonathan, and Jordan singing “Hangin’ Tough,” “Please Don’t Go Girl,” and “Cover Girl” when they hit 80. But as long as they can still stand, it’s going to happen. After all, as they say in the song, inside we’re all the same kids we were back in ’89.