“That’s the No. 1 ingredient to a kid group,” says Keisha Gamble, the brainchild behind Mindless Behavior who serves as its manager. “The young girls, they want to put the pictures on their wall. They want to carry the backpacks. They want the albums with their favorite members on the cover. They want to hold all that stuff, the physical, tangible product.
Digital music — which they often get for free from sites like Limewire — means very little to their most devoted fans, she says.
“And that’s why we have to get as much of the tangible items to the marketplace as we possibly can. That’s the formula and that’s what’s happened. Eighty-five percent of our fans are urban, and they don’t always have iPhones and things like that. That’s why when we do appearances the lines are around the corner.”
Princes of social media
Despite perhaps hundreds of thousands of Mindless Behavior fans’ lack of access to smartphones, the implications of the group’s social media impact have everything to do with success in the group’s past, present and future.
On Instagram, Mindless Behavior has 150,000 fans. The group boasts 1.5 million fans on Facebook, and tweets to nearly 900,000 followers on Twitter. Through these platforms, Team Mindless informs fans that pre-orders for All Around the World receive a signed CD booklet and a thank you card from the group. MTV and Team Mindless launched a live show on the network’s USTREAM channel in February. Participants used the hashtag #askMB as band members took questions from fans in real time. It eventually became the No. 1 Twitter trending topic.
But they’re careful not to alienate fans, inundating them with, for instance, the latest discounted merchandise offer.
“They know when it’s the guys tweeting and someone on our team,” Campbell says.
“Our challenge is, How do we protect the authenticity of these kids’ voices? Because the fans don’t want to talk to management and promotions about the album and [merchandise]. They want to know what they’re doing, where they are and what they’re wearing. So how do we keep their authentic content at the forefront but at the same time sprinkle in the right amount of promotional content that we need to get out there as well?
“That’s our balancing act.”
The landscape for brands involvement in social media had already undergone drastic changes in 2008 when casting for Mindless Behavior began.
“After First Crush, the first song they ever recorded, the response would always be overwhelming,” Gamble says. “It was almost as it they had never saw the [boy band] concept before. And I think the official stamp came from Clive Davis. He said, “I haven’t seen this level of excellence in a kid group since the Jackson 5. That was in 2010 — this was before they had a deal.”
A worldwide phenomenon for the digital age
The question surrounding whether the members of boy bands are conscious of what’s going to happen to them businesswise is usually one that gets answered far beyond the fleeting shelf life of their relevance. For Mindless Behavior, the question is answerable because of their personal interests and talents. For instance, Ray Ray, their handlers say is a fantastic artist; Prodigy has shown proficiency in music production and writing; Princeton envisions an acting career.
“It’s a case-by-case basis,” when it comes to determining business acumen of the members of boy bands, says Maura Johnston, a writer and professor at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, who wrote an opinion piece on the enduring appeal of boy bands for the New York Times last year. “They probably have some awareness, but a lot of it depends on who manages them and if they have involved parents. But I think they’d be savvy in that way, because they toured with the Backstreet Boys. So at least they’ve seen what happens to them later in life.”
They also have the experience of their first promotional push, a narrative recounted in the movie to be released Friday.
“The first time the guys were just being introduced to the world. Now they’re more established. The first experience was great, and we did great numbers but I don’t think we were as prepared. We under-shipped the record. Several outlets like Target, Best Buy — people were going to the stores and they couldn’t find it.”
For now, as much as Gamble and others push them to be successful, they also want them to enjoy the ride.
“As they get older they’ll do more from a business perspective,” she says. “Certain things should be kept from the artists because it tends to stifle creativity. But we’ve been letting them make more decisions lately. For where they are, we thought that was appropriate.”
“And now, they definitely always want to be kept abreast of what’s going on.”