Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 #23 Boy Wonderz AKA This Is the Disk-O-Boyz
Welcome to the latest entry in Control Nathan Rabin 4.0. It’s the column where I give you, the Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place patron, an opportunity to choose a motion picture I must watch and then write about in exchange for a one time, one hundred dollar pledge to the site’s Patreon account.
When I launched the feature a few months back my hope was that patrons who chose this column would act as makeshift, uncompensated scouts who would unearth the kind of exquisitely terrible, wonderfully misguided pop culture detritus I was put on earth to write about. I was hoping that readers would bring to my attention bizarre camp obscurities I might never even know about were it not for this column, let alone experience and share with the world.
I’m pleased to report that the latest nominee for the series, the low-budget, direct-to-video 1999 boy band drama Boy Wonderz is just such a secret treasure. I vaguely remember seeing the DVD box around the time of its home-video burial and being struck that a movie with no stars could receive even a modest DVD release.
With Boy Wonderz, the attraction is most assuredly not the sorry assortments of no-hopers, nobodies and no-talents in the cast or behind the camera but rather the subject matter. True, by 1999 the boy band wave had peaked. But for much of the 1990s, a wave of Lou Perlman-engineered groups hit the pop charts and made a fortune for their fat-fingered Svengalis performing glossy pop music for screaming tween and teenaged girls.
It was a gold rush and the cost of entry seemed alluringly, seductively low. All you needed to cash in, it seemed, was a handful of cute, non-threatening young men, some basic choreography and some catchy, disposable pop tunes, the kind that don’t require great voices or technical chops and can be manufactured in a studio by super-producers and teams of European songwriters.
Yes, making a hit boy band sure seems easy. It’s not. Oh sweet blessed Lord is it not. That’s something I have learned from my extensive study of the life and crimes of disgraced boy band Svengali and fraudulent blimp proprietor Lou Pearlman. Assembling a top-notch boy band requires a delicate and powerful alchemy that’s surprisingly rare and tricky.
Boy Wonderz unintentionally illustrates just how difficult it is to make magic happen, in real life or in a fictional cinematic context, simply by throwing together five good looking white dudes and then teaching them some easy dance moves (the kind taught in the film by a choreographer occasionally clad in tutu) and basic songs. Of course it does not help that in Boy Wonderz the boy band is somewhat confusing not called The Boy Wonderz but rather the Disk-O-Boyz.
Then again, I just discovered that the alternate title for Boy Wonderz is This Is the Disk-O-Boyz so now I don’t know what to believe! What is Boy wonder, if not the name of this verkakte motion picture? Well, as the Boyz themselves tell a talk show host in the media hub that is Peoria, Illinois, “Boy wonder is the bond that boys have between each other.”
That’s not the only homemade slang these pouty homemade linguists have concocted. If they think something is really “groovy”, if it really “swings”, if it’s absolutely “fab” then the Disk-O-Boyz say it’s “Sunny Side Up.”
As Boy Wonderz begins, everything is Sunny Side Up.
We’re introduced to Disk-O-Boyz when they perform their smash hit song, “I Want Your Panties” for what the movie wants us to believe is yet another massive, adoring crowd but looks much more like twenty overly enthusiastic, endlessly recycled extras on high school auditorium bleachers behind a fence that make it look like the crowd is being imprisoned, and rightfully so, for their terrible taste in music.
On “I Want Your Panties” one of the Boyz raps, “This is for our fans that care, throw your hands way up in the air/Of course we got you standing there in your underwear/You threw your panties up here/now what you wearing under there?/Nothing, but you don’t care!/The boys got you so hype you need some air/conditioning, run your fingers through your hair/Got you smiling from ear to ear, meet me in the hotel room right there/Now lay your head on my chest, you're so smooth you must use Nair/Is it alright if I kiss you there?/I’ll keep you wide awake in our plush love lair/Make you feel funky like Huggy Bear, make you scream out my name like yes, yes, got you hot blooded, going crazy/cause all I really want is your panties.”
If there’s one thing in the world that unites Progressives and Conservatives, Feminists and Men’s Rights activists, Confederate flag-waving hillbillies and Black Lives Matter activists, Donald Trump supporters and decent human beings it’s a deep-seated, unfailingly correct conviction that no word in the English language is grosser, and consequently should be used less, than “panties.”
No word in the English language is less sexy than panties. No synonym for women’s underwear is less sensual than “panties” and that includes “lady’s bloomers.”
Speaking of lady’s bloomers, that’s what appears to be tossed aggressively onstage at Disk-O-Boyz shows: the unflattering granny panties of underage girls. There’s always been something inherently gross about the idea of women throwing their undergarments at pop stars during concerts as a queasy, oddly anonymous act of sexual devotion.
Panties soliciting and tossing is one of Boy Wonderz’s central motifs. It never stops being creepy, the kind of thing that in real life would attract the anxious, worried attention of the authorities and parents, and rightfully so.
In the opening rap, the Disk-O Boyz encourage their overwhelmingly pre-pubescent fanbase to throw their undergarments onto the stage so that they can, I dunno, stare at the underage genitalia of their screaming, lust-crazed, partially naked fans.
That’s not just creepy; it reeks of pedophilia. Their dirty, dirty words and gross, gross actions suggest the Disk-O-Boyz belong on a sexual predator watch list, not the top of the charts.
At the aforementioned Peoria, Illinois talk show appearance these chart-toppers, world-beaters and panties-wanters clumsily spill out their backstories and conflicts. Ozzy, for example, talks in a comically unconvincing British accent about forty percent of the time to appease his very proper English mother, who encourages him to pretend to have a British accent all of the time with manipulative compliments like, “You’ve been sounding more and more proper. Have you been practicing your English?”
Not everyone shares his comically over-the-top anglophilia, however. When one of his bandmates accuses him of jacking off to everything English, he guilelessly enthuses of every British person ever, “They’re cool, man! From the Beatles to Wham, the question should be, why isn’t everyone jacking off to them?”
Why isn’t everyone jacking off to them, indeed? Finally a movie is willing to ask the big, nonsensical questions.
Dylan-Tee, meanwhile, is the leader, a much older big brother type whose homosexuality becomes less of a secret by the day, much to the horror of a bandmate who seems like he might be a closeted, self-loathing homosexual but is actually a closeted, self-loathing straight virgin.
The secret virgin lashes out at his gay bandmate in a homophobic frenzy, wondering aloud if they’ll need to “rename the group 4 boys and a Guy Gay” should Dylan-Tee’s sexual preference become known.
That might seem immature and unrealistic until you remember that after Lance Bass came out NSYNC, in accordance with the Accuracy in Boy Band Names Act of 2003, was legally required to change its name to Four Dudes and a Homosexual.
And you know what? They were more popular than ever. The public was surprisingly chill with it. It’s a nice story. Four Dudes and a Homosexual’s “coming out” album, One of Us is Gay actually went diamond. Good album, too.
Two of The Disk-O-Boyz were adopted by—get this—a stereotypical, cartoonishly sassy Asian couple! From another continent and everything! Even though they appear to be white! The couple’s introduction, via a mockumentary, talking-head sequence the likes of which we never see again, is accompanied by the sound of a gong that establishes a level of casual and not so casual bigotry that falls somewhere below Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s but above those old “Ancient Chinese secret” Calgon commercials from my childhood on the egregious racism spectrum.
That leaves only Kenny, the dumb virgin who is mad because his parents are dead, and also because he’s a virgin. He’s so dumb he can’t understand why he can’t name himself Kenny G, being “comically” obvious to the existence of a super-famous, ubiquitous pop icon of the same name.
At a band meeting in what looks like a lightly re-decorated break room of a Costco, Dylan-Tee sizes up the climate of the times when he tells his bandmates, “Angry female singers are in. We all need a break from the “You broke my heart and I love my cat” kind of songs. Seventies songs are upbeat. It’d be a good contrast. Besides, we already do campy songs like “I Want Your Panties.”
I’m not entirely sure exactly what he means by “you broke my heart and I love my cat” songs from angry female singers but I do fuzzily recall an early version of Alanis Morrissette’s “You Oughta Know” contained the lyrics, “Does she speak eloquently?/I really love my tabby/I’m gonna feed him Fancy Feast for dinner!”
Dylan-Tee is of course correct in his belief that the public was tiring of songs where apoplectic female crooners alternately bemoan their traumatic love lives and express unconditional adoration for their pet felines.
Sure enough, from that point on, it’s all about covers as the Disk-O-Boyz hit the charts with a “Hip Hop” cover of “The Hustle” so terrible it brings back disco just for the sake of killing it all over again.
Dylan-Tee goes solo with a bold, sassy new sound and look that lands him at number one at the top of the charts for twelve weeks. Then, in a wholly believable turn of events, he’s ripped off by his partner and manager, leaving him semi-homeless seemingly months, if not weeks later.
In Boy Wonderz, you’re either top of the charts for ten weeks or a homeless has-been. There’s no in-between.
Dylan’s new style attracts its share of detractors, most notably an unseen DJ who rages against the pop star’s sexual preference, mockingly imitating him saying, “I’m gay and I’ve got a number one song” and then responding with what he clearly believes is a devastating retort: “You know what, Dylan? So does everyone else.”
Now I’m no music industry professional, just a man who writes a lot about American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic but it’s always been my understanding that very few people have one number songs. In fact, it seems exceedingly rare and pretty damn impressive to have even a single number one song. I could be mistaken, but I would imagine that by definition only one person has the number one song on the pop charts any given week.
That said, I would enjoy watching a movie set in an alternate universe where the homophobic radio personality’s words are true and everyone, from the youngest baby to the oldest grandpa, has a number one song.
Boy Wonderz follows the Disk-O-Boyz as they wrestle with Dylan-Tee’s sexuality and departure and deal with a whole bunch of family bullshit, taking time throughout for atrocious covers of time-worn chestnuts like “What a Wonderful World” in showcases for the individual performers that prove they are somehow even worse at singing than they are at acting.
Perhaps because I am morbidly fascinated by boy bands and Lou Pearlman, I kind of loved Boy Wonderz. I can see why it might stick out in someone’s mind as the kind of rare and precious camp abomination that needs to be shared with the world and celebrated for its exquisite awfulness, its spectacular stupidity, its utter, adorable ineptness.
Boy Wonderz has aged terribly, in hilarious and revealing and entertaining ways. For starters, the boys all seem like Multiplicity versions of the same shitty, blandly handsome white dude in awesomely shitty late 90s fashions and awesomely shitty boy band hair, only in increasingly degraded form.
I’m glad I was professionally obligated to write about this movie because at a simultaneously breezy and endlessly padded 80 minutes, this is a laughably incompetent, amateurish, so-bad-it’s-kinda-great guilty pleasure. It’s like the Rapsittie Street Kids Believe in Santa of opportunistic boy band cheapie dramas from the late 1990s, and I mean that as both withering criticism and high praise.
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