Oct 10

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK – “Hangin’ Tough”

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#639, 13th January 1990

The video for “Hangin’ Tough” flicks between scenes of the New Kids in concert – watched by air-punching and weeping fans – and images of them street-dancing in sync on a graffiti-heavy background. One of them hefts a baseball bat – cut to the concert and it’s a jacket, which he hurls moodily to the floor. Underneath he’s wearing a T-Shirt, black-on-white lettering, Katharine Hammett style: “HOME BOY”.

If the cultural coding of the New Kids wasn’t pretty obvious already, “Hangin’ Tough” makes it absurdly glaring. The kids are streetwise, tough guys, but “streetwise” and “tough” now mean nothing but “hip-hop”. And a particular version of hip-hop, too – at a time when rap itself was splintering in twenty different directions, a cartoon image of urban youth gained currency: B-Boying, shape-throwing, high on attitude, vaguely New York, not necessarily black. One massive source for this – especially in Britain where they were the first hip-hop act to have household name pop-culture impact – is the Beastie Boys, and you can definitely hear a low-alcohol, decaf version of the Beasties in the snotty bark the New Kids use here.

Every 90s boy band who tried to be tough as well as tender – which is most of them – owed something to this hand-me-down idea of hip-hop. We’ll see it repeatedly as the decade goes on, though never quite this egregious again. Musically, “Hangin’ Tough” is crude but effective – a basic stomp-stomp-clap beat, a chant, an electro riff: take out the horrible guitar solo and it could have been intriguingly dirty. But this approach needs frontmen who are absolutely convincing, and the New Kids fall terribly short. The “We’re rough!” and “Are you tough enough?” shouts wouldn’t fool a five-year old. At least it’s funny.

Even though strictly speaking it’s a hangover from ’89, this is the perfect opener for 1990’s Number Ones, which provide us with a grand tour of hip-hop inauthenticity: rapping Europeans, rapping footballers, rapping queens of pop, kids’ TV tie-in raps, all leading up to – well, wait and see. Some of these records were excellent: all are better than “Hangin’ Tough”, but it’s this one which provides the decade’s boy bands with a crucial part of their DNA.



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  1. 51
    Tom on 25 Oct 2010 #

    “I wanna bless myself”

  2. 52
    Tom on 25 Oct 2010 #

    #48 I enjoy the X Factor a great deal! The records it causes are another matter.

  3. 53
    punctum on 25 Oct 2010 #

    #50 – I think he’s referring to a Welshman.

  4. 54
    pink champale on 25 Oct 2010 #

    yes, i thought so too. though “major player” might be pushing it a bit. (also not sure how much 4 realness had to do with it).

  5. 55
    Chelovek na lune on 25 Oct 2010 #

    Ah, I see. I thought it was an Aussie (who was once involved with another Aussie, the performer of the next #1 after this one) being referred to ….

  6. 56
    wichita lineman on 25 Oct 2010 #

    A Welshman, yes. Well I’m definitely stepping into the bunny’s lair if I have to defend him as a major player! Obviously I don’t know the reasons why he disappeared but after all their promises (committing suicide on totp etc) i wouldn’t doubt he felt compromised. More on this subject later, I’m sure.

    Bill Haley was a disappointment to uk audiences because he was jowly, not because he was inauthentic. It was purely a visual problem.

  7. 57
    Steve Mannion on 25 Oct 2010 #

    And I thought Gary Barlow/Robbie Williams were hard done by…

  8. 58
    Mutley on 25 Oct 2010 #

    #48 and #56 No doubt Bill Haley’s jowly appearance contributed to his decline in the UK, but that was not the only reason. He was already in decline before he came to the UK in early ’57, despite being mobbed on arrival. His time was the early part of ’56 when he had little competition in rock’n’roll records in the UK. From mid ’56 others started to appear in the charts (notably Elvis)and teenagers had more choice of artists on which to spend their limited money. Bill had continuing minor success in ’57, but he had run out of steam and his records deteriorated, symbolised by “(You hit the wrong note)Billy Goat”, which, with a title like that, was an open target for critical abuse by Radio Luxembourg DJs such as Gus Goodwin. Probably because of this rapid decline, he has never really recovered the important position he should hold in the history of rock’n’roll.

  9. 59
    wichita lineman on 25 Oct 2010 #

    Thanks for that Luxembourg info, Mutley. Most of the R&R originators had short but intense chart runs and their decline is normally blamed on non-pop reasons – plane crash, jail, army, jowls. But Buddy Holly’s fame was fading before he died: his last single Heartbeat, though a Top 10 hit for Showaddywaddy and Nick Berry later, only reached 30 in the UK and 82 in the US; Fats Domino had 20 UK hits but 7 were in the first year; Little Richard likewise had most of his hits in the first 12 months; Jerry Lee Lewis’s records, child bride issues aside, just got pretty ropey in ’59 after High School Confidential.

  10. 60
    Billy Smart on 27 Dec 2010 #

    MMWatch: The Stud Brothers, January 13 1990;

    “New Kids On The Block are five small American adolescents full of weak American bravado. Backed by a superannuated hip hop beat they warn us in squeaky unison not to cross their paths or, God help us, we’re “gonna get stopped” and, if we try to keep them down they’re “gonna come right back”. Would you be surprised if we said we don’t believe them? Would you be surprised if we suggested that the sweet and diminutive Kate Bush could have all five of the little pricks with her hands tied behind her back? Would you be shocked that *we would* have the sweet and diminutive Kate Bush if she *did* have her hands tied behind her back? Would you be violently repulsed if we stated in no uncertain terms that if we ever see your ugly face again, yes *you*, we’ll beat you senseless with a baseball bat and sodomise you again and again until you die?

    Hangin’ tough. That’s us.”

    The Brothers awarded single of the week to ‘Enter’ by Static. Also reviewed that week;

    Public Enemy – Welcome To The Terrordome
    Terence Trent D’Arby – To Know Someone Deeply Is To Know Someone Softly
    Adamski – NRG
    Jimmy Somerville – Mighty Real
    Yell – Instant Replay
    Lonnie Gordon – Happenin’ All Over Again

  11. 61
    Patrick Mexico on 2 Mar 2016 #

    @61: File the Kate Bush comments under “you couldn’t say that these days” misogyny klaxon! Reads like something from UniLad.. oh dear! :-/ :D

    I’m sometimes worryingly defensive of this “song”, I think the appeal is in the sheer so-bad-its-good bluntness of it all, and the Anthony Soprano Jr. middle-class suburban white boy posturing at being “street” which makes me positively roflcopter. Though if 1989/90 was a fertile, flowering garden of pop, they were one of Groundskeeper Willie’s unneccessary trumps. (Pun fully intended.) 4.

  12. 62
    Izzy on 3 Mar 2016 #

    61: you should take a look at their later video for ‘Games’, if posturing is your thing. Donnie poncing about in a Malcolm X jacket iirc. I have no idea who was supposed to be the audience for that one.

    I always liked him though, and he’s turned out good. I really enjoy his work on Blue Bloods.

  13. 63
    MUSICALITY on 24 Apr 2017 #

    Ok so New Kids did kick start the modern era style boyband but their songs were and are just so awful!
    The boybands who followed them were far superior in all aspects.

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