In the days when boy bands ruled the airwaves, throngs of screaming girls certainly had their options. Among them, a group of four “beefy” guys, focused on smooth harmonies and catchy pop hits quickly climbed the charts with their abilities to crank the heat.
Yes, 98 Degrees, featuring brothers Nick and Drew Lachey, Jeff Timmons and Justin Jeffre, was definitely a household name for those with teen and tween girls in the late 90s.
The group’s breakthrough album 98° and Rising went platinum four times and produced some of their biggest hits in 1998. By 2002, 98 Degrees had sold more than 10 million albums.
After a long break, the men reunited in 2013 for a boy band fan’s dream reunion tour — with the likes of New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men. It was appropriately titled “The Package Tour” and luckily for us, it stopped in Minneapolis last July.
Since then, the men of 98 Degrees have gone their separate ways. And it just so happens, Timmons’ path has led him to, perhaps, one of the more unpredictable routes — from one “Package” to another, if you will.
After being asked to play host to the ever-popular Chippendales show in Las Vegas, Timmons was inspired to help start up a new all-male revue, aptly called Men of the Strip.
Timmons stopped by the WCCO studios to talk all things boy bands, Men of the Strip and more before his show’s return to Minneapolis Friday night at Mill City Nights.
Check out the full Q&A below.
So speaking of “The Package” tour, what was that like — to be on tour with fellow boy band legends?
Well 98 Degrees hadn’t been together for 13 years. We had talked about it. Everybody was doing their own thing. Obviously Nick had become a super star after “The Newlyweds.” And we just couldn’t find the right time to get back together. But look, when Boyz II Men and New Kids on the Block, two legendary groups — and we based ourselves off Boyz II Men, they were our inspiration — when they ask you to go on tour, you finally suddenly get yourselves together and find a reason to go on tour, especially that one. New Kids selling close to 100 million records and their fan base, it seemed like a natural fit for us. And it was an honor. I mean, every day, literally, we did 40 cities on that tour and every day I was in awe of those guys. The crowds we had were sold-out arenas and it had been a while since I’d gotten to take in that kind of success. So to me, every day, I had my family with me, and it was like a blessing, and a dream for us to be performing with Boyz II Men for sure.
And you had a few songs where you’d collaborate and be on stage together.
There were a couple of events where Boyz II Men — the rest of my guys in 98 Degrees are from Cincinnati, Ohio — and when we were in their hometown, Boyz II Men got up and we sang “Still of the Night” with them a capella. That was one of the songs we sang when we were trying to get signed. We did their version of it. That was like a dream. We did “One Sweet Day” with them on one of the last shows of the tour with them and New Kids on stage, and the crowd, just seeing the crowd watch three super groups get up there and do it together and I mean, I was like a little girl, I was almost in tears. My newborn baby was in the audience with my wife and my kids were out there. I don’t think 98 Degrees going on tour could’ve topped that.
What was the fanbase of that tour like?
What always surprises me is how young our fanbase is. My business partner and I met with Emblem3, which is an X Factor group, yesterday and seeing their fans — they had young kids that were like 8 years old, up to 13, 14 years old and I’m thinking, ‘Man, that was our fanbase back in the day.’ And now, those girls are into their 20s and 30s and you had that demographic in the audience and then you had some older fans. New Kids fans are in their early to late 40s, so we had a very wide demographic in the audience. And Boyz II Men, they have universal love songs so they catered to a wide variety of folks. We have amazing fans, but the New Kids definitely have that really rabid, obsessed fanbase out there. It was really interesting to see them go to like six meet-and-greets a night to see these guys.
What’s your take on today’s boy bands?
I think it’s a little bit different now. I mean, with social media, they have things at their disposal that we didn’t have. I can’t imagine if we had Facebook and Twitter, even MySpace wasn’t out — that dates me. But we just had traditional media — TV, radio, print media, magazines, we didn’t have the viral ability to get ourselves out there like that. They have a few different things at their disposal to help their brand and build their brand and stay in touch with their fans but as far as their musicality goes, I think there’s a few things that are even a little more polished and produced than they were when we were out. We had some great production on our stuff but we also had to sing. Some of these bands, they don’t sing, they don’t have to sing. But more power to them — this business is hard and any way you can get in and get your time to shine, I think that’s great. But we definitely had to sing — if someone would tell you to sing on the spot, you’d have to sing. That was part of what I think was endearing about those groups back then — Boyz II Men, ourselves, All For One, *Nsync, Backstreet, they danced but they also had to sing — so I think that’s the main difference.
So after the boy band, when they approached you to host Chippendales for the first time, what was your reaction?
My reaction was no. My reaction was no way. I was sitting at home, writing and producing music and I was like, ‘Is this what I’ve become? I’m going to be a male stripper?’ But then I went and saw the show in Vegas. I sat in the back and there were people in the audience and I was like, ‘I don’t want people to know I’m here.’
Were there other guys there or were you the only one?
You know, there were some guys there but it was mostly a female audience. And I was like, ‘I don’t want people to see me.’ But then after I saw the show, it’s a well choreographed show, they sing and dance and it’s a pretty polished production so I was like, ‘OK.’ And I saw the girls’ reactions and I was like, ‘Hey look, I’m going to host this thing!’ What we did was take the experience I had from that … and kind of got ourselves affiliated with some very professional choreographers, like Glenn Douglas Packard and got some good backing from some guys that made it a little more polished, a little more mainstream and that’s what we’re doing with Men of the Strip.
Is it different for you to be part of a show where the guys are now taking off their clothes and throwing it into the audience, when it used to be the audience members throwing their clothes at you?
It’s reciprocal! The guys whip their shirts off and throw them into the audience and the girls are still throwing their stuff back at them. It’s just a little wilder, sexier dynamic than a boy band. In 98 Degrees, all of us were athletes, so when the label saw that we were sort of a muscular boy band they found out that that really worked with our female audience. If we had no shirts on or tank tops on, there was a sexiness to it. This is no more different than that other than these guys are really into their bodies and they’re really ripped but they dance and they sing and it’s a very similar show to what we did — only it’s affiliated with a much more risque genre, a little edgier, a little more adult.
So who had the best reaction when you told them you were doing Men of the Strip?
Up until a few days before I was supposed to do Chippendales, I was really reluctant but my wife was like, ‘Go do this, people will be shocked that you’re a part of it and it’ll create a buzz.’ And that’s exactly what it did. People came and saw the show. It got really great reviews, it got voted best show in Vegas. So it ended up being a great reaction. And for a while there, the fact that I was affiliated with a boy band — although 98 Degrees put themselves together, we wrote a lot of our music, we produced a lot of our music and people assumed we were put together and very packaged, and this gave me the ability to go out there, sing live, let people hear some original music, and we got good reviews from the press for the first time ever. So I think that translating that into Men of the Strip, I think people thought I was going to end up doing that anyway and then being able to get a reality show on the E! Network, I think that lends some credibility to the project and that it’s an exciting, new endeavor. We’re just excited about the overall process of it.
What kind of reaction did the guys (of 98 Degrees) have?
The group, I think, they were just wondering, ‘What the heck’s this guy doing? Is he going to diminish our brand?’ You know, 98 Degrees, despite selling millions of records and concert tickets like crazy, we really didn’t get a whole lot of good reviews, no matter what. We could compose a classic Christmas album with an orchestra and still get bad reviews. That’s the way the press is at times and the media’s going to put their slant on it just because of the genre that you’re pigeon-holed into. But with (Men of the Strip) getting good reviews for the first time, people actually were kind of excited and the guys were very supportive of what I was doing.
What do your kids think about the show? What do you say when dad goes to work?
Well when I did Chippendales, my kids were there. My kids were at every show. And the Chippendales is a little more risque than our show in that the guys would show their butts at one point. And my kids would always sit in the balcony and my wife had instructed them at the right part of the show, when the guys showed their butts, you’d see my kids turned around, facing the other direction from the stage and then when it was done, they’d turn back around and enjoy the show. They liked the singing and the dancing. Just the girls going crazy is enough of an exciting thing to watch — how out of control these females get. The guys always get the bad rap for being dogs and crazy but these girls, they get pretty out of control themselves and that’s always interesting to see. It’s a learning experience for my kids and I’m really open with my kids. They think it’s just a regular show and the way we do it, it is just a regular show.
Men of the Strip is performing on Valentine’s Day at Mill City Nights. For tickets and more information, click here. And be sure to check out Timmons and the Men of the Strip on their new reality TV show on E!, which premieres Memorial Day weekend.