There’s a certain storyline that seems to be common to almost all boy bands, and no one is more aware of it than the members of the Fourth Kingdom.
You probably know the narrative arc all too well: an earnest group of friends starts making pop music and becomes so incredibly famous that their live appearances draw comparisons with Beatlemania. Then, at some point, the hits stop coming, drugs and alcohol take their toll and only one out of the group joins the ranks of Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake and (maybe) Niall Horan in developing an iconic solo career.
The Fourth Kingdom are only at the beginning of this storyline, but they already show several signs of how they’re trying to rewrite the ending.
Originally from Belgium, where they met as contestants on an overseas version of music competition The Voice, Fourth Kingdom released “Broken,” their first U.S. single, earlier this year. This was followed more recently by “Hold,” and neither tune bears even the faintest resemblance typical boy band fare.
Whereas New Kids On The Block once danced and sang about “The Right Stuff,” for instance, and One Direction celebrated “What Makes You Beautiful,” songs like “Broken” and “Hold” evoke more challenging aspects of sex and relationships. They are moody, urgent, almost . . . dark?
“Yes, dark isn’t actually a bad word,” agrees Sebastian, one of the band members, speaking by phone from their new home in Los Angeles. “‘Broken’ starts very dark but then it lightens up a little bit. As we’re telling our stories, all of our songs have different meanings but we’re not afraid to go into more challenging material.”
According to Shane, another member, the women featured in some of the music don’t necessarily refer to a single person but a representative example.
“We travel a lot, so there’s a lot of inspiration from of all these places and people we meet,” he says. “We also have the same experiences sometimes, so when we start writing, we feel each other’s vibe.”
“We really try to be a little bit urban and make our own sound,” Jaxon, a third member, adds. “We record a lot of songs but we don’t always use them. We don’t want to be a typical boy band.”
Besides aiming a little darker, that means thinking more digitally than any of the boy bands who have come before them.
“These days, trying to make money out of iTunes is hard,” says Jaxon. “People are still buying songs, but people are also streaming a lot more.”
This, says Kyle, the fourth member, is why the band is slowly ramping up by offering up individual tracks and focusing on outreach through social media before releasing a full-length album. Along with the videos to accompany each song, it’s a tactic that builds the momentum for an audience that may be as likely to first encounter them through YouTube or a Spotify Discover Weekly playlist as through, say, MTV.
Finally, being a boy band in the late 2010s means being much more deliberate about the business behind the music. While Fourth Kingdom stands out with some very distinct style choices that reflect their European backgrounds, they want to make sure their fans can embrace the same aesthetics.
“We try not to make the typical merch,” Jaxon says. “The idea is not to just sell a T-shirt with our logo, but something that connects with our story and can be a brand on its own.”
That idea — of not only creating more mature music but mature merch, a visual identity and an overall image that can be marketed across any digital channel — may be the biggest thing that could allow a group like the Fourth Kingdom to achieve real longevity. Compared to the naivete of their predecessors, at any rate, they sound a lot savvier.
“We’re musicians, but we’re also a brand,” Sebastian says. “And you earn on your brand.”
Photographer & Creative Direction: José Manuel Cruz / @esjmanuel
Wardrobe Stylist: Robert Chrisman / @robertchrismanstyle
Hair & Makup: Jozie Vega / @jozievega, and Yazmin Lira / @yazminlira
Location: XXXX’s Home in Los Angeles, California