In the 1990s, there were probably more failed boy bands than successful musical acts. For every N’Sync and Backstreet Boys there were 2Be3, 3T and 5ive. In fact, every numerical digit and letter of the alphabet has a failed boy band assigned to it. Remember BBMack, ABC and C Note? Of course you don’t.
The formula was simple — take at least three but no more than six young, attractive, semi-talented, naive boys and put them into a singing group. Even if the band made zero money, the label, producers and song writers made a killing. Toss them away, find the next group.
Kevin Yee is a former member of a failed boy band. Yee, one-sixth of Youth Asylum, knows all about the harsh reality of the 1990s boy band phenomenon.
In case you’ve got a vague recollection of Youth Asylum, this will refresh your memory. If you don’t have a fucking clue who they were (I didn’t) watch and remember how bad music of the 1990s was.
Yee took to Reddit last night to do an AMA to answer any and all questions about his time in Youth Asylum.
I am Kevin Yee, 1/6th of the now defunct band Youth Asylum. We were signed to Qwest/Warner Brother’s records from 1998-2000. Our unreleased album featured Quincy Jones and David Foster as producers. Our single “Jasmin” was mildly successful in some markets (Miami, Boston) and the music video was top five on the Disney Channel and the Box. We toured the states three times in mall and middle school tours. We were eventually dropped from our label and our album was never released. I went on to perform in Musical Theater (MARY POPPINS on Broadway, tours of MAMMA MIA and WICKED) and am now a Comedian who performs in clubs and colleges.
Yee answered questions about money, groupies and just how bad he got screwed by greedy music execs. Here are the most fascinating revelations from Yee’s public forum.
Boy Bands Members Can’t Crap Without Permission
Alright, it’s not that extreme, but pretty damn close. A Redditor asked Yee “How much control did y’all have over your personas, clothes, lyrics, etc?” Yee responded “Absolutely none. We were told how to talk, dress, act. I was pretty geeky when I started, but they bleached my hair, pierced my ears, and tanned me. Most of our clothes were forced on us by whatever designer was sponsoring us. Music wise we were never encouraged to write our own music since our manager did and made all of his money that way. We were also coached what to say on certain subjects if we were coming off too “(not sexy enough…etc)”.
I can only imagine that an asshole record executive yelling at a 17-year-old boy to “BE SEXY!” does some damage to the psyche.
These Kids Never Got To Be Kids
Yee was asked “What was it like to be involved in that at such a young age?” “It was weird,” he answered, “and the hardest part was afterwards because I felt like a wash-up at the age of 18. I came out of the group with a little bit of debt so I had to work at a clothing store to stay a float afterwards. I remember a few times there would be customers that would come in and recognize me. Once I was recognized when I was mopping the floor. But I have continued in the entertainment industry (first as a musical theater performer, now as a comedian) and have done bigger things since. My relationship with the entertainment industry is a life long journey….”
A Band Of Six ‘Friends’ — But Not Really
“Because of the circumstances that your group came together” asked another Redditor, “with everyone auditioning separately, you didn’t know each other – did you and the other band members get along well? Did you interact at all outside of work, so to speak? And do you still keep in touch with any of them?” Yee replied “We didn’t really fight but I wouldn’t say we really got along as a group. I think some of us were forced to become friends since we were living in such close quarters and there was no one else around. Very few of us were from Los Angeles (where we were based) so they rented us a two bedroom apartment where six of us and a chaperone lived. So we had to get very uncomfortably close very fast. There wasn’t really any “outside of work” since we were all in our teens and couldn’t really go anywhere unescorted. Basically, we spent three years in that apartment unless we were touring or recording. None of us have kept in touch except through Facebook… and even then I have most of them hidden from my feed.”
There Are Groupies But There’s A Ton Of Pressure To ‘Perform’
You’re probably thinking, like I was, that at least a perk of the job was young women screaming your name in malls and middle school (alright that part is gross). There were women, Yee explained, but even that sucked. You had to pretend to love them all. Even the crazy ones. “We were young and it had it’s moments of flattery, and at that age we were taught to equate the fans to success. The more fans we could get to love us, the more sales we would have. And every fan and every interaction counted. It’s really sad when you think about it because we would kind of trick girls into liking us, make them feel like we were their friends, just to get their potential future sale. They would often ask if we remembered them and we would always say yes, but there were too many to remember so we were flat out lying. Our team did make us very accessible at performances so we were a group that you could get close to. I obviously feel very differently now. I’m a comedian and don’t equate fans to sales since there are no sales… I really do want to get to know people and have discussions with everyone!”
They Learned That The Music Industry Sucks But Little Else
Kid actors are still expected to complete a certain level of academics. They go to school. Sure it’s not like a real school, it’s not eight hours a day with finals, but even kids in boy bands have to adhere to some type of academic curriculum right? Nope. When asked about going to school, Yee explained “Well, that area was a bit of an issue. I have to be a little vague on this one, but people who were supposed to be taking care of our well being were keeping the money that the label was giving us for education (for their own lavish lifestyle), and giving us occasional subpar tutoring not up to Los Angeles child performer standards. Halfway through our three years with the group “someone” (probably the union) found out and the label got in trouble (even though technically they were providing the funding). Only then were we provided with an education (the best tutor money could afford… he ended up traveling with us), but by then many of us were too far behind. I was the oldest and needed to graduate so my education was very very rushed. My diploma was basically bought for me. The others were still young enough to go back to school once the band ended and I’m sure they were very far behind.”
It All Leads To Absolutely Nothing
After three years of living in an apartment with complete strangers, and finding little success, Youth Asylum’s album was never released. Yee was asked if he at least got to keep a copy of the album. He responded “Yes! It occasionally plays on my iPod randomly and I wistfully remember when…. And then skip to the next song.”
Everybody Got Rich, Except The Boys In The Band
How much did Yee make in his three years with Youth Asylum? He made shit. “About $4000 over three years,” Yee said. “I came out in debt.”
Yee has at least come out of the entire awful experience with a level head. He’s still performing, trading stand up for songs. Check out his official website.