For many, all that remained was a box of stuff.
Packed in perfectly preserved time capsule bedrooms or shuttered in corners of parents' basements, the pins, shirts, posters and other memorabilia from the New Kids on the Block 's original heyday 15 years ago fondly remind fans of a seemingly bygone era.
But this week, many of those caged memories have been set free in anticipation of the reunited group's astonishing three Toronto shows in town, starting tonight, kicking off their world tour.
"I have t-shirts. I have all their old CDs and tapes, original tapes. Coffee mugs, and buttons, and the little deck of playing cards," says Leah Jones, 26, a music-store manager in Bracebridge.
"I was actually surprised that I held onto it as long as I did, but as soon as I heard they were reuniting I pulled it out and started wearing my t-shirts again. Oh yeah."
Jones figures she's spent $1,500 on tickets for all three shows (she even got V.I.P. passes for one of the concerts), including accommodations in Toronto .
She describes herself as a hardcore fan – in high school (after the Kids' heyday), she was the only student who still had all their CDs in her car.
"I remain a huge fan, and always have.... It was the first concert that I ever went to and I think that's what hooked me, seeing them live," she says.
Nostalgia, she suggests, must have something to do with the surprising amount of buzz around the group's reunion.
"We're all old now and saddled with families and kids, and I think that hearing the old music and even the new music takes you back to when you were younger and boy bands were good," she says.
While Jones has clearly been waiting for this moment, there are others who are surprised at how excited they've become for the group's comeback.
"I told my mom, and she was like, `Are you kidding? What are they going to sing?' I'm like, don't worry, they're going to sing everything. I'm going to enjoy it. It's just a totally girly thing," says 29-year-old Rina Arya, who works in financial services.
Arya is going to the show with three girlfriends, but says she was piqued when one of her male friends expressed interest – because he wanted to scope out girls, she says – and that got her thinking and remembering how much of a totally obsessed NKOTB fan she was back in the day.
While Arya saw the group at Exhibition Place during their first wave of popularity, for some these shows are a chance to fulfil something they missed out on in the 1980s and 1990s.
"One of my other girlfriends said that she wanted to go only because when she was a kid her parents said `no, you're not going, it's too expensive,'" she says.
"And now she's older and she's making money, it's like an unfulfilled dream of hers. I can see that. So I think it might be a little of completing that childhood fantasy for her."
While there are countless fans who are excited at seeing the group, the resurgence in popularity is something that concert industry analysts find surprising.
"Well, New Kids is really kind of strange, because that was an act at its height that was probably as big as any artist ever, but the flameout was pretty severe. In the space of about two years, they went from playing gigantic stadiums to playing nightclubs and not even selling those out, and at that point they broke up," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar , an industry trade magazine and website.
"The thing is, with most of the teen acts, once they break up, you're not going to see them again. Like N Sync ; I don't think Justin Timberlake will ever be persuaded to go back there."
Bongiovanni marvels at the scope of the New Kids tour, playing only large stadiums over an ambitious roster of dates. While he hasn't seen any advanced sales figures, he says he gets the feeling there is enough interest to warrant the venue choices.
"The thing about acts that appeal to a preteen audience is that those kids have a very short attention span, and they'll move from one hero to another fairly quickly, which almost means that New Kids on the Block are establishing a new audience today, or they have managed to re-attract the interest of kids who once were hardcore fans," he says.
The Kids' latest hot-selling singles could be an indicator of that phenomenon. Traditionally, the most successful touring acts are older baby boomer acts – Bongiovanni cites Rod Stewart , Bruce Springsteen and Rush as examples – and the New Kids' success could be a sign that the "echo boomer" is flexing its music muscle and, like the older generation, hoping to relive something from their past.
As well, for the first half of this year, the most successful touring act was another act that peaked in the 1980s and '90s, Bon Jovi , who played a whopping five consecutive shows at the Air Canada Centre . Like the New Kids, they skew to a heavily female audience.
Could this all be a Toronto Effect? Pop reunion tours seem to do exceptionally well here, which would help explain why the New Kids are hangin' tough here for three straight nights. Similarly, the Spice Girls performed four sold-out dates here earlier this year, before cancelling many remaining dates on their tour due to lack of sales. The New Kids sold out their first show in minutes, and have added two shows in Toronto, while the rest of the tour has only single dates.
"All markets have their own idiosyncrasies, " explains Bongiovanni. "But the one thing I've heard this past year about Canada in general is that (the concert) business is much stronger in Canada than it is down here in the States.
"I don't know what it says about the economy, whether it's better, but certainly, you're supporting live music at an impressive rate. And Toronto is one of the great music cities of the world."