Older Kids go round the block again

New Kids On The Block  will perform at the Bell Centre Sept. 20 with special guest Natasha Bedingfield . For more information, go to  www.nkotb.com .

Just over a year ago, being part of a boy band was considered to be the dorkiest gig in pop.

Unless your name was Justin Timberlake , the mid-2000s was a cruel time for those who rode the boy-band boom of the late '90s.

The Backstreet Boys and Hanson struggled to launch comebacks and found it hard to buck the lame-o stigma of having been a part of the dreaded preteen pop trend.

Jordan Knight , a former member of New Kids On The Block -- whose late '80s breakthrough set the template for the modern boy band -- was a cast member on humiliating reality series The Surreal Life, featuring washed up celebs.

Members of * NSYNC wanted to reunite in 2006 but their dream was nixed by bandmate Timberlake who had made the rare transition to a successful solo career. When MTV asked him why he didn't want to take part in a reunion, Timberlake's dismissive reply was telling. "What we did doesn't work now," he said.

Even the latest bubble gum sensation The Jonas Brothers felt the hard times. In early 2007 they lost their deal with Columbia Records after their debut disc failed to sell 100,000 units.

But today those Disney darlings are on top of the pop world . Their latest disc A Little Bit Longer debuted at No. 1 on the charts and it's expected to be one of the year's top-selling CDs.

All of a sudden it feels like the tides are shifting. Boy bands are back and that resurgence isn't limited to new cutie-pies like the Jonas Brothers.

The Backstreet Boys are on an arena tour. The Oklahoma pop-rock trio Hanson have made a respectable comeback as indie artists and are also touring Canada.

Even the long gone New Kids On The Block are touring again, with dates this fall in Toronto , Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

For the first time in a long time, being in a boy band isn't looking all that bad. Even so, most of the pretty lads who are lumped into that category bristle at the classification.

The Backstreet Boys remain the top-selling boy group of all time, having sold more than 100 million CDs around the world, and remain the epitome of the boy band. And yet, even they're not entirely comfortable with that cursed label.

"We got our start in Europe and they had a lot of (boy bands) over there. We kind of got lumped into that pile," says Backstreeter Howie Dorough , 35. "We grew up listening to Boyz II Men and The Eagles and we didn't even know what a boy band was. They said, 'Well, boy bands are pretty boys, maybe one of them can sing, and they have (choreographed dance moves).' We saw them and they looked like a bunch of pansies. We thought 'We don't want this boy band title.' But it followed us when we came back to the United States."

The Oklahoma pop-rock brothers trio Hanson were even more offended at being lumped in with the boy band fad when their breakout single MMMBop hit the top of the charts in 1997. They played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. "I don't think the boy band title was in any way accurate for us," says Isaac Hanson , 27. "In almost every case when you're talking about boy bands (they're formed) as a contrived thing by some outside source. . . . Our process was very organic."

As for the wholesome Jonas Brothers, they're already uneasy with the label. In a recent Rolling Stone cover story, 15-year-old Nick Jonas fantasizes about recording a rock album under an alias.

But things are looking up for boy bands.

"We've gone through all the ups and down. . . . (but) we're still making music for our fans," says the Backstreet Boys' Dorough. "We're still touring around the world . . . and selling out arenas. We've definitely made a mark and I feel like we've proven a lot of the critics wrong."

"(The New Kids On The Block) are all great guys and I'm glad to see they're coming back," he says. "And The Jonas Brothers, they're reminiscent of what I remember when we first started out with the young audiences and all that hysteria.

"I feel there's room for all of us out there."

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