Remember when Britney Spears, NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys reigned on radio in the 1990s?
Well, that's around the same time that the members of Charleston band Cry Baby were growing up and forming some of their earliest memories. Boy-band pop was a big part of their childhoods, and it's the music that the six-piece outfit is reviving with their energetic party project.
It's not as much about a genre as a time period for Cry Baby. They play all sorts of music inspired by the '80s and '90s, from easy listening R&B to glistening synth pop. Keeping with the culture, the band even shares its name with a Johnny Depp teen comedy that came out in 1990.
For their upcoming summer release, "Might As Well," band members Jamie Gray and Joey Haines share they're going full boy band.
"People our age grew up with this music on the radio," bassist and producer Haines says. "It's coming back, but it's something we didn't see represented here in Charleston."
Lead singer Gray adds, "No matter how pretentious someone can be about music, you know you danced around to Britney and the Backstreet Boys in your living room. That genre truly set the path."
You may have noticed a recent revolution dictated by Generation Z and their younger parents. Classic rock staples that the Boomers grew up with have now shifted to a new classic era of '80s tunes in restaurants, shops and other public spaces that feature music over the intercom. Netflix hit series "Stranger Things" is just one testament to the current '80s domination of pop culture, and '90s fashion, from butterfly hair clips to platform shoes and baggy jeans, is in again as well.
Cry Baby is embracing that movement, but with their own modern bedroom lo-fi twist. So far, the band's four released singles have all been recorded at home for a more fizzly, unpolished vibe; it's a process in the same vein as the re-emergence of the Polaroid camera with its production of muted tones and grainy textures or the revival of vinyl and it's refreshing, soft crackle.
Cry Baby's live shows, which started in the local house show circuit and have since progressed to popular venue stages like the Pour House, Tin Roof and The Royal American, are full of energy. At a downtown warehouse on a Saturday night in February, the entire space, packed with around 100 sweaty bodies, was moving to the band's danceable song about lost love, "Boyfriend."
That was Gray's first show with the project, after an initial lineup switch. Before that, she had just done solo open mic nights and acoustic shows around town. She's been able to adapt her stage persona to fit the fun atmosphere that Cry Baby creates.
"We're not afraid of showing our personality," Haines says. "We want to have a fun time and we prioritize that."
Haines also says one of his goals when starting out at house shows was to leave people feeling like they had left a much bigger production. One of the ways the band accomplishes that is by constantly practicing and improving. At this point, it's a talented, tight group of musicians, from guitar to drums to saxophone. Gray's mature, smooth alto vocals heighten the skill level.
Cry Baby has traveled to Chicago, Nashville and across Southeast cities on short tour stints outside of Charleston.
"Go out and make friends," Haines says. "We have this growing pool of people to talk to and pull from, and when you make those connections, your arms can stretch pretty wide."
Gray also gives credit to the "Cry Baby Empire," what the band has dubbed their loyal local creative connections who have helped create their brand, from a graphic designer and photographer in Beware of Dog Productions, a music co-op Gray helped found, to merch and bracelet makers.
"You have a skill? Oh, well now you're in the band," Gray says with a laugh.
She adds that if bands aren't going out and meeting the people who are seeing them live and listening to their music, they're not getting to experience what being a musician is really about.
"We're going to be old-school," Haines adds. "We're going to go out as much as possible and shake hands and meet people face-to-face, because that's worth way more than a message on Instagram."
Cry Baby's July 19 show at The Royal American will be their last in Charleston for a while, as they work on writing more music for a debut full-length album and spreading their musical roots outside of town.