98 Degrees (Contemporary Musicians)
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Part of the wave of immensely popular teen-oriented vocal groups, 98 Degrees has worked to make their sound and image distinct from the groups that share their audience, such as 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. Emphasizing their smoother vocal harmonies, self-written material, and orientation toward R&B influences, 98 Degrees nevertheless has found the comparisons with other "boy bands" inevitable: each of the groups has used aggressive marketing campaigns, romantic ballads, and appealingometimes even innovativeusic videos to capture the youth market. Whether they can maintain and expand their fan bases they have with each releaseemains a primary challenge for 98 Degrees, who now face competition from a slew of more hip-hop oriented boy bands like Crazy Town and media-created bands like O-Town.
Each member of 98 Degrees has roots in the Cincinnati, Ohio area, where they grew up. Three of the members, the Lachey brothers and Justin Jeffre, attended Cincinnati's School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA). SCPA, a nationally renowned magnet school for students in the fourth through twelfth grades, offered the future members of 98 Degrees not only the chance to study music, visual arts, and entertainment marketing, but also to perform in numerous concerts, plays, and other public performances. The diverse environment of the schoolocated in downtown Cincinnati, but drawing its students from around the greater metropolitan areand its high level of academic achievementith more than 80 percent of its graduates continuing their studies in collegeeant that the members of 98 Degrees had already gained much experience in the entertainment field by the time they were young adults.
Following their high school graduations in the early 1990s, Jeffre attended the University of Cincinnati as a history major, while Nick Lachey enrolled at nearby Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, to study sports medicine. His younger brother, Drew, subsequently entered the U.S. Army and later moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he worked as an emergency medical technician. In the meantime, fellow Cincinnati native Jeff Timmons, who had studied psychology at Ohio's Kent State University, moved to Los Angeles with SCPA alumnus John Lipman in the hope of securing a record deal for their new group. Unfortunately, Timmons and Lipman's first band fell apart during their initial stay in Los Angeles, California; however, Lipman's suggestion that Timmons contact his friend Nick Lachey and form a new band eventually resulted in the permanent lineup of 98 Degrees. Soon, Nick Lachey's colleague from SCPA, Jeffre, joined the band and with Lipman's eventual departure, Drew Lachey also moved to Los Angeles to join the band. After going through several name changes, including a stint as "Just Us," the four-man group chose "98 Degrees" as its name.
Signed to Motown Records
Taking a series of jobs including landscaping, working as club security officers, and delivering take-out food, the band continued to refine its harmonies and presentation, looking to groups such as Boys II Men, Take 6, and Jodeci for inspiration. The new group also made the rounds of auditions in Los Angeles and gradually built up its contacts in the music industry. Fortunately, the group's wait for a manager and a recording contract would not take long, as they seized an opportunity to perform during a radio broadcast of a Boys II Men concert, which they had attended in the hope of passing a demo tape to the band. Paris D'Jon, the manager of hip-hop singer Montell Jordan, heard the group during the broadcast and quickly arranged for 98 Degrees to open for Jordan on his tour. D'Jon also became the band's manager, and they were signed to Motown Records by the time they finished the tour.
The group's emergence at a time when teen-oriented acts like the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys were just hitting the top of the charts around the world compelled them to differentiate themselves from the mere "boy band" status that they derided. From the start, they emphasized that they wrote much of their own material, which reflected R&B influences more than mainstream pop roots. 'There are major differences musically between groups, not to mention the fact that we were signed to Motown, which gives us a little more credibility as far as R&B and soul music goes," commented Drew Lachey in a Chicago Tribune interview. Directly referring to 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys, he added, "We are singers, songwriters, and producers all in one, not just one of those manufactured pop groups that is put together as a marketing scheme."
With their debut single, "Invisible Man" achieving goldrecord status after its June 1997 release, 98 Degrees was off to a promising start. Although critical reaction to the debut of the group was mixed, a Billboard review of their first single noted that their vocal abilities were "several crucial notches above the competition." Sales of their first album, 98 Degrees, were slow, although the Motown re-release of the album six months after its October 1997 debut with the addition of a new track helped to keep the band in the public eye. The group also toured extensively, including concert dates in Asia. In light of the success of the Backstreet Boys, Hanson, and 'N Sync, however, even a popular debut album and a string of sold-out concert dates looked somewhat disappointing for 98 Degrees, if only by comparison to its rivals, who were astounding the music industry with their sales figures.
Success at Home and Abroad
Initially, the group was even more successful in Asia than in the United States, where "Invisible Man" was the only hit single to emerge from their debut. Hoping to increase their sales in its homeland while retaining their international popularity, the group's second album, 98 Degrees and Rising, was a more calculated affair than their first release. Although the album as a whole retained its R&B orientation on some tracks, the overall package emphasized romantic ballads such as the songs "I Do (Cherish You)," "Because of You," and "The Hardest Thing," each of which entered the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The marketing campaign for the new album also continued to focus on the band's visual appeal; while Jeffre lacked the workout physique of his band mates, the overall image of 98 Degrees relied on the band members' good looks. Nick Lachey's romance with young singer Jessica Simpsonith whom he recorded a duet, "Where You Are," for her album Sweet Kisses/added to the band's profile as heartthrobs among its teen audience. The band's decision to participate in a tour with the Irish teen group B*Witched as well as the Nickelodeon "All That" tour also linked it to the "boy band" label.
The band made a departure with its third album, the holiday collection This Christmas. With three hit singles and total sales of more than five million copies for 98 Degrees and Rising, however, expectations for the band's fourth original release, Revelation, were extremely high. For the band, critical acceptance was a frustrating goal that they hoped to overcome. As Drew Lachey told Billboard's Larry Flick at the album's release, "We feel like we've proven what we can do with a ballad. Our goal this time was to show more versatility in our music." A record company executive echoed this sentiment, hoping that "They're being accepted as an act with a distinctive identity. They're not just another boy band, and they're more sophisticated than that."
The Latin-influenced "Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)" scored the band its biggest single to date, reaching number two on Billboard's Hot 100, and the album Revelation secured one of the biggest-ever prerelease orders by record stores. Yet reviews for the album were mixed; although their vocal talents were universally recognized, the emphasis on "formulaic radio fodder," as Entertainment Weekly noted, added up to "clichés from the heart." However, 98 Degrees has increased its sales figures with each successive release, gaining commercial acceptance despite the reviews. Although it may not have yet matched the record-breaking sales feats of the bands to which it is often compared, the group has attained recognition as one of the leading vocal groups of its time.
98 Degrees, Motown, 1997.
98 Degrees and Rising, Motown, 1998.
(Contributor) Mulan: An Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack, Disney, 1998.
(Contributor) Fame LA.: Original MGM Television Soundtrack, Mercury, 1998.
This Christmas, Motown, 1999.
(Contributor) Notting Hill: Music from the Motion Picture, Island, 1999.
Revelation, Universal, 2000.
(Nick Lachey, contributor) "Where You Are," Jessica Simpson, Sweet Kisses, Sony, 1999.
Degnan, Lisa, and Deborah Law, Ninety Eight Degrees, Metro Books, 2000.
Billboard, June 28, 1997, p. 75; September 19, 1998, p. 12; September 23, 2000, p. 18; October 14, 2000, p. 120.
Chicago Tribune, April 15, 1999.
Entertainment Weekly, September 29, 2000, p. 130.
New York Daily News, October 6, 2000.
People, October 9, 2000, p. 51.
Rolling Stone, September 28, 2000, p. 16.
Top of the Pops Magazine, November 2000, p. 46.
Artist Direct, (February 24, 2001).
98 Degrees Official Website, http://www.98degrees.com (February 23, 2001).
The School for the Creative and Performing Arts Web Site, http://www.scpa.org (February 24, 2001 ).
Universal Records Web Site, http://www.universalrecords.com (February 23, 2001).