A member of a 90s boy band has done a Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ session, and his insights are FASCINATING.
Kevin Yee was signed to the Warner Bros music label from 1998 – 2000 as part of a boy band called ‘Youth Asylum’ (Yee is on the far-left with the standard 90s bleached hair):
They released one single called ‘Jasmin’ that was mildly popular, but they were dropped by their label before the full album came out. Here’s the (very, very 90s) single:
Yee was a teenager at the time, and says the group basically spent the entire two years touring the US in a van, making appearances at high schools and shopping centres. Then, one day, they were all just sent home. And that was that.
What he has to say about how the band formed, where they lived, how the label tried to hide his homosexuality… It’s a captivating read. We’ve narrowed down the most interesting questions and answers:
Did you make the band yourself? Or …?
Nope! We all auditioned into the group. The group was already signed to a label before any of the group members were chosen. Our manager pitched to the label a “multi-ethnic boy band”. Then we all auditioned and were chosen from there. We ended up being from all over North America and we were never really friends before, during, or after.
How much money did you personally make from being in this band?
About $4000 over three years. I came out in debt….It’s pretty usual for the recording industry. It’s not like other industries where you’re paid. It’s more like the label is a bank and gives you a loan and you eventually have to pay it back. So I probably wouldn’t have made any money until we sold a couple million albums and paid back our advance money and paid all the songwriters and producers and paid for all of our tours etc….
Was the debt due to you being in the group or unrelated matters?
The debt was from being in the group for three years and making no money. Although housing was provided, it was from other things like day to day life. We weren’t always provided with food or non-performance clothing especially when were weren’t on tour. My mom ended up paying for a lot of my living expenses.
Because of the circumstances that your group came together – 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?
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 ;P
How much control did y’all have over your personas, clothes, lyrics, etc?
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)”.
… My management guessed that I was gay pretty early on even though I wasn’t out. One day they had a closed door meeting with the record execs and told me that I was coming off gay and that I had to change how I acted. They didn’t care if I actually WAS gay, it was more how I was being perceived. We were marketed towards teenaged girls so there couldn’t be a gay member. That’s when they started to style me and control what I said and did. They used to teach me how to walk “straight” up and down the aisles of a grocery store. It was a very homophobic environment including the members of the group. When the group was over I came out of the closet to my family and now I am very open about my sexuality because I want to prove to people that it isn’t a hindrance. You don’t have to hide in the closet to be successful no matter what your job is!
At the time, were you expecting to make it big? Like did you think you were a sure thing? Or were you aware that you were a long shot in a super crowded market?
Yes, I was always told that we were going to be the next big thing. I was young so I had no idea what was happening behind the scenes, just what was on the surface. Our management talked the big talk. We were fed a lot of false dreams that just didn’t come true. I’m much smarter about the industry now and making it big isn’t the goal for me. I just want to make a living creating my own work and connecting with people!
What went wrong?
A lot! We weren’t great live because we had never worked together before we were signed… but there are a lot of boy bands who lip-sync or aren’t good live so…. There were some shady music business dealings behind the scenes. Ultimately what ended us was a change at the record label. Our label was an offshoot of a larger label and they decided to shut it down. They gave our management the option to keep us, but our managers thought we could shop the album to another label. We were all sent home after a very unfair settlement and told that we’d hear from our managers when they found us a new label. It’s been 14 years and I’m still waiting for that call….
What was it like to be involved in that at such a young age?
It was weird. 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 recognise me. Once I was recognised 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….
What a bizarre life for teenagers — did y’all attend school in L.A.? You must’ve been educated, right?
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….
What are boy band / groupie interactions like?
We had a lot of really die hard groupies that would travel far to see us (did their parents drive them? I’m not sure…) and bring us random presents, make us signs, make us take millions of pictures and sign millions of things. I do think their parents enabled their behaviour. Most were very respectful but screamed a lot. They were SO loud. Never underestimate the vocal chords of a teenaged girl. I did witness some of my cohorts take advantage of the situation, but personally I never did. I also think “the people taking care of us” were letting the fans get close to us, bringing them backstage and such, enabling the situation. I think they figured the happier the fans, the more money will come in. It does seem a little strange in retrospect….
What are your costars doing with their lives now?
Well, to be honest I don’t really follow what any of them are doing too closely. I know some are still working as singers and releasing their own stuff independently. A few months ago one of the boys got into the first round of The Voice (?) or one of those shows and they wanted to use an image of the group and had to get permission from all of us. I don’t think the picture ended up on TV, and he didn’t get past the first round.
Did you get to keep a copy of your unreleased album?
Yes! It occasionally plays on my iPod randomly and I wistfully remember when…. And then skip to the next song… I know there was a nice press kit that had the full CD. Our single was the only thing that was ever sold in stores and it had a few clips on it, but no full songs other than “Jasmin.”
Yee went on to have a career in musical theatre, and now works asa stand-up comedian. Read the full Reddit thread right here.
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