Boy Band Archives: b4-4 – Canada's Lugheaded Lotharios

I love boy bands.  Most girls (and plenty of boys) have fallen under the spell of at least one team of shirtless, posing, harmonizing hunks.  But for every NSYNC or NKOTB, there’s a thousand 5ives and Soul Decisions.  Why did 98 Degrees succeed where Another Level failed?  We may have ignored them in high school, but its time somebody gave them a chance in the spotlight.  So pick up the newest Tiger Beat, turn on TRL, and come with me through the Boy Band Archives.

Meet b4-4

b4-4 group

There’s no better way to start this series than with the boys who inspired me to dust off my keyboard.  Meet b4-4, three spiky-haired, muscle-bound lotharios from the Great White North.

Dan Kowarsky: The Big One

ryan/dan

Popular Boy Band Equivalent:  Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees

Birthday:  December 5th, 1979

Sign:  Sagittarius

Favorite Color:  Oompa-Loompa Orange

Ideal Date:  Pulling it out in the backseat of his Cadillac

Ryan Kowarsky: The Big One

ryan/dan

Popular Boy Band Equivalent:  Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees

Birthday:  December 5th, 1979

Sign:  Sagittarius

Favorite Color:  Mustard Yellow

Ideal Date:  Getting down on you, after you get down on him

Ohad Einbinder: The Big One

ohad

Popular Boy Band Equivalent:  Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees

Birthday:  March 13th, 1982

Sign:  Pisces

Favorite Color:  The Shiniest Silver

Ideal DateVerbal abuse 

Dan, Ryan and Ohad met in Toronto, Ontario when Dan and Ryan were 14 and Ohad was 12.  Despite the cavernous age gap, the boys bonded right away over Micahel Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Boyz II Men.

As Ryan explained on their official website, “…the age difference never mattered to us. We would spend tons of time listening to the radio – The Jackson 5, Boyz II Men, and Stevie Wonder – and I’d take the top parts, Dan would do the middle harmonies, and Ohad would take the bass. We’d memorize all the pop songs on the radio and work on the harmonies for days.”

Three kids from Canada that count Michael Jackson as a major influence.  So far, so boring.  I can’t think of many bands that feature identical twins, so that’s at least something (though another Canadian boy band, The Moffatts, feature triplets, so…).

But suddenly, there’s a fascinating twist to the b4-4 saga!  See, theirs is a story locked in time.  This only could’ve happen in 1999, when being “discovered” didn’t mean having 250,000 Twitter followers and 10,000 iTunes downloads.

I’ll let Dan, Ryan and Ohad tell their tale:

 And then, one fateful day in 1999, the guys were driving around, itchy for fame or maybe just something to do. “We were on our way down to MuchMusic’s ‘Speakers’ Corner’ to sing, because we wanted to get noticed,” remembers Ohad, “and out of the blue I said as a joke, ‘Let’s walk into Sony.’ 

So we rolled down our car window, asked some taxi driver where to find Sony’s office, and within minutes we were standing in the lobby trying to sweet-talk the receptionist into letting us go in the building to sing for someone, anyone who could help us! Next thing we knew, two guys walked out into the lobby on their way out to lunch, overheard us, and said ‘hey, why don’t you sing for us?’

So we did, a cappella, not knowing who we were singing to and thinking we had nothing to lose!” It was a stroke of pure luck that those two strangers just happened to be the head of Sony Music Canada’s A&R department and the chief engineer for Sony’s Oasis recording studios. That impromptu audition was the beginning of a relationship that resulted in the debut album ‘b4-4’, 12 distinctly modern pop songs anchored by an old-school harmonic sweetness.

Yes, in the late ’90s, record labels were so eager to sign boy bands, that the only criteria was: be a boy, be in a band, have frosted tips, sing relatively well, and know how to sign on the dotted line.

Taste of Fame

A year later, in April 2000, b4-4 released their first single, Get Down.  The summer-soaked stick of bubblegum pop quickly made waves in Canada, peaking at Number 4 on the singles chart.

The song was not without controversy, as some interpreted the lyrics as a veiled reference to oral sex.  Take these lines, for instance:

I wanna know, exactly what to do/ So that you’ll never get me off of your mind/ Communicate, and I’ll go undercover/ Gonna make you come tonight/ (Over to my house)

Real subtle.

In support of their self-titled first album, b4-4 headlined YTV’s Psykoblast Tour and opened for Destiny’s Child on the TRL Tour.  Can you imagine if Ryan and Beyonce had a steamy romance, but Dan had the hots for her, so he posed as Ryan to trick her, and other such identical twin shenanigans?  It’s probably not true, but what if?  I mean, has Beyonce ever said for a fact that Ryan Kowarsky is not Blue Ivy’s father?

Anyway, their album eventually went platinum in Canada, they were nominated for Best New Group at the 2001 Juno awards (fun fact: they lost to Nickelback!), and they had a second top 20 hit with Go Go.

In 2003, they moved to Germany and released their second album, In Your Face under the name Before Four.  It debuted in the Top 10, but they never released the album outside of Germany, and split up not too long after.

In 2007, the twins remerged as a duo called RyanDan and released two pop-opera albums (think Josh Groban).  Today, they sing backup in Shania Twain’s Las Vegas show and own a dog boarding facility in Ontario called Camp Cookstown.  They no longer have spiky hair, orange skin or bulging muscles.

Ohad is the co-founder of Boomphones.  I’ve actually heard of those, though I don’t know if I would use them, as they defeat the purpose of headphones.  He has over 9,300 followers on Instagram.  He, too, has stopped spiking his hair, because he seems to be suffering from male pattern baldness.  Nice beard, though.

What Went Wrong?

So, why wasn’t Get Down a hit in the USA? 

I watched TRL everyday, that song would’ve fit in perfectly between Britney and BSB.  The video was typical of the time, too: bright cartoony colors, girls in weird swimsuits, choreographed dancing in utility vests.

The suggestive lyrics shouldn’t have been a problem.  Remember Too Close?  That song was a huge hit; I still hear it on the radio.  Even the respectable boy bands had sexy songs, like NSYNC’s Digital Get Down.

There were two major problems b4-4 wasn’t able to overcome.  The first is their general blandness.  I know only Ryan and Dan are identical twins, but Ohad looked exactly like them.  There was a reason boy bands featured types.  A boy for every girl.  There’s no Bad Boy or Hot One or Big Brother in b4-4.  No one to grab attention, like Justin Timberlake or Taylor Hanson.  No one with attitude, like Donnie Wahlberg and A.J. McLean.  Not even the one Nice One for moms, like Brian Littrell and Lance Bass.  It’s an entire group of the Danny Woods or, as I noted above, Nick Lacheys.  If you don’t like The Big One, there’s no one to get excited about.

The other issue was a matter of timing.  In 2000, NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys had the boy band market cornered.  Actually, they ruled the entire music industry.  NSYNC sold 1 million copies of No Strings Attached in a single day.  The Backstreet Boys’s Millennium sold 10 million copies in 39 weeks.  To put that in perspective, in 2012, after 12 years, Linkin Park’s debut album finally hit 10 million sales.

The battle between the BSB and NSYNC fueled the frenzy, creating more dedicated fan bases that held tighter to the obvious supremacy of their favorite group.  How could any band – say, three identical looking muscle heads from Canada – ever compete with that?

Time may have been on Dan, Ryan and Ohad’s side that day in 1999 when they walked into that Sony office.  But, it ran out for b4-4 long before they schooled teen girls on the importance of give and take.