Lyric Analysis: New Kids on the Block's 'Hangin' Tough'

 (It is entirely possible portions of this analysis are NSFW, sort of.  If your boss is very adept at reading over your shoulder, I mean.)

Hangin' Tough
New Kids on the Block
 

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.
Listen up everybody if you wanna take a chance.

I... yes, I mean I think I do.  But maybe I need a bit more information before I take that chance.  Am I taking a chance on the letter O?  This is either Sesame Street-style shenanigans or I am immediately reminded of Office Space and the whole ‘O face’ scene.  Ummm.... awkward.  How old were the various New Kids when this song came out?  I need to check before I continue.  Their youngest member - Joey MacIntyre - was 15/16 in the 'Hangin' Tough' era.  I’m going to just quickly move on in the song and hope things improve.

Just get on the floor and do the New Kids' dance.
Don't worry 'bout nothing 'cause it won't take long.

The good news for those following New Kids commands at home is that getting on the floor and doing the New Kids dance is actually really easy.  It involves a lot of bouncing on the balls of your feet, twirling with your jacket flaring out around you, some hand-clasp with elbow-side-thrust movements, rhythmic waving of one arm in the air, and a couple of deep knee bends with a floor touch flourish.  It’s not like you’re going to have to memorize NSync-level choreography so go ahead, get on the floor and do the New Kids dance. 

It won’t take long.  The song is only 4:18 and somehow the video is only 3:52.  I am assuming they individually last longer than this song.  Maybe I should say I’m ‘hoping’.

We're gonna put you in a trance with a funky song, 'cause you gotta be
Hangin' tough, hangin' tough, hangin' tough.

This might be about their intent to put you in an actual trance with a funky song in which case they have a weirdly marketable skill set because of the millions of people worldwide who pay to be hypnotized for one reason or another, being hypnotized by a funky song instead of a ticking metronome and the order to “feel sleepy” would be of high value.  I might even pay to be put in a trance with a funky song.  Unless they made me believe I was a chicken during that funky song because I hate the chicken dance.

Another possibility is that they’re putting you in a metaphorical trance with a funky song which is really just like clubbing.  Or like the hypnotic adoration that resulted whenever they did anything back in the 80s.  Girls would just fawn all over them during their funky songs so this is actually a description of their reality.  Deep.

We're rough.

Rough and tumble?  Roughage?  Like diamonds in the rough?  I will settle on the assumption that they’re referencing their dancing which is indeed rough.  But perhaps deliberately so in order to allow us all to follow easily along at home.

Also rough does tidily rhyme with tough so this is full-scale stereotyped ‘manly poetry’ that we are witness to.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.
Everybody's always talkin' 'bout who's on top.

I swear I never read so much innuendo into this song until today.  And now it’s all I can hear!  Who is on top, Donnie?  Combine that discussion with how much clothing you shed in a typical performance and it’s a topic I am genuinely interested in pursuing.

At the time I can only assume they were throwing shade at those who doubted them, however.  This sentiment - about being on top of their craft and getting respect for it - will be echoed with a lot more rap and much more falsetto overlay in ‘Games’.

Don't cross our path 'cause you're gonna get stomped.

Violence is never the answer.  Though this line could also be meant as a warning: if you cross their paths while they are ‘dancing’ you are definitely in danger of sustaining injury because flailing is a big part of their routine.

We ain't gonna give anybody any slack.
And if you try to keep us down we're gonna come right back,

Ah, the unquenchable enthusiasm of youth.  The admirable ability to deflate then immediately spring back into action on demand.  You can drain them but they will be ready for more in a veritable heartbeat.
**management apologizes for the sexually inappropriate direction this analysis has taken**

and you know we're
Hangin' tough, hangin' tough, hangin' tough.

Just what they’re hangin' tough for or in response to is still unclear.  I presume the vicious pressure of putting out a sophomore album that simultaneously puts a group on the map and garners desired critical approval is something all boybands struggle with because this sentiment is not one exclusive to NKOTB.  Backstreet widely proclaimed that they were “back” (in what, weirdly, was largely considered their breakout hit) in ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’ and sample lyrics include “Cuz we got it goin' on again / Yeah / Am I original? / Yeah / Am I the only one? / Yeah / Am I sexual? / Yeah / Am I everything you need? / You better rock your body now”.  Likewise NSync proclaimed their worthiness and “gift of melody” as well as their general disinterest in being dismissed as irrelevant in the first single off their third album, ‘Pop’.  Sample lyrics include “Tired of feelin all / Around me animosity / Just worry about yours / 'Cause I'ma get mine / Now people can't you see / It doesn't matter / 'Bout the car I drive or / The ice around my neck / All that matters / Is that you recognize / That it's just about respect”.  Since ‘Hangin' Tough’ was a precursor to both ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’ and ‘Pop’ and the monstrous success of New Kids on the Block more or less paved the way for both Backstreet Boys and NSync (as well as innumerable boybands worldwide including 98 Degrees, Westlife, etc, etc), I think it’s safe to assume that "we’re hangin' tough" is basically the call to arms of boybands everywhere.  They are all, collectively, hangin' tough.  Don’t you see?  It is super tough being an adored member of a wildly successful pop group.  They need to affirm each other and they need to hang tough, man.

Are you tough enough?

Are you?  This is a throwdown to all you upstarts thinking that what they do is easy.  All you armchair boybanders who think you could get up on stage, wave your arms in unison, and make girls pass out screaming just by showing up.  Do you think you can?  Are you tough enough?  By god, I don’t think you are.  And Donnie, Danny, Jon, Jordan, and Joey don’t think you are either, punk.

Hangin' tough, hangin' tough, hangin' tough.
We're rough.

They’re basically hangin' tough waiting for all the criticism and flack to die down so they can release another chart-stomping hit and suck more hard-earned money out of parents’ wallets.  They’re rough, man.  They can both dish it and take it.
And now I just created another innuendo in my mind.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

Drew: “If things go well I might be showing her my O-face. ‘Oh... Oh... Oh!’ You know what I’m talkin’ about. ‘Oh!”

Get loose everybody 'cause we're gonna do our thing.

I am my own worst enemy!!  This lyric following that reference?  I don’t even have to write anymore.  It’s on autopilot now.

'Cause you know it ain't over 'till the fat lady sings.

Get your minds out of the gutter just once.  This is an opera reference.  Specifically it is assumed to reference a Wagner opera and the twenty minute last act aria of the soprano playing the valkyrie Brünnhilde.  Basically it means nothing is over until it’s over.  Don’t assume you know the end of the tale while the story is still in progress.  Because there is both a line and an orchestral finale following Brünnhilde’s aria.  Likewise, you know, the New Kids, at this point, have yet to release ‘Cover Girl’ and the entirety of their ‘Step by Step’ album.  So stop making your way to the opera house lobby early and sit back down.  This show ain’t over, y’all!

Hangin' tough, hangin' tough, hangin' tough.
Are you tough enough?

I think we’ve established that while nobody else is, I really believe I am.

Hangin' tough, hangin' tough, hangin' tough.
We're rough.

Now that it’s the end of the song and you’re all well into your forties, New Kids, I’m going to go ahead and tell you that I read this lyric as an interest in rough sex and possibly BDSM.  Especially you, Donnie.  

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, just hangin' tough, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, hangin' tough.

- Corinne Simpson