Lyric Analysis: New Kids on the Block's 'Step By Step'

"Step By Step"
New Kids on the Block

Step by step
Ooh baby
Gonna get to you girl
Step by step (AH!)

The yell at the end of the line could be interpreted in two very different ways.  It could be the guys announcing their intention to “get to you girl” by jumping out from around the corner with an exclamation.  Surprise!  Five guys are totally here to get to you, girl, but, like, one step at a time so don’t freak out.  Or it could be the girl who they’ve announced they intend to get prematurely freaking out because she’s realized she’s the object of their measured approach.  It’s hard to say, this early in the song, which interpretation is correct.  Hopefully we’ll get clarity as we move forward.

Step by step
Ooh baby
Gonna get to you girl
Step by step
Ooh baby
Really want you in my world

Classic boyband lyrical structure here.  Repeating the titular intention to approach their target step by step, they punctuate this intention with crooning and terms of endearment.  The overall effect is one of a softened stalking or a cuddly hunter.  They’re coming, step by step, but baby, hey, ooh, all they want is to have you in their world.  So relax, girl.

(step) hey girl, in your eyes
I see a picture of me all the time
(step) And girl, when you smile
You got to know that you drive me wild

This is obviously a reference to Narcissus of Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection and died staring into his own eyes.  The ‘girl’ here is actually representative of self.  Narcissism is clearly one step in the total goal achievement of this song.

(step by step) Ooh baby
You're always on my mind
(step by step) Ooh girl,
I really think its just a matter of time

Notice that while in the first couplet they were merely (step)ping towards the girl, they’ve now upped the pace and are (step by step)ing towards her.  This increase in pace could be alarming to their target so they cleverly reintroduce the crooning ‘ooh baby’ to counteract the alarm.  They also only talk about thinking in this couplet to further alleviate any fear she may have that their intentions aren’t noble.  

Step by step
Ooh baby
Gonna get to you girl
Step by step
Ooh baby
Really want you in my world

It’s worth noting their dogged determination.  They have a goal, they’ve set a pace, and they’re sticking to it.  It’s a commendable devotion, really.

(step) Hey girl, can't you see
I've got to have you all just for me

There are five New Kids.  I’m merely pointing out that the ‘me’ in this line raises a lot of questions.  Do each of them secretly believe that the singular girl will be for him alone?  Or do they have some sort of agreement in place wherein they’ll all form a star of harmony and love around her?

(step) And girl, yes it's true
No one else will ever do
(step by step) Ooh baby,
You're always on my mind
(step by step) Ooh girl
I really think its just a matter of time

It’s just a matter of time because if they take enough steps (and they’re always stepping, don’t forget that) they’ll eventually cross the globe so there’s literally nowhere to hide.  Step by step by step by step they will cross oceans of thought and time to reach you, baby.

Step by step
Ooh baby
Gonna get to you girl
Step by step
Ooh baby
Really want you in my world

I wonder what they have against the first person singular pronoun.

(step)
(step)
(step)
(step by step)

This is sort of like IKEA assembly instructions except if you follow these you won’t have a Malm dresser to show for it, you’ll have a girlfriend.  Theoretically.  I mean the stated goal is to have the girl in his world so... yeah.  There you have it.  Step.  Step.  Step.  Step by step.  And voila - girl.

Step 1: We can have lots of fun

But the genius of the song is that the steps aren’t just physical.  It’s not just about the literal walk towards the goal, it’s about the metaphysical and emotional steps taken in conjunction.  The first step, step one, is to have lots of fun.  That’s key.  Be assured that everything will begin with amusement.  You won’t be bored with the New Kids.

Step 2: There's so much we can do

The second step, or step two, is an expression of scope.  There’s so much they can do with you, girl.  There’s so much you can do together.  There’s no need to even detail how much there is to do because specific examples will cheapen the vast potential contained in your togetherness.  Just know there’s a lot to do.

Step 3: It's just you and me

Just the two of you, though.  Or, depending, the six of you.  This step, step three, is problematic because there’s no way to know if the New Kids are speaking individually here or not.  I think it’s safest to assume they’re speaking as a unified whole in which they become a five-headed hydra of single intent but there’s no proof.  Donnie never really struck me as being heavily into sharing so ‘just you and me’ could also portend a battle to the death in the near future.  Like with Highlander it is possible that there can be only one New Kid at the end of all this stepping.

Step 4: I can give you more

And certainly the bodies of four close friends is a lot more than anybody else would give you.  The fourth step: when shit gets real.

Step 5: Don't you know that the time has arrived

Vague it up a bit more if you could, New Kids.  The time has arrived!  For... the battle?  Step five?  More stepping?  Consummation of the union?  Dancing?  We may never know.

(AH!)

Expression of frustration, I feel you.  The fifth step left me unsatisfied as well.  So many lingering questions.

(step by step)
Don't you know I need you
(step by step)
Yes I do girl

I’m not sure if it’s probative but the last line in this stanza is sort of huskily and breathily intoned.  

(step by step) Ooh baby,
You're always on my mind
(step by step) Ooh girl
I really think it's just a matter of time

In all fairness, not much in life isn’t a matter of time.  Poet Delmore Schwartz noted, in his poem ‘Calmly We Walk Through This April’s Day’, that “time is the fire in which we burn”, a line which would later be quoted in Star Trek: Generations by Malcolm McDowell’s villainous Dr. Soran.  Indeed, all things are a matter of time.  Even New Kids on the Block who would inevitably become New Men on the Block and then, presumably, just Men on the Block after having lived there for years and settling into the Block routine.

Step by step (step by step girl)
Ooh baby
Gonna get to you girl (to you girl)
Step by step (yeah)
Ooh baby
I want you I need you I want you in my world

There is an interesting switch that happens in this stanza.  Previously all the (step)s were taken before the line but now the (step by step)s are happening after each line.  The placement switch signifies the approaching end of the song which infers that the long-awaited goal, the girl, is in sight.  The pace has increased as signified by the repetition and the (step)s are now winding to a conclusion instead of forging the way.

Step by step (ooh ooh oooooh)
To you girl
Step by step (oh girl)
Really want you in my world

There’s a lot of raw longing being expressed here.  Grammar has completely fallen by the wayside as passion takes over and the steps can almost stop being taken.  

Step by step
Ooh baby
Gonna get to you girl

Though, unsatisfactorily, the actual getting of the girl does not make it into the song.  All that stepping and I’m just in need of a seat and maybe some water and still no girl.  What gives with the lacklustre finale, boys?  I’m disappointed that you couldn’t seal the deal here.  Maybe it’s because nobody actually likes a stalker.  Let this be a lesson.  There’s a fine line between determination and creepiness.  Figure out where that line is for your next song.

- Corinne Simpson