It does not bother the members of PrettyMuch when people call them a boy band: Brandon Arreaga, Edwin Honoret, Nick Mara, Austin Porter and Zion Kuwonu embrace their place in history. That’s because they haven’t had to check their individual identities at the door. Where Zayn had to leave One Direction before he was allowed to keep a beard or dye his hair, Honoret’s hair color changes from lava red to bright blue at any given moment. Arreaga, the group’s principal producer, regularly paints his nails. Porter is a new father. Kuwonu is a dreadlocked daredevil. Mara is an accomplished dancer. All the dealbreakers of boy bands past are prerequisites to be in PrettyMuch.
For a time, the future of PrettyMuch was uncertain. Simon Cowell brought the group together in 2016, and they debuted in 2017 with “Would You Mind,” which landed on Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 Airplay chart. But the group felt their music being pushed towards stock archetypes under Cowell’s Syco Music, and the dissolution of the label in September left them in limbo (Cowell departed earlier that July). After a year without a record deal, they finally have a new, supportive home at Sire Records, and they’re working towards a debut studio album.
In the meantime, a three-track EP, Smackables, is released today, with three more songs to follow soon. Reflecting on the last year, Arreaga says “We had to go back to basics. We had to reflect. Like, Wow, I can’t believe we did that. But also, I can’t believe what we’re about to do. How do we get there?” Austin Porter hopes PrettyMuch will be remembered for taking “the original idea of a boy band, flipping it on its head, and now that’s the new common idea of boy bands because they created a new lane.”
To that end, freed from the constraints of Cowell, the band is writing songs like Arreaga’s “Corpus Christi,” about a fictional affair in his native Texas, which will appear on the deluxe version of Smackables. When Arreaga played the song for his father, he learned his great-grandfather was having an affair with a married woman in Mexico, and once her husband found out, Arreaga’s great-grandfather was on the first flight out of Mexico. “That’s literally how my family came to America,” Arreaga says, grinning in disbelief. “He landed in Corpus Christi.”
The band caught up with GQ to pull the curtain all the way back for die-hard BEANZ (one boy band staple PrettyMuch is not above is having a nickname for their fan base) as well as first-time listeners.
GQ: Your individual personalities and tastes have never gotten lost in the shuffle. How are you trying to redefine the boy band label?
Nick Mara: It’s funny that you say that because we were just talking about this. With boy bands or girl bands, I feel like they have a timeframe, and then once that fizzles out, people are like, “On to the next one.” We took a step back to really adjust to what we actually want to do. Once we did that, we were like, “Hey, we’re still here. We’re back stronger than ever.” Whatever cliche you think is gonna happen, we’re probably gonna do the opposite.
Edwin Honoret: There’s rock bands and alternative bands, and those bands always seem to go forward and be together until they’re God knows how old. I think the reason behind that is because they established a friendship at a young point where music was important first, and it wasn’t about becoming famous. It wasn’t about clout chasing. In the beginning, it was hard because how do you balance that—being young and trying to make it but also trying to stay true? The one thing that we just held onto was that we respect each other, we live with each other, we love each other, and we’re brothers. We’re not all the same person. There’s gonna be times where there are ups and downs.