Kevin Yee, a former member of failed ’90s group Youth Asylum has opened up in a recent Reddit AMA about the harsh realities of being in a constructed boy band, claiming that not only did he only make about $4,000 over the three years the band was together, he actually came out of the whole experience in debt.
“The debt was from being in the group for three years and making no money,” explains Yee. “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.”
According to Yee Youth Asylum were signed to Warner Brother’s offshoot label Qwest Records from 1998-2000. He says they recorded an album produced in part by Quincy Jones and David Foster, but it was never released. They spent three years touring malls and middle schools with their mildly successful single Jasmin and were eventually dropped from their label when it shut down in 2000.
“The hardest part was afterwards because I felt like a wash-up at the age of 18,” he adds. “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. ”
Yee says the band was entirely constructed and controlled by the label. “The group was already signed to a label before any of the group members were chosen,” he reveals. “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.”
Once they gained a little momentum, Yee claims the label took control of every part of the band’s image, instructing them how to dress, what to sing and even to hide his sexual orientation. “My management guessed that I was gay pretty early on even though I wasn’t out,” he claims. “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.”
Additionally, Yee claims the money earmarked for the education of the band members, all teenagers at the time, was mishandled. “I have to be a little vague on this one,” he says without explaining why, “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.”
He adds that although they eventually rectified the situation and brought in “the best tutor money could afford”, it was too late for him to catch up. “I was the oldest and needed to graduate so my education was very very rushed. My diploma was basically bought for me.”
Now a working comedian, Yee says his relationship with the entertainment industry is “a life long journey” and says while he doesn’t really keep in touch with his former bandmates, they are still friends on Facebook.
“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,” he explains. “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.”