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As the most popular teen pop sensation in Britain since the '60s, Take That ruled the U.K. charts during the first half of the '90s. In strict commercial terms, the band sold more records than any English act since the Beatles, though the cultural and musical importance was significantly less substantial. Conceived as a British answer to New Kids on the Block, Take That initially worked the same territory as their American counterparts, singing watered-down new jack R&B, urban soul, and mainstream pop. Eventually, the group worked their way toward Hi-NRG dance music, while also pursuing an adult contemporary ballad direction. Take That's boyish good looks guaranteed them a significant portion of the teenybopper audience, but in a bizarre twist, most of their videos and promotional photos had a strong homosexual undercurrent -- they were marketed to pre-teen girls and a kitschy gay audience simultaneously. Take That was also able to make inroads in the adult audience in Britain through Gary Barlow's melodic, sensitive ballads. For nearly five years, the group's popularity was unsurpassed in Britain, as they racked up a total of seven number one hits. By the middle of the decade, all of the members were entering their mid-twenties and became disenchanted with each other. Furthermore, the pop music tastes in Britain were shifting toward the classic guitar pop sounds of Brit-pop bands like Blur and Oasis, who were able to appeal to both the indie rock and teen pop audience. Consequently, the group called it quits in 1996, as Oasis began to surpass Take That both in terms of sales and cultural impact. Nevertheless, Take That remained one of the most interesting and popular British teen pop phenomenons not only of the '90s, but of the rock & roll era.
Gary Barlow (born January 20, 1971) was always the central figure of Take That. As the lead vocalist and songwriter for the band, he determined their musical direction. As a child, Barlow was already a gifted musician and, by the age of 14, he was playing organ in Ken Dodd's supporting band. One of Barlow's first songs, "Let's Pray for Christmas," was a finalist in an original Christmas song competition on the BBC television show Pebble Mill. In his late teens, he came in contact with Mark Owen (born January 27, 1974) and Robbie Williams (born February 13, 1974), two other young musicians that came from middle-class backgrounds. Williams' father was a comedian and his mother was a singer; before the formation of Take That, he had briefly appeared in the British soap opera Brookside. Owen had previously auditioned and failed for the football team Manchester United. The trio formed the Cutest Rush, which had a short-lived career. Record producer/manager Nigel Martin Smith had the intention of putting together a British pop group in the vein of New Kids on the Block, and approached the members of the Cutest Rush. Barlow, Owen, and Williams agreed, and along with Jason Orange (born July 10, 1970) and Howard Donald (born April 28, 1968) -- two former members of a breakdancing troupe called Street Beat -- they became Take That in 1990.