DiS Does Pop #7: The 10 Commandments of Teen Pop
Hello! Welcome to the seventh edition of DiS Does Pop where the Top 40 is placed under a microscope of revelatory declarations and humorous asides. Like the search for Sean Paul’s dignity, it’s tough going at times but we’ll plough on nonetheless.
This month with One Direction having conquered America, Conor Maynard riding high in the UK charts and Justin Bieber still very much in existence, there seemed no better time to write the 10 Commandments of Teen Pop. Yep, we delved into the history of The Jackson 5, The Osmonds, Hanson and many others to deliver the indomitable rules governing this most hormonal of sub-genres. There’s also the usual Top 40 Watch and Made For TV features for your reading pleasure.
The 10 Commandments of Teen Pop
On 27 March 2012 a momentous occasion in pop music history occurred; Justin Bieber unleashed a certifiably brilliant single in ‘Boyfriend’. With a little help from its Timbaland-esque beat the young Canadian finally mastered the 10th Commandment of Teen Pop, following in the footsteps of some bloke with an an angelic face and impressive afro several decades ago. The bloke was Michael Jackson, the song was ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’ and, even by modern standards, the afro remains magnificent. Want to know how they did it and who else has followed in their mighty footsteps? Read onwards...
1) Thou shalt possess a cute face
When it comes to teen pop, it’s hard to overstate the importance of owning a floppy fringe and a sugar sweet smile. There’s a reason why Hanson were unleashed upon the world with their trademarked ‘Aryan slackers from California’ look rather than a Kiss Club Juniors styling and that is because innocence is the most important currency of all in teen pop. When the teens themselves aren’t buying the singles, it’s their parents who hold the purchasing power, thereby censoring whatever appears in their impressionable child’s record collection.
2) Thou shalt not be sexy, unless you’re a girl
For this reason, adolescent popstars had traditionally given the impression they’d never heard the word ‘virginity’ let alone come close to fracturing a real life hymen. That was until a 16 year-old Britney Spears made Christian America feel all hot under the collar with her video for ‘...Baby One More Time’. This was followed up with an even more overtly sexual Rolling Stone cover in 1999 which shattered the seemingly unbreakable rule that teen pop is an avenue for children to fancy the pants off a singer without wishing to remove any actual undergarments.
Through her pledge to remain unpenetrated until marriage, Spears’ family appeal was kept intact and she unwittingly set a new precedent. Girls like herself and Christina Aguilera could empower their core teen pop audience of young girls while straddling across the gender aisle in skimpy hotpants so as to appeal to pervy men of all ages. Since the vast majority of teen popstars continue to be young boys, they must remain chaste through the ownership of a purity ring (Jonas Brothers) or a commitment not to get it on with someone “unless you love them” (Justin Bieber). Thereby the timeworn rule of fans wanting/repressing what they can’t have remains firmly in place.
3) Thou shalt know your audience
According to the BPI Yearbook 2011, 56.1 per cent of all digital single sales are made by those under 30. In fact, 27.7 per cent of the digital singles market is dominated by 13-19 year olds with teenage girls accounting for just under a quarter (24.2 per cent) of digital albums sales by their gender. Digital album sales by teenage boys make up only 17.6 per cent of their gender’s spending in this market.
Speaking in plain English, if young people are the biggest investors in pop music and teenage girls are a reliable niche within that age group then it makes sense to produce acts that reflect their pubescent needs and desires. To boil things down even further, it’s bad news for Engelbert Humperdinck and good times for One Direction.
4) Thou shalt be impressively talented for your tender years
As much as there’s a ready-made market for teen pop, it would be doing its purveyors a disservice to suggest any chubby cheeked toddler will do. Any chubby cheeked toddler will do, so long as they have the voice of a cherub. You know, the kind of high pitched warbling which exude innocence and an inexplicable rage amongst internet messageboard types. These shrill tones have been frequently been used to carry some inexplicably drab songs. On rare occasions, they’re the icing on a cake of pure amazingness. Either way, without an unnaturally polished set of pipes then you’re on a one way ticket to Lil Bow Wowville and no-one wants that.
5) Thou shalt have your own TV show
Part of the charm of following your favourite teenie bopper is quite literally watching them grow into their popstar status. Since The Monkees first arrived onscreen singing ‘Last Train To Clarksville’, everyone from the Jackson 5 to the S Club Juniors have been honoured with their own children’s TV show. In the pre-Internet era, even if you didn’t have your own dedicated show, being featured in another was a standard ticket to a seeing your name in shining lights. Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, as well as JC Chasez from ‘N Sync and Ryan Gosling from The Notebook, all featured in Disney’s iconic The Mickey Mouse Club series.
Since the advent of YouTube, the same applies except you’ll be introduced to the world through Facebook first. Either as a talent show contestant with a particularly winsome audition (One Direction) or an undiscovered diamond in the rough covering the chart hits of today from the comfort of your bedroom (Justin Bieber, Conor Maynard). This potential to broadcast to a ginormous audience is offset however, by the slim likelihood you’ll be able to differentiate yourself from an impossibly huge crowd.
6) Thou shalt have an unhinged manager
Given most adult popstars struggle to assert their will upon the music industry, a brutally efficient manager is necessary to ensure teen pop success. More often than not, they’re related to the singer in question and a complete mentalist. To give you a taste of the madness here are our three favourite instances of WTF career guidance...
-Lou Pearlman, manager of both ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys, has been sued in Federal Court by all the musical acts who have worked with him (bar US5) for misrepresentation and fraud. On May 21, 2008, he was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for perpetrating a long-running Ponzi scheme valued at over $300 million.
-According to numerous reports, The Jackson 5 were frequently physically abused by their father and manager Joe Jackson. In one such incident, Marlon Jackson has alleged Michael Jackson was held upside down his father who "pummelled him over and over again with his hand, hitting him on his back and buttocks”.
-Justin Bieber’s mother Patricia Mallette was reluctant to allow record executive Scooter Braun to sign her son due to his Jewish beliefs. She’s quoted by The New York Times as praying, "God, I gave him to you. You could send me a Christian man, a Christian label! ... you don’t want this Jewish kid to be Justin’s man, do you?"
7) Thou shalt rake in the cash
It goes without saying that teen pop is a lucrative business. Not only do acts and artists stand to make a lot of dollar from record sales, they can also double their earnings by lending their image rights to assorted bits of tat. Time is quite literally money, since the older you get the less lucrative this sort of activity is. In the unlikely scenario that One Direction continue to clock in UK album sales of 499,850 well into their 30s, a haggard Zayn Malik is going to be a much less attractive prospect staring out from a lunchbox. For now, the Heat Magazine favourite and his other four Billboard conquering pals are flogging everything from an official stationary set, to beach towels and action figurines while they still can.
8) Thou shalt embrace your fans and ignore the haterz
As a teenage popstar you represent more than just a passing fancy to many of your fans; you are their first pop crush. Someone they’ll dedicate every corner of their bedroom to. Someone whose lyrics will be memorised like the national anthem of unrequited love. Someone who may have a girlfriend right now but is just taking time to explore his options before realising you are the only one for him. Frankly, if you’re greeted with anything less than a Hard Day's Night style stampede wherever you travel, then it’s game over.
Not every YouTube commentor will be writing to offer you sex with a minor, amongst the more platonic shows of affection are plenty of insults in the vein of “so fucking gay”. Since teen idols are supposed to be squeaky clean and deprived of all masculinity, these homophobic insults are depressingly par for the course. Don’t expect much support from the critics either. Even if your album is deemed worthy of a review, it’s likely to be brushed off in 50 words ending on a “one dimension” pun. Thanks to social media, this cycle of savage takedowns and uncritical adoration now plays out on a 24 hour loop.
9) Thou shalt be a social media God
It’s not all bad news. Teen popstars make most of their money by focussing this frenzied behaviour into an ‘us against the world mentality’. “I GOT SO MUCH LOVE FOR THE FANS...you are always there for me and I will always be there for you,” proclaims Justin Bieber to his 20 million Twitter Beliebers. “It's lonely at the top, that's why I plan to take all of you with me,” vows Conor Maynard to his 163,000 Mayniacs. Harry Styles doesn’t say much to his 3,000,000 followers but that’s probably because he’s too busy trying to individually make their dreams come true for one night only.
With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, it’s easier than ever to harness this group loyal mass as part of money making endeavours. Your status as a true fan is instantly compromised if you haven’t bought the latest tour tickets, allow your TV viewing to be dictated by the shows your idol is performing in or refuse to shell out $99 per year to use their fan forum. When you’re reminded on an hourly basis of his/her whereabouts, what possible excuse could you have for reneging on your sworn duty?
10) Thou shalt grow-up
It’s happened to everyone from Miley Cyrus to Michael Jackson. Sooner or later they have to abandon their innocent guise in search of something more lasting. The obvious way to do this is with an undeniably awesome track like ‘Boyfriend’, ‘Like I Love You’ or ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’. The less established route is to be tried in a court of law as an adult, a course of action which has served Chris Brown unfathomably well.
For every Christina Agulera who got ‘Dirty’ and got away with it, there are numerous other pop casualties who failed to make the transition from teen to adult. Spare a brief thought for silent tragedy that befell those S Club 7 members who weren’t Rachel Stevens, Joe Jonas and JoJo. If the worst does happen, at least there’s the powerful force of nostalgia to ride out the rest of your career on. While Donny Osmond is living it up in Vegas, Merrill, Jay and "Little" Jimmy can be found on their ‘final UK tour’ taking in Britain’s most prestigious musical venues and the High Wycombe Swan. Tickets start at a fairly reasonable £32.45 if you’re interested.
Top 40 Watch
Call Me Maybe - Carly Rae Jepsen (UK Number 1 Single)
Sharing the same manager with Justin Bieber must have been a pretty awkward experience for Carly Rae Jepsen last Sunday when she held off ‘Boyfriend’ to triumph in the singles chart. This week JB’s track has dropped off to Number 10, while his Canadian labelmate stands tall at Number 1 for the third week running. Given Jepsen is 26 years old, her innocuous bubblegum pop is a strange fit but ‘Call Me Maybe’ is as catchy as ebola so she can get away with pretty much anything at the moment, including this diabolical cover of ‘Both Sides Now’. On the plus side, the video for her smash hit has the best shock gay ending since Olivia Newton John’s ‘Physical’.
Adele - 21 (UK Number 1 Album)
What is there left to be said about Adele's 21? Not much, other than it has been selling so well bookies are now predicting it will be the UK’s best selling album of all-time by next year. Let’s chat about some of the other high charting albums this week then. Jason Mraz's Love Is A Four Letter Word slumped to Number 2 after looking set for the top spot in the midweeks. Nicki Minaj’s messy Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is doing okay at Number 3, although we’re getting very tired of her personality clash between credible rapper and no holds barred popstar. Lana Del Rey’s brilliant Born To Die is still kicking around at Number 5 and, after a spectacular showing at Number 3 last week, Alabama Shakes have dropped off to a still respectable Number 9 with Boys & Girls. To sum up, it has not been a vintage week for the record buying public.
Can’t Say No - Conor Maynard (UK Number 2 Single)
Can you keep a secret readers? We spent a whole month trying to chase Conor Maynard for an interview as part of this column, not only because he would have proved a good fit but because we’re partial to his debut single ‘Can’t Say No’. Mr Maynard’s management barred us from speaking to their teen pop sensation over the phone but promised Conor would reply to an email within a few days our sending it. Four weeks later and it seems as though our polite enquiries were too tough to handle. Sample question: “If you could have any piece of merchandise with your face on it, what would it be and why?”
So Good - B.o.B. (UK Number 7 Single)
After taking on Tyler, The Creator with his diss track ‘No Future’, B.O.B. has chosen to elevate his bad boy persona on ‘So Good’ by rapping about how much he likes a ladyfriend. Scoff as you might, this choice cut from the forthcoming Strange Clouds features the lyric of the the year, hands down! We of course refer to, “We'll hit up Europe and spend some Euros. We’ll maybe visit Berlin, the walls with the murals.”
Primadonna - Marina & The Diamonds (Number 11)
Last in this month’s Top 40 Watch but by no means least, ‘Primadonna’ is another sublime single from the best Welsh export since Tom Jones’ endless Elvis anecdotes. Lightyears ahead of the uncertain ‘Hollywood’ and a worthy successor to last year’s ‘Radioactive’, Marina seems to have struck upon a perfect blend of tongue in cheek lyrics and bonkers bass-driven delirium. Our copy of Electra Heart is already pre-ordered, if you’ve any interest in pop music whatsoever you should do the same.
Made For TV: Northern Light - Basshunter @ Koko Pop
It's hard to say when civilisation reached its peak but the day Basshunter released his third album, LOL <(^^,)>, is surely a high point. Obviously Jonas Altberg’s career has been in freefall every since but he still pulled out all the stops on T4’s Koko Pop for a spectacular rendition of his latest single ‘Northern Lights’. By ‘spectacular’, we of course mean ‘unforgivably woeful’ but it’s easy to get confused when Basshunter is releasing another era defining piece of rave pop. By ‘confused’, we of course mean ‘despondent for the future of humanity’.