The teen age

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Date: Mar 10, 2001
Source: The Arizona Republic
Submitted By: Amber Dale

Britney, 'N Sync and Co. will do anything to keep from getting old Teresa Gubbins - Dallas Morning News

They sing - sort of - and dance. They make tons of money.

But that's not enough.

They are today's teen pop stars: the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Destiny's Child. In just two years, they've overtaken radio, sold millions of records and transformed MTV into their own personal media playground.

But they won't stop at pop music - not when there's a larger world of pop culture to seize. Striving to spin out their lifespan, teen pop acts have expanded into all fields of entertainment - from movie roles to books to film production to launching their own record labels and management companies.

If this teen pop cycle were to play out in standard here-today-gone-tomorrow fashion, Britney and company would be due for a fade-out right about now. Two years is an eternity in the teen pop world. But this generation seems determined to avoid being scuttled as swiftly as the Leif Garretts, Bobby Shermans and Tony DeFrancos of yesteryear.

Embodying the opportunistic spirit that dominates our society, capitalizing on the watchword of the day - synergy - and armed with a degree of business savvy that often exceeds their musical skills, these teen acts are fighting their disposability with the same workaholic zeal they've exhibited in their musical careers. And they're wasting no time. Like software viruses on the Internet, they're learning to flip and change with lightning-quick speed, shifting to continue soaking up the warm rays of fame and fortune.

Teen pop climbed a new peak in January: the Super Bowl. Inching one step closer to superstardom, Spears and 'N Sync joined Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige and Nelly in an MTV-produced halftime show that aired simultaneously on the music channel and CBS. The Backstreet Boys sang the national anthem.

That teen stars would rule MTV is no surprise; that they would blitz the highest-rated show on TV indicates the significant place that teen acts have come to occupy on the cultural landscape.

"Marketing has turned them into much larger-than-life entities," says Chuck Taylor, senior writer at Billboard magazine. "They are cross-branded as actors, they have live performances that are the most dazzling sight you can imagine, they're all over magazine covers."

The performers' double-time pace is matched by the market's voracious appetite for new, more, different entertainment.

"Society expects to be dazzled at all times," Taylor says.

Music isn't enough, says Roberta Caploe, editorial director at Primedia, which publishes Tiger Beat, Teen Beat and Bop magazines.

"You have to star in a movie," she says. "You have to have a clothing line. You have to have the superhunk boyfriend. There is this sort of encompassing drive. The generation of stars coming up thinks it can and should do everything."

As graduates of the teen pop music machine, they've been schooled by managers, producers and svengalis, such as Lou Pearlman - the man behind 'N Sync, the Backstreet Boys and O-Town. He can be given almost full credit for today's teen pop scene. His formula is simple: Find fresh faces, submit them to the equivalent of a pop crash course, market them and hope they sell.

"The feeling is," Caploe says, "you want to have the star in as many different venues as possible so that the audience really gets the message. You have to make your impact so much more quickly.

The pop star who is most admired and emulated by current teen pop acts is Madonna - the ultimate pop chameleon, says Gerri Hirshey, an author of two books on music and a veteran reporter for Rolling Stone magazine.

"Some of these kids are smart enough (to) know they need help, so they'll spend $10,000 to hire the stylists who will get them in Vogue," she says.

Now comes the fresh success of O-Town, the pre-fab boy band whose formation was tracked on the ABC TV show Making the Band.

After enduring months of lessons in singing, dancing, image-making and humility, O-Town got its payoff in January when its self-titled debut entered at No. 5 on the Billboard charts - despite the fact that the fivesome displayed no great reserve of talent when recruited.

"We're getting mail on O-Town - the kids want to see them," Caploe says. "They had the TV show, and they have a lot of things behind them that will be contributing factors to their success. We'll have to see what kind of longevity their career has."

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