Teen acts tune out radio TV making bands into pop stars

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Date: Jun 13, 2001
Source: USA Today
Submitted By: jmw

By Edna Gundersen

Radio, historically the 800-pound gorilla in music marketing, isn't the top banana for some teen-pop success stories.

In the past six months, three hot-to-tots names in the mega-genre have enjoyed commercial triumphs without much assistance from radio programmers, who collectively are resisting adding new teen-pop acts to their playlists. Thanks to generous exposure on television, especially the kid-geared Disney, Nickelodeon and Fox Family channels, this bubblegum triumvirate scaled the charts without saturating the airwaves:

* Aaron Carter, the kid brother of Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, built a sizable following through adolescent-aimed TV programming and a starring role in Broadway musical Seussical. His second album, Aaron's Party (Come Get It), has sold 1.9 million copies and is No. 45 in Billboard after 36 weeks on the chart. It peaked at No. 4 in April, with one-week sales of 105,000, after heavy Disney Channel exposure. His summer tour, kicking off June 15 in Phoenix, is sponsored by Nickelodeon.

* O-Town, the prefab group spawned by ABC's Making the Band series, entered the chart at No. 5 in February after selling 145,000 copies its first week. The self-titled debut is now No. 30, up 10 slots from a week ago, and has sold 790,000 copies in 19 weeks. Despite lack of airplay, first single Liquid Dreams topped the sales chart on release, a first for a new artist. Its radio-deficient victory grabbed the attention of top 40, which embraced second single All or Nothing, resulting in a 160% album sales boost in mid-April. O-Town's summer tour kicked off a week ago, and the TV show's second season premiered Friday night.

* Eden's Crush, the girl group left standing after elimination rounds on the WB reality series Popstars, arrived on the chart at No. 6 after selling 99,000 copies of its debut. After five weeks, the Popstars album is No. 79 with total sales of 211,000. Get Over Yourself, while initially shunned at radio, made history as the first single by a female group to premiere at No. 1 on the sales chart.

Circumventing radio is nobody's idea of a winning game plan, but when programmers began spurning new waves of teen dreams, labels found a backdoor to fame through the tube.

TV is not exactly a new kid on the block. It was pivotal in launching everyone from The Beatles (on The Ed Sullivan Show) to The Monkees to The Archies. MTV, launched in 1981 with the prophetic Buggles clip for Video Killed the Radio Star, revolutionized the industry. More recently, Sting's Brand New Day got a second wind when single Desert Rose cropped up in a car ad, a reflection of Madison Avenue's switch from oldies to current hits. Paula Cole's profile spiked when Dawson's Creek adopted I Don't Want to Wait as its theme. And Vonda Shepard owes her career to Ally McBeal.

Still, until today's adolescent armies invaded, TV always played second fiddle to radio.

The power balance shifted with Carter, O-Town and Eden's Crush, and is evident in the rise of Samantha Mumba and videogenic boy band BBMak, scheduled to appear this summer on Disney's Even Stevens and ABC soap All My Children.

But those examples ''are anomalies,'' says Sean Ross, editor of radio magazine Airplay Monitor. ''There will be other anomalies. It does happen, but you can't plan for it yet. If you could, everyone would do it.''

A smart marketer will use TV as part of a larger arsenal, he says. Grabbing the consumer's ear is a worthy goal. Grabbing radio's ear is better.

A TV push ''can put some acts on the docket,'' Ross says. ''It allowed O-Town to live to fight another day. And now they have a record radio likes.''

TV has proved invaluable in cracking open a door to radio, which shut out latecomers in the kiddie-pop parade.

''There was a feeling in radio that 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys were the real thing, and nobody wanted to play what they characterized as a string of imitators,'' Ross says. ''Starting in late 1998, even before Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, some stations resolved to stick with acts already on the playlist unless a record was undeniable. O-Town would not have gotten the amount of radio without the TV show.''

TV's expanded clout hasn't transformed radio, which still neglects some sales-driven hits.

''Should someone have played Aaron Carter?'' Ross muses. ''You'd think so. You'd think by dint of having a remake (I Want Candy) on his album, stations could have passed it off as an adult-access record. If radio continues to draw the line in the sandbox, they'll probably sit out some real hits.''

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