Can A Teenybopper Catch A Break?
Teenyboppers. Every generation has a set of them—musical artists who are talented, but kid-friendly to the point that they send the youth into a frenzy. They’re a record label staple: young acts that can spur an enamored tween demographic, one without disposable income, to force their parents do the spending for them with tears and declarations of imminent death if they don’t have that poster hanging in their room or an entire album downloaded on itunes. While it is clear that some tween acts have been less talented than others, they are still generally met with a particular sort of disdain from some older members of the public.
Their declining popularity has quelled some of the criticism in their direction, but at their height, the Jonas Brothers were as violently loved by tween girls as they were highly disliked by many of us olds. Their act was highly gimmicky, and powered by that great child exploiting beast, Disney. Their image was carefully built: clean-cut, Christian friendly and chaste, their love songs about love of God instead could easily be interpreted as a love of girls. They were vessels of Disney, product placed from the laces of their shoes to their suspect relationships with other Disney brats. Their young (and older) fans were swept away by their image, while everyone else found it reprehensible. But one thing both JoBro lovers and haters seemed to overlook was the fact that—mediocre singing ability aside—these kids are pretty talented musicians. They play their own instruments and by their second album, wrote many of the songs. At shows, the youngest Jonas showcases his incredible music ability hopping from instrument to instrument. One minute strumming his guitar from a raised platform, the next, hustling up a flight of stairs to hop on the drums for a song or two, then retiring to his piano for a slow jam. But this aspect of their performance is not really highlighted. Young girls like them for their growing biceps and fresh faces, while older folks hate their saccharine swagger.
It is clear these days that Justin Bieber has taken up where the Jonas Brothers left off. Yet although he is marketed differently—as an anomaly, a soulful R&B crooning, break dancing white boy from Canada of all places—he is still greeted with many of the same affections and distaste. It is clear to those not blinded by how he is packaged that Justin Bieber is actually quite talented. He wouldn’t be backed by one of the most popular and talented entertainers of our time if he weren’t! He’s appeared on tracks with some of hip-hop’s heavy hitters, and his music videos are a multiethnic explosion of hip-hop dance and teenage pastimes. One wonders why such a young man would be hated on as he is by the olds. Maybe it’s the atrocious haircut. Maybe we olds just don’t get it. Maybe people automatically assume he’s part of the Disney machine and then conclude that they cannot on principle cosign on his act.
We would argue that whether we realize it or not, most of the disdain is the caused by his bread and butter—his fans. Their keen obsession with him, the storming of malls, the frenzied pubescent tweets that make this rando Canadian kid with the ill swagged out lesbian haircut the #1 trending topic on Twitter. When it comes down to it, it is not necessarily the music or the acts themselves that annoy people about teenyboppers. It’s the young girls that love them, who contribute to their overexposure. If the kids like it, it automatically becomes cheesy and off-putting to some from the older generation.
We’ve all been guilty of judging child or teenage artists. From the Partridge Family to New Kids on The Block to Hanson, we’ve all been blinded by the powerful reactions they insight in their fans and forgotten that maybe there’s something to it. Maybe we’re too jaded to see that these kids are actually talented and to maybe give their music a chance. After all, the Jackson 5 was a tween act that produced the most talented entertainer of all time. But one thing is for certain: teen acts are not going anywhere anytime soon, nor will they get less cheesy, overexposed, or over managed. The best thing to do is grin, bear it, and wait for the hype to fade.