Sounds Off: Is bubble gum pop ready to burst?

| Wed, Nov 21, 2001

Columns, Sounds Off

HOLLYWOOD – Becoming a pre-Madonna can be very hard, but it can be done. Just ask Britney Spears.

The teen princess wants her fans to see her “in a different light that they’ve never seen me in before,” she told her fans on the opening night of her current Britney tour on Nov. 1. “This music that I’m singing right now is such a reflection of me and who I am.”

If that’s the case, who she is may be a bit unclear. Her third studio album, Britney, features the track ” I’m Not a Girl, I’m Not Yet a Woman.”

Nonetheless, saying that she’s “not a girl” seems like an effort to put her Lolita years behind her, and it looks like she may succeed. Spears has sold a whopping 745,000-plus copies of Britney since its release on Nov. 6, placing her firmly atop the new Billboard 200 albums chart.

Even though her new album did not move enough units to break her own record for one-week sales (Oops! I Did It Again sold 1.3 million), her latest work did well enough to bump Michael Jackson from the No. 1 spot on the Billboard chart after he’d been there just one week.

While Britney, ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys are getting older and changing their ways, their fans are getting older and wiser, too.

Will they be coming along for the ride?

Year after year, each generation of teens seems to become stronger and tougher than the one before. Not to mention pickier. Teenagers are constantly being examined under a microscope as the entertainment industry picks apart its target market in the hope of discovering what makes them tick.

A teen explosion

When the Backstreet Boys’ tune “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” first aired in the radio stations in the Spring of 1996, no one could have conceived of the impact their music would have on the teenagers around the globe.

We’d seen the New Kids on the Block come. And go. There was no reason to suspect this group would be any different. I remember watching the video debut on MTV and thinking to myself, “Oh boy…it’s the New Kids on the Block of the ‘90s.”

But there was a whole new generation of teens just waiting to be sugar-coated in the Backstreet bubble–and a whole generation of record producers waiting to profit from the dollars teens would spend to keep the bubble-gum fresh.

Louis J. Pearlman was the most ambitious of the bunch. Seeing the success of the Backstreet Boys, he quickly formed another boy band, with a slightly different flavor, that would take the masses to new heights.

Their name? ‘N Sync.

Will long-lasting flavor of bubble gum teen pop ever end? The answer is simple: No.

On over 467,000 Web sites dedicated to their fandom, teens have shown that pop music is here to stay. As long as there are teenagers, there will always be music geared towards them. The bands may change, but the music remains. 

These days, even legends such as Madonna and Michael Jackson know where their bread is buttered, and they duke it out to play alongside today’s hottest stars.

At last year’s Grammy Awards, Madonna wore a black studded T-shirt with the words Britney Spears on it. Michael Jackson, joined ‘N Sync on the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards and the Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary Celebration in September.

Pop stars come and go. Leif Garret, David Cassidy, and New Kids on the Block are just a few of the acts that caused pandemonium in their day, but are now just a memory, even for those of us who grew up pinning their posters on their wall with sticky gum.

Their mission? Beat the boys. And so they did. ‘N Sync bumped the Backstreet Boys from the top of the charts after the release of their album No Strings Attached, which sold 2.4 million copies.

The Boys came back, though, when The Hits: Chapter One album was released on Oct. 20. The group skyrocketed to No. 4 on the Billboard charts one week after its release.

The secret to longevity

 So you’re the Backstreet Boys. Your fan base is lovin’ the competition, too. What do you do?

 Breakup? Go solo?

Rumors are flying that the Backstreet Boys with do one or the other, or both. Jive Records won’t return calls to deny or confirm rumors about the breakup, but a music exec told People magazine last October that “each of the members wants to do a solo album.”

The signs are already out there, and odds are the guys won’t suffer if they’re solo. Before entering rehab for alcohol abuse, A.J. McLean toured at small venues across the country as “Johnny No Name.” After fans realized he had a solo career on the side, all performances sold out in minutes.

Brian Littrell formed BriLeigh Productions label with his wife, Leighanne Wallace. According to the band’s official site, the company was responsible for releasing the soundtrack to the Oct. 20 film, Olive Juice.

The money-making machine

Though the Backstreet Boys may go away, teenagers never will; quite the contrary, there will always be more teenagers to please. There will be 35 million 12- to 19-year-olds in 2010, compared with 31 million now, according to Teenage Research Unlimited.

But each generation is different and will expect something new by the time they hit their teen years. When I was a teen in the late ‘80’s I listened to the New Kids on the Block–I’ll never forget “bad boy” Donnie Wahlberg. Today, a 14-year-old has never heard of NKOTB. She’s listening to ‘N Sync . Her 6-year-old sister will never have heard of them when she celebrates her sweet 16th.

This ever-changing population makes the job harder for record label execs, record producers, and talent managers as they try to meet demands and requests of teens every couple years. After all, music and trends get old rather quickly. 

But not only do execs look to please fans, they also try to please themselves, quickly turning into millionaires when one of their acts hits the MTV jackpot.

“Teens are the toughest audience to gauge, the toughest to please,” Exhibitor Relations’ Paul Dergarabedian told Entertainment Weekly. “What is hip and cool one day is completely passé the next.”



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