Deconstructing The New Age of the Teen Star
It’s a path all too familiar to us: the tween stars we grew up with shed their childhood skins and emerge in varying degrees of adulthood. Unlike us, who more or less make the shift passively– stealing from mom’s liquor cabinet, staying out past curfew – the teen star path is more explosive. Explicit sexualization, breakout albums, rehab and sex scandals are all trademarks of the transition. More often than not, the artists are dismissed as another homogenized pop voice.
But looking at newer young talent – Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber – the artists are no longer your run of the mill pop stars. They’re veering away from the standard breakout pop album and finding their niches more quickly. There’s still rehab and sex scandals a-plenty, but there’s also a greater resiliency and dedication to the craft. Our Google search history may be a steady stream of JB’s dick picks, but the scandal is offset by success. Following ‘What Do You Mean,’ JB just dropped ‘Sorry,’ which is currently breaking the internet. The transition is still bumpy, but any fault or fuck-up is overshadowed by a high caliber of talent unseen in the last era of teen icons.
Way back when, while we were still overdosing on sour spray and jumping small curbs on our razor scooters, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera were being the kids our parents wish we had been on The Mickey Mouse Club. But when we moved onto more mature candies and modes of transportation, Spears put on an orange latex jumpsuit and wrapped a snake around her neck. Aguilera became a sexual genie in a bottle. NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys all got frosted tips. We were okay with it, really.
Each album revealed a sexualized new version of the teen star and each album pivoted on ideas of breaking through, dealing with fame, and growing up. It wasn’t until the artists got beyond the clutter of their first pop album that they harnessed their voice with full agency. But not long after, the DUI’s and rehab check in’s started rolling in. Spears had the most traumatic downward spiral, and Aguilera grazed some bullets with only a limited number of incidents, but she still felt the need to get dirrty. Our parents redacted their prior statement.
Old habits die hard, but two OG Disney girls may have struck a new chord. The reviews are in for Selena Gomez’s and Demi Lovato’s new albums, both of which have gotten lots of love. Even so, Lovato and Gomez haven’t passed through the Disney Channel emancipation unscathed. Demi Lovato has faced eating disorders, depression and addiction. Selena battles Lupus behind the scenes, and is incessantly cut down to Justin Bieber’s ex. Maybe we’re numb to the issues, or fed up with the sensationalist exposures, but more than anything, their struggles seem to be curbed by talent and resiliency. These girls honestly make good music and its not the cut and dry songs about growing up. Their latest albums are praised as vulnerable and vocally authentic. Their careers aren’t watered down by their private lives, and if anything their experience encourages social involvement – a whole new layer to the notion of the teen icon. Lovato has emerged as a leading voice against mental health stigmas. As the face of the Be Vocal initiative, hasn’t hesitated to share her own struggles with bipolar disorder or use her influence to push for social reform.
Heading the wave of young talent is probably Miley. She’s problematic in a lot of ways, but she makes good music, stands up for feminism, and is extremely active in her charity for LGBT homeless youth, not to mention a huge star. She has a massive scope of influence that she continuously uses for non-stuffy activism. Beyond musical talent, she’s a progressive force, a point of cultural contingency for undermined groups and the ideal role model for rising young talent.
Unlike many of their predecessors, these artists are making quality music, not fizzling away into teen star oblivion. They’re finding their voices earlier, and making hits that don’t conform to traditional breakout albums. Talent isn’t being undercut by the existential crisis that is growing up. Transition is informing expression, and expression is making for good music. We give props to the young artists who navigate through it all, cast aside bullshit, and let skill trump over all.
We’ll be awaiting more praise and continued activism – and of course we’re brimming with giddiness for the Miley and Flaming Lips show.
Images via Huffington Post, Kiss Radio