August 18, 2008

2008 in Teenpop So Far (Because What This Site Needs Is More Pictures of Attractive Young Women)

Girlicious - Stupid Shit.jpg

Wooooo yeah! Hello. Normal blog is here. While some of you people are thinking about the Democratic National Convention, I will continue to think about pop music marketed largely to pre-teens. It’s not just because there are fewer old people (in front of the curtain anyway)—there’s a lot of good music out there, and despite a scattershot year in the world of teenpop, teen-pop, tween-pop, and teenipop, I’ve still been able to scrap enough tracks together to make a decent muxtape, which you can listen to here. Though to be honest I've been stretching the generic category more than ever this year. Ah well...copious commentary after the jump.

[EDIT 8/19: About 24 hrs after posting this, of course, Muxtape has gone down due to RIAA action. You can download the mix in full from my website here.]


Cassie – Probably the best-kept secret in mainstream R&B, Cassie’s popularity largely comes from minimalist semi-hit "Me & U," but she’s one of the most promising new artists in pop, she’s never recorded a bad song, and the tracks that have leaked from her forthcoming second album are among the best I’ve heard all year. Her mini-diva voice, in a way totally unremarkable, somehow brings life to equally unassuming productions; her songs ingratiate slowly, sneak up on you as each element methodically reveals itself. In "Is It You," from the Step Up 2 soundtrack, a guitar grumble and simple beat move solo Cassie along pleasantly enough until an overdub and piano figure build up to the chorus—it unfolds suddenly, as if a majestic pop hit was bubbling under the surface the whole time (it was). Glides along assuredly, and it feels like it could go on forever.

Vanessa Hudgens – In this corner, Vanilla Hudge, vying for the title of blandest Disney cross-platformer of all time. That puts her at the top of some kinda heap, anyway. A girl so devoid of personality that even a naked photo scandal couldn’t whip up even the most half-hearted schadenfreude among gossipers, so blank as a performer that she can be upstaged by a friggin’ chandelier. But the meticulous hall-of-mirrors vocal production on albums like Britney Spears’s Blackout and Paris Hilton’s Paris, and hip-hop and R&B’s new penchant for heavy-handed Autotuning (almost to the point of straight-up vocoder), paved a clear path for the Vanessa Hudgenses of this world. Accordingly, V-Hudge’s producers have multiplied one bland Vanessa into one moderately interesting Frankensinger. It seems to have taken pieces of about 100 of them, but who cares? This is vocal sculpture at its finest, seeing the elephant in a big chunk of marble and power-chiseling that motherfucker.

Lil’ Mama – Wouldn’t have expected one of the most promising guest rappers and enduring novelty acts ("Lip Gloss") from 2007 to release an album chock-full of somber, righteous screeds about growing up without role models ("L.I.F.E”), and in one of the album’s best tracks, being condescended to while visiting a college campus (she’s first in her family to attend) with her mom ("College"). "Voice of the Young People" takes on a fairly bitter connotation, as you start to realize that she’s not only saying that she’s the voice of the young people (coming up in the world), but that her song’s characters are the voice, too—bruised, depressed, angry.

Karina Pasian – Obviously counts demographically since the first track on her first album identifies her as a 90’s baby. Contentwise she’s got some Tiffany Evans ("Promise Ring") content about not whorin’ it up for the fellas ("Baby, Baby"), and an excellent ghetto lament ("16 at War"), its own subgenre these days (see also: Keke Palmer, of Akeelah and the Bee fame, on 2007’s "Music Box" and about half of Lil’ Mama’s 2008 album, mentioned above).

Jordan Pruitt – Another one from Disney's Hollywood Records roster, put out a pretty excellent, if hit-and-miss, pop album last year that included tunes about angst ("Outside Looking In"), angst ("Miss Popularity"), and…uh, pretty good cover of "We Are Family"! This one’s scattershot, but it definitely hops on the multitracking vocal funhouse bandwagon—see mix track "I’m Gone." Rock critic Frank Kogan sez, "I get the feeling that she's an A-level talent in a B-movie setting, but that the setting might be right for her, since big productions could get in her way."

Ashlee Simpson – Ashlee’s had a bum rap from day one, and her first album Autobiography is one of my undisputed favorites of the decade. She started off fairly low-key, specializing in run-of-the-mill post-adolescent angst with lyrics—many cowritten with Kara DioGuardi—that consistently reveal unexpected depth and subtlety ("You don’t love me like I love you, baby / Because the broken in you doesn’t make me run"; "You can’t push a river, you can’t make me fall / But you can make me unreachable") and lilting but sharp hooks from writer/producer/guitarist John Shanks. Well, she’s abandoned the lot of it on Bittersweet World, producers, songwriters and all, and now she’s doing self-styled dance-pop and electro-leaning pop with the likes of Timbaland, Santogold, and on "Little Miss Obsessive,” the mysterious Victor Valentine (a play on her own aborted pseudonym for this album, Vicky Valentine—the 21st century Roxy Hart, whom she portrayed in London), none other than Fall Out Boy bassist and husband Pete Wentz. She’s all over the place, from Broadway swing (the title track) to 80’s-fetishist dance-pop ("Boys") to Gwen Stefani kitchen-sink-pop ("Hot Stuff"). Don’t come here looking for depth, but if you don’t think any of it’s even the teensiest bit enjoyable, you’re probably kidding yourself.

V.I.C. – A Soulja Boy/Collipark protégé readying his first album after releasing single "Get Silly"—not actually all that silly, pretty standard issue Fruity Loops Soulja Boy beat, though you gotta like the way he rhymes "rubber band" with "a milli-yan" and "Gilligan." The second single is better (and sillier), a weirdly impressionistic throwback to the swing era a la Outkast’s Idlewild or Christina Aguilera’s Back to Basics, "Wobble."

The Veronicas – Aussie twins Lisa and Jess Origliasso drop most of the Archies-plastic caricature shtick from their front-loaded self-titled debut. On Hook Me Up (2007 in Australia, 2008 everywhere else) they simultaneously coke it up with breakneck Eurodance beats and weigh it down with more earnest lyrics. It’s a good look for them, and more consistent than their first album, but the approach is also flatter, spreading out the energy from their powerhouse, if (obviously) interchangeable, vocals—previously used to anchor Max Martin/Dr. Luke post-"Since U Been Gone" variants—and sacrificing enormous hooks for a smaller, more evenly paced album. And their song about kissing a girl is 1000x better than Katy Perry's.

The BAD:

Miley Cyrus – I like Miley OK—last year I put together a nice compilation of all the good material she’s ever recorded (Mostly Wanted, email for details, order while supplies last etc.). Across three albums, it came in at just under 42 minutes, and there’s maybe one song on her new album (that would bring the total to 43) that could join their company, Disneyfied lite-grunge number "Fly on the Wall." But the rest is boring going on dreck. To cross the spectrum you can hop from mediocre acoustic singer/songwriter material recycled from teenpop non-starters (Cheyenne Kimball’s "These Four Walls") to a real howler about global warming that by comparison might make you wistful for the insightful environmental commentary of "Heal the World.”

Jonas Brothers – Ugh, these guys haven’t written a decent song in two years. Here’s what I said about ‘em back in March 2006:

Man oh man, these kids are gonna be huge. The great song I heard on Radio Disney the other day was "Mandy," which is what Simple Plan would sound like if they were 12-year-olds instead of 43-year-olds (or whatever) making music for 12-year-olds (which is still OK, I guess). How are these the same kids on the Aquamarine OST? Oh well, gotta pay yer dues. I think the Jonas Brothers will be very happy at Radio Disney in the near future.

So yeah, prescience. Actually, Disney courted Nick Jonas solo before the Bros even had a record deal—his girly soprano added a spark to their sole decent tune, "Mandy,” and helped give kiddie cred to fluff tracks swiped from UK boyband Busted like "Year 3000.”

I want to like the Jonas Brothers. They incorporate my two favorite topics into their newest material: lovesickness as volcanic post-apocalypse and Type 1 diabetes management (Nick’s diagnosis story is almost identical to mine, except I was on tour with t.A.T.u.). But they totally suck. Mikael Wood points out in his Village Voice review that they refuse to work with some of Disney’s slick writer/producers. They could really use them.

Demi Lovato – Disney’s next star attempt, an Avril-lite indistinguishable from…y’know, anyone else doing this stuff. Co-starred with Jonas Brothers in High School Musical knock-off Camp Rock. Can sing, admittedly; don’t care. Not even worth this many words.

Jesse McCartney - More "mature” now, which is why he’s evolved into a ringtone artist. Uses rap slang liberally and unashamedly, but a little shame would be nice.

Emily Osment – "Hannah Montana” co-star tries her hand at the kind of pop trifle that someone like Leslie Carter, sister of Backstreet Boy Nick and (from all televised indications) a bipolar mess, made seem a lot more effortless with (presumably) a lot more issues hiding beneath the surface. "I Don’t Think About It” is so slight it crumbles at first glance, an awkward little jingle not particularly helped or harmed any more by Emily’s voice, which is about as insubstantial as everything else. Beats the hell out of Mitchel Musso, tho.

Katy Perry – Katy Perry makes me very, very angry. But I’m coming to terms with "I Kissed a Girl,” at least in part by reading into it more than it deserves—once you realize that the content of the song itself is fairly innocuous (a friend of a friend sez: "I kissed a girl! In third grade! And I liked it!”) you realize that, like all of her songs, the biggest problem is Katy herself. A gay male take on her #1 hit by MySpace artist Max Vernon makes more sense, and gets rid of the unpleasantness of Perry’s weak variation on P!nk’s aggressive delivery. It can’t make up for some of Katy’s utterly R-word lyrics, though—one of my favorites, from "Hot ‘N Cold”: "You change your mind like a girl changes clothes / Yeah, you PMS like a bitch, I would know.” Her biggest offense by a mile is simply that she’s not funny, second-biggest is that she’s asking us to find a lot more personality in her than she can actually deliver. Somewhere around number eight is the light homophobia, which isn’t nearly as oppressive as the lingering wet fart that is her smug shtick.


Leona Lewis is banking on sounding like Mariah Carey a lot more than Mariah Carey is these days—Leona’s approach is fundamentally 90’s, big soaring choruses with sweet arrangements, despite the gruesome tone of hit single "Bleeding Love.” Mariah is doing whatever the hell she wants, and mostly getting away with it—her pyrotechnic hit-every-note virtuosity has taken a backseat to a more subtle brand of WTF as she affects a Jamaican patois without batting an eyelash in "Cruise Control,” claims she is a chandelier in hell in "Side Effects,” and tells Kenneth from 30 Rock not to post their tryst on Youtube in "Touch My Body.” Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown together are better, if dopier, than either of them solo with "No Air,” which may get the Strained Metaphor of the Year Award once I finally manage to sort through all the entries (I think all the artists on this list have at least one in competition). Teyana Taylor beats everyone to prominently name-checking Google in the chorus to a song that, what with her name-checking Google in it, marks itself as a pretty short-lived novelty. Soulja Boy continues to write beats in one hour or less—I can only assume "Donk” was less. I’ll still go to bat for Lindsay Lohan’s musical career to date (even if she won’t); "Bossy” is tossed-off but fun, features lyrical clunkers that would have been at home on her old Disney soundtracks. Girlicious are the newer, younger Pussycat Dolls, not as old as their counterparts but not as young as they make themselves out to be (yikes), and their one good song, "Stupid Shit," is fairly self-explanatory.

Posted by Dave

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