Tag Archives: teen pop

New Edition – Under The Blue Moon (1986)

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In 1986, at the height of their global success, hitting their late teens and primed to conquer the world, New Edition released Under The Blue Moon. An album of oldies covers. At a time when Janet Jackson reinvented herself with Control and Run DMC shook up the world with Raising Hell, New Edition recorded an album of old people music for old people.

Now, as far as I can tell (and please correct me if I’m wrong here), this was one of the earliest – if not the very FIRST – teen pop oldies albums. Albums where teen pop acts tuck their tight neon pants away, wash the blond out of their hair, and knock out a quicke record of old tunes to appeal to America’s Moms and Dads. Nowadays they’ve become so common it’s almost cliche, but when New Edition broke the mold in ’86 I imagine their fans might have been confused. Why would they do this? Why would a teen pop act, a gift to all the Youth Of The World, waste their time recording a bunch of old snoozers? I can’t give a definitive answer here. Not every teen pop act is the same, you know? Folks do different things for different reasons. All I can do is take a few guesses as to why New Edition, at this precious and crucial part of their career, decided to record Under The Blue Moon. I can’t do much more than speculate here, whoopee! Here we go!

1) Bobby Brown had just left. In one of those classic boy band member departures, Bobby Brown was either kicked out of New Edition or quit willingly. The stories still vary, but the reason he left is never argued: Bobby felt like co-lead singer Ralph Tresvant was taking the spotlight, he wanted more lead vocals and wasn’t getting them, and he felt like NE’s music had grown too cutesy and teenybopper-friendly. To the dude’s credit, he wasn’t wrong – as solid as All For Love was, it was not a step forward, and still found the boys treading through standard cute Jackson 5 moves. Bobby would embark on a thunder-stealing solo career, one that would easily eclipse New Edition in popularity, but in 1986 Don’t Be Cruel was still a couple of years away. New Edition felt no need to compete with him musically, but they also didn’t want to jump too quickly into a new creative project.

They were only a four-man band now: Ralph, Ronnie, Mike and Ricky. It’s an unwritten teen pop rule that losing a single member – especially one as vital and important as Bobby – is a death knell. Band relations fall apart, morale takes a hit, the public starts to sense disharmony. The pressure is on. You’re in a vulnerable position, and if you let it get to you, you’ll be gone within two or three years tops. So New Edition chose to take the safest possible route: an oldies album, one where they could put a sweet modern spin on some classics without having to worry about their next move. It’s a stopgap, basically. A breather.

Makes a lot of sense, in retrospect! The side effect, of course, is that it only strengthened Bobby’s reasoning for leaving the group: Under The Blue Moon is a cutesy, eager-to-please, kinda dated record, one completely lacking in edge or modern appeal. After three years of success, it was time for New Edition to grow up, and they didn’t. Not the best move of their career, and one that would telegraph uncertainty for the group’s future.

2) Trying to appeal to a wider, adult, white audience.. We’ve talked about this a few times in previous reviews but it’s always worth mentioning again. As popular as New Edition were, they never quite acheived the universal success they deserved compared to white acts doing the same thing they were – namely, the Maurice Starr-managed New Kids On The Block, who would form in 1984 and whose debut record saw release in 1986. This is not to deny New Edition’s remarkable popularity among black and white teenagers alike – they had them both, let this not be denied – but they didn’t have the stodgier, older white audience. They likely never would. I feel that, with Under The Blue Moon, they wanted to win them over, to sing doo-wop and soul standards white audiences had found acceptable years ago, to prove that they were a worthy part of pop history. They wanted to clean up their image, scrub away the “kids from the projects” image of their previous records and don 50s-era suits. There’s definitely some repackaging going on here.

Of course, New Edition didn’t need to prove themselves to anybody in 1986, let alone shitty older white people who didn’t deserve them in the first place. Nevertheless, Under The Blue Moon is an interesting – if ill-fated – attempt to show New Edition as modern kids who still respected pop history in their own way.

3) They didn’t know what they were doing. A cynical conclusion, and one I don’t entirely believe, but easy to assume! Because why else would a teen pop act at the height of their youth, the height of their success, resort to an oldies cover album? Because they’re out of it. Out of juice. The tank is empty. They’re getting desperate, they’re trying to appeal to an audience – adults – that will never care about them, they’re taking the easy way out. They’re copping out, they didn’t have enough material, they had no idea what to do next. They’re done. They’ve lost.

In 1986, I don’t think his was an unreasonable conclusion. And I don’t doubt that NE, working through the loss of Bobby, weren’t entirely sure what the heck they were supposed to do. “Not a girl, not yet a woman” syndrome: too old for “Candy Girl” cuteness, too young for a mature reinvention. Under The Blue Moon, in the eyes of their fans, must have felt like a shrug, a step to the side. A way to stand back and let other groups take the spotlight for a little while, so they can work a few things out. So they can dream it all up again. And that’s presicely what it was.

4) They were under contract. This, depressingly, is the most valid reason on this list. This is probably what happened. From what I have heard, New Edition – despite having sold two million copies of New Edition and being of the most visible and beloved teen pop groups of their era – had lost a lot of money trying to get out of their garbage Maurice Starr contract, and owed MCA Records a buttload in legal fees. So they put out a bunch of records very quickly to pay off their debt, including All For Love and Christmas All Over The World. None of these records are bad, per se, but it’s hard not to hear them as contractural obligations more than from-the-bottom-of-their-heart sincere records that they truly wanted to make. Under The Blue Moon has this feel. On the surface, it feels forced. Obligatory.

5) They genuinely loved these songs, and wanted to record them and love them and share their joy with the world. I like this one! While I don’t think I’ll ever like Under The Blue Moon as much as their modern teen records and probably won’t listen to it ever again after this review, I do think it’s a charming, sweet, admirable piece of work. At the very least, I don’t think it’s a toss off. The boys put alot of heart into these songs, especially Ralph, who sounds right at home singin stuff like “Earth Angel” and “A Million To One.” He’s got a tender, youthful, good-hearted delivery, and it elevates these songs. And just from the harmonies, it’s clear that doo wop was an actual for real influence on NE. There’s a certain verve in hearing these kids singing songs their parents probably played for them from birth, their tribute to generations past.

Heck, they even throw in an adorable cameo from Little Anthony in the middle of “Tears On My Pillow”! And they have a fun dialogue! Fuck teens, hello parents! Remember the 50s? How can you resist this??

Not to mention that they don’t perform boring karaoke-esque versions of the old hits, like too many teen pop acts tend to do. It’s modern 80s production all the way here, and while it definitely dates the record (almost every song has the exact same pre-programmed beat and it gets distracting after hearing it 3 or 4 times in a row), it’s cool to hear these dudes sing “Duke Of Earl” and “Blue Moon” in ways that aren’t completely reverent and obvious. Still kind of reverent and obvious, but not completely! There’s even a fun original song at the end “Bring Back The Memories,” which name-checks half the tracks on the record and finds our boys pining for good old days they were never alive to see.

Yes, there is love here. I can feel it. Under The Blue Moon will never be an essential chapter in the New Edition story, and it kick-started a problematic trend in teen pop that led to alot of worse, worse records from worse, worse groups. But it’s still New Edition, with their only album as a foursome, singing songs they clearly love and having a great time. It’s a testament to their talents and singers and performers.

But still, it would find them in trouble. For a group already in danger of looking like squares, Under The Blue Moon found them knee deep in Squaresville. If they didn’t break out and find something new soon, Bobby Brown and the rest of 80s Modern Pop would swallow them whole. What would they do next..

6) They wanted to impress some pretty girls so they could smooch them. Oooooh!

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B4-4 – B4-4 (2000)

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A FEW WORDS ON THE B4-4 SONG “GET DOWN” AND IT’S ACCOMPANYING MUSIC VIDEO

It’s worthless to talk about B4-4 without talking about this video, because anybody who knows anything about B4-4 has had their perceptions colored by this video in some way, and it’s such an unusual piece of boy band miscellanea that it needs to be addressed. Because if we don’t talk about it now then talking about anything else B4-4 has ever done will be impossible. Because this video will be there, a looming ghost in our minds, waiting.

So let’s talk.

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B4-4’s “Get Down” is a boy band song about cunnilingus. And also fellatio. Oral sex. There is very little attempt to hide this. “If you get down on me, I’ll get down on you.” “No pressure to go all the way – there’s other places we can go.” The idea of a mutual-oral song directed at teenagers (by adult men) is indeed strange (and borderline irresponsible) but let’s tuck those concerns away for now. The video for the song is what will stick with you. If you haven’t watched it yet, please take a moment to watch it. Sit down and stay with it beginning to end. You might need to watch it twice, maybe more. That’s just fine.

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Video’s plot in a nutshell: kid finds a viewfinder in a garbage can. Kid looks through viewfinder and sees the B4-4 boys singing RIGHT at him. Kid finds himself transported to B4-4 World, which is exactly like our world only with more beaches and beach babes in bikinis per capita. Also B4-4 are there. Kid starts flexing for the ladies and finds himself surrounded by their admiring eyes, much to the chagrin of B4-4. These used to be B4-4’s ladies, see, before this kid walked in.

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Rarely do we see the kid and B4-4 together in the video. There are moments of recognition, but they are fleeting. We have a shot of the three B4-4 boys upset that their babes are being stolen, and one more shot of the boys flabbergasted at this new kid’s rad b-ball dunk, but that’s about it. I don’t think the kid directly addresses the boys even once. I’m under the impression they weren’t even on the set at the same time.

All the while, B4-4 are singing “Get Down” directly at the camera. At YOU. Reports of the boys singing their cunnilingus anthem at the kid are grossly exaggerated. They do for a hot second at the beginning, but that’s it. Anything more would imply some sort of meaningful connection between B4-4 and this kid. Rest assured, there is none. B4-4 and their “Get Down” song have nothing to do with this young man’s comng of age journey in B4-4 World. They sleep in separate beds. The kid is having fun in a fantastical beach world, while the boys of B4-4 are hounding you – YOU, the human watching this video – to suck on their penises so they can lick your vagina. They are insatiable hounddogs. Nothing will distract them from their goal.

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You get the impression that whoever directed this thing had no idea what “Get Down” was actually about. Or, more likely, they knew EXACTLY what it was about and tried to hide it in strange ways, somehow making its uncomfortable sexual content all the more apparent. At the same time, we should pass some blame onto the song itself: “Get Down”‘s lyrics are brazenly sexual, but its music is a fanciful kid’s coloring book, about as adorably cutesy cute as millennial boy band music gets. Unlike the similarly icky “Liquid Dreams,” there is no hint of naughtiness in this tune. That sweet harmony-rich carousel intro. That fun-in-the-summertime chorus. Sounds like you’re getting pulled into a storybook! It’s an adventure! Why wouldn’t its accompanying video complement that?

But then you sit down and you watch and you’re left cold. Confused. Scared. That was not the intent. We deserve more than this.

The oral sex isn’t even a problem. Throw it away. I want to know why B4-4 and this kid can’t be friends. Why? We see that this kid clearly had a great time in B4-4 World, to the point where he passes his magic viewfinder to a homeless man as if he was giving him the keys to God’s Kingdom. But it’s more ’cause of the ladies and his rad magic car than the B4-4 guys themselves. And on the other side of the fence, the B4-4 guys seem to hate this kid. Three tanned blonde buffmen seething with jealously at a small boy who never seems to notice them. No human connection here! Not pleasant to watch!

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Heck. What if the boy – let’s call him Clyde – were a big B4-4 fan but lost out on tickets to their concert, only to find that magic viewfinder and get transported to a fantastic magic boy band world? With his heroes, the legendary hunks of B4-4? The cool hunks of B4-4 recognize that Clyde is kind of a geek and vow to make him cool, just like them. They buy him some sweet-ass threads and rockin shades and dye his hair a blazing blonde, just like their own. And in an even more incredible twist, they take Clyde ON TOUR with them. Teach him how to harmonize the B4-4 way, show him a jammin dance move or two, and – in the climactic final scene – invite him onstage during a Madison Square Garden show. Our protagonist takes the stage, busts out some incredible moves with the guys, and drives the crowd wild. Fans rush the stage and security falls away as young Cylde is surrounded by adoring love. The B4-4 guys lift him on their strongman shoulders and carry him away, victorious… his dream forever realized.

“Pull it away..” What? “The viewfinder. Pull it away..”

“You have to pull it away..”

“It’s time for you to go. We’ll always love you..”

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The boy looks down to see three hunky faces, tears streaming. B4-4 are letting him go. He knows he must go. It will never be better than this.

He pulls the viewfinder away. He is now also crying, but he is stronger. He’s enriched by the experience, and he gives the viewfinder to his new homeless friend knowing he is giving him a gift better than any food or shelter. He is giving him a bit of boy band magic. That is priceless. That is eternal.

That’s not what we have, here.

Jesus, didn’t we all want that when we were kids? To get pulled into a magic adventureworld where everyone loved us? Didn’t we all want to break down that TV screen barrier and jump into our favorite movies and video games? I did. I did all the time. I know you did, too. We all want to hang out with that rad magic boy band in a fantasy beach on the other side of the screen.

But we never will. And heck, even if we did, we’d probably end up fucking up those rad boys’ sexual mouthplans and they’d just resent us for it. And not talk to us. And we’d walk away from B4-4 Beach, lonely and crushed. And lame.

The “Get Down” video is nothing but a reminder of this limitation. It is a useless restraint on our dreams. It deserves no more words.

WELL NOW A FEW WORDS ON THE DEBUT B4-4 RECORD, B4-4, ON WHICH “GET DOWN” IS INCLUDED

“Get Down” shares space with eleven other songs on B4-4. Hearing this record makes it clear that “Get Down”‘s seismic blast of fantasysex color flattened the energy of its surrounding tracks. Pounded them into submission. It’s almost as if the B4-4 boys and their producers used up all their resources creating the more bizarre, beautiful concoction they could imagine in “Get Down,” felt like they’d accomplished all they needed to accomplish, and took a break for the rest of the record.

So after “Get Down,” what is left? Mellow jam after mellow jam after ballad after mellow jam. Designed for sleep? Ranging from middle-of-the road nothings to pleasant groovers. I can’t say I have any problem with the likes of “Ball & Chain,” “Smile,” or “That’s How I Know” other than – y’know, they don’t do much. There are a couple attempts at power-singles: opener “Really Gotta Want It” goes for a half-hearted “Larger Than Life” give-it-up-for-the-fans vibe, and “Go Go” is an admirable attempt at a rockin’ rocker with a slammin chorus and an electrifying!! guitar solo. They come and they go, and then it’s more mellow romantic sweetness. Track after track after track.

And then, we hit track 7. “Get Down.” It is now clear what these boys wanted, all along. Those nice romantic lyrics? A feint. A sick ruse. They just wanted to get down on you, while you get down on them. And that is all.

Following “Get Down” are five more songs of sweet romance, but they’re useless now. Don’t work. How can we take a cover of “You’ve Got a Friend” seriously, from the guys who just sang “I’m gonna make you come tonight – over to my house” right in our faces? You know they’ve got 69-special-part-kissin in the back of their minds the whole time. You know what they really want.

Don’t give it to them! I know I won’t!

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No thank you please!

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Nope nope!

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BOYS!!

Is it fair to judge a full 47 minutes of music based solely on one 3 minute and 45 second chunk? The answer is yes. Because that chunk is the unavoidable vortex of strange that is “Get Down.” If it is unfair to anybody, it is to the listener. It’s B4-4’s fault for sticking that thing in the middle of an album of perfectly pleasant boy band smoothness. Why include it? Why release it??

That’s the problem. Consistency. “Get Down” is a blowjob anthem in a sea of odes to hand-holding. If B4-4‘s track listing were more like this, we’d have less of a problem:

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Gosh, that would be amazing!!

Sorry, B4-4. It’s too much. Promise I’ll give your second album a fair shake. The one that doesn’t have “Get Down” on it. Then we’ll be able to talk like adults.

Good day, sirs!

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Take That – Take That And Party (1992)

You might not know this, but boy bands are everywhere. Everywhere. All around you, at every moment of every day. Just take a look around you, for once. It’s a hunk’s world. Hunky hunks all over the place!!

No, for real. Real. This is fact. Boy bands may have petered out unceremoniously shortly after the turn of the millennium in the United States, but in almost every other part of the world they remain a constant, powerful commercial force. And while particular regions of the world are particularly nuts about hunky boys with nice hair (Korea, Japan, some South American countries I THINK) there is no area in the world zanier about Dude Troupes than Europe – or, more accurately, the UK.

Yes, the UK is nuts about fun singing boys. Always have been, always will be. And not only do they love their boy bands, they are fiercely loyal to them in ways that I don’t think would make sense in America. I mean, in what other country could Westlife have stayed together for thirteen years and had a #1 charting record almost every year of their existence?? Yeesh. And the Backstreet Boys can’t even get one lousy single in the top 40 nowadays. Obama.

In fact, the UK’s love for boy bands is so consistently strong that it’s actually started to spill over onto American shores once again (in a maybe slightly more limited fashion) with the likes of One Direction and the Wanted. And it’s a bigger deal than you might think considering that, by and large, even the biggest of UK teen pop groups have barely managed even a sole hit in the United States over the past decade, let alone actual sustainable success. Sure, the late 90s teen pop boom spawned the mega-popular Spice Girls, but their Britishness was almost a novelty more than anything – American acts dominated the teen pop airwaves in the late 90s, at least in America itself.

So in the wake of all this, I feel like it’s only appropriate to talk about the group that first made boy bands a “thing” in Europe, the group so gigantic on their side of the Atlantic (rhyme) they didn’t even need American success. Yes, I am talking about none other than maybe the UK’s most monumental contribution to 90s teen pop, the five boys that broke every teenage British girl’s heart simultaneously and never looked back: the one and only Take That.

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‘N Sync – No Strings Attached (2000)

This is a learning experience for me. Digital Get Down, that is. Every new review I write, I learn something new. Forgive me if I’ve said this before. I’m still learning.

Here’s the lesson I learned this week: my trepidation in reviewing the Backstreet Boys’ Millennium a few weeks back? Thinking it was The Biggest Boy Band Album Ever (TBBBAE) and that it was all downhill from then on? Wrong. Unfounded. Bullhickey. Bzzzzzt.

While we’re at it, I would like to submit a formal apology for the following excerpt from that review:

“Boy Band History after Millennium is mostly just malaise, earth-tones and soul-crushing anonymity. And what’s more fun than that??”

Oh ho hoho. You know what’s more fun than that, mid-February Sean Rose? Mid-March Sean Rose pointing out that you are wrong and a God-fucked dummyhead. That’s right. It’s almost spring where I’m at, doggo! I got sweet sunlight and I am in the right. You think Millennium was the Biggest Boy Band Album Ever? You do? Is the snow sucking the brain out of your ears too hard for you to notice ‘N Sync’s butt-crushing megahit No Strings Attached waiting right around the corner??

Gosh dangit, you tit-witted tinyman. Get a haircut already.

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M2M – Shades Of Purple (2000)

So how often is “teen pop” music written and produced by actual teenagers?

That’s barely a rhetorical question. Really. This is something I am working through my head right now so any answers anybody might have would be fantastic.

But I think it’s a fair question. What I refer to “teen pop” here, I am referring to music that is often written, produced, and distributed by adults. To make money off of teenagers. Money that, more often than not, they get from their parents. Kind of insidious. Kind of evil.

I mean, let’s run down the list, here. Boy bands like the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync were masterminded by shady business types (Lou Pearlman) and superstar monolithic producers/songwriters (Max Martin). Usually only one or two members of those groups were actual teenagers, with some of them actually pushing 30 by the time they started generating actual hit singles. Solo pop stars like Britney and Christina, same deal, entering their 20s by the time they hit it big. The Spice Girls and S Club 7 were Simon Fuller pet projects, whose members were mostly all in their 20s. Aaron Carter was like 13 but he is not worth talking about. If we’re talking more recent pop stars – well, okay, Taylor Swift seems pretty in control. But despite all being actual teenagers (for a while), the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus were Disney creations, and I don’t think Justin Bieber has much creative control over his music outside of a few songwriting credits here and there.

It’s all about money, here. Teenagers hand over their allowances for music that is designed specifically to appeal to them. Adults receive this teenager money. Rich adults. It’s a very simple process, and it doesn’t matter if said product is coming from actual teenagers. Teenagers are too dumb to care, right??

OK I’m really trying to not come across as cynical, here. Honestly, I love teen pop so fucking much that the fact that it is generated and profited from by people who might be actual Snidley Whiplash-level villains does not bother me even a little bit. It doesn’t! I am listening to music incubated deep, deep in the slimiest bowels of Capitalism and I don’t even care. I don’t know what this says about me. I can’t dwell on it.

(jesus christ Pearlman, you psychotic ponzi-scheming jailbird, I love all of your boy groups SO much)

What I’m trying to say is, knowing where teen pop comes from and who benefits from it, it’s almost impossible to toil in the genre and create something that actually relates any level of sincerity or feeling. And when someone does, it’s a big fucking deal to me, the biggest idiot in the world. I’m the one sitting here swallowing this music up, foot by foot, waiting to hear something I can relate to on a fucking human level. And most of the time it does not happen.

But when it does, hey. Hey. It’s great. A few artists here and there have managed to overcome the intrinsically evil nature of teen pop music and create something that hits me in the heart, something that communicates youth in a way that doesn’t feel chintzy or dumb. Robyn’s “Show Me Love,” for example. Hanson’s goofy early stuff. And, welp, M2M.

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S Club 7 – S Club (1999)

Simon Fuller.

You might not recognize that name. It’s ok. Lots of people don’t!

But you definitely are aware of his work. Oh yes. For better or for worse, British moneyman Simon Fuller became the driving force behind radio-swallowing pop music titans two times over: the Spice Girls and American Idol.

The names are recognizable, obviously. These are two commercial entities that were both massively popular in their time (although Idol’s ratings have been dwindling more than a little in recent years) and the subject of constant debate and scorn from anti-pop music snobs across the globe. But it’s all too easy to undermine their impact on pop music as a whole. The Spice Girls were maybe the first teen pop group of their kind to meet massive success in America in the late-90s, allowing for like-minded boy bands and pop idols to shape the sound of radio pop for the following five years or so. And right when that initial teenybopper pop thrust began to wane, the UK’s Pop Idol hit our shores as American Idol in 2002 and generated more chart-dominating stars than can be named.

So in more ways than one, it does not matter if you don’t know Simon Fuller’s name or the name of his (former) production company 19 Entertainment. Because he owns you. Completely. He is Your Pop God.

…well, alright, that’s an exaggeration. But he is a very rich man who has managed lots of popular music groups. So that is something.

But let’s talk about me for a second. Hi, I’m Sean Rose. Hey. I’m handsome and great. And for me, Mr. Fuller’s strangest and most interesting pop creation has to be the group he cobbled together in the years between the Spice Girls’ string of hits and American Idol’s TV domination: UK’s very own S Club 7.

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Backstreet Boys – Millennium (1999)

I want to admit something. I have approached the idea of reviewing the Backstreet Boys’ Millennium this early on in Digital Get Down‘s lifespan with some trepidation. This is one of the Big Ones, after all – perhaps THE biggest and most recognizable boy band album ever released – and I’m worried that it could all be downhill from here. Blowing my wad early. Screwing the pooch. Because how many other boy band records even come close to replicating the all-encompassing success of Millennium? If this is the Biggest Boy Band Album Ever (TBBBAE), why talk about any other boy band albums at all??

But no. I choose not to believe this. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m actually looking forward to getting The Biggest Boy Band Album Ever out of the way so we can get down to teen pop’s nitty gritty. Boy Band History after Millennium is mostly just malaise, earth-tones and soul-crushing anonymity. And what’s more fun than that??

I also want to tackle Millennium for personal reasons, because I feel like I owe something to the Boys themselves. My review of their self-titled American debut didn’t really give them the introduction I feel they deserved. I guess I can chalk that up to it being the first Digital Get Down post ever – a rookie mistake, if you will – but considering the in-depth intro I gave ‘N Sync, I feel like it’s more than fair to even the score. Even if the Backstreet Boys never had the sheer force of personality as many of their contemporaries, they still remain the archetypal American boy band. And that, to me, is an important thing!

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LFO – Self-Titled (1999)

From Wikipedia:

“In 1995, in Fall River, Massachusetts, Rich Cronin met Brian Gillis,[citation needed] who was also known as Brizz.”

And so, the story of the Lyte Funkie Ones begins.

Let’s be honest: does anybody give a fuck about LFO? Does anybody like LFO? Does anybody even tolerate LFO?

These are serious questions. I’m not trying to be mean. I swear!

I mean, let’s compare LFO to every other pop act I’ve reviewed thus far in this Digital Get Down adventure. Despite what you (or the public at large) might think about the likes of ‘N Sync or Hanson, the truth is that these acts enjoyed – at the very least – a brief flirtation with critical acceptance. Heck, even the Backstreet Boys had a critical “in” with “I Want It That Way,” which has popped up on more than a few “Best Pop Songs Ever” lists.

LFO do not have this. They do not have that one exceptional you-can’t-deny-that-THIS-is-a-classic hit single, that one member that became solo megastar, or even that one semi-hip producer they worked with in their early days that you never saw coming. LFO have never commanded even the tiniest iota of critical respect. And they never will.

Now you might find it strange that I would feel the need to qualify this in a blog solely dedicated to teen pop, but in LFO’s case I need to. Because no matter how many flim-flam pop acts I cover here, few will approach the immediate cultural marginalization that LFO experienced after boy bands became passe at the turn of the millennium. Offhand I can’t think of a single boy band that crashed-and-burned nearly as quickly or as despairingly. Do not let their sunny disposition fool you – the story of the Lyte Funkie Ones is a story marked by tragedy, depression and VH1 reality TV. LFO might be a joke, but they’re a cruel, awkwardly unfunny joke that you wouldn’t feel comfortable telling around your friends.

Why were LFO a joke, you ask. Because they were doofy as all hell? Because they were doofy as all hell.

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Robyn – Robyn Is Here (1995)

Robyn is a strange subject. Her success in America begins and ends with Robyn Is Here, her international 1995 debut that didn’t see an American release until two years later. While it was a decent hit thanks to a couple of big top-ten singles, her next two records were inexplicably limited to European releases, diminishing her stateside success almost overnight. Despite maintaining a huge fanbase in Europe over subsequent years, Robyn would never have a hit record in America again.

But oh. Obviously that is not the whole story, is it. Does anybody even think of Robyn a two-hit wonder anymore? How many top-ten “Best Albums Of The Year” lists did Body Talk end up on in 2010? How many didn’t it??

For most of her American fans, Robyn came into existence fully-formed in 2008 with Robyn, a record that is more than one jump beyond Robyn Is Here. And who can blame them? 1999’s My Truth and 2002’s Don’t Stop The Music were entirely off the radar unless you were in Europe. Besides, Robyn and Body Talk were both so foot-up-the-butt out-of-nowhere great that every record she released before them almost felt moot – at least in the eyes of most critics.

You can’t blame people for forgetting about Robyn’s teen-star past. Or at least I can’t, because I didn’t know a fucking thing about it! What did I do when I found out that this hot shot critic’s favorite nobody could shut up about was the voice behind “Show Me Love,” my favorite song when I was 12 years old. I fucking bled internally until my toenails turned red. You know? I threw up on my desk and ate a dog, whole, snout to tail. It was a moment, for me. I changed.

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Hanson – Middle Of Nowhere (1997)

Hanson were not a boy band. They were not a bunch of formless white hunks hand-picked by a shady record executive and lumped together into a studio to record assembly-line radio songs written by Swedish men. Nevertheless, they were The Pop Band to open the door wide open in America for these boys; along with the Spice Girls, they’re regularly cited as a major player in the opening salvo of late-90s Teenpopalooza.

Which is funny, ’cause despite being a group of nice looking young men adept at playing poppy joy music, Hanson did not have much in common with their sweet teen brethren. I feel guilty pointing out the fact that they (mostly) wrote their own songs and played their own instruments – because at the end of the day, does it make a shit of a difference? – but yeah, they wrote their own songs and played their own instruments. They also had a pretty pronounced classicist pop bent – shiny 90s production aside, Hanson were modeled as a sort of Jackson 5 of the 90s, throwing in some late-60s sunshine pop and soul for good measure. They came across as a bunch of talented kids raised on their parents’ record collections trying to make ’em proud rather than a motley crew of faceless hunk bores.

Bottom line, Hanson were likeable kids who made fun music – which, when exposed to the mainstream public in 1997, went from instantly adored to reviled within the span of, what, a week?

Man did people hate on Hanson in the late 90s. Man! I know from experience, because I was one of those people. Even as a ten year old I did not understand why anybody would like this goofy dumb corn music. MMMwhat! What does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything!! I don’t get it!! Dumb!! Dumb!!!!

I mean, we can blame overexposure all we want – “MMMBop” was an inescapable earworm in 1997, and a backlash was inevitable I guess – but criticism of Hanson around this time ranged from unfairly dismissive to downright creepy and mean. For the former, you had people ragging on their music for being too sugary cute; for the latter, you had people saying they looked like girls.

Why? Because they have LONG HAIR! LONG BLONDE HAIR! THEY’RE BOYS?? B-B-BUT THEY LOOK LIKE GIRLS!!!!!!!!

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