Friday, June 13, 2008

All day long I dream about musical movements

There are certain cities that evoke musical images. Memphis. Detroit. Liverpool. San Francisco. Seattle. Orlando.

Yes, Orlando.

This probably isn't an official genre, but I personally define "Orlando music" as music that originated from people associated with the 1990s-era Mickey Mouse Club, or people kind of like them. While I don't throw Christina Aguilera into this category, it fits for Britney Spears and 'N Sync (JC Chasez, Justin Timberlake). Although the Backstreet Boys don't have an MMC connection, they were named after an Orlando flea market. 98 Degrees is of El-Lay origin, but I throw them in there for the heck of it (plus, the former Mrs. Nick Lachey was a wannabe Mouseketeer).

In addition to the Mickey Mouse Club, another commonality is a Jive Records presence. While the Zomba Label Group artist roster is much broader (Weird Al Yankovic is associated with the label), the big three (Spears, Street, Sync) all started with the label.

But how do you characterize the music, and/or the movement? Here's what Slate said in February 2000:

The tyromania that has corrupted television (Dawson's Creek, etc.) and film (She's All That, etc.) is now infecting pop music. Generation Y preteens and early teens have ungodly amounts of money to spend—$100 billion a year—and they're fanatical. Record executives are harnessing this Oxy-10 power to glorify boy bands and girl vixens.

Slate then identifies another common element - Louis Pearlman.

The music industry has been manufacturing teen idols as long as there have been teens. The long and unglorious history of boy bands stretches from New Kids on the Block and Color Me Badd back to New Edition back to The Monkees. Boy bands were scarce after the New Kids flameout in 1993, but they have returned en masse thanks to an Orlando, Fla., businessman named Louis Pearlman, who owns a pizza chain, a small airline, and the Chippendales dancers. Pearlman created Backsteet Boys in 1992, developed 'N Sync a few years later, and now backs Lyte Funky Ones. (BSB were popular in Europe for years before they hit big in the States in 1997.)

Pearlman has perfected the formula. He located in Orlando so that he could tap the young talent working at Disney's parks. He casts his acts carefully: one boy for every kind of girl. Each band, Pearlman says, needs a sexy hunk, a rebel, a young cutie, a nice guy, and a trusty older brother. An angelic blond is essential, one goatee is permissible. A Latino or two is OK, but blacks are iffy. Pearlman teaches the boys to dance and sing, dresses them in matching outfits—shiny silver suits, firemen's uniforms, and the like—hires a Swedish pop maestro named Max Martin to write songs for them, and unleashes them on the world's preteen girls....

The girl singers are a tonic by comparison. They too are prefab, the 21st-century updates on '80s girls Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. Both Britney and Christina have been planning pop stardom since before they were 10. By 12, both were starring on The New Mickey Mouse Club, a proving ground for teen talent. (Two 'N Syncers were cast members as well.) Their rise has been orchestrated much as the boys' rise has. They were given songs by Max Martin and other pop hit-makers. Spears was sent on a mall tour to prove herself.

And that's just the singing part. All these folks can also dance. While Timberlake's music sounds very different today from his mid-90s Orlando roots, he's still dancing up a storm, just like he did when he was with NS...or MMC.

The world looks a little different in 2008. If you've read my blogs, you know that the Backstreet Boys released a little ditty called "Incomplete" not too long ago, and I happen to like it. Justin and JC have had varying levels of solo success, Nick hung out with an NFL quarterback for a while...and then there's Britney.

But what about the music? I am a lover of pop music, and even the semi-manufactured stuff, going back to the pre-Fab Four, has often stood the test of time. While some people may raise their noses if a particular song was written by Don Kirshner or Max Martin, the things that truly matter are the songs themselves. If "Incomplete" is an outstanding song, I really don't care if the guy playing piano on the video did or didn't really play it in the studio. And frankly, if Brad Howell and John Davis are good singers, and the songwriter for "Girl You Know It's True" wrote a good tune, then why not celebrate the song?

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