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2012: The Year Of The Teen Pop Idol

Yes, it’s that time of year again: here comes another retrospective in which the last twelve months is dissected and analysed until the desperate journalist attempts to contextualise some aspect of the past year via a process of extrapolation that may lead to the identification of a trend. In all honesty though, this year you needn’t work that hard to see what the pop music of 2012 has been about, and that’s boys. Or more accurately, men (just about).

2012 has been all about men with clean-cut good looks and sparkling white teeth. Artists like Conor Maynard, and most notably Justin Bieber, have been cashing in on our desire to have our pop stars lean and green. And not in the sense of having an ecological conscience.  At the age of 19, Bieber suddenly decided that now was the time to shed the shackles of his boyish persona and become sexually liberated by telling the world that he is in fact old enough to have a girlfriend.

Conor Maynard is yet another wet-behind-the-ears YouTube sensation to have hit the big time in the past twelve months. How did a ginger teenager from Brighton ever end up rubbing shoulders with the likes of Dre? Well, clearly the good Doctor approves of Maynard sporting his own brand of headphones in the video to his breakthrough single ‘Can’t Say No’ – but a pair of Beatz and an Apple Mac do not an artist make. Even Maynard’s teenage audience – having seen the evolution of dubstep ,and then post-dubstep, and then whatever other edgy sub-genre of bass heavy music you might care to name – are aware that all they have to do is tune into BBC Radio One Xtra to find people that actually make this stuff in their bedroom and do it a good job of it too. And yet Maynard still sells a lot more than his former at-home-musician peers.

On a related note, everyone knows the ‘90s are in this year. Sure, we expected the Dr Martens, the mini backpacks, and even the crop tops – but did anyone really foresee the resurrection of the boy band?

All male groups have been one of Britain’s most successful musical exports of the past 12 months, with The Wanted and One Direction both taking on the US and gaining substantial success, with The Wanted clambering to number three in the Billboard Hot 100 with their single ‘Glad You Came’ (how’s that for some obvious sexual innuendo?) and One Direction recently playing Madison Square Garden. Hence why everyone from the Huffington Post to the Telegraph has seized every opportunity to boast about 1D as an example the international commercial success of British music, proclaiming this year as the “Year Of One Direction”.

Does it matter that 1D they don’t make their own music? Does it matter that the group is a tightly controlled media organism that lives, breathes and dies on the whim of Simon Cowell? Musical credibility, what’s that? Is it important? No. Because teenage girls are so desperate for Harry Styles to acknowledge their existence via Twitter that they will still send him pictures of their dead gran.  TV Talent shows have somewhat erased the need for production of original music when having a carefully structured narrative and performing renditions of other people’s material is enough to win a fan base and demonstrate at least some kind of musical competence – even if it is essentially turning karaoke into an art form.

This would be far less weird if these squeaky clean boys were simply making veiled innuendos to girls of around their own age.  But the truth is that these teen idols don’t just shift records on young adult friction alone; their music is not just played in the bedrooms of 14 year olds, but in actual clubs, where the entire audience (technically) consists of consenting adults drunkenly grinding to the vocals of people not yet old enough to consume alcohol in the States. Harry Styles was dating a woman over ten years his senior – and she is not the only one to have her eye on him.

Is this whole teen idol thing meant to normalise the concept of the cougar? If Fountains of Wayne had wanted Stacy’s Mom in a post-One Direction world, would things have worked out differently? Or are we just left in the weird situation of idolising stars just over the age of consent? What will all those middle-aged, maternal Beliebers do now Justin has gone all sexy? #awkwardcrush

If nothing else, this new wave of teen stars might provide us with a second wave of man-bands in around 15 years time. Watch out, Gary. They’re coming for you.

-Kate Travers

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