Britney and Christina are sagging a bit, so it's time for a fresh crop of sweet tarts. Which is the best bet to be around 10 years from now, or even pull a Cher?
By BRIAN ORLOFF
Published August 12, 2004
Hilary Duff, 16, stuffed her 2003 debut album, Metamorphosis, with sunny pop tunes. Her voice is pretty good and her look, still pretty innocent.
Yo, JoJo, at 13 what do you know about heartaches? She has the chops but not the cool factor.
Lindsay Lohan, 18, has made an impression on TV and in film. Now she has a big record deal, and a voice that seems, well, adequate.
Maria Mena, 18, is way more Avril and Alanis than teddy bear sweet. The popster writes her own songs and keeps it real very, very real.
Ashlee Simpson, 19, sounding like a warbly, studio-enhanced Avril Lavigne, has outsold big sister Jessica.
Friends, listen closely: We have seen the future of music and it's pretty and young and wears high heels.
Yes, we understand that this spawn of prefab teen pop queens is not so novel. But this isn't exactly, like, 1999 all over again. (1999, of course, is the year we first met Britney, Christina and their similar-sounding, sexed-up acolytes.)
As you know, Britney and Christina are still with us, though we have lost many of their kind along the way (Stacy Orrico, anybody?). But they're growing up, acting too sexy and scaring off younger listeners.
So, as the music industry dictates, it's time to welcome the new class of teenage divas. And this crop is not just a new generation, it's a whole new breed: the performer-musician.
Sure, they're taking a musical cue from Spears and Aguilera (who, in turn, were schooled by Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Madonna and generations of pop singing divas), but these girls are more ambitious and more media savvy from the get-go.
Hilary Duff, who performs at the USF Sun Dome tonight, leads this class of perky pop stars, and, like classmate (and, the tabloids tell us, feud-mate) Lindsay Lohan, exemplifies another trait of the new breed: switching between TV (Hilary) or movies (Lindsay) as easily as they switch their stilettos.
For a lot of these teen queens, stardom is a family affair. Hilary Duff didn't have to look too far to get an opening act - big sis Haylie, 17, was right there in the house.
Countless barrels of tabloid ink have been spilled over Jessica Simpson's little sister Ashlee's efforts to position herself as a tough chick rocker. (Both have their own shows on MTV, of course.)
Speaking of little, another trend is age - these pop princesses just keep getting younger, which brings us to 13-year-old soul (!) songstress JoJo.
And it isn't just America pumping out the pop princesses. We can thank the Norwegians for gritty popster Maria Mena.
You may be wondering: Where's the petulant Avril Lavigne in our list? Let's face it, Avril's old news with her sophomore album, Under My Skin, released this year. And actor-singer Mandy Moore? She just turned 20, so she has graduated from our consideration.
To those naively hoping this trend will blow over like the glut of boy bands we now mourn: Hunker down! Teen queens are here to stay. They've always been around (some might even call Diana Ross an early pop tart; she was 17 when the Supremes signed with Motown) and given how clever these young ladies are getting at packaging themselves, we can count on them continuing to morph in new and alarming ways.
Remember the controversy when a teenage Britney tramped around in a teeny plaid skirt in her first music video and wailed "Hit me, baby, one more time"? Who can forget when her fellow former Mouseketeer Christina, then 18, writhed around on a beach in her breakout Genie in a Bottle video?
You won't find Hilary Duff scaring the parents of her target audience. Reports from her latest concert say the 16-year-old is tastefully dressed. She sings about love and heartbreak, but with a perspective that is more, well, age appropriate.
Of course, some things never change: the pandering to crowds, the aggressive marketing, the highly choreographed dances. They're conventions of the genre.
Which of our five new pop princesses - Hilary, Lindsay, Ashlee, JoJo and Maria - might have a serious rock 'n' roll career waiting for them at the other end of puberty?
We have no idea. Who can predict this stuff? Did anybody who heard I Got You Babe on the transistor radio in 1965 (kids: ask your grandparents) seriously think 19-year-old Cher would be on her umpteenth farewell tour 40 years later?
But since school's back in session, and we all love testing so much, Weekend offers up a score card, with five carefully selected criteria, and our (mostly random) thoughts. Disagree? Fill out your own score card and we'll see who's using Cher's old tour buses a few decades down the line.
HILARY DUFF, 16
CAREER SO FAR: Shot to fame as nerdy everygirl Lizzie McGuire on the Disney Channel show. Fast forward a few years to a successful film career (most recently, A Cinderella Story) and her 2003 debut album, Metamorphosis, full of Duff's sunny pop tunes. She's supposedly prepping her sophomore album for the fall. And she has her name on merchandise from sheets to socks at Target, making the transition from performer to brand name.
MUSICAL/LYRICAL PROWESS: There's the electronically enhanced Come Clean, which finds Duff squeakily singing "let the rain fall down/ I'm coming clean." Too bad you feel like you're taking a shower in treacle. Plus there's more vocoder (that weird, warbly electronic voice manipulation) in the mix than Cher could ever dream of. Still, there's something charming about Duff's sugary first single So Yesterday. She might not have boundless singing gifts, but she holds her own.
EDGE FACTOR: At a recent Chicago show, Duff was said to be wearing a pleather skirt. Face it, either she's an avid animal rights activist or lacks the gall to wear real leather. Yikes! Talk about playing it super safe.
QUOTABLE: "In my family, we have the most crazy nicknames. When my sister was born, she looked like Yoda. So she's Yoda. They call me Creature. It's kind of a little bit embarrassing. I can't believe the whole world knows this now," Duff tells the New York Daily News. Sure, it's embarrassing, but we do love a little bit of self-effacement!
CELEB POSSE: Duff's sister Haylie has been the opening act on this tour, but she's like a total C-lister. But Duff is rumored to be dating the Good Charlotte lead singer, the hunky, punky Joel Madden, which gives her a needed edgy boost.
BOTTOM LINE: If all else fails, she has a bright future on QVC.
CAREER SO FAR: Boston-based (and barely teenage) soul singer JoJo first appeared as a cute kid on Bill Cosby's Kids Say the Darndest Things. From there, she was invited to perform with Oprah. The inevitable record deal followed.
MUSICAL/LYRICAL PROWESS: Lead single, the forceful Leave (Get Out) might find you rooting for JoJo as, in her mature croon, she tells her man (well, one hopes, her boy) off. "Get out/ right now/ it's the end of you and me." That may just mean Mom won't be driving JoJo and her boyfriend to the mall any time soon, but it sure is one catchy tune.
EDGE FACTOR: Things get a little saucy during the chorus when JoJo mentions the other woman. "I can't wait/ for you to be gone/ because I know about her/ and I wonder how I bought all the lies," she sings, and scorned lovers everywhere know exactly what she means.
QUOTABLE: JoJo performed at the Republican National Convention in 2000 (yes, at age 9) but told the New York Daily News about the experience: "I'm an independent. I'll sing for anybody who'll listen." Gotta love that refusal to follow the herd.
CELEB POSSE: With Bill Cosby and Oprah backing her, JoJo has the star power but not the cool factor.
BOTTOM LINE: Let's see if she's still interested when she starts high school.
LINDSAY LOHAN, 18
CAREER SO FAR: Lohan, who first emerged as the plucky kid in the remake of The Parent Trap, has more recently sung her way through films such as the Freaky Friday update that found her strapping on an electric guitar. And, for her recent birthday, record exec Tommy Mottola gave her a whopper of a gift: a record deal on his Casablanca Record label, according to reliable music industry message board the Velvet Rope. Now, let's get that music career started.
MUSICAL/LYRICAL PROWESS: It's too soon to tell about Lohan's lyrical styling, though it's a safe bet that, like the rest of these divas-in-training, she'll get help from co-writers; her soundtrack work finds her singing others' songs. Lohan's voice seems to be adequate, though her most striking assets are more apparent in her recent Rolling Stone cover portrait.
EDGE FACTOR: Sure, she's a nice girl. But the girl likes bling - witness the $40,000 watch she just bought herself. And her most recent movie, Mean Girls, was plenty naughty thanks to ribald screenwriter Tiny Fey.
QUOTABLE: On her official Web site, www.llrocks.com Lindsay writes about being a normal teen: "I've been so tired at night, I just literally go home, watch TV, eat dinner, talk on the phone, and crash right to bed : It's nice, and I was so happy yesterday I came home and got this purse that I ordered and it's super cute!!!"
CELEB POSSE: She has been spotted out and about with celebs galore, including her boyfriend Wilmer Valderrama (That '70s Show), with whom she recently shared a $1,200-a-night Miami Beach bungalow, US magazine breathlessly reported. For her socialite status alone, Lohan trumps the competition here.
BOTTOM LINE: Lindsay, you've got the makings of a terrific actor. Focus!
MARIA MENA, 18
CAREER SO FAR: Mena's debut album White Turns Blue won comparison to Alanis Morissette or Avril Lavigne because it's angsty and folkier than conventional teen pop. Mena's a pop singer, but she writes her own tunes and gets points for that. She's going about her musical career the old-fashioned way - sans movie or television deals - which makes a particularly rare variation on the theme.
MUSICAL/LYRICAL PROWESS: Mena's first single, You're the Only One, features an odd fusion of talking and singing in a herky-jerky conversational style that is jarring but distinctive. Her lyrics are straight from the Too Much Information school. "You're the only one who holds my hair back when I'm drunk and get sick," she sings.
EDGE FACTOR: Drinking and vomiting aren't enough for this singer. Try this raunchy lyric: "I hope you can forgive me for that time/ when I put my hand between your legs/ And said it was small/ Cuz it's really not at all." No, it isn't nice. Not at all. But it's edgy.
QUOTABLE: "Actually You're the Only One was written about a lot of my good friends. The song is sort of a tribute to them. And a thanks for all they've done for me," Mena tells Teenmusic.com. One wonders what her friends think.
CELEB POSSE: Mena's from Norway, a country known for captivating music exports such as '80s favorite A-Ha. But she has opened for Hanson, and Friday night she's got a gig on Late Night with David Letterman.
BOTTOM LINE: Of our five, we think she's the most likely to be rockin' into the next decade.
ASHLEE SIMPSON, 19
CAREER SO FAR: Talk about sibling rivalry. Ashlee has her own MTV reality series because the world cannot get enough of these brilliant Simpsons. But with her chart-topping album Autobiography, Ashlee has outsold big sis Jessica. Wonder how those two get along now.
MUSICAL/LYRICAL PROWESS: Ashlee told the New York Times that she aspires to be like Courtney Love and Janis Joplin, but she sounds like a warbly, studio-enhanced Avril Lavigne. Lead single Pieces of Me is catchy, but let's see if she can pull it off live.
EDGE FACTOR: Ashlee's formerly blond hair is now raven-colored. And she peppers her tunes with some rough language, including some "damns" and "hells." Yeow!QUOTABLE: On how her father Joe, her manager, comports himself in business dealings: "Now he'll use the F-bomb every now and then because he's dealing with record execs. It's hysterical."CELEB POSSE: Sister Jessica is Ashlee's closest celeb-connection, unless you count brother-in-law Nick Lachey and, by extension, his former group 98 Degrees (see previously discussed moribund boy bands).BOTTOM LINE: The sibling rivalry is still more interesting than the music.
Hilary Duff performs at 7 tonight, USF Sun Dome, 4202 E Fowler Ave., Tampa. $35.50-$45.50. (813) 287-8844, (727) 898-2100 or (813) 974-3002.