Pop stars sell image over musical ability to teeny-boppers

“Somebody didn’t realize that the little girl market is still there. What we did is we filled the void.” Out of context he sounds like a pervert, but in a way, Lou Pearlman, the creator of teeny-bopper pop groups such as *N Sync and The Backstreet Boys, is much worse. Pearlman is exploiting a nation full of little girls, and he’s well on his way toward ruining pop music forever.

After realizing the simple formula behind the commercial success of the early ’90s pop group, New Kids on the Block, the dollar signs appeared in Pearlman’s eyes, the cash register sounded and his tongue probably spun around a few times. The blueprint for attracting millions of fans was simple: gather five attractive boys, sculpt their looks through market research, teach them to perform, put out a record, and then make t-shirts, posters, lunchboxes, dolls and anything else you would find in a 13-year-old girl’s room. Since starting The Backstreet Boys in 1991, Pearlman’s initial investment of $3 million has since grown into a multimedia entertainment empire worth $950 million. Do you hear that sound in the street? That giddy zooming? That’s Pearlman laughing all the way to the bank.

For Pearlman and these record companies, it’s not about the music: it’s about the image. Image is the money-maker. Music takes time to appreciate. Considering whether or not you like a song takes time. But getting hooked on an attractive image takes no time at all. One look at five hunky guys (or girls — we mustn’t forget Britney Spears) decked out in the latest clothes and wearing the most fashionable haircuts with a surprisingly non-threatening attitude is enough to make instant fans out of millions of teenagers who don’t even know that, yes, the group can sing too. America is the only country that can create musical superstars with as little music as possible.

Taking a step back, there may not seem like a big problem here. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a little market research and sex appeal to spoon feed back to the consumer, right? It’s done all the time with movies and food.

But the problem is that people are starting to take this music seriously! Given that this custom-tailored music is being released from all the big record labels, people automatically assume that it’s worth listening to, when in reality, these albums are nothing more than 72 minute advertisements for T-shirts and posters.

All this wouldn’t even be a problem if these super-groups were releasing good music, but they’re not. When the record company’s ultimate goal is to sell as many records and merchandise as possible, they’re going to produce music that’s easy-going and non-abrasive. Good music always pushes the envelope, but a record company can’t take a musical risk when they’ve got millions of dollars riding on a song’s success. The end result is an album that the public thinks is valid music just because it was released by a major record label.

The truth is, you’ve got a better chance of finding a book about morals in the Clinton household than you do locating a shred of creativity in an *N Sync song. The songs are dripping with studio effects, over-the-top musicianship and cheesy love themes that do less for the evolution of pop music than Kathie Lee’s newest Christmas album.

OK, so some of the songs are catchy. But so is the plague. In dealing with both, you’ve got to limit your exposure. In a way, this phenomenon is a form of musical pornography: It’s cheap, sleazy and counterproductive, but you can’t stop downloading it. I mean, listening to it. Listening is what I meant.

Some would argue that there’s nothing wrong with clean music that competes with “gangsta rappers” like Eminem. But if you’re a 13-year-old girl, listening to Eminem won’t make you commit a murder, but listening to The Backstreet Boys will make you go out and blow hundreds of your parent’s dollars on useless stuff.

Let pop music be pop music, not some overgrown, insidious corporate monster.

Leave that to Microsoft.

[Michael Solomon is a sophomore in the College of Communication.]

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