All Ears

Disney Dreams Up the Best Radio Station in 30 Years

In 1962-63, the smart kids wouldn't touch the rock scene; they were off playing Coltrane or blues or ethnic folk and being beatniks. Likewise, Joni Mitchell (promoting some stupid cover song album) was in the paper last month grousing about "talentless puff figure" teenpop singers, and Rolling Stone and Spin these days run plenty of quotes from '80s rock fossils claiming, "MTV doesn't even play videos anymore!" Uh, sure—since Total Request Live = late '50s American Bandstand as a gonzo über-pop cultural touchstone, I guess Bandstand must NOT've played music. . . . It was just a mass cultural delusion. And the all-teen audience was a bunch of dozing sheep, just like the half-asleep bad-white-dancer kids in the Bandstand footage. (Twelve-year-old girls, ah, they're silly little kids, and they buy that silly music like, y'know, Elvis and the Beatles, and [their own kidlets] Madonna. I mean, where're the moog solos? The guitar jams? Some REAL music, y'know?) (Wonder what "real music" was in 1956—bebop??) BUT 38+YRS ONWARD, man, you get the total impression that the teenpop audience is culturally SHARP. Computer kids. The little elementary schoolers who call up the Radio Disney phone lines throw back one-liners as fast as any screaming 1965 AM jock. RDisney's weekly "mailbag" segment, where they play the new feature song of the week and dozens of listeners get to call in on-air (between subsequent songs) and voice their opinions, has more insightful comments than a roomful of rock critics high on Sterno. The record? Madonna's "American Pie." Sample comments? "I liked it 'cause it reminded me of Weird Al and he's my all-time favorite act!" "It's STUPID . . . it's sooooo messed up." "It's awesome! Better than the '50s original." Madonna just barely passed, favorable-over-unfavorable. Good thing they didn't play Pearl Jam.

I'm guessing this station would add .5 to anyone's GPA just as homework music. And the type of format Disney is pushing definitely makes it cool for boys to listen to their sisters' radio hits, too. But what % of actual genre sales are going to boys, and what acts would a 10-year-old boy like? Novelty songs? Sure can't imagine the real-life Stan and Kyle—who don't really like girls yet (so scratch Mandy and Brandy and Britney and . . . )—liking 'N Sync. But "Mambo No. 5" and "Blue," hell yeah. You'll recall that much of the youngest part of the mid-'60s pop audience gave us (my distant memory is flickering) punk/new wave—like, that great story about the Ramones trying to play "Indian Giver" upon forming, but it sounded like shit, so they just had to write their own attempted bubblegum songs instead. Well, I bet you my 401(k) the average really sharp eighth-grade boy would be trying to write a song like LFO right now—including to impress the girls! (You know it's a happening scene when the second-tier groups have great songs in them. Rich's lyrics on "Summer Girls" and "Girl on TV" are all-universe.) The kid'd be bright enough to figure out that the retard-rock-rap Woodstock-mosh stuff is duller than death. . . . It'd take about two seconds of watching dimwits à la Fred Durst to arrive at that conclusion, obviously.

So whoever Disney's PD is, is a stone genius. Alan Freed, in 1954, only had current r&b cross-over breakthrough trends to work with and help mold. Disney's PD is taking 40 YEARS of the pop/dance/novelty side of rock music and mixing it into an artistic statement. And phone call-ins HAVE to be a certain % of their feedback/input, once a pre-1996 song has been played once. (Can you imagine an eight-year-old going into a big all-formats mom-and-pop store and asking where he could find "Yummy Yummy Yummy"? They'd have a coronary.) Maybe Disney's PD was traumatized by hippie CSN&Y-lovin' parents, and the station is revenge? What goes around comes around, ya fuckin' pothead doobie-smoking mellow fellow granolahead deadheads.

illustration: Carly Castillon

Underground? Check this: On Disney's Sunday February 6 Top 30 Countdown, those Swede wackokids the A*Teens' unspeakably great and happy-feet-inducing bubble-techno-pop Abba remake "Mamma Mia" was a breakout hit, up five to #22. Melancholic words? No problem, run it over with the happy truck. I checked the week's Billboard two blocks over from loading up the month's canned goods and bathroom groceries, and "Mamma Mia" wasn't even in the pop Top 100. The A*Teens' "Dancing Queen"—also not in Billboard yet—EXPLODED on Disney, jumping from #27 to #10 in a week. Now it's inescapable: Wake up in the morning, it will find you. Come home from work, it has followed you. RD's playlist is a mile ahead of national CHR-pop on ALL the teenpop stuff (Hanson's new single every hour on the hour!), kinda like Murray the K breaking the Supremes' (total loser act till then) "Where Did Our Love Go" nationally out of his New York powerhouse show back in the days of classic Top 40. Keeping up with the pop underground could become a full-time job.

In fact, if Billie Joe of Green Day were truly the genius I've always claimed, he'd write a song about teenpop music, and make it funny, not sarcastic. "Getting High With Backstreet"—that'd make Green Day Dylan to the BSBs' Beatles. "One night I died/I got so high/And at the gates were Backstreet/They said you've got to dance/Like pigs a-squealin'/Sing like you mean it/With extra feelin'/I went to hell/And I don't care/I went to hell/And guess who's there/Singing I want it that way/I got it that way/Counting money for eternity/Printing contracts for you and me." Very last chorus refrain: "I got high with Backstreet/I got high with Backstreet/I got high with Backstreet/And I don't care."

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