Keeping Up With the Kids


A*Teens: Bought “Mamma Mia” at a mall store for $3.99 before a Friday night basketball game. It wanted to shoot hoops at halftime like all the grade schoolers running all over the high school court, but I made it sit still and behave. One of the greatest dance beats in a long time. If house purists are offended by the Euro-bubblepop derivations of “their” beats, well, they can just stay in the house. Looking at pictures of A*Teens makes my skin break out—jeez, the two 15-year-olds are the youngest-looking 15-year-olds I ever saw. They do not look a day over 14.

Alecia Elliott: My favorite song AND video of Year 2000—”I’m Diggin’ It”—is like an exploding Day-Glo Clueless movie set! How do these Southern country girls learn to sing so great? (She’s 17 and from Muscle Shoals, Alabama.) It’s the tightest pop radio song since “Basket Case” or “When I Come Around” by Green Day . . . an astounding 2:20. Jet-lags from chorus-number-two to the final chorus in, like, 12 seconds; it’s one of those rare songs you could, like, play five or 10 times in a row and not even realize it. The non-LP dance-club mix KILLS, a great fonk-groove-country-rock tune. The A-side proper stalled around #50 country, for 20 weeks, no less. (That means half of the reporting stations never played it once.) If country format is that fucked up, they’ve already lost the pre-20audience, good riddance. I think someone pondered Chely Wright’s “Single White Female” crossover trail (song and video) and decided, yeah, but what if we get a teenager sashaying around like 30-year-old white trailer trash? You can’t teach it, those farm girls are born like that. . . . Still, after this song/vid, you can NEVER listen to Shania Twain again; she seems like someone’s freakin’ exhibitionist grandmom. The delivery and construct are soooooo pop, Jesus, this is as good as Lesley Gore or the Supremes ever got.

LFO: If the Backstreet Boys fill the Belmonts gap, what are LFO? The Kingston Trio gone funky? Nah. But “Summer Girls” was such an astonishing song, it’s gotta have a Nostradamus resonance in SOMETHING 40 years ago. (The feel is Young Rascals, summer, groovin’, but the YRs’ slow songs sucked.) And if LFO are singing “Betty G, James Dean, and Grable” (pretty sure they aren’t), then “Girl on TV” is 1000% Lou Reedish (actually, Gable-Grable would be an internal IMPLIED rhyme too, extremely rare). But even as is, it kicks the shit out of most of the material on Loaded (that endless dopey song about an “actress,” “New Age”? Always hated that one). The acoustic guitar/drum machine of their two radio hits is a certified Good Sounding Idea; who has done that prior (in a quasi-pop-rap format)?

M2M: “Day You Went Away” is wispy and wistful like a Fleetwoods tune. If you listen too close, the singer just sounds depressed, but give it some distance and it almost has the longing for something that’s gone, like “Mr. Blue” or “Last One to Know.” The chorus has a great melody, straight out of 1961. It’s M2M’s only track that absorbs/neutralizes their Chip ‘N Dale chipmunk vocals.

No Authority: If you stare at their hit “What I Wanna Do” for even one second, it disappears. But the vocal sound sure sounds swell. Does every over-21 producer have the urge to channel the Jackson 5? I’m not complaining.

S Club 7: Can’t sing, can’t act, and whoops, there’s no real lead singer—if the Monkees had been so haphazardly chosen, they would’ve been forgotten by Christmas 1968. #1 U.K. LP, can’t fuckin’ believe it. But not having to LOOK at ’em improves the sound of their much maligned “Bring It All Back” substantially. Brady Bunch channels the Jackson 5, scary. Disney likes ’em; I bought the single. But if I had kids like that, I’d be in jail for 40-to-life for filling the incinerator.

Steps: What the hell is “5,6,7,8”? A song, a hoedown, or what? Steps are a great five-piece walking example of what NOT to wear, how NOT to dance. DAFT. Despite that, I kinda like them. Most of their U.K. singles are truly catchy, and they have two almost identically sounding lead singers with excellent voices (but NO rhythm). The red-haired girl who can’t sing is MEGA-cute, huge teeth and giant Elizabeth Hurley accent. The two guys are strictly from Planet Doofus. One of ’em looks like he’s wearing a life preserver onstage. And what is with wearing all-white? Did they take acid at an Angel concert before they were born? They dance so bad it would make Mandy Moore feel good.

2GE+HER: After their (60 min?) MTV movie, they cut to their Times Square audience for six to eight minutes, and the actual five actors in 2GE+HER (which is supposed to be a goof on boybands) actually sing and dance (no lip sync) three songs from the movie (“You-plus sign-me-equal sign-us!”—one of the greatest Village People semaphores of all time. But the Village People didn’t have a song with “calculus” in the title). . . . Can you see the contradiction coming on? Well, two of them (one a young pint-size à la the Jackson 5) LOOK and SING better than any of the doofs in ‘N Sync. And despite the fact that the lyrics are silly parodies (tho the music is actually pretty darn catchy), our five faux-boyband guys REALLY get into it with all-the-way-live vocals—and I SWEAR a lot of the girls screaming in the studio audience are screaming for real. (They’d seen and heard the songs in the movie, so hey.) It’s like guys in Beatle wigs goofing on the Beatles in a 1964 talent assembly, and their peer-group audience going nuts anyway. An unintentional tribute to all the vocal groups and boybands of the past 40 years, and one of the purest moments of pop culture ever captured on tape.

Vengaboys: I have no idea if the Vengageeks are teenagers, aliens, or figments of some deranged producer’s computer. I haven’t been brave enough to check their Web info yet. Their girl can REALLY sing, tho. That steady four-to-the-floor bass-drum thump, against the syncopated high-hat, is the coolest rock-dance beat since Eddie Cochran brought 4/4 into rock and roll with “Summertime Blues.” Do all Euros use the same drum machine?