At what point did teen girls suddenly just become wrong? “Serious” music fans seem to have universally accepted a critique of quality that befalls any artist who willingly sells to the rabid teen girl market and stigmatized the fans who dare to sometimes be male or at least above the age of 18. It’s why we only divulge our love for Justin Bieber with a laugh and overdose of self-awareness that lets the world know we don’t feel he or the boys in One Direction are legitimate artists.
With last year’s Believe, Justin has grown up into an artist that’s on his way to Justin Timberlake levels of pop/R&B maturity — given a few more years and scandals–pregnancy scares/rumors, pot experiments, breakups, public mea culpas– that will permanently dissolve that sweet and earnest teen image. For now, Bieber has proven to be an enthralling act to watch live with his versatile talents in both dance and song. One Direction, while not known as the synchronized-dancing type of boy band, contain a full line-up of fairly equally talented singers, which is more than most groups from the late ’90’s/early millennium pop group flood can say. Plus, they have a knack for choosing some supremely fun ’90’s ~deep cuts~, in spite of their age. So while everyone bides their time loving them in secret or hating them for the sake of hating something, 1D and the Biebz will never be respected because everyone knows their fans–teenage girls–are never to be trusted with matters of taste.
As Jessica Hopper pointed out in her Pazz & Jop piece on Taylor Swift, Grimes, and Lana Del Rey, pop stars who grasp the attention of primarily young girls are seen as all image and no substance. That means Justin Bieber can’t be anything more than a boy who used to toss those side-swept bangs of his and make all his Beliebers’ hearts swoon, even if his latest release has been heralded as an exciting and soulfully mature turn for the pop star. Many have collectively come to embrace the unwarranted and baseless idea that young girls are unable to engage with “good” music or art of substance which makes praise of these pop acts by anyone feel nearly delusional to them.
With the logic that someone like Justin Bieber can’t ever musically mature from “Baby,” The Beatles would have never gone from just wanting to hold hands to releasing albums like the now-revered White Album towards the end of their career. In a more recent sense, Justin Timberlake began his career in one of the most successful bubblegum pop groups of the early millennium, *NSYNC, and had fans literally beg him to release a new album.
What helped out both The Beatles and Justin Timberlake is that they had the talent to keep those loyal teens around even once they left the teeny-bopper age limit and could watch their listenership expand. Isn’t that exactly what acts like Justin Bieber and One Direction could foresee in their own futures? Biebz, pop’s Prodigal Son, had been discovered by Scooter Braun after the manager accidentally found the then-tween’s precocious performance of Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” in a local talent show. The five boys of One Direction were placed together after individually auditioning for and making it through to the next round of Britain’s The X Factor, having showcased the extent of their own ranges and vocal abilities. While still “manufactured” by Simon Cowell via the reality show, it’s hard to sell performances like Liam Payne’s jazzy, big band delivery of Michael Buble’s “Cry Me a River” as anything short of brilliant.
Maybe it’s the intensity of the fervor that feels off-putting to the less pop-inclined — younger fans have an almost cult-like obsession with their favorite acts. They own all the products, reenact Beatlemania-level riots at all their events, and have an unprecedented breadth of knowledge thanks to blogging communities and social network sites. It’s really not that different from the level of engagement rock fans have with the bands they worship. We all know that one person who collects memorabilia emblazoned with mop-topped heads of John, Paul, George and Ringo, and we’ve probably had a chat or two with that other person who spends all their money on top-notch seats at multiple concerts in a singular tour for their favorite act.
It’s also worth noting, as others have, the important role these artists play for teens and tweens who are preparing to navigate the world of being an adult with issues in love, sexuality, and image. Lyrics about romance, desire, heartbreak, and those little things that make you perfectly imperfect can be liberating to hear when sung by someone close to their age group, and it’s an added bonus for them to have these individuals they can arbitrarily obsess over and identify with. When Demi Lovato came clean about her struggle with bulimia, self-injury, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and subsequent treatment, teen girls suffering from similar problems had a teen icon to look up to who was actually a teenager. Seeing a peer in the public eye open up about issues like this allows those who are more terrified to admit their problems feel a little less alone.
So while it has yet to be determined whether or not one of those 1D boys will pop off as the next Justin Timberlake or if Justin Bieber’s hair-flip will contain the same historical poignancy as, say, Elvis Presley’s hip-swivel, it’s not unreasonable to believe that, given a few years and inches in height, we’ll all collectively decide it’s okay to admit your iTunes play count of “Boyfriend” or “What Makes You Beautiful.” In the meantime, it may be worthwhile to think about not only how we talk about the women who make and perform music but the women and young girls who listen to music, as well. Will you have the balls to admit that maybe those millions of girls have pretty damn good taste?