Text by — Alice Dominici; Traslated by — Nicole S. Bouris
Tears, obsessive behaviors, gigantic imaginary love stories, emotions, controversies, and haters: only a little portion of the demonstrations of the teen idols broad world, real mass media phenomena that are revolutioning the worldwide discography, differentiating themselves more and more form the original pop star standards. What is actually changing? If you give a quick glance you surely notice that with the transition to the XXI century and with the overcoming of the 90s music its not the image being built around the music anymore whereas it is music that supports images now in a more and more forced and standardized process in which music tends to become an accessory or better “the key to success in the show business world”. The goal is not becoming a singer, hence lover of music and its studies and expressions, but instead becoming a star, an idol, a symbol.
How? The growing process of stars customizing is revealed mostly in songs’ lyrics: not anymore love songs in which fans can easily recognize themselves but only words that have the single goal of emphasizing the star’s image, which is loved and felt as a friend despite his/her character is completely idealize, creating a cycle in which stars pump themselves up in every aspect. Comparing two different generations of fans, you can notice that in average people chose as most intimate and related to one’s personal sphere songs like “ By your side” by the Tokio Hotel, “Story of my life” by the One Direction: the realization of the parallelism described at the top in between music and image is very evident, mostly considering the video clip of the second song in which, through a smart use of marketing knowledge, showing pictures of the four members’ real families, tries to make reality and images overlap. In this way it gives basic information for the re-creation of the teen idols’ personality in the fan’s mind.
This raises the question of favoring an idealization as homogeneous as possible, from which the need not only of images but also of text, interviews and videos built ‘ad hoc’ and disconnected from a strictly musical sphere, but with strictly ‘industiral-productive’ contents. Lets enter the marketing sphere of the disco graphic industry, which influences stars’ life choices, and it is completely compromised by the market trends and by the demand of the latter. Excluding the myth-making of the great icons of the past (as in Michael Jackson’s case, who represents a fundamental ancestor of the baby star phenomenon), the production of movie-documentaries, with the enormous number of tickets sold throughout the whole world, is typical in teen-idols: the first experiments can be seen in the progressive growth of Miley Cyrus who gradually walked away from the Hannah Montana character and then in Justin Bieber and the One Direction who followed a standard procedure not only in the way of producing but also on how the audience perceived.
This has not happened for past idols – and sex symbols- like Duran Duran, Billy Idol, Bryan Adams, Take That, Spandau Ballet and for the most recent Tokio Hotel that, even though they boomed in Italy starting from 2005, they followed the steps of the great past bands for what concerns image and growth. Why? We could hypothesize that who was born as a mass phenomenon will continue to grow in such way: Miley Cyrus on Disney Channel, the One Direction with X Factor and Justin Bieber as the result of Youtube; journeys quite different from the traditional one of the high school band, of the contests and of the demos sent to labels, which has been followed until the Tokio Hotel era included. What does not change is the conformity of the images to the canons which are most in vogue among adolescents: the Tokio Hotel and all of their imitators – the Dari in Italy- tracing the dark, punk, emo canons: Beiber and One Direction, instead, maybe anticipated by the Jonas Brothers, by now disappeared, adapt to the image of the common good-looking boy and in fact this is confirmed by the fact that most of their fans declared that initially they started to be interested because of the singers’ attractive physical appearance.
“Teen idols ” is not in fact a random name, but it indicates a precise meaning: the “idol” (etymologically : eidolon which means image which then becomes a symbol , emblem – but also fictitious shadow … Think about the Socratic myth of the cave… – to be precise), also in reference to the ancient religious meaning of the term, specifically introduces the concept of mystification of the character, corresponding in this case to the idealization of the star as a close friend and entity in every aspect of his/her personality more or less fictional: despite it is not always possible to talk of love or morbid attachment , typically found in most of the pre-adolescent and adolescent audience, feelings and affections towards the star assume in most cases the outlines of a total obsession. This is what emerges from the testimony of Pamela, thirty-something mother who chairs the Italian Fan Club Tokio Hotel, and Elisa, a twenty year old student and fan of One Direction : in the first case the figure of Bill Kaulitz has become in all ways a family friend becoming part of the everyday life of the mother, father and children , in the second the band members, as peers, are felt and searched as you would look for a shelter, a friend who lives the same experience and is therefore able to understand and provide support in times of need . A final important factor confirms the magnitude of the mystification: as in a real relationship, feelings develop over the years but they unlikely to disappear completely, which results, in the market view, in the maintenance of a stable demand , although sensitive, to the variations of image .
What then is the image that catalyzed the success of Tokio Hotel , Justin Bieber and One Direction , and which path adaptation has followed ?
The Tokio Hotel, became famous without any support from the web (as we already said, they become globally known in 2005), they aim to singularly acquire every fan that knows them through Mtv or inserts or posters on magazines for adolescents. Putting together the necessity of an attractive and impenetrable look to the already mentioned popularity during the years soaked of dark, punk and emo styles they obtained a perfect mix to arouse curiosities and debates so to make their music listened and spoken about. And actually it is this type of music, which generated the lock-in final effect, obviously with the help of the lyrics that directly address teenagers. “Conformation” is a fundamental word for this band: meanwhile, from 2005 until now, its members have constantly renovated their look- and consequently their fans’ curiosity-, the management was perfectly able to move the attention on social networks; the contact with the fans became frequent, as much as making them win the “Best fans” Mtv Ema Award in November 2013, 5 years after the last publication of their last album in studio “Humanoid” and beating the Katy Perry’s, Lady Gaga’s and Bieber’s mass phenomena.
Bieber climbs the ladder to success thanks to his single “Baby” in 2010, presenting himself like a young genius born on Youtube which makes him a boy like everyone else, most of the times he was just 2-3 years older than his fans, with a common dream and a formidable talent. In this case the fan starts identifying himself in him and he/she develops not only affection in Bieber but also admiration for him: Bieber is the emblem of the dream that becomes reality, of the acknowledged and rewarded talent. This is the only way to explain the unique fact of the incongruity in between reality and imagination, which came to life in the defense of the Bieber-person, often involved in exploitation of the staff members and drug abuse; an event whose resistance remains an uncertainty: on one hand because of the continuity and frequency of these actions and on the other hand because of the aggressiveness of the haters on the web. Identification and defense make the basis to success of the young Canadian, and only if marketing is able to preserve them success will continue long term.
We may talk about Tokio Hotel 2.0. The rising 5 handsome and good English boys perfectly synthesizes their peers condition at X Factor, media phenomenon closely linked to the web and social networks. As much as it is still quite early to make a concrete statement about their development and their image because of the evolving stage in which they are, we can firmly talk about a change concerning their music. In a three year stretched activity, they go from songs which are very easy to listen to, such as “Best song ever” and “What makes you beautiful” to the introspection expressed by “Story of my life”, in a few words they go from a general aspect – great initial marketing operation – to the particular one which has the goal of solidifying the already made connection with their fans.
The presence of similar characteristics in creating ones image is linked to different ways of growth and expansion of the phenomenon due to the radical changes in socializing and information exchange mechanisms of new generations. The notable tendency of the web in assuming more and more the predominant role among the communication means, makes it obvious that the teen idols are not meant to disappear whereas to adapt constantly to the audience needs and to gain a greater importance and role in the disco graphic industry: the recipe is now well-known, we only have to understand what type of models will the phenomenon use with the passage of time.
A second and more important question remains and only time can answer: if music will continue to bow for marketing principles, for how long will we be still able to really talk about Music?