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Teen-Agers Making Their Voices Heard : Tiffany, 16, Is Not 'Alone Now' on Pop Scene as Recording Industry Capitalizes on Young Artists

December 01, 1987|PAUL GREIN

--The influence of Madonna and Janet Jackson. Doug Breitbart, who manages Debbie Gibson, noted: "Madonna has brought back a really strong, melodic component to pop music. She has a very youth-oriented, up, bubbly, fun sound." Added Maggie Murphy, managing editor of Teen Beat: "Janet Jackson may have started this more than anyone else. There's a very young appeal to her. She's even got the baby face. She's a beautiful girl, but she's got these little chubby cheeks."

There's a major difference between the teen hits of the early '70s and today. Whereas such records as the DeFranco Family's "Heartbeat . . . It's a Lovebeat" and Donny Osmond's "Sweet & Innocent" were definitively bubble gum, the current hits are so similar to the main pop market that a casual radio listener might not even pick up on the fact that they were recorded by teens.

Gibson's songs, for instance, are right in Madonna's dance-oriented pop style, and Wilson's record has the sassy sound of Janet Jackson's hits. Medeiros' single was actually a remake of an old George Benson recording.

"The music is more sophisticated (today) because the kids are more sophisticated," said Hedy End. "They're more likely to respond to music that's not 'Yummy Yummy Yummy (I've Got Love in My Tummy).' "

MCA's Larry Solters believes there is also more sophistication in the marketing of modern teen stars. He still winces at the crudeness of the marketing formula that was applied again and again during the bubble-gum era.

"In the past, you'd take a kid and put them on TV and in the fan magazines, and then give them a hit song and they'd make a record with a lot of echo and everything else," Solters said. "There was really no talent backing it up. It was just a way of promoting a TV show or a good-looking face."

Teen Beat's Maggie Murphy agreed: "There's an onus on people who are really popular with a teen audience. Rick Springfield has had a lot of trouble overcoming that. To some, being a teen singing idol means you're manufactured; that you have no substance and will have no staying power."

That may explain why few of the current teen acts were pushed through the teen publications.

Breitbart said he never even considered establishing Gibson through the teen magazines. "It's something we couldn't afford to do," he said. "It's a major stigma, and I hadn't spent four years working with Debbie, and she hadn't invested four years in hard training to get discarded as a teen act. Debbie had to compete in the adult form and arena--though on her terms and as a teen-ager."

Why?

"Because radio's prime market is 18 to 35. You can't put out an artist as a teen artist and market and package her that way and have pop radio for very long."

There's one other noteworthy difference between the teen stars of the early '70s and today. Though teen idols in the past have almost invariably been male, today's top two teen hit makers--Tiffany and Gibson--are both female.

But some things never change. End noted that Sixteen has received a far greater outpouring of fan mail about Medeiros.

What's the future for the teen pop phenomenon?

Now that the door has been broken down, most expect more teen acts to emerge.

"Record companies are waking up to the fact that they can sell a serious amount of records," said Eddie Lambert. "It took one or two to get going for the rest of the business to do its usual follow-the-leader routine."

End pointed out another reason that this could be an increasingly important factor in coming years--demographics.

"These (fans of Tiffany, Gibson and the other teen stars) are obviously the children of some older baby boomers, but I think you're going to get the biggest blip in another eight years or so because so many people are having babies now," End said.

But will this wave of teen stars endure? Teen idols from Fabian to Bobby Sherman are notorious for having 18 months in the sun and then being cast aside. But because today's teen stars try to avoid the bubble-gum stereotypes in their music, it's possible that they won't wear out their welcomes as fast, and that at least some of them will have career longevity.

Of the new crop, Gibson is the one most often cited as having the potential for a long-term career. One reason: She had the greatest involvement in shaping her music. She wrote every song on her album, co-arranged most of them and produced or co-produced four.

Ron DeBlasio, who manages the rock group X and R&B singer Barry White, among others, noted: "A lot of the new breed definitely have strong voices and strong presences. They have much more competitive voices--they can stay in the mainstream. I think you can look to them to be around."

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