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POP MUSIC | POP EYE

Jacksons. Osmonds. Cowsills. Kellys?

September 20, 1998|Steve Hochman

If the music of the Spice Girls, Hanson and the Backstreet Boys has been sugary enough to make your teeth hurt, better go see the dentist: Here comes the Kelly Family.

Something of a cross between the families Von Trapp, Osmond and Partridge--they even have a double-decker bus--the Kelly clan is among of the biggest pop phenomena in Europe. Their last album, "Almost Heaven," has sold more than 4 million copies there, and the previous one more than 3 million, with total sales for their dozen albums in a decade spanning well past the 15-million mark.

Throughout Germany, Holland, Slovenia, Croatia and other Central and Eastern European countries it's impossible to escape the act. Posters, CDs and videos sporting the round-cheeked, longhaired, toothy team (consisting of nine out of 12 Kelly siblings, from 35-year-old Kathleen to 16-year-old Angelo) are ubiquitous. Screaming teens and preteens regularly fill stadiums for their concerts.

And now Virgin Records, which brought us the Spice Girls, has made a deal to distribute the Kelly Family in the U.S.

"They approached us about nine months ago," says Ken Pedersen, Virgin executive vice president and chief financial officer, describing the label's unique arrangement with the group. "All the advertising and marketing funds will be put forward by the family. We're here to work with them, but they will come up with their own marketing plan."

Pedersen can't argue with that. The Kelly Family seems to know what it's doing, and its success has come entirely outside conventional music business channels. The family has its own record company, Kel-Life, books its own concerts and produces its own videos.

"The term here is electronic busking--going straight to the consumer," Pedersen says. "And where they've done that, they've been successful."

Pedersen believes that the story of the family alone should generate some coverage. Dad (Daniel) and Mom (Barbara) had the first four of their brood in the U.S. before relocating to rural Spain in 1966. By the mid-'70s, they were leading the kids in street performances and hitting the road through Europe.

But in 1982, just a few months after Angelo's birth, Barbara died of cancer. According to legend, her last words to her kids were, "Keep on singing." By the early '90s, full-fledged Kellymania was breaking out in several countries, and the success has grown steadily since.

A cable TV infomercial in the U.S. last year resulted in phone and mail-order sales here of about 20,000 copies of "Almost Heaven." Virgin has retooled the half-hour spot and is reintroducing it now, with a series of conventional-length commercials soon to follow, before the album is shipped to retail stores on Oct. 20.

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NO LOVE LOST: Spin magazine has raised ire in the Hole camp with a picture of Courtney Love and band on its October cover accompanied by copy noting that Love has been called, among other things, "sellout, bitch, killer."

The dredging up of unsubstantiated but widely aired allegations that Love somehow had a hand in the death of her husband, Kurt Cobain, spurred Hole's co-manager, Peter Mensch, to call Spin Editor in Chief Michael Hirschorn and angrily tell him that this could cause problems with other clients of his Q Prime management company--who include Madonna, the Smashing Pumpkins and Metallica--appearing in the magazine in the future.

"I was offended at a magazine like Spin using 'killer' to sell something that's about music and lifestyle," Mensch says. "This is not the Enquirer. I said to [Hirschorn] that I would talk to my artists who wanted to be in Spin and explain to them what I perceive to have been Spin's motive."

The matter was resolved, though, when Hirschorn agreed that the "killer" reference was over the line, and the editor apologized personally to Love. A written apology will run in Spin's November issue.

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MTV WRAP-UP: The reviews weren't so great for the recent MTV Video Music Awards at the Universal Amphitheatre. The reviews for the audience were worse. Save for the crowd in the "pit" near the stage--specially recruited for their enthusiasm--the audience, largely made up of industry professionals, was comatose.

You'd think that after the show spent the last five years in New York, the L.A. audience would seem excited to have it back. But it didn't look that way, and many music industry executives are already saying it would be better off back in the Big Apple, citing the standard line heard in conjunction with the Grammys as well--that L.A. is simply blase about "just another awards show" amid many star-studded galas.

MTV spokeswoman Linda Alexander says that the live audience's level of demonstrative enthusiasm is not a factor in determining where the show will be held next year.

"The goal is first and foremost to make a successful TV show, and that goal was met," she says, noting that ratings were the show's highest ever. "The home viewing audience is our main concern."

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