Lorde leads the new teenage kicks
The rise and rise of New Zealand teen Lorde has put the focus back on proper teen pop. Jim Carroll goes in search of pop’s brightest young things
Pop music and teens go together like bread and jam. In every decade and at every turn of the cultural wheel, pop and teens have been inseparable, two entities joined together at the hip.
Be it svengalis and impresarios putting pretty boys and girls together to make teenage girls and/or boys scream and shout, or – better still – teens latching onto pop culture straws in the wind before anyone else, pop has had a long, fruitful and fascinating teen fixation.
Of course, teen culture existed long before rock’n’roll came along, as Jon Savage points out in his book Teenager: The Creation of Youth Culture. But it took the post-second World War advertising industry to realise that teens had cash to spend and were a eager market waiting to be exploited.
Money plus teens plus pop-culture knick-knacks was a recipe for profit and success. It’s a formula which still holds today, even if, to the chagrin of some in the audience, One Direction posters and T-shirts have replaced vinyl records.
But matters were always destined to become far more interesting when teens turned their hands to making pop music of their own volition. Here’s where you get to ignore the calculated output of manufactured teen bands so beloved of TV talent shows and record labels desperate for hits and the next big thing. Forget those focus-group attempts to produce a teen-friendly sound. There’s much more fun to be had focusing on those teens making pop music for the simple, giddy, visceral thrill of it all.
Down the years, there have many of these assertive teens, and the back-catalogues are full of such efforts, both storied and unknown. More often than not, the talking point was the music more than the age in brackets after the name. From Stevie Wonder cutting loose with Uptight or Fingertips to Adele arriving as the finished article with 19, teen pop has covered a lot of bases through the years.
Right now, it appears as if teens making good music are everywhere. Here in Ireland, there has been a rash of teenage acts making waves in the past 12 months. Most readers will already have come across the leaders of the pack in the shape of Cavan rock’n’roll/r’n’b revivalists The Strypes or the idiosyncratic Derry singer-songwriter Soak.
But there’s also the likes of intriguing Limerick band the Bleeding Heart Pigeons and hugely impressive Co Donegal singer-songwriter Rosie Carney. All of the above acts have already attracted considerable attention not because of their age, but because of the quality of the material they’re producing.
Worldwide, you also come across many examples of teenagers at work. Nineteen-year old Howard Lawrence is one-half of Disclosure, the duo behind one of the albums of the year in Settle. There’s also French electronic music producer Madeon, Adam Kaye from rising UK house duo Bondax, the outrageous Unlocking the Truth (three New York 13-year-olds playing fierce, hard-ass metal) and the excellent Chloe Howl, the 17-year-old singer you can expect to see on a lot of Sound of 2014 lists.