Tuesday, April 13, 2010
It may seem easy these days to pick on the dog-whistle declibly screechy screaming hordes of Justin Bieber fans, but mainly because many of us girls have selectively blocked out memories of our own embarrassing teen idol worship. Back in our adolescent years, we did more than our fair share of shrieking over tame pin-up celebrity teen centerfolds ripped from BOP! or J17 magazine. Embarrassing? Yes. Escapable? No. Nostalgic? Absolutely.
Teen stars usually have a capable team of managers and industry experts who specialize in issuing their clients as a palatable brand: The Bad Boy, The Sensitive One, The Free Spirit. The 90s boy band boom specialized in this sort of one-dimensional projection of celebrity personality, condensing full people into an exclamation mark-laden photo caption in a teen magazine fluff piece. These brief blurbs were practically irrelevant to young girls, though--we were far more interested in collecting the tear-out posters and plastering our walls with their dreamy likenesses.
All you heterosexual male children of the 90s may just have to hold your tongues on this one--or rather, your impulsively commenting typing fingers. Yes, this is admittedly incredibly girly fare, but it was in its own way a thriving industry throughout the decade. Some of us spent inordinate quantities of time and resources collecting airbrushed publicity photos and devouring carefully managed and processed information about these young male celebrities. As a female child of the 90s, it's still a little tough to repress my swooning reflex at these photos. That said, I'm open to taking bids from male blogging volunteers to detail the other side of the teen idol coin. Oh, and by bids I mean just send me an email and we'll talk. Thanks.
Until that point, here is our squealing, giddy side of the teen idol story:
Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Best known for his role as Randy Taylor from the TV show Home Improvement, Jonathan Taylor Thomas was a major young commodity in the 90s. He cemented his young appeal with family-friendly roles in films like Tom and Huck, Man of the House, I'll Be Home for Christmas, and The Lion King. Plus, he had that hair. My god, that hair. 90s teen idols really knew how to lay on the mousse.
One glance at Sawa in Little Giants or as the human version of the animated ghost Casper and we fell hard. Add to that the glimpse of his butt during the naked-boys-running-through-the-woods segment of Now and Then and you've got yourself a serious celebrity crush.
Now here's a child star with staying power. Leonardo DiCaprio has maintained respectable and relatively incident-free fame since his breakthrough role on Growing Pains. Following his roles in Romeo + Juliet and especially Titanic, teen girls worldwide broke out in contagious fits of floppy hair-induced Leo-Mania. In atypical teen idol form, though, DiCaprio shunned his "Tiger Beat" image and sought credit as a legitimate actor. A 2000 Time article explains:
"...DiCaprio still thinks of himself as an edgy indie actor, not the Tiger Beat cover boy. "I have no connection with me during that whole Titanic phenomenon and what my face became around the world...Although it's got to hurt deep inside, DiCaprio says he's at peace with being usurped by the Backstreet Boys. 'I'll never reach that state of popularity again, and I don't expect to,' he says. 'It's not something I'm going to try to achieve either.' Instead, he has spent his post-Titanic life avoiding interviews."
It certainly didn't hurt him any; DiCaprio has since achieved an impressive acting resume, boasts numerous award nominations and wins, and has dated scores of supermodels. All in all, I'd say he came out of teen stardom pretty well.
I don't care if you are on Team Brian Krakow--you have to admit Leto as the rebellious and near-illiterate Jordan Catalano on My So-Called Life was worthier of our swooning affections. Leto went on to appear in films such as Requiem for a Dream and achieved musical fame as lead singer/songwriter/guitarist for the band 30 Seconds to Mars. It's hard to believe that this former teen star is now 38 years old. Really. 38. I'd always sort of thought I had a chance with him, so I'm shocked to learn that when I was idolizing him at age 10, he was already in his mid-20s.
Take heed, Jonas Brothers: you're next. Brothers? Check. Religious? Check. Endearingly floppy hair? Check. It's like looking into the future. Truthfully, the Hanson brothers weren't nearly as persistently chart-topping, but their hit "MMMBop" established them as serious contenders for teen idoldom.
Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC
These two groups deserve far more than a fleeting mention, but as this is a compilation post that's the best they can expect to get. These rival harmony-rich tightly managed boy bands dominated the pop music scene in the 90s, both catering to the same general screaming young girl fan base. The record companies and teen magazines portrayed each band member as a specific and easily definable "type," featuring characters like The Sensitive Guy and The Baby of the Group. Incidentally, these characters were actually real people, but for years they resided pretty comfortably in a describable space of 100-200 words.
I'll say it again: teen stars in the 90s had the best hair. It wasn't too featherily androgynous like in the 70s or bat-poop crazy a la Flock of Seagulls in the 80s. Rider Strong had great 90s hair, though he and Will Friedle probably could have duked it out for the title of most attractive Boy Meets World cast member while hair is blowing gently in the breeze.
We met Keegan as a camper in the Home Alone-esque summer flick Camp Nowhere, after which he made the rounds on the requisite teen-dream guest part circuit in shows like Full House, 7th Heaven, and Party of Five. Add a dash of satirical modeldom in 10 Things I Hate about You and you've got yourself a teen star. His acting career may not be accelerating at the rate it did in his younger days, but his fame will undoubtedly live on through the ceaseless rerunning of 10 Things on television.
Luke Perry and Jason Priestley
These two were both beloved by teens for their respective roles on Beverly Hills, 90210. At the time they seemed the epitome of the cool teenager, which is somewhat ironic considering they were both in their 20s at the time. Yes, these two former heartthrobs are currently in their 40s. How old does that make you feel? Don't fight it, it will only hurt more. Embrace your aging teen dreamboats.
Some remain famous and others have faded into obscurity, but they're forever ingrained in our memories as teen idols. In some cases, their likenesses are still attached to the walls of our childhood rooms, cementing their stardom for posterity. Believe me, if I could plaster my current walls with old foldouts of Andrew Keegan and Luke Perry, I would. Really. I wonder if eBay is a viable marketplace for Tiger Beat magazine circa 1996...