Is it just me that gets an overwhelming sense of déjà vu whenever the Jonas Brothers, Zac Efron, Miley Cyrus and friends take to the stage? Why doesn’t anyone see these kids for what they are – a new crop of Mouseketeers following in the footsteps of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that Timberlake, Aguilera and Spears were the first to promote themselves as squeaky clean virgins who wanted to spend all their time jumping about in choreographed ecstasy, but really – why all the fuss about these newcomers? What’s so great about Cyrus, Efron, Hudgens and the Jonas’ crew?
When the first High School Musical was released, I can distinctly recall people talking about how refreshing it was to see a group of teenagers singing about young love, school commitments and their dreams for the future. I guess after a few years of Paris Hilton sex scandals, Lindsay Lohan up-skirt paparazzi shots and a plague of Hollywood eating disorders, the High School Musical kids were quite a change. What people had so quickly forgotten, however, was that less than ten years ago we were seeing exactly the same phenomenon: coming in at the end of the Spice Girls’ increasingly raunchy group career were power bands like the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync and teenage icons like Spears and Aguilera. These kids were remarkably conservative compared to the midriff-baring, boy-bashing Spice Girls, and provided a much needed antidote to the over-sexualised nature of the industry as it was. Their debut albums rocketed into the Top 10, their appearances on Total Request Live (TRL) and Top of the Pops and in magazines like Smash Hits and Rolling Stone reached huge, adoring audiences, and they seemed to communicate to the Generation Y-ers that you didn’t need to give in to drugs, alcohol, or (and perhaps worst of all) sex.
Remarkable the career similarities of these sugar-coated popstars when compared with the new Disney crew: Spears, Timberlake and Aguilera got their career breaks performing on the Mickey Mouse Club TV show; the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens appeared in Disney-produced movies and TV shows. The HSM kids weren’t the first to dance around in the halls of a high school either – or is it just me that recalls the finer details of Britney’s ‘Hit Me Baby (One More Time)’ video? Zefron and the Brothers Jonai (as their fans so lovingly call them) weren’t the first to trade on their apparently respectable public behaviour either – part of ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys’ appeal was that parents actually approved of them because they crooned about ever-lasting love and talked about waiting for marriage before getting down and dirty. The Jonas Brothers publically claim to have made vows of chastity and wear rings symbolizing their commitment to their beliefs. Finally there has always been the hinted-at but never flaunted Christian backgrounds of these child stars – Spears, Timberlake, the Backstreet Boys, the Jonas Brothers and Cyrus have all been sure to thank God for his help in winning them awards, record contracts and number one singles… because I’m sure it’s top of his list of priorities, after all.
It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, this new crop of Disney talent are near replicas of the late 90s and early 2000s crew. What’s more worrying is that this earlier group of Disney-creations (how can they be called anything different?) are now suffering through career melt-downs, relationship dramas, struggles with addiction and ever more desperate attempts to sexualize their public personas in an attempt to make money. In a few years time, when we see Cyrus, the Jonai and Zefron doing the same, don’t say I didn’t warn you.