- Sweden's A*Teens.
Made-for-Disney artist Aaron Carter isn't the most talented lad. His flat, newly pubescent voice has all the range of an aged first baseman. He doesn't so much dance as flop around like a small halibut.
Not that any of this matters. Kids, it seems, are a merciful lot.
Welcome to the burgeoning genre of kiddie pop, which was out in full regalia at Blossom last week for Aaron's Party Tour, featuring the pint-sized Carter, his sister Leslie, and the A*Teens. The scene was befitting of an elementary school picnic. Soccer moms with Winnie-the-Pooh backpacks pulled preschoolers in plastic Little Tikes wagons. Coolers held cans of Minute Maid and sliced cucumbers in Tupperware. Beer vendors were bored, the scent of cannabis nowhere to be found.
What summoned the near-capacity crowd were the Axis Powers of Kiddie Pop: Nickelodeon, Disney, and Fox Family. In the past few years, these children's cable giants have become a formidable music force, programming more prime-time videos, airing more concerts than adult channels MTV and VH1. They were the early engine behind Britney Spears, 'N Sync, and the Backstreet Boys, featuring them in tight rotation long before they came to torture the grown-up world. The results are evident. Exhibit A: While U2 and Eric Clapton recently played Gund, 'N Sync sold out Browns Stadium in 90 minutes.
Of course, every decade has witnessed its kiddie bands, from the Jackson 5 to the New Kids on the Block. What's new is the breadth of the kiddie music scene, fueled by the national exposure of cable. Artists like Dream, S Club 7, and Lil' Bow Wow won't show up on adult radar, but they're household names among the pre-teen set, all courtesy of the Axis Powers.
Take Carter, a cute singer/rapper who's the prince-of-the-month of kiddie pop. On this night, his stage presence is junior-high-talent-show, and he's without the help of studio retakes. His voice is flat, breaks on the high notes, and occasionally disappears. Such are the tribulations of a singer in puberty. Yet none of this particularly matters to the throng of girls, ages 3 to 12, which knows the words by heart and shrieks on command.
After all, Carter is polite, earnest, and sings about candy and getting caught holding parties while his parents are gone. His are hummable, confectionery songs of puppy love and basketball. They've made him a fixture on Disney specials and granted him celeb appearances on kiddie comedies like Lizzie McGuire. It's the kind of prime-time national exposure adult bands would die for. And it's there for the taking on kiddie cable.
It doesn't hurt that Carter is part of the reigning family of children's pop. Brother Nick is a Backstreet Boy, and 15-year-old sister Leslie is a budding singer in her own right. Though Leslie was remarkably off-key at Blossom -- a performance perhaps worthy of honorable mention at karaoke night in Euclid -- the Axis Powers, which cover the Carters as the British royals of the pre-teen world, have given her plenty of play. It's as much about programming as it is music.
This isn't to say the new slew of kiddie rockers is without skill. The Swedish group A*Teens offered accomplished singing and dancing -- think of ABBA with superior choreography. Theirs is not ponderous fare (hit song: "You Are My Sugar Rush"), but it's the kind of bouncy, syrupy stuff that makes kids stayed tuned in for videos between shows. Besides, there are few sights more magnificent than moms in Tribe jackets swaying with their three-year-olds to "Dancing Queen."
There is one beautiful truth about kids: They're indiscriminate, and they're forgiving. (They didn't even boo when the announcer yelled, "Hello, Michigan!") They came to Blossom for the spectacle, the glittery pants, the songs of innocent mating, and the stars of kiddie cable. In short, they came for the programming.