Music Concert Time Warp

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 @ 02:52 PM

author, circa 1985I wasn’t necessarily aiming for the Auntie of the Year award.  In December, 2014, when tickets to the Maroon 5 “Maps” tour went on sale, I snagged two great seats, one for me and one for my 17-year-old niece.  Living in rural Iowa, it would be a trip to Chicago and her first concert.  The experience of attending the concert made me reflect on my own first concert in the mid-1980s.  Back then, I was an awkward 13-year-old, and fist pumping to the beat was the epitome of cool.

Thirty years later, some parts of the concert experience remained the same:

  1. The audience consisted mostly of groups of girlfriends—from tweens to adult 40-somethings, all defining themselves for the evening by their affiliation with the band and with each other.
  2. Girls of all ages had saved up their allowance, babysitting money, or spare cash to buy concert t-shirts, which they quickly changed into in the ladies’ room, for photos before and during the show.
  3. The people who appeared to take the greatest joy from the experience were those busting a move like no one was looking—dancing and singing along at their seats, in the aisles, and in the concourse.

One big thing was different—the phones in everyone’s hands and pockets. During the band’s break, the house lights went down and Cellphone LightsAdam Levine asked the audience members to shine their lights in unison. As the United Center lit up like the Fourth of July and a collective gasp was heard, we were suddenly all roadies, all a part of each other’s experience, all sitting at the Cool Kids Table.

So since it happened, thanks, Maroon 5, for making me Auntie of the Year.  

Tags: Youth, Teens, music, culture

The Next Big Thing or the Last Big Thing?

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Aug 15, 2013 @ 09:52 AM

Austin Carter Mahone might be the next big thing. The seventeen year-old singer was discovered on YouTube at the ripe age of 15. His floppy bangs endearingly cover his eyes, causing him to flip them away in interviews. He was raised by a single mom who he seems to adore. And his fans identify themselves as “Mahonies.”Austin Mahone

Sound familiar? If you’re not convinced of Mahone’s striking similarities to one Justin Bieber, take a look at their uncanny likeness in Mahone’s video for “What About Love”.

Austin Mahone certainly seems like a Bieber flashback. He even reminds us that Taylor Swift used to like JB! While Taylor Swift has been seen expressing her distaste for her BFF Selena Gomez’s sometime boyfriend, Swift selected Mahone as one of her opening acts for her Red Tour. 

But beyond giving us hope that Taylor and Bieber will iron out their differences, the close resemblance between Mahone and Bieber made us ask a question important to brands, marketers and content creators.  When it comes to kids and tweens, can the same old formula work for the next big thing?

While authentic innovation seems like an aspirational goal, kid and tween culture is crowded with examples of “me toos” – that have actually made their mark. In fact, the surefire formula of a kid/tween hit might just be the do-over!

Being the “first-mover” might be an advantage in some categories, for some consumers. But when it comes to kids and tweens, copy-catting isn’t always such a bad thing.  Brands and celebrities with a foot in the familiar make exploring a bit safer and a lot more satisfying for kids. It might be why sequels have more staying power among kids and tweens than with adults. It could be why series stay on top of kids’ reading lists (think Harry Potter, Twilight or Percy Jackson). And it might be why kids TV shows seem to tap into the same themes over and over again. Kids and tweens can anticipate the star, brand or show’s next move, which makes them feel in-the-know and in control.

And for “properties” like Mahone, the mistakes of the past can offer a blueprint for getting it right this time around. It might be hard for Austin to avoid the inevitable adolescent implosion, but at least he’ll have a model to follow (or avoid) in Bieber.

For brands looking for a “refresh,” reviewing your youth history is just as valuable as seeking out the undiscovered.

Tags: youth research, digital drugs, music, culture

On the hunt for youth truths at a Justin Bieber concert

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Nov 07, 2012 @ 11:23 AM

justin bieber concert performance 03On Sunday night, I engaged in what anthropologists term “participant observation.” I found my subjects in a place where they congregate. I ate the food they ate (popcorn). I wore their attire (jeans). And most importantly, I listened to their music.  On Sunday night, I saw Justin Bieber in concert with my husband, my five-year-old son, my ten-year-old cousin and my aunt. Fieldnotes (with a bit of embellishment!) below…

  • The stadium’s population was comprised almost solely of girls.  Rather than the tween girls who we expected to see, many of these fans appeared to be 5-9 year olds. Accompanying these little kids were not just moms, but many dads (who, we should note, did not adorn the “native” attire – purple and pink shirts, inscribed with local mantras like “Believe,” proclamations like “I love Justin,” and, the somewhat more direct invocation, “Make me your one less lonely girl”).
  • Between Carly Rae Jepson (of “Call Me Maybe” fame), the researcher experiences déjà vu.  Her first concert, in 1985 was the Victory Tour, and she felt like she was there.  Not only did Justin Beiber don a number of Michael Jackson-inspired outfits, but he also warmed up the crowd by playing all nine tracks on Thriller. Researcher asks 10-year-old cousin, “Do you know who this is?” The answer: “no.” Researcher wonders if Beibers’ cultural canon is reflective of, or way over the heads of his young fans. Still, moms and dads seem to appreciate it.
  • Despite being in the actual presence of the boy wonder, the crowd shrieked loudest when he took a break! During these brief interludes, everyday pictures of the pop prince (including broadcasts of the YouTube videos that catapulted him to fame), filled the screen. Suddenly, the larger than life figure (who, it might be worthy to note, looks years younger than 18 when he’s on that big stage!) seems relatable once again. This seems to be the Justin that resonated with them. The sounds of a real kid’s voice, and a glimpse at his home videos seemed slightly more spectacular than the lasers and light show that illuminated the stage. Overhead: Dad of five-year-old boy asks, “Isn’t this just footage from the movie?”
  • Ritualistic turning back of time occurred during the morning of the concert, allowing for more sunlight in the morning, but prompting eyes to droop about four songs into the 8 pm est concert. (Right around the sixth song, five-year old boy opts to fall asleep wearing noise-blocking earphones. Does not seem to be concerned that he’s missing the “one time” he will see his favorite singer.)
  • Overheard: adult female to girl of ~10 years of age, “We used to use cigarette lighters to light up the audience, because we didn’t have cell phones.” Laughter, seemingly in disbelief…Researcher unclear if this is due to inability to believe that cell phones didn’t always exist or that cigarette lighters were appropriate to bring into a concert venue.
  • Throughout the concert, singer assures audience of over 20,000 that he wrote the “next song just for them.” While this seems highly improbable to the adults in attendance, the many screaming girls seem to believe.

Our thoughts and well-wishes go out to our friends affected by Hurricane Sandy. We know that many kids and families have faced challenges in the past week, and even kids who aren’t directly affected might be experiencing feelings of uncertainty about the storm and its aftermath. We recommend the following resources related to talking to kids about natural disasters:

Tags: girls, music, youth media, tweens, Justin Bieber

5 Youth YouTube Takeaways

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Sep 24, 2012 @ 01:15 PM

In mid-July, Korean rapper Psy’s management made a move that changed his world. The simple act: they posted his video for the now ubiquitous romp, “Gangman Style,” on a little site called YouTube.  Like Justin Bieber before him, this star circumvented traditional channels and took to the same outlet that countless moms and dads, kids, tweens an27989 top 10 psys gangnam style parody videosd teens have used to post their slightly less polished and possibly less entertaining performances. Carly Rae Jaepson may have had a platform on Canadian Idol, but she didn’t hit the big time until Justin Bieber and a few of his pals (including Selena Gomez and Ashley Tisdale) created their own YouTube video for “Call Me Maybe” (triggering a trend that led to viral spoofs by everyone from Barack Obama to the Harvard baseball team). It’s no surprise that some of our most talked about cultural phenoms come from YouTube – not the newest network, but a surprisingly powerful one. According to YouthBeat, YouTube has been rated the favorite site among kids and tweens, and only second to Facebook for Teens, for a few years running. Its youth appeal is evident: it’s constantly new, easily sharable, focused on fun, and a novel boredom buster.  But what does it mean for brands seeking stardom?

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of the people. For this cohort of youth, getting a say, and knowing that someone was discovered by youth like them, goes a long way towards affirming brand/star authenticity.
  2. At the same time, don’t assume that the best videos rise to the top…You could have a great ad or idea, but the YouTube ocean is vast. While we believe that getting your brand on YouTube is a great idea, it’s also important to promote your video across other platforms. If you’re not friends with a celeb with a seriously loyal Twitter following, make sure that you’re using your other assets to draw attention to your YouTube presence.  
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. If you’re a brand that wants to use YouTube to appeal to youth, make sure you check your ego at the door. The best and most popular videos on YouTube stay salient by taking on a second (and third, and…you get it…) life of their own. The parody might be more powerful than the first post on this site. Think of it as an endorsement that takes your message to the extreme (see what happened to Psy’s Gangman Style – and wonder if he’s offended).
  4. Don’t oversimplify “participation.” If we evaluated the appeal of YouTube by counting the kids, tweens and teens who actually post videos to it, we would have taken a pass. 91% of online 6-10 year olds have never posted a video online. Only 32% of teens have gotten in the game. But watching, sharing and voting constitute real participation for youth. Don’t build your promotions on the false notion that youth love to share their own videos. Instead, leverage the way they look and pass-along to make your brand famous.
  5. Finally, know the rules. While many brands (including one of our favorites, Old Spice) simply post their TV campaigns on YouTube, the ones that work best have learned the rituals and rules of making a YouTube hit. Humor and irreverence are always paths to consider when promoting an idea to youth, but for YouTube, they’re essentials. Most great YouTube videos are one part provocative. For your brand to sing on this space, consider the messages that might not work on traditional TV, but that may promote lunchroom patter.

Tags: internet, music, culture, youth media

The Next American – Managers?

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 @ 08:48 AM

148278915A few weeks ago, on an NBC primetime special spanning two summer nights, viewers watched while Justin Bieber caused chaos in cities around the world, just by showing up. This was no surprise. But what may have been a more insightful sign of the times was what we saw happen when the “behind the scenes” crew encountered the crowd – chaos. Okay, so it wasn’t Bieber-brand pandemonium, but it was the kind of reception that another A-list celebrity might find satisfying. Justin’s manager, stylist, musical director and PR person were greeted with authentic appreciation, not just anticipation for the star who they brought to the party.

In youth culture today, the finders’ gain much more than a fee…They get their own chance at fame. Simon Cowell may have paved the way for the producer-turned-celebrity, but even established rockers are finding that selecting or showcasing the next star might make them more relevant than releasing a new single. From J. Lo and Steven Tyler (who was hardly top-of-mind among today’s teens before he chose Idol as his latest gig), who leveraged temporary stints as talent scouts on American Idol into fresh fame, to Justin Bieber’s own “pay-it-forward” tweets to introduce the world to Carly Rae Jepson (and her often imitated hit “Call Me Maybe”) and most recently, 13-year-old Madison Beer, today’s biggest stars know that using their platform to promote others brings the spotlight back to them.  And today’s tweens and teens are used to meeting the momager behind the celebrity (think Kris Kardashian). But what does this tell us about what youth want from their stars?

  • First, they expect altruism alongside talent.  A Twitter account is not meant for only self-promotion, but for propping up a voice in need of visibility.
  • Second, they see celebrity as a business, and know the ones who make it happen are as important as the ingénue. Contrary to what is sometimes said about this generation, they know that fame requires effort – but they also know it takes a team.
  • And finally, they want recommendations from the curators of their choice. This cohort has grown up expecting that every website they visit, every purchase they make comes with a follow-up recommendation for something else they might like.

Tags: reality tv, kids tweens teens, music, culture, Justin Bieber

What does it take to be today’s tween star?

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Sep 28, 2011 @ 03:06 PM

It’s no secret that the crew at YouthBeat has a little bit of Bieber Fever…His music might not be breakthrough, and his dance moves might even look a bit recycled, if completely authentic to him. But after seeing the concert film/documentary of his rise to stardom, Never Say Never, this summer, we’ve caught this contagion all over again. As we wrote, back when the fever was just beginning to brew, Bieber has endeared himself to kids and moms alike by touting his Mama Boy status (and, as seen in his bio-pic, Grandma and Grandpa’s little guy), flirting with mom-favorites like Tina Fey and the ladies of The View (in particular, Barbara Walters), and keeping his image incredibly clean given the temptations that might confront a fifteen year old superstar (even if those temptations might be limited to becoming spoiled!). And far from being just a pretty face, Bieber is a bit of a musical prodigy. The documentary featured cute clips of this entertainer as a 3 and 4 year-old with an uncanny acumen for the drums…And the guitar…And trumpet…And guitar. Then there’s that hair.

He makes it look pretty easy.

So it’s no surprise that Bieber’s YouTube success has inspired a host of hopeful teen stars. Greyson Chance wowed the world with his school talent show rendition of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face, and was deemed likable enough to get the endorsement (and a contract) from Ellen Degeneres. Good or bad, Rebecca Black received plenty of attention for her song, Friday. And most recently, Australian teen, Cody Simpson, the stereotypical surfer boy that the genre may have been silently praying for, has hit the tween scene in a big way.teeny boppers

But do they have what it takes? They all seem to look the part, but somehow they seem to be lacking the same depth – that’s right, we said Justin Bieber has depth – that their predecessor had. His story was the real deal – a true grassroots movement that sprouted at a pace no one expected. Sure, these newer-comers can cause a craze. But will any of them have longevity?

Whether they succeed or not depends on their ability to follow a few simple rules of the tween teeny bopper:

  1. Advertise your authenticity. Perhaps Team Bieber’s most brilliant move to date was showing off his skills…Taylor Swift has swayed her young fans by not only singing relevant tunes, but writing her songs herself. Tweens might be willing to tolerate an artist with the right look for a while, but the ones that last have artistic credibility to back them up.
  2. Advocate accessibility. Twitter and Facebook may be the boon of the young star, giving them the ability to give kid and tween fans what they want: instant access. As adults, we might not really care about the every move our favorite musicians make, but this kind of disclosure is part of the price a young star is expected to pay. The smart ones realize that the key to being a tween idol today is taking time out to get in touch with your fans.
  3. Finally, sell your story. Part of the appeal of this batch of new heartthrobs and fan favorites is their story. First, kids love an underdog, and there’s no little guy that they’d rather root for more than another kid! Second, play up the person, not the celebrity. Even Lady Gaga, with all her pageantry, has learned this lesson…To be loved as a star, she has to first be liked as a person – a daughter, a sister, a friend. And part of demonstrating your down-to-earth nature is showing you appreciate your fame.
Of course, writing songs that matter and dressing the part has to follow. But like any breakthrough brand, the foundation of a true tween star is usually stronger than it seems.

Tags: Youth, Teens, music, tweens, Justin Bieber

What Would Justin Do?

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Apr 05, 2011 @ 10:19 AM

Saturday’s Kids Choice Awards included a few surprises…Josh Duhamel attended dressed as Justin Bieber...Selena Gomez beat out Miley Cyrus for favorite TV actress (not really a surprise), but Miley Cyrus did snag the award for favorite movie actress! And whether they were really surprised or not, many presenters and winners got slimed.

But as we mentioned in our last blog, Justin Timberlake’s Kid's Choice Awardstake-home of the Big Help Award was not a surprise. Yet his speech was one of our favorite moments of the evening.

Perhaps it’s predictable that the most decorated celeb in Kids Choice Award history would strike just the right tone with this audience…He’s been around the block a few times, but who knew that this former boy-bander and Brittany beau might also be that summer camp counselor you wish you had. Timberlake may have been recognized for his work with Shriner’s Hospital and authentically “green” golf course, his speech also showed that he understands how to talk to today’s youth in a way that makes them stand up and listen. What can we learn from him?

  1. First, get a little silly…Timberlake peppered his more profound statements about giving back and going green with an on-going burp joke. He promised a great big burp to celebrate the occasion, and this oldie but goodie made him both vulnerable and powerful at the same time. Burping might be frowned upon at the average award show, but Justin realized that his audience needed to shake out the sillies before they could focus on the serious stuff (a lesson that many preschool teachers heed).
  2. Second, don’t underestimate kids. While Timberlake’s aforementioned follies signaled to attendees that he did not take himself too seriously, his next words showed them that he did take them seriously. We could debate whether or not bringing up world catastrophes is appropriate content for a mixed age audience who spends their days alternatively pondering wizards, vampires and sponges who live in a pineapple under the sea, but Timberlake went for it. He rhetorically asked them if they knew about things going on in the world, “like in Japan,” then told them “that’s exactly the kind of thing you can help with.” He reminds us that when adults assume that kids can make a difference, kids assume they’re right.
  3. Finally, Timberlake recognized what they already do…Instead of merely encouraging them to go out and make a difference, he first took a moment to recognize what they’ve already done. He asked them to stand up if they’ve ever helped anyone…A parent, a friend, an organization in their community. He made “help” inclusive, not elite or elusive, and he first pointed out how they’ve already gotten some of the good stuff done. Of course, this also served to get the whole crowd on their feet (he is an entertainer, you know).

So when you’re trying to motivate, inspire or just inform kids, look at the way the people they admire treat them. You’re likely to find some of the same patterns. They might be speaking a language that’s more relevant to your own than you think.

Tags: Nickelodeon, kids tweens teens, music

Catching Up With the Kids Choice Awards

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Mar 31, 2011 @ 10:00 AM

2011 Kids Choice Awards

For 2010, kids and tweens in our YouthBeat survey put Disney at the top of their list of both “most watched” and “favorite” TV channels. But ask any 6-12 year old you know and you’ll find that Nickelodeon continues to wield significant influence on the tastes and preferences of today’s youth. In both 2009 and 2010, iCarly (whose Miranda Cosgrove was featured in a piece on young stars in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine) supplanted Hannah Montana as the show that kids and tweens want to see. And SpongeBob is their go-to-guy when it comes to cartoons that tickle their funny bones.

This weekend, for the 24th time, Nickelodeon will air the Kids Choice Awards. The Grammys, Oscars and Emmys might bring artists more cache, but no other awards show puts you on the radar of the future generation of listeners and viewers than this one. Nickelodeon puts the power in its audience’s hands, quite literally, by allowing youth to vote on the show’s web and mobile sites.

But while awards shows tend to be a litmus test of the “new,” this year’s list of nominees and presenters will probably appeal to parents as much as kids, and will likely look just as familiar to older siblings as they do to kids and tweens themselves. Jack Black will host and KCA veterans Justin Timberlake and Brittany Spears will both appear (remember her 1999 performance of Hit Me Baby One More Time?).  Timberlake might be playing the elder statesman, receiving an award for his commitment to Green issues and other charity work, but the ghosts of boy bands past will be adequately represented by Nick’s own Big Time Rush. And Will Smith (1997 Kids Choice Hall of Fame Award Winner and most KCA decorated celeb of all time) might not be nominated, but son Jaden (Karate Kid) is and his hair flipping daughter, Willow, will perform.

But this year’s ceremony is not just about passing the kid culture baton from one generation to the next. It’s also about kids and tweens asserting their own taste and choosing their own heroes. For every old school (and let’s face it, older) potential winner (Jay-Z, Donkey Kong and America’s Funniest Home Videos to name a few) there are those who belong to this group of youth alone. We don’t know if Justin Bieber or Joe Jonas will be on the scene 10 or even 5 years from now…Before you decide, take a lesson from Nickelodeon: count on kids to pick the winners.

Tags: kids, Nickelodeon, Youth, music, TV

What 2010 Tells Us about Kids, Tweens and Teens Today

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Jan 11, 2011 @ 02:17 PM

In our YouthBeat Yearbook, we wrestle with the headlines, dive deeply into data from across our twelve survey topics and look at what mattered in the market in 2010. But before we do that, we thought we’d share a few trends that told us about the way kids, tweens and teens thought in 2010, and what it means for 2011.

The Lady Gaga Conundrum: Overly Produced but Authentic. For today’s youth, independence doesn’t mean gritty footage, do-it-yourself fashion or even casual chic. In 2010, Lady Gaga struck a chord with youth with a deliberate self-depiction that felt anything but accidental. However, Gaga got it right by being herself – whoever that might be. Like Justin Bieber, who might have been pegged as part of the music machine in the past, she kept her cool by carefully crafting her image, and also crafting tweets – making her accessible, and allowing her “true” voice to be heard.

Good Guys Get What’s Theirs. Look no further than Glee!  to see that squeaky clean shows (even those that feature a little drama) have found a place. While we can’t deny that the cast from Jersey Shore and the moms from 16 and Pregnant  got attention in 2010, when it comes to what youth are watching, more care about characters with good – or at least complex – intentions – than with Gossip Girls. Perhaps youth have gotten burned out from the bad girl and bad boy celeb stories that seemed to dominate headlines in 2010, or maybe reality TV began to look just too unreal. But in any case, we think that kids, tweens and teens would agree that to be “bad” in 2011, celebs and shows might want to try to be “good.”

SpongeBob as Seal of Approval. SpongeBob
Okay, that might be going a bit far, but in 2010, a licensed character didn’t signify sub-par food as much as it meant a seal of approval on a slightly healthier option. Nickelodeon’s and Disney’s policies on partnering with healthy food manufacturers became truly visible in the marketplace with Mickey found on snacks like unsweetened dried apples. Shows on both networks also worked in healthy eating and living into their narratives. So in 2011, protecting your brand might mean partnering with a property that cares about parents’ perspectives, or managing your own property by making deals with partners who make a positive difference in the life of kids, tweens and teens.

Design on a Dime. Prior to the economic downturn of the past few years, we had begun to notice that average suburban girls were showing up to focus groups with designer purses…We noticed more and more conversation surrounding brands that many adults would find to be aspirational. Now we’re seeing designers catering to this market (see Coach’s Poppy line) while being conscious of the price-point that’s really practical for today’s increasingly cost-conscious kids, tweens and teens. Mass merchants are youth’s favorite places to shop, and designers that might have previously been inaccessible have found a way to meet their young consumers half-way. We think this formula – along with offering deal-savvy youth special ways to save – will continue to redefine fashion in 2011.

Tags: Lady Gaga, advertisment, parents, Youth, Teens, music, tweens, Justin Bieber

Katy Perry Bets on Tweens' and Teens' Need for a Burst of Self-Esteem

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Nov 04, 2010 @ 12:17 PM

In Katy Perry’s video for her latest single from the aptly titled album, Teenage Dream,  she matches her poignant, if easily accessible, lyrics to “Firework” with images of “outcasts” of all sorts translating an inner fire to an outward spark.

And it could not come at a better time.

In the wake of sensational coverage of teen bullying, and in fairness of the sensational and tragic events that catalyzed this coverage, Perry promotes a message that many teens seem in need of hearing: “Do you know that there's still a chance for you, Cause there's a spark in you?” (See the complete lyrics.) While she does, in one instance, show bullying taking place, most of the vignettes in this video show the self-consciousness that live Katy Perrywithin these teens versus aggression from outside forces. By showing their torment, she reminds us that most teens don’t need a perpetrator harassing them to make them feel like they’re “drifting through the wind.”

Katy confronts the topic of many recent headlines – the quiet isolation and fear of living as a gay teen. And she has publicly acknowledged that this song is a dedication of sorts to Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project. But she also equally taps into real but slightly less “trendy” depictions of teen self-doubt…A girl too insecure to wear a bathing suit in front of other girls and boys her age…A young girl with a bald head, her hair lost to chemotherapy, feeling weak and frail…A boy whose passion and talent for magic makes him feel on the fringe.

In line with what we’ve discussed in previous posts, Larry Magid of affirms that despite statistics that suggest that bullying is widespread, “nice” is actually the norm. In showing the real numbers of teens who engage in cyberbullying, or who report having been cyberbullied (which is probably the more authentic and reliable measure to monitor), which are quite low, Magid says:

The reason I point out these statistics is not to deny we have a problem -- whatever the statistics, cyberbullying can have horrendous consequences – but to remind parents and teens that the norm is to be civil, not mean.

And Katy’s approach seems to be in line with Magid’s plea: positive programs and messages over punishment of bullies. She leaves teens with a call to action that sounds like it could come from the star who most experts would agree to be the most sought after teen icon in the world right now: Lady Gaga. Katy sings, “You just gotta ignite the light/ and let it shine/just own the night/like the Fourth of July.”

Both of these teen idols seem to recognize that to win the support of today’s teens, the people and brands who influence them need to start by supporting them first.  

Tags: research, Katy Perry, parents, Youth, Teens, music, tweens