Questionable Entertainments: Learning From Tween Star Miss L

Today I received the dubious distinction of being the first writer in Popdose history to willingly and seriously approach the “tween kid sings original pop songs on Youtube” meme. To wit, the work of one Lauren Taveras, who now operates under the moniker Miss L, heir apparent to the Rebecca Black throne. Taveras both is and is not the new Rebecca Black. Her rise is more akin to the likes of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, in that she has moved mostly within traditional entertainment circles like talent agencies and TV networks rather than the failed shortcut of a pay-for-press outfit like Black’s benefactors at ARK Music Factory. The thing that makes Miss L interesting, at least from a critical standpoint, is how her career illuminates certain truths of the entertainment industry.

Consider the real and perceived differences between kids of relatively similar ages. The difference between a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old is significant in ways that are far more drastic than the differences between a 24 and 26-year-old. Culturally, legally, physically and behaviorally, 14 and 16 might as well be different species. So, when we consider that Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black weren’t tarted up as miniature stars until they hit their teens while Lauren Taveras did her first My Little Ke$sha routine at the tender age of 11, the story changes.

Oh, I’m not here to sermonize on the way we’re encouraging our kids to adopt abhorrent adult behaviors before they’ve lost their innocence. It may paint me as a venomous bastard to say so, but I don’t have much faith that Lauren Taveras or anyone like her would ever grow up to be respectable in the first place. Not letting 11-year-old Miss L trot around on the increasingly cynical shores of The Disney Channel and do a Katy Perry impression on Youtube wouldn’t change the fact that she clearly aspires to shallow, brainless vistas. Insufferable children tend to grow into insufferable adults. So, I don’t get bent out of shape when a tween shows up in slut-pop regalia. Her doing that won’t retroactively undo the positive cultivation of every tween who ever joined a chess club, took piano lessons or did volunteer work.

The fascinating thing about the increasingly younger pop fodder who live the Disney life isn’t the moral impact but the implicit commentary on the nature of the entertainment industry their very existence provides. We shouldn’t be asking whether kids like Lauren Taveras should be doing what they do. Rather, we should take note of the fact that they can do what they do.

I had similar thoughts after seeing the movie School of Rock. It’s true that the tween/teen actors in that film actually played their instrumental parts. The result is a movie that, in an attempt to promote the universal appeal of rock music, actually shows us in a step-by-step process how simple and formulaic this whole “rock” thing has become. “Rock is so easy, even a kid could do it” is the overarching message. The same can be said for the miniature pop idols of the Youtube age. The Ke$shas, Katy Perrys, Lady Gagas and maybe even Justin Timberlakes of the world aren’t great artists or even rare talents. In fact, given the right producer, publicist and stylist any 11-year-old with halfway decent pipes can do what the pop stars do.

I’m not sure if this revelation actually diminishes Top 40 pop in the end. The stuff exists to entertain and to make money, not to pioneer new sounds or add to the artistic tapestry of history. Maybe Lauren Taveras grows out of her Miss L phase to become a Regina Spektor or maybe she tries to continue to be a relevant bubblegum act in a world that has stopped caring. Maybe she wastes her twenties battling a string of DUIs and paparazzi invasions. Or maybe we forget her in six months, she moves on as only a pre-teen can and she becomes some real estate agent in Colorado. All that’s certain is that, despite the age factor, there’s nothing especially new or amazing about tween pop stars compared to their adult counterparts.

  • http://notthatyoung.blogspot.com SteveC

    Not really here to defend the balloon-headed pre-pubescent puppets of Disney, because, really, there is no way to do that…but isn’t this the way of the world?  Adults will always denigrate kid culture.  Elvis? Hip-swaying lothario.  The Beatles? Acid dropping hippies.

    What I really want to answered is who in Disney is in love with pre-teens with really really really really round heads?  It’s like they’re looking for Peanuts characters….

  • MichaelSarko

    The difference here is that the Disney and Rebecca Black stuff isn’t youth culture in the same way as Elvis and The Beatles. Those acts from the 50s and 60s brought something new and kind of scary to pop culture, be it musical styles pioneered by black artists, implicit sexuality in performance or the very concept of rock. Ke$sha and the like are hardly that fresh or progressive. Quasi-electronic dance music with insipid lyrics has been on and off the Top 40 for 30+ years. I can’t pretend to know what’s new and kinda scary in music today, but I know that ain’t it.

  • http://notthatyoung.blogspot.com SteveC

     I don’t disagree.

    I think that there is no “authentic” youth culture any more because corporations have spoon fed glossy, pre-fabricated, highly marketed garbage to the screaming masses for the past 20 years and kids can’t tell the difference between real talent and manufactured talent any more (or even worse, don’t care that there is a difference between the two).

    It’s very sad to me that a great band like the New Pornographers can’t rise above the noise and break out like R.E.M. back in the 90’s.  How is it that a band that writes it’s own music, plays it’s own instruments, sings songs without auto-tune, and plays live without pre-recorded tracks can’t seem to get a fair shake in today’s world?  It’s criminal how the mainstream media can’t pull their collective heads out of the muck that is the modern marketing machine and see that honest bands are much more worthy of coverage than the latest train-wreck of the week.

    Maybe Neko needs to start wearing meat dresses or something…