For a sympathetic moment, consider the fate of the current teen idols. Despite fame, fortune, and, in some cases, fledgling facial hair, they’re blessed with as many doomsayers as fans. At the recent MTV Video Music Awards, Britney Spears attempted to shed her adolescent image — granted, with dual homage to Flashdance and Striptease — only to be greeted with snickers and media scolding about her skin baring. The Backstreet Boys will be considered passé if the first-week sales of their forthcoming album don’t surpass those of ‘N Sync’s or Spears’s latest. And the very industry that spawned them is preparing for their inevitable obsolescence by grooming a new wave of grade-school stars, like pip-squeak country-pop warbler Billy Graham, to take their place.
Not only will the Backstreet Boys eventually be supplanted, but their label is betting it’ll be by one of the family: Aaron Carter, Nick’s 12 year old sibling. For the moment, big brother needn’t be concerned. Aaron’s Party (Come Get It), the younger Carter’s first album for Jive (also the Boys’ label), is a collection of rhythmic, ultradisposable jingles delivered in the chirpy voice of its leading tyke.
Aaron’s Party is very much a preadolescent’s album. In the songs, the obnoxiously precocious Aaron chats online and puts one over on his parents with a secret party, and silly between song skits are devoted to prank phone calls and ordering doughnuts in the recording studio. Had Zac Hanson made a solo album during his hyperactive phase three years ago, this is how it might have sounded.
If the humor is appropriately childish, so is the music. ”Girl You Shine” and ”Bounce” are competent lunchbox pop, but the overproduced clatter, complete with dated synth handclaps, is teeth gratingly cute, and remakes of ”I Want Candy” and the New Orleans classic ”Iko Iko” seem calculated to impress adults rather than make good listening. And even though he tosses in hip hop lingo — ”AC’s in the house!” — and calls himself ”the flyest kid on the block,” little Aaron seems more an heir to the Über wholesome Osmonds than to his brother’s band.
Carter’s playground high jinks are distinctive in one way: They set him apart from his competition, who all aim to be far beyond their years and shoe sizes. Gilman’s honky Tonka Toy debut, the hit One Voice, is filled with melancholy heartbreak ballads delivered in a timbre that makes him sound like a young Reba McEntire. Similarly, Lil’ Bow Wow, the 13-year-old protégé of Snoop Dogg, is caught somewhere between a crib (as in ”child’s bed”) and a crib (as in rap slang for ”home”). Sounding as if he didn’t dare crack a smile during the sessions, the former Shad Moss sternly brags about ”the dog in me” on his debut album, Beware of Dog. even when he imagines the day he’s wealthy and famous (the rubbery single ”Bounce With Me”) or advises fans to ”make room next to your Backstreet poster / ‘cuz Bow Wow’s here and it’s over,” this grim rapper takes his cues from Snoop and Ice Cube rather than the exuberant young Michael Jackson (to whom Bow Wow is compared, prematurely, in a press release). In ”Bounce With Me,” he warns: ”And I oughta snatch up yo’ daughter / But I was brought up with respect / When i turn 16 I’m a-call her, though / And show her how to ride with a baller.” Kids today — they rap the darndest things.
The cornrowed Bow Wow is talented, as he demonstrates with a few displays of lickety-split rhyming, and producer Jermaine Dupri finds an agreeable balance between Nickelodeon-channel pop and genuine hip-hop, as he did with Kris Kross a decade ago. Dupri keeps the midtempo beats and flows uncomplicated and uncluttered, and cameos by Snoop, Da Brat, and Xscape add grown-up appeal and hooky harmonies to the proceedings. (And talk about grown-up: The slinky ”Ghetto Girls” is built on a sample by the old-school fusion band the Crusaders.) It also helps that at 34 minutes, the album is half the length of an average disc.
The lil’ in Bow Wow peeks out occasionally: In ”Puppy Love,” he takes a date to the mall and Six Flags but cautions her, ”I’m not trying to get serious until I’m in my 20s.” Soon enough, though, he’s telling us about the 18-year-old who came on to him and fantasizing about ”trying to escort Aaliyah or somebody to Soul Train.” Apparently, keeping it real now begins during recess.
Aaron’s Party (Come Get It): C- Beware of Dog: B