Last month before a concert in Mexico City, the four Ken-doll-cute members of Big Time Rush arrived at a preshow autograph session expecting 500 fans. What they stumbled into, however, was pure pop-pinup madness: Some 10,000 people materialized, all demanding the guys’ coveted John Hancocks. ”There were blood-curdling screams,” recalls tousle-haired Texas native Logan Henderson, 22. ”It was the best feeling ever.”
Of course, those 10,000 fans were very much of a certain age — that is to say, mostly tweens — since the group has built its feverish following largely from the viewership of its Nickelodeon musical-comedy series, Big Time Rush (new episodes air Saturdays at 8 p.m.), which premiered two years ago to 6.8 million viewers, a record for the cable network. The show, about four hockey-playing teens from Minnesota who descend on Hollywood and break out as pop stars, was recently renewed for a third season.
But the foursome are hoping to be more than just idols to the 12-and-under set, and they’re about to make a play for more mainstream pop listeners with their second album, Elevate. ”The best way to explain it,” says dimple-cheeked Kendall Schmidt, 21, ”is that we weren’t writing for the TV show anymore. Elevate is a much better representation of who we are as actual people.”
The show, though, is how it all began. Like many a boy band before them, Big Time Rush were made, not born — the product of an extensive search by Nickelodeon and Sony’s Columbia record label. The edict was simple: Pluck four wholesome guys out of obscurity and create a modern-day version of the Monkees.
After a few hiccups — including the recasting of an original member — the lineup solidified in 2009, with each guy taking on a specific role for the show. According to Nickelodeon’s executive VP of talent, Paula Kaplan, Henderson is ”the smart one”; James Maslow, 21, ”the good-looking one”; Carlos Pena Jr., 22, ”the adventurous, mischievous one”; and Schmidt, ”the edgy one.” ”Our roles change day by day,” admits Pena. ”Yeah, we were put together, we were cast, but I don’t think you can just create the chemistry we have.”
That chemistry certainly clicked with the group’s audience: Their 2010 debut album, B.T.R., went gold and moved more than 3 million digital singles. On that album, the boys earned writing credits on just one song; on Elevate, that number has jumped to eight. ”We were much more hands-on,” Maslow explains. ”We really had a majority stake in creating this album.” True, the songs remain light pop trifles with titles like ”Love Me Love Me.” And, acknowledges Kaplan, ”they still look like they could be teenagers. We’re careful not to make them too slick.”
They’re not actually teenagers, which may lead some to wonder whether the types of grown-up scandals (paternity suits, racy photos, rehab) that have at least momentarily blighted the careers of even younger stars — Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and Demi Lovato — are waiting in the wings.
”It’s no lie, this is hard,” Schmidt admits. ”To have people judging you and looking to hit you wherever you are, it’s not great.” And a veteran of the genre does have a warning: ”These kids always forget that if it wasn’t them, someone else is ready to fill in,” says Jay Marose, who worked as a VP of marketing for legendary (and now incarcerated) boy-band Svengali Lou Pearlman during the *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys years. ”That machine that they are going to grow to resent is what has made them.”
For now, the boys of Big Time Rush aren’t getting too caught up in what could happen. Instead, they’re focused on what is happening: their new album; a two-hour telefilm, Big Time Movie, which just wrapped; the third season of Big Time Rush, going into production this spring; and the national Better With U Tour, which launches Feb. 17 in Las Vegas.
The foursome’s dream, in fact, is to one-up past boy bands by performing on all seven continents. ”We’re on two,” Schmidt says (that’d be North America and Europe). ”We would be the first band ever to do it.” So what of Antarctica? ”We’d have to go play for the scientists!” Schmidt laughs. And perhaps the 10,000 giddy, screeching penguins who show up for autographs.