Disney Music’s Not All That Bad

The overabundance of teenybopper acts on the radio has most people scratching their heads in wonder. Hannah Montana earned $6 million more than Ryan Seacrest last year, and the Jonas Brothers have girls from 5 to 15 squealing with delight. My 3-year-old even knows who they are.

Well here’s a shocker: I, for one, welcome our new teen overlords, and with the exception of Ms. Montana (I could never like the music of Billy Ray Cyrus’ offspring), I don’t really mind most of it.

Stop laughing. Stay with me here. I have a point.

Until recently, I have always frowned upon most teen acts. Artists like Hillary Duff, the Backstreet Boys, and *NSYNC were a mile wide and an inch deep, getting by with good looks, but marginal songs and talent. Their main marketing gimmick was sex appeal. There’s a tendency to push the envelope at too young an age, and the artists seem to encourage boys and girls to grow up too quickly. I try to keep an open mind, since my generation had Shaun Cassidy, Debbie Gibson and – wait for it – Rick Astley. But it’s hard – especially with two young girls.

This new generation, though, is different. Really. TV and teen music producers are now aiming at an even lower age – a demographic too young to hear lyrics like, “If you lay down, lay down beside me/You can get all inside me” (Thank you, Backstreet Boys). So their songwriters have to simplify, simplify, and use new techniques to grab kids’ attention: Things like melody.

Pop music and Disney

Yep, if you check out the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, you’ll see pop music making a strong comeback:

  • High School Musical has its share of pop music, and the upbeat, piano-driven “What I’ve Been Looking For” is actually on my iPod. But the producers went too far with the sequel, aiming at an older demographic, and as a result, the hip-hop-heavy High School Musical 2 was a disaster musically.
  • Between shows, the Disney Channel features artists such as They Might Be Giants and former Del Fuegos singer Dan Zanes. Another artist, Ralph Covert of Ralph’s World, cites the Beatles as a main influence, and his songs show it.
  • Former Jellyfish frontman Andy Sturmer wrote the theme to “My Friends Tigger & Pooh” on the Disney Channel, and former Veruca Salt lead singer Kay Hanley sings vocals.
  • Drake Bell, star of his own Nickelodeon show “Drake and Josh,” even writes his own songs, which are surprisingly good, nay, even McCartneyesque.

That’s not to say I’m going to run out and buy the soundtrack to Disney’s newest movie, “Camp Rock,” which looks dreadful. And there are some things I just won’t let my kids listen to – For instance, Kidz Bop reworks Top 40 hits into kids’ arrangements; a good idea, but have you listened to Top 40 music lately? But some stuff isn’t bad, and it makes it that much easier to endure on long trips.


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Peter Lee