Published January 21, 2003
NEW YORK – With teen pop's latest explosion, a gaggle of its young stars have made some unforgivable faux pas about music history lately.
The most recent blunder came from Canadian mall-punk teen Avril Lavigne, who mispronounced David Bowie's name while announcing the Grammy nods for the Best Male Rock Vocal category. Lavigne pronounced "Bowie" the way one would say "Maui," rather than the correct way resembling "Joey."
Another set of verbal mishaps sprung from the lips of Britney Spears. Last year, when Fox 411's Roger Friedman jokingly asked the starlet if she would be the millennium's Yoko Ono — referencing her relationship with 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake — Spears' response was: "Who?"
And when asked why she covered Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," Spears attributed it to her fondness for Pat Benatar.
Granted, these miscues could happen to a lot of people under, say, 21, but they raise the question: Why are today's pop stars so seemingly ignorant about any musical history that predates the Reagan era?
"It is rather scary," said Whitney Matheson, pop-culture columnist for USAToday.com. "Then again, Avril was born in 1984 and grew up on church music. You can't expect her to know 40 years of rock 'n' roll history by age 18."
While Matheson thinks these bungles are unacceptable, she said there are some concrete reasons behind the dumbing down of today's teen idols.
"A lot of these mega-successful kids didn't grow up locked in their rooms playing guitars," she said. "Instead, they were raised in the MTV era, and probably dreamed more about becoming A-list celebrities than master songwriters or instrumentalists."
Margie Monin, creator of the TheCollegePress.com's "Pop-Culturally Incorrect" section, also blames both the stars and the media. "I wouldn't blame this entirely on MTV, but we can definitely point a finger at them."
But Dimitri Coats, singer/guitarist for Burning Brides, one of rock's hottest up-and-coming bands, wasn't as forgiving. "Everybody should know who David Bowie is," he said. "And if you don't, you're an idiot."
Musical knowledge aside, it should be noted that pop stars are much more entertainers than they are musicians these days. Songwriters, producers and record labels often shape performers' sound and image, leaving the stars themselves as simply spokespeople with little creative input.
"A pop star's success is largely based on appearance and publicity, not musical background," Matheson said.
Still, even pop music fans seem to agree that today's icons should be aware of yesterday's.
"They should definitely be more knowledgeable of those who made it possible for them," said 23-year-old Amy Christiansen of Baldwin, N.Y., who admits to being a fan of all things pop.
She laughingly added, "If you're going to cover a song, you'd better fact-check so that I don't feel like an idiot for illegally downloading your music."
But, of course, not all young music sensations can be dubbed ignorant.
For her latest album, Missundaztood, Pink — somewhat of an anti-pop-star pop star — dug into the rock archives to bring in 4 Non Blondes leader Linda Perry as her producer. Perry, who never achieved much mainstream success, has a strong reputation for her soul-scraping voice and songwriting. "Dirrty" pop princess Christina Aguilera also booked Perry to record her latest endeavor, Stripped. Both albums have spawned multiple hits, and are getting better critical praise than the artists' debut albums.
Coats said this kind of attention to music history is essential for musicians who are today's role models for the next generation.
"Whether you're playing rock music or pop music, you owe so much to people like Bowie and Paul McCartney," the Burning Brides singer said. "Performers that are in the limelight should do their homework."
But it seems only natural that the younger these stars get, the younger their role models will be. Madonna, Alanis Morissette and Janet Jackson are now the blueprints they study. But if this trend continues, today's stars might be sorry.
Maybe when the 2015 Grammy announcements roll around, some feisty new pop idol will announce the latest nominee — "Avril Lavig-knee."