Teen idol

Teen idols refers to someone idolized by teens; a teen idol is often young but in many cases no longer teenaged. Often, a teen idol is an actor or a pop singer, but some sports figures have had an appeal to teenagers. Some teen idols are child actors. The idol's popularity may be limited to teens or extend to all age groups.

Teen idols were usually featured in teen magazines such as 16 magazine, Tiger Beat, Right On! in the United States and similar magazines elsewhere. With the advent of television, teen idols were also promoted through programs such as American Bandstand, The Ed Sullivan Show, and Soul Train.

It is the essence of the teen idol to appeal to the burgeoning sexuality of the young without in any way threatening it. As recently as the 1970s, some stars were asked to shave their chests because it was perceived that chest hair was threatening to young girls. In previous eras, because teen idols were supposed to have an aura of approachability, they often needed to keep their romantic relationships and marriages a secret for fear of decreased popularity. In recent times, the concept of a teen idol has changed. Today's idols include movie and television stars, pop singers, and supermodels. Celebrities' private lives are no longer taboo; to the contrary, they have spawned an entire industry of gossip magazines and television shows (such as E!).

Early teen idols

The teen idol is primarily a phenomenon of 20th century mass communication. Its first manifestation (often referred to as matinee idol) may have been Rudolph Valentino, whose good looks and winning way with women featured heavily in such silent movies as The Sheik. Judy Garland's pin-ups adorned many a high school male's locker after her sudden rise to fame. But it was probably Frank Sinatra, whose early career is often linked to his appeal to bobby soxers, who is generally regarded as being the first true 'teen idol'.


The great success of Elvis Presley and James Dean in the 1950s led clever promoters to the deliberate creation of teen idols, such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian. Tommy Sands' debut in a television movie about the phenomenon, The Idol, made a teen idol out of Sands himself. Ricky Nelson, a performer of rockabilly music, also became a teen idol through his parents' television show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

The difference is graphically illustrated by the early career of Presley, who started out playing hard rhythm and blues and jazzed-up country music until he was retrofitted as a teen idol by his management. The lyrics of his "Teddy Bear" explicitly document the change:

Don't wanna be your tiger, 'cause tigers play too rough,
Don't wanna be your lion, 'cause lions aren't the kind you love enough;
I just wanna be your teddy bear.

Likewise, Tommy Steele, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were teen idols, especially during the earlier part of their careers, although they quickly grew out of that status. The Rolling Stones did it through a more rebellious image, The Beatles did it through their more developed (or "Grown up") music.

Since the 1980s

The manufacturing of teen idols has been marketed more aggressively and with greater sophistication since the 1980s. The rise of MTV in the 1980s and the success of the boy bands of the 1990s and 2000s has continued to fuel the phenomenon. Besides the obvious combination of what are perceived to be good, clean-cut looks and a ubiquitous, almost invasive marketing campaign, one of the key selling points of the "manufactured band" is the "something for everyone" approach, although this strategy has been criticized for being more along the lines of "something for everyone who hasn't had much exposure to music." Each band member can be promoted separately for a unique look and one-note personality: the "shy one," the "intelligent one," "the rebel," and so on. Recent examples of boy bands include The Backstreet Boys, N'Sync, and Westlife. The most recent example would be the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus.


See also

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