Walt Mueller on The Britney Spears Phenomenon

Another seminar I attended at the National Youth Workers Convention was called More Than Noise: How Yoday's Music and Media Impacts Your Students, led by Walt Mueller of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU).

This was a phenomenal seminar! Mueller takes the approach that we as parents and youth leaders need to be aware of what our kids are listening to, watching, etc. He doesn't suggest that should try to shield them from the media, but think through with them how they are being influenced by the media.

Mueller talked about the fact that, according to a Johnston Company survey, in 1960, adolescents were being influenced by family, school, friends/peers, and church (in descending order of influence). In 1980, the Johnston Company found that the top four influences (again in descending order) were friends/peers, family, media, and school. He noted that the advent of MTV in 1981 was a huge factor in terms of the media's influence on teenagers.

Today, Mueller suggests that (based on his own research) the top four influences among teens are media, friends/peers, family, and school. In regard to media, Mueller said that a few years ago he would have said that most powerful media influence was music, but today he would say it is advertising.

Now... Here's the best--and most eye-opening--story Mueller told:

He recently attended a marketing-related convention targeted for marketing executives. Mueller went as a researcher.

One of the seminars he attended was called something like, "Creating and Marketing a Pop Star." The person who led the seminar introduced herself as the person who "single-handedly engineered the Britney Spears phenomenon" (as Mueller put it).

She said that what they discovered back in the 70's was that a pop star marketed to teens had a shelf life of only a couple of years. For instance, girls who were in love with David Cassidy as 10-year-olds were incredibly embarrassed to have been a Cassidy fan by the time they were 13.

So here's the solution they discovered. For the first two or three years, the pop star (think Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake) is marketed in such a way that parents love the star--cute, wholesome, pure. Moms are more than happy to take their daughters to concerts, buy them CDs, etc. But after a couple of years, the pop star is reinvented in such a way (and these are this woman's exact words) "that it pisses the parents off."

Now that Mom and Dad no longer think Britney Spears is a good influence on their daughter, daughter continues to think that Britney is really cool--because now she's a bad girl!

This realization is obviously incredibly eye-opening. I will never look at a pop star gone bad the same way again. You know that something like this is going to happen with the latest batch of cute kid stars--JoJo, Jesse McCartney, etc. I'm actually kinda looking forward to seeing them turn "bad"--now that I know what's going on.

Later on I ran into Walt Mueller in the men's room (great place for casual conversation!) and asked if I could have permission to make copies of that seminar for parents. He said, "Of course! You don't even need to ask about that." So, I'm gonna try to get this seminar into the hands of parents in our church. I'll also see if I can get an mp3 of just that section about Britney Spears and post it here. No promises, though...