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Boy bands: brands, not role models

ONE wonders who was really all that shocked by the "shocking" video exclusive the Daily Mail ran last week, filmed by one 22-year-old pop star of another band member smoking a roll-up cigarette and talking about "Mary J" (meaning marijuana) as they drive through Peru, a country in which possession of a small amount of cannabis is legal.

Was it the One Direction fans, who, at the worst, seemed, on their internet forums, merely "disappointed" by Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik's behaviour?

Was it their parents who should probably have noticed that barely a young pop superstar, from Miley Cyrus to Justin Bieber, hasn't eventually tried the drugs portion of the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll package? Or was this perhaps just another fear-mongering drug and kids scandal created by the media, as manufactured as the band itself, a storm in a 1D-cup.

Clearly, there were some parents who were "disgusted" - indeed, quite a few seemed to have genuinely believed in the band's squeaky-clean branding. One, writing in the paper, described these young stars as if they were role models for his seven-year-old daughter. "Just as schoolboys will copy the exploits of their football idols, so will One Direction's impressionable fans ape their every move."

Really? At seven? This seemed a strange misunderstanding of the part these bands play in the lives of the very young. One Direction is not, for these youngsters, a set of role models, but rather a brand - one of many that litter their lives, from Hello Kitty through to Barbie. It's a way simply of saying, "I'm a girl".

I doubt finding out that Zayn and Louis have been filmed looking as if they might be doing drugs is going to set their young fans on the first steps down the rocky road to drug use, or even make them seek out roll-up cigarettes.

The headlines, meanwhile, informed us that fans were selling and destroying concert tickets. The picture illustrating the Daily Mail's story, taken from Twitter, shows a girl in a top bearing the lips logo of one-time drug-takers The Rolling Stones as she burns her ticket. Was her sartorial message irony or accident?

It only takes a quick look at the comments online to get a general impression that most of the older teenage fans are girls who already have their own informed views on drugs. But there has long been a fever-pitch of anxiety around girls, and any outrageous act by a young pop star inevitably brings talk about their value as role models. We ought to relax. 'Twas ever thus. I'm with Will.i.am, who said of Justin Bieber: "It's really not important that pop stars are role models. There are no rules on how a pop star should act."

This is not to say that there isn't a problem with pop and the tween market - just that it is not the wild antics of the stars that are the issue. Rather, it is the consumerism, the creation and aggressive selling of brands to suit specific markets by the music industry. And this is why it can come as a relief when these pop stars rebel. As PR expert Mark Borkowski commented of the One Direction video: "It's a good career move considering the sell-by stamp date on One Direction's a**e … It helps them with the credibility factor."

Parents might also want to remember that pop stars such as One Direction and Justin Bieber only really exist because we adults have wanted something to listen to in the car or at home that seemed sanitised enough for the kids, but enjoyable in some grown-up way. You only have to look at the fact that one of the band's biggest hits was the Blondie/Undertones mash-up cover One Way Or Another (Teenage Kicks), to see that at work. One Direction has always been forced - like a Disney movie in which some of the gags are for the kids, others for the grown-ups - to tread that line between tween innocence and adult rock nostalgia.

So when boy band members grow up and do the things that their peers are doing, should we really be surprised? Wouldn't the real shock be if they didn't take that one direction from teenage kicks to more adult ones?

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