Mark Kaufman/Artomat
Okay, yes I'm an AOL member. Every time I sign on, it greets me with a warm, fatherly "welcome," has an array of cool graphics, connects me with other users whose interests include "ferrets," and has updates of any and all shenanigans from the latest pop princess. In fact, one day the entire welcome window--other than a few Iraq war updates--was nothing but JoJo: "See JoJo Live" or " Chat with JoJo at 8 pm CST." While JoJo herself may fall into oblivion in a short time, her musical genre seems to be outlasting that of grunge, boy bands, or any other trend I can recall in my short life. Why is AOL so gaga over JoJo and other prepubescent singers? Last time I checked, AOL doesn't put out any albums--or do they?

CORPORATE SISTERS ROLL CALL!

This sparked my interest enough to find out exactly who owns the patents on these teen queens. After peeling away all layers of subsidiary record labels, I discovered three mega-pop diva makers. Okay, corporate sisterhood roll call!

AOL/Time Warner has JoJo, Disney is responsible for Hilary Duff and the Lindsay Lohan phenomenons, and BMG/SONY, the pop royalty mother ship, takes credit for Spears, Aguilera, Lavigne, Moore, and the Simpsons. It may seem like these acts were plucked off the streets of Mayberry USA and dropped into the studio of some monster label. Actually, a think tank involving ad agencies, acute target markets, and cunning PR stunts are operating with stunning methodology and coaxing the array of crooning babes into our hearts.

PRINCESS PROMOTION

Are you wondering why you know all the names and hair colors of the pop divas mentioned? With corporations increasingly in control of more media outlets, the consumer can hardly escape the exposure of any one star--but with teen queens it's especially apparent.

Companies like Vivendi Universal and Disney use cross-marketing techniques, referred to as "synergy," whereby stars are promoted through many different media: books, movies, sitcoms, radio (owned by the same entity) so that popularity is practically inevitable.

Let's use adorable little Hilary Duff as a case study: Disney plopped 12-year-old Hilary into the Lizzie McGuire show, then, in order to broaden her exposure, they used their other media tentacles to build up hype for their new star. They ran reruns of her show on ABC, released Lizzie McGuire books through their publishing house, and included her new music on endless soundtracks on Disney's Buena Vista movies and radio stations. With so much exposure, you can't go wrong! As the high-powered, star-making Peacock marketing firm says on their website, Hilary allows Disney to "maximize the return on its investment in a property [Duff] by creating several profit centers where before there was just one [the Lizzie McGuire show]... while at the same time hopefully lowering the costs of creating such a marketing buzz." Next in line was Lindsay Lohan... and by now, we all know who she is, right?

POP STAR TABLOID = POP STAR EMPLOYED!

But cross-marketing isn't the entire picture. PR stunts offer up free promotion, and seem to be especially effective with these acts, who are tabloid magnets. For example, its not just coincidence that juicy celebrity gossip gets its start with corporate kissing cousins. Remember Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff fighting over Aaron Carter? All three happened to be signed with Disney. Or how about the Christina vs. Britney rivalry? Each of their publicity teams happily feed the tabloids juicy stabs. These blatant tabloid stunts were perfectly timed to attain career momentum for the then "up and coming" stars Aguilera and Spears. I now feel silly for actually believing and placing a bet in favor of Britney, for then what seemed to be an unavoidable bitch brawl bar fight.

TARGETING TWEENS

Everyone knows trends move down the age ladder. This holds especially true for this trend, because corporations are making the age of the new budding consumers younger than ever before. While Britney is now a ripe 22-year-old (have you seen the cellulite?), the recent pop newborns like JoJo are more delectably 13. This phenomenon is a direct exploitation of the new consumer "tweens" that are between six and 12 and, most importantly, have their own cash! The tween market is worth an estimated 43 billion a year and one tween spends an average of $9 per week. Corporations see the new market as "kids who should be targeted with products, styles, and pop culture that flatters them as hip and aware 'almost-teens' rather that out-of-it little kids... who are independent, sophisticated consumers with their own language, music, and fashion" according to Kay Hymowitz, tween expert and author of Ready or Not.

Effectively, marketing hyper-mature tween stars for kids to emulate--thereby skipping the transitional stage from cheapo, non-consuming child to teenager--catapults tweens into a consumer realm that is much more profitably yummy.

And after all, why should a kid wait until 13 to sport the Ashlee Simpson cell phone case?