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Boy bands enjoy new baby boom;News;News and opinion

Record companies are said to be targeting pre-teens but should parents worry about it? David Mosford reports on the clinical tests.

TEACHERS will have to work a lot harder these days if they want to keep up-to-date with their pupils' cultural icons.

This year, girls as young as seven are believed to have voted in teen magazine Smash Hits' pop music poll. And some surprising results have emerged. The Spice Girls fell from best British group of 1997 to worst group of 1999. Mel C - aka Sporty Spice - was voted worst female singer and worst-dressed person, with the worst single, worst video and even most tragic haircut.

The changing nature of pop has always been an essential part of its appeal, but in recent years the speed at which bands have moved from being lionised to being dismissed as passe has reached proportions that defy all but the most dedicated followers of fashion.

This year girl power is out and boys with "six pack" stomachs are most definitely in, among pre-teen voters. Of the 12 short-listed bands all but two (Steps and S Club 7) were boy bands.

According to Adrian North, of Leicester University's department of psychology, this is a result of, not just fashion, but companies targeting the pre-teen market.

"The reason why so many young girls are buying pop music is entirely to do with changes in the marketing approach of the record companies," he said.

Whether parents and teachers should be worried about prepubescent school girls listening to music that deals with emotions outside their own experience is debatable. Dr North, who is studying the social psychology of music among adolescents, claims that it is extremely difficult to prove whether exposure to pop music at an early age has a detrimental effect on youngsters.

"The problem is a methodological one. There are two ways of studying children's responses. One is to play a music video to some kids and monitor their responses. The problem is that, while a violent track may make them feel more violent while they are exposed to it, we don't know whether they will continue to feel that way once they leave the laboratory.

"The other method is the questionaire. If you ask a class of seven to 11-year-olds whether a piece of music has an effect on them they are, at best, going to tell you what effect they think pop music has on them.

"You have no proof that it actually has had that effect. And, in any case with kids of that age, they are more likely to tell you what they think you want to hear. So, really, we just don't know."

TEACHERS' GUIDE TO BEING COOL ABOUT BOY BANDS

5ive, voted best British band 1999 by Smash Hits readers

What to say about the music: both romantic and in yer face

Most attractive singer: Ritchie (recently turned blond and cute)

Well-known song to quote:

Until The Time Is Through

Backstreet Boys, voted best band on planet pop 1999

The music: American, funky

Most attractive singer:

Nick (another cute blond)

Well-known song to quote:

Quit Playing Games With My Heart

Westlife, runners-up both as best non-British band and best new act of 1999

What to say about the music: Irish, slushy

Most attractive singer: Bryan (hunky)

Well-known song to quote:

If I Let You Go

Boyzone, runners-up as the best band on planet pop

What to say about the music:

Irish, alright, but been around for ages

Most attractive singer: Ronan (but he's SO old)

Well-known song to quote:

Picture of You

Other boy bands worth having

heard of: N Sync, 911,

Another Level, A1

Other crucial advice for teachers: don't try too hard

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