Massachusetts Daily Collegian

M2M – Refreshingly Different Teen Pop

By ohnny Donaldson, Collegian Staff

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The Big Room

I never thought teen pop got the respect it deserved. Now, I’m not some big teenybopper freak, but I like all kinds of music, including bubblegum, and always considered it a genre on par with all others. So, I was always upset when people would dismiss it outright, sniggering about how the bubble was going to burst (and about things even crueler). Like rock music, or hip-hop, or country, or techno, teen-pop music has its hills and valleys. There would be bad artists that go forgotten (too many lame boy bands to count), bad artists who are inexplicably given radio success (Willa Ford, O-Town), and artists that were hit and miss, like ‘NSync and the Backstreet Boys (two bands that have crafted some killer pop songs, like “Pop” and “I Want It That Way,” respectively, but have also created disasters lie BSB’s slurpy “Drowning.”) And then there are the good artists who achieve much success (like Mandy Moore) and the good ones who get tossed to the wayside, like M2M.

When teen pop was at its peak a couple of years ago, one of the best acts in the canon was the Swedish duo of Marit Larsen and Marion Raven, also known as M2M. They even had a couple of minor, Disney channel hits – “Mirror, Mirror” and “Don’t Say You Love Me,” featured on the soundtrack to the first Pokemon movie. What set the girls apart from the Britneys and Christinas, was the fact Larsen and Raven, only about 15-years-old each, had autonomy over their music, writing their own songs and playing their own instruments. Yes, instruments. While all the other bubblegum acts relied on syncopated electronic beats produced in the studio, the girls used acoustic guitars and piano to craft airy, honey sweet pop music morsels.

Three years after their debut Shades of Purple, the M2M girls find themselves in an environment hostile to teen acts, in which the bubblegum artists are scrambling to prove their identities and become the next Beatles or Madonna, rather than the next Color Me Badd or Tiffany. Larsen and Raven also find themselves one step behind, as what made them different – the self-songwriting, the organic use of live instruments – has been co-opted. Now Britney and Justin are writing their own songs, and a new legion of teenage girls (and guys: remember BBMak and Evan and Jaron) armed with instruments – like Vanessa Carlton and her piano, or Michelle Branch with her guitar – are ruling the airwaves. Now, instead of being ahead of the pack, M2M is at one with the pack.

Happily, that loss of what made them original hasn’t resulted in the bogging down of their music. Their new CD The Big Room is a crystalline example of the heights that teen pop can accomplish when given the chance to break free of the computer. At its best, The Big Room recalls the greatest songs that the Hanson brothers ever put out (like the wonderful “If Only”); at its worst, the album includes mildly disappointing tracks that don’t go anywhere. Released on March 5 with little buzz, I doubt this will really sell. But it should.

The girls’ voices are wispy and light, lacking in any venom or urgency. This is a problem on their more ballad-like songs, where their small voices fail to carry the songs to stratospheric heights. (Some less then big voiced singers can sometimes do this, however, like when Natalie Imbruglia belts out with pouty vocals on the great, anthemic “Do You Love” on her new White Lilies Island album.) But they work well on the more upbeat, poppier numbers. The Big Room is bouncy and energetic, and bubbles along quickly, lasting less then forty minutes. The best songs are upfront – “Everything,” “Jennifer,” “Don’t,” “Payphone” – but that hardly means the remainder of the album is a washout. Even at its weakest, The Big Room is fairly strong. The girls and producer Jimmy Bralower are smart enough to tinge the music with elements beyond strumming acoustic guitars – there are twinkling pianos here and there, and the occasional wailing electric guitars to give the songs some backbone.

The girls are still teens and the lyrics don’t go beyond anything but amore. And so what? Who says every song should have some meaning to it? Some of the best songs are only about love. Besides, the girls are only about 17 or 18 years old, and no one at that age should have more or less then a rudimentary ideology. So, the girls should just sit back and sing about what they know. Anyone that age who pretends they are Bob Dylan are posturing fools. Wait a couple of years before tackling the big issues.

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