The phrase “teenage music sensation” has come to carry a certain connotation over the past 20 years. Britney Spears was one. So was Christina Aguilera. So were all boy bands, from ‘N Sync all the way up to One Direction. Possibly biggest of all: Teenage Music Sensation Justin Bieber. Each are versions of the heartthrob mold, designed to appeal to hormonally fueled high schoolers (or junior high schoolers, in the case of Bieber).
Lorde has no use for that title, though. The 17-year-old New Zealand singer broke out on American radio with her hit “Royals,” and is now touring the country, including a stop at the Coachella music festival — the type of place that Britney would never be welcomed.
She’s not the first teenage musician to escape the clutches of teenybopper marketing. Some of music’s greatest voices and contributors got started before the age of 18 — performers from across genre lines.
BREAKTHROUGH SONG: “Fingertips – Pt 2”
TEEN IDOL STATUS: Wonder topped the Billboard 100 at 13 years old, the youngest artist to ever do so. That’s a touch too young to be a “heartthrob,” even for the tweens.
BREAKTHROUGH SONG: “Cherry Bomb”
TEEN IDOL STATUS: Joan Jett was 17 when The Runaways started, but call her a “teen idol” at your own risk.
BREAKTHROUGH SONG: “I Want You Back”
(as part of The Jackson 5)
TEEN IDOL STATUS: MJ got started so early that, by the time he was a teenager, he had the presence of a veteran. His biggest “heartthrob” moment may have been the “Thriller” video — by which point he was already 25.
LL Cool J
BREAKTHROUGH SONG: “I Need a Beat”
TEEN IDOL STATUS: He had the looks to be a teen heartthrob, but the 16-year old emcee started at a time when rap was considered “too dangerous” for all audiences, allowing him to gain fame for his skills rather than just his looks.
BREAKTHROUGH SONG: “Lie to Me”
TEEN IDOL STATUS: The young blues guitarist set off a major label bidding war for his second album, which would eventually be released the day before he turned 16.