It’s easy to dismiss the Teen Choice Awards as an inconsequential summer TV time-filler that allows movie studios, record companies and TV networks to pimp their latest and greatest to the teen, tween and pre-teen mass market that’s increasingly responsible for fattening Hollywood’s bottom line.
That’s all true, by the way, but the Teen Choice Awards has a lot more mojo than you might think. Go ahead, take your Oscars and your Emmys and your Grammys and your Golden Globes and toss ’em in the trash — those snazzy surfboards they hand out at the Teen Choice Awards translate into cold, hard cash.
First aired in 1999, the Teen Choice Awards has gotten bigger with each passing year, handing out specially designed surfboards to winners in categories ranging from movies to music to sports to fashion. Votes are cast online by teens aged 13-19, who make their picks in an array of crazy categories such as “best movie hissy-fit” and “choice vampire.”
Whether a performer is an up-and-comer or a wily old veteran, showing up at the awards provides street cred with the teen audience; just like in high school, it pays to be seen hanging with the cool kids. This year, the show will feature a number of acts, highlighted by:
* Carly Rae Jepsen (the music biz’s emerging “it” girl) will perform her megahit “Call Me Maybe,” while lip-synched fan videos play in the background.
* Crispy-haired Jersey Shore goombah DJ Pauly D will serve as the evening’s “Choice DJ,” still trying to propel that DJ career of his to the next level. What’s it been, two, three years now?
* Additional performances by Flo Rida and a reunited No Doubt, who’ll debut a new tune from their upcoming CD.
* Justin Bieber, marking his 847th TV appearance this year as he desperately tries to extend his 15 minutes of fame to avoid suffering the inevitable fate of fellow teen idols Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Menudo, the two Coreys, the Jonas brothers and that one kid from Hanson that everybody thought was a girl.
Teen culture is pop culture
Long gone are the days when teen culture was its own unique sub-segment of the marketplace, while adults had their own music, movies and other forms of entertainment. Now there’s pretty much no distinction. Fourteen-year-old girls rub shoulders with middle-aged moms standing in line overnight to be first to see the new Twilight movie, while comic-book superheroes have transcended their roots as entertainment for 12-year-olds and are now raking in billions of box-office bucks.
What are today’s hot movie franchises? Twilight, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter…all based on books written specifically for the teen market. It’s no coincidence that all of these have infiltrated the mainstream and become massive hits.
Oh sure, there are so-called “intelligent” TV shows geared towards adults — Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Newsroom — but they’re not nearly as popular as you think; Mad Men probably has more glowing reviews than it does viewers, while your average lame-brained Disney Channel sitcom gets substantially higher ratings — and millions more in merchandising.
Teens have $$$ power
And that’s what it’s all about: cold, hard cash. Teens have disposable income and they like to dispose of it as quickly as possible. The Teen Choice Awards is essentially a two-hour, teen-themed infomercial from the entertainment industry saying, “Hey, buy this!”
So when you watch this year’s extravaganza, remember that those people winning surfboards will likely become next year’s hot breakout stars. Newly minted X Factor judge Demi Lovato is this year’s co-host (alongside Glee’s Kevin McHale), and she’s a prime example of how the Teen Choice Awards can be a stepping stone from “teen fame” to the mainstream.
Last year, Lovato was best known for a Disney Channel sitcom called Sonny With a Chance — don’t worry if you haven’t seen it, that only means that you’re not 12. Last summer, Lovato was the proud recipient of the Teen Choice “Acuvue Inspire Award.” Now, Lovato has been chosen to sit at the grown-ups’ table alongside Simon and Britney on The X Factor. You don’t think that’s a coincidence, do you?
TEEN CHOICE 2012 airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on Global & Fox; in the meantime, check out some highlights of last year’s show