What’s the Deal with…Big Time Rush?
|July 31, 2013||Posted by Jess under Celebrities, Music, Tweendom, What's the Deal with...?|
Let’s kick off another blogpost series! (Because if you haven’t noticed by now, I love blogpost series.) I’ve been following tween television and music since around 2006 and blogging about it since 2008, and I’ve amassed quite a stockpile of knowledge and opinions about the stars thereof. Also, I know all the words to a lot of Selena Gomez songs.
This being the case, people often come to me, especially with so many tween stars of the past years crossing over into more mainstream success, and ask me: “Jess, what’s the deal with [insert tween star name here]?” And then I tell them the deal, which usually is something along the lines of “She was on a terrible Disney show and in a bunch of terrible movies and she’s not a very good actress and her music is mediocre but she’s really cute and not a bad singer and I love her,” and the person I’m talking to usually backs away slowly because they really didn’t need to know that much about, say, Miranda Cosgrove.
So! To save everyone backing-away time, I’m going to do a series explaining the deal with various tween stars. (Tween star = “triple” “threats” who have appeared on the Disney Channel or Nick, and related cohorts like Bieber and One Direction, who primarily appeal to tweens. They are usually not tweens themselves at the peak of their stardom.) If there’s anyone you’re curious about (“Who’s this Ariana Grande person in the Mika video?” “What the heck is going on with Miley Cyrus?”), let me know and I’ll bump them to the top of the queue!
But we’re starting out with my favorite tween product of all time, mostly because I just saw them in concert twice recently and their show (probably) ended last Thursday. I give you: What’s the Deal with Big Time Rush?
“Big Time Rush” refers to two things: a Nickelodeon show about a boy band, and the boy band itself. Like a modern-day Monkees, the four boys play fictional characters (with the same first names as themselves) in a fictional boy band, but tour and record under their real names. The band was very much created for the show, though, as part of Nickelodeon’s deal with Sony (which owns Columbia Records and its imprint, Nick Records) to turn three of its kidcoms (iCarly, Big Time Rush, and Victorious) into cross-platform corporate juggernauts, Hannah-Montana-style. Unlike many of their female cohort who are good-to-phenomenal singers who can kinda sorta act (Miley, Demi, Victoria, Miranda), the Big Time Rush boys are all brilliant comedic actors with, uh, let’s just say a wide range of singing and dancing ability.
But we’ll get to that. First let’s talk about the show. Created in 2009 by Scott Fellows, it’s now finishing up its fourth season, with the 74th episode airing this Thursday night.1 As it says on the box, it’s about four hockey-playing best friends from Minnesota who are semi-accidentally discovered by megaproducer and pop Svengali Gustavo Rocque and brought to Hollywood for their shot at the big time.2 There’s clever, scheming leader Kendall, neurotic genius Logan, lovable goofus Carlos, and pretty, driven, but none-too-bright James. Rounding out the core cast is Kendall’s uber-competent mother and brilliantly cutthroat little sister Katie and Gustavo’s right-hand woman Kelly, but the show is packed with recurring characters and supporting semi-regulars, including love interests, Hollywood friends and rivals, wacky industry figures, and Lightning the TV Wonder Dog.
And look. I’ve watched a lot of children’s television in my day, and Big Time Rush is probably the best kids’ sitcom I’ve ever seen. It’s structured and soundtracked like a cartoon, with cartoon logic, so there’s a lot of characters popping out of frame and then popping back in wearing a different outfit, or fourth-wall breaking comments on shared dream sequences or the music videos that pepper the episodes. Characters cut holes in floors to get rid of adversaries, pull props from nowhere, and carry boomboxes around with them for appropriate mood music. If you love cartoon tropes and meta – and I do – you’ll love this show.3
But two things keep the show from veering into nothing but screaming and sound effects: brilliant writing and brilliant acting. The jokes are sharper, funnier, and more character based than any kids’ show I’ve ever seen. The way the show lampoons Hollywood and the pop music industry is particularly hilarious in a way that only becomes funnier the more in tune you are with pop culture, but never veers into cruel or patronizing territory. See, for example, the BTR universe’s biggest heartthrob, Dak Zevon, star of Varsity Vampire and Varsity Vampire 2: Game On.
Big Time Rush plays constant homage and tribute to boy band traditions, with references to past bands (Boyquake, Boyz in the Attic, Boy City), pop hits (“Girl You Are My Girl,” “Girl Cake,” and “Girl Girl Girl”), and the necessity of boy bands having Bad Boy and doing cheesy photoshoots while holding stuffed animals, without ever coming across like it’s making fun of the bands themselves or the girls who love them (and who make up the bulk of BTR’s audience). They even do videos like this, which…just watch it:
Plus, the show’s understanding of pacing and timing is basically flawless. Episodes like “Big Time Fever,” where James becomes addicted to fake tanning, or “Big Time Live,” where the boys face off against a nasty television producer, or “Big Time Double Date,” where three of the guys make disastrous dates at the same restaurant in the same night, are like a master class in how to fit as much perfectly-timed lunacy in an episode as possible. The physical comedy is superb, and the dialog is witty rather than resorting to typical kidcom fart jokes to get a laugh. (There’s also no laugh track, which is nice.)
Of course, the stupendous cast helps. James Maslow and Logan Henderson in particular get the MVP trophies for their portrayals of the dumb-as-rocks James Diamond and smug-yet-awkward nerd Logan Mitchell; they commit so completely to their delightful ridiculous characters that it can be jarring to hear them speak like normal people. Kendall Schmidt’s facial expressions are worth the price of admission alone. Carlos Pena suffers in comparison to the other three, but on any other show he’d be the best actor in the cast, and all four have an impeccable sense of timing and great chemistry as a foursome. The supporting characters are no slouches either; everyone in the cast is fantastic, and throws him or herself into this bizarre world with abandon.
But the show’s not just funny. At its heart, Big Time Rush is about family, friendship, and the importance of staying true to yourself, and though it occasionally gets a little too on-the-nose about those themes, particularly in the first season, it mostly delivers them in a funny, touching, believable way. Unlike far too many kidcoms, the characters aren’t sociopaths; they’re kind and friendly people who genuinely like each other, without sacrificing humor one bit. They’re inclusive and demonstrative, and are far more likely to run into trouble because they don’t want to let each other down than because they’ve done something hurtful. The plots, humorous and dramatic, are all character-based in a way that rewards the regular viewer. So, for example, the recent episode about whether or not the band would break up harkened back to the Season One finale where they did, which harkened back to the pilot – but because these characters are older and wiser now, they sidestep the bad choices that broke up the band three seasons ago and quickly remember that they’re stronger together.4
Also, the female characters are great. They’re allowed to be unique individuals with their own weird, non-gendered quirks, just like the guys. Little Katie is universally agreed to be the smartest person on the show, and she’s never punished for it; she wins on a regular basis, but since her winning means rewarding the good guys and punishing the bad, her consistent triumphs are delightful, not irritating. The three recurring love interests are smart and driven (Kendall’s girlfriend, for example, breaks up with him to pursue a film role in New Zealand, and isn’t shamed for it in the slightest), with very distinct personalities and a strong core of friendship between them, even the ones who both dated Kendall. And all the women are allowed to take part in the slapstick, which I love; they take pies to the face, fall over things, and get flung out of giant slingshots with gleeful abandon. I mean. This show has a girls vs. guys prank war where everyone comes out of it with their friendships and sense of fair play intact. That’s remarkable.
So, Big Time Rush the show is basically perfect (except for the part where it’s almost definitely over). How’s Big Time Rush the band?
Well, um. Lovable? Look, here’s the thing: as I mentioned before, the guys were cast as actors first, singers second, dancers a distant third. Only one of them is a true triple threat: Carlos, who has musical theater training and was attending a conservatory when Scott Fellows tapped him for BTR. James is a fine dancer and clearly has a strong voice, but somewhere along the line someone taught him that pop singers push everything through their noise like they’re trying to birth a cow, and, well, the results aren’t pretty. (When he calms down he sounds perfectly nice, though.) Kendall, who was in an alternative garage band pre-BTR, sings like, well, a guy in a garage band, and dances…with great enthusiasm. I’ll give him that. And Logan…well, he’s very cute. To be fair, his singing has improved by leaps and bounds over the past five years, but he’ll never be a vocal standout.
Their music? …Also lovable. Again, to be fair, it’s improved. Their earliest music was very much “cranking out the earwormy sausage for tween audiences”: extremely catchy but not actually very good. Here’s a good example:
But with their second album, they moved firmly into Mediocre Pop Music Territory, and y’all, I could listen to mediocre pop music until the cows came home, and when they did come home, I’d be like, “Hey cows! Come listen to this mediocre pop music with me!” So. I like it quite a lot. Here’s a reasonably decent example:
They also have this weird quality which I refer to as BTR Stockholm Syndrome, in which I can’t listen to one of their songs more than twice without falling in love with it and losing any ability to tell whether or not it’s at all decent. IT’S WEIRD.
And honestly? Their live performances are probably better than their albums. Their live arrangements are often more interesting than their recorded ones, they’re extremely devoted to playing everyone’s favorites and getting out into the crowd when they can, and they have a tremendous amount of energy and fantastic stage presence. Plus, two of them can backflip. I’ve seen them, um, five times (…yes, I’m 29 years old), and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every show.
But of course, so much of celebrity comes down to the vibe you get from a star. Maybe it’s just because they’re all really good actors, but they come off as genuinely intelligent, talented guys who everyone they work with likes and who are smart enough never to give their actual opinions on politics, other celebrities, etc. They are shrewdly polite in a way that comes off as friendly and positive, and that’s really hard to teach, Bieber.
I don’t know how helpful it is to tell you all this, now that the show is (probably) over and they (probably) won’t be recording or touring anymore as a band. But hey, the first season’s on DVD and I hear the second’s streaming on Amazon, and their albums are all still around for the purchasing. If you’d like some fun summer tunes, you really can’t go wrong with a copy of Elevate, and if you want the smartest, funniest, most warm-hearted kids’ show of the past decade, look no further. What’s the Deal with Big Time Rush? They’re great, is what. Enjoy.
- Nickelodeon “seasons” are…idiosyncratic, let’s say. With BTR, Seasons 1, 3, and 4 had 20, 12, and 13 episodes respectively, while 2 clocked in at a whopping 29 plus a TV movie and aired over a period of about a year and a half. Also, Season 3 had a “finale” and “premiere” in the middle of the season. What the hell, Nickelodeon. ↩
- Rush. ↩
- It even features tons of voice actors: Tara Strong plays their teacher, Daran Norris plays the janitor, Rob Paulsen has appeared as both a voice and a face character, and Phil LaMarr plays a recurring antagonist. ↩
- There may have been tears on my part while watching this. You can’t prove nothin’. ↩