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March 19, 2008
The current face of that frothy, frustrating, and at times fantastic genre known as teen-pop is Miley Cyrus, a fifteen-year-old who plays a high school student with a secret pop star identity on the Disney Channel's 'tween sitcom, Hannah Montana. That show's storyline should ring true for another pop act, The Veronicas; it's kind of like a fictional version of their career. Like Cyrus' character, Jessica and Lisa Origliasso are pop stars who lead double lives, although in the case of this duo, the transition from nonentity to celebrity requires a plane flight rather than a blonde wig.

At home in Australia, The Veronicas are genuine stars. They sell out shows to thousands of screaming fans, and appear on prime time televised concerts celebrating national holidays. Their debut, The Secret Life of…, was accredited platinum four times (more than 280,000 copies shipped) Down Under, and the follow up, Hook Me Up, is currently in the top ten of the Australian Recording Industry Association's albums chart; it has spent more than a dozen weeks on that chart. Hook Me Up has been certified platinum (70,000 copies shipped), and the singles "Hook Me Up" and "Untouched" reached number one and number two, respectively. But when they're at home - their current home in Los Angeles, that is - they have more in common with struggling indie rock acts than Cyrus' arena-packing character Hannah Montana. In the United States, The Secret Life of… peaked at number 133 on the Billboard chart. That poor showing doesn't invalidate The Veronicas any more than it would any underappreciated act, but it does put them in a curious position. Teen-pop is an amorphous genre almost entirely defined by the composition of its audience, and in America, The Veronicas are a teen-pop band who can count few teens (or pre-teens, who seem to be the more common consumers of the genre) amongst their audience.

It's not for lack of trying. The Origliassos, Lisa Marie and Jessica Louise, the 23 year old twins leading the group, have the backing of Sire, a Warner Music imprint, and they've even pursued the same Disney connection that helped turn Cyrus, as well as Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, High School Musical, The Jonas Brothers, Aly & AJ, and a dizzying array of others into stars, or, at least, successes. In the case of the Veronicas, their Mickey Mouse hook-up was a guest spot on the Disney Channel's The Suite Life of Zach and Cody. The appearance apparently did little to attract the attention of young fans.

The contemporary teen-pop industry does tend to infantilize its stars, but it once worked in reverse. "I Want You Back," for instance, dealt with a relationship far more mature than the then baby-faced Michael Jackson would have been expected to be singing about, while, more recently, the teenage Jojo had a string of radio hits that could have been sung by a woman twice her age. But today, teen-pop is dominated by young stars pretending to be even younger. The stars of High School Musical, all of voting age, might as well be in high school off-camera if their solo material is any indication. Likewise, the married Avril Lavigne, born a few months before the Origliasso sisters, relaunched her career last year with a lead single reminiscent of a cheerleader chant, and 20-year-old Hilary Duff's dance tracks sound like they're made to be played at school dances rather than the clubs other women her age frequent. That the Veronicas' songs don't obscure the maturity of the women performing them makes the duo rather an anomaly in contemporary teen-pop. Hook Me Up is one of the most adult albums to breach the genre since Ashlee Simpson's debut, Autobiography.

That's "adult" as opposed to "childish" or "teenage," but the word's more suggestive connotations are also applicable. The Veronicas want to, as Ashlee Simpson put it, "La la," and there's every suggestion that, like Simpson, that la la-ing will take place in the kitchen, on the floor, or, as the Origliassos' propose, "Anywhere is good enough." And while sex and pop music have never been odd bedfellows, the Veronicas are unusual in that their songs focus on their pursuit of sex, rather than their offering it. There is none of the bump and grind titillation of Christina Aguilera or the coquettish tease of Britney Spears cooing "I'm A Slave 4 U." Those songs, thrilling as they were, spoke of the singer's ability to excite others, while the Veronicas are concerned primarily with their own gratification.

It's a mundane approach to sexuality, but a nuanced one, which allows room for a more emotional treatment. "Untouched" overflows with lust and desire, precariously balancing tense restraint and orgasmic release. It kicks off with taut strings and staccato gibberish: "I go 'Ooh ooh,' you go, 'Ah, ah'/ La, la, la, la." Then they get to the point: "Don't even talk about the consequence, because right now you're the only thing that's making any sense." When the chorus hits, they step into overdrive: "I feel so untouched that I want you so much that I just can't resist you." (Just as Madonna was "like a virgin," the Veronicas feel so untouched, the implication being that touched is something they most certainly are.) That the licentious feelings they describe could just as easily allude to a teenage crush helps explain why the tune almost topped the Australian charts. These are adult emotions that even twelve year olds can understand. The title track repeats the trick; over a relentless beat, the Veronicas demand, "Hook Me Up." It's a whole lotta love with little release and, hard as they try, these girls can't get no satisfaction.

While The Veronicas' debut, The Secret Life of…, was solid guitar pop, with Kelly Clarkson the obvious reference point, Hook Me Up is built on cold synths and pounding dance beats. As with Disney's production formula, however, the dance beats are complemented with rock guitars to create high-energy pop music rather than DJ-friendly dance floor fillers. The sound is reminiscent of the Russian duo t.A.T.u., whose single "All About Us" was co-written by the Origliassoses. And like t.A.T.u., the Veronicas are most thrilling when they're using a mix of sexuality and pounding beats to convey intense desire. "Take Me on the Floor," even with attention-grabbing lyrics like "I wanna kiss a girl/ I wanna kiss a boy" suggests a loneliness and desperation more fully explored in tense tracks like "I Can't Stay Away" and "I Don't Wanna Wait."

Only when they subsume their urges do the Veronicas really falter. The best thing about the bitter break-up lament "Revenge is Sweeter (Than You Ever Were)" is the title (though admittedly, it is a great title). And the tumult of sexual and emotional frustration grows tiring by the end of the album. The volatile ballads "Someone Wake Me Up" and "In Another Life" are exhausting to listen to, though, oddly, the exhaustion feels proper after the preceding maelstrom of hurried hook-ups and tearful relationships. It doesn't make this portion of the album any easier to listen to, but that difficulty is at least earned.

There is no single reason the Veronicas live Hannah Montana-y lives in Australia and Miley Stewart-y (the name of Hannah Montana's "ordinary girl" counterpart) lives in the United States. Hell, Hook Me Up will be released in the U.S. this May, and if the right single hits the right ears at the right time, they may start living the Hannah Montana life. But even if they do (or indeed, if they do not), this remains a record that demands attention. Even if, like the Veronicas, you're out of high school.

SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/theveronicas

--
Jonathan Bradley
A contributing writer based in Australia.

See other articles by Jonathan Bradley.

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