LYNNWOOD, Washington — Somewhere east of the food court and south of Contempo Casuals, the future of pop music awaits. Or so it lay last Friday night at the Alderwood Mall when the Young Pop Power Tour came to town.
In the midst of early-weekend shoppers nibbling on Auntie Anne’s pretzels and perusing the racks of Wherehouse, the aspiring Britneys and Brandys of the ’00s took to a small, elevated stage and sang their pubescent (and in some cases pre-pubescent) hearts out.
The main attraction of the night was Solange Knowles, baby sister of chief Child Beyoncé. By far the most covered-up star of the evening, in a flowy black peasant blouse, tight jeans and cowboy boots, Solange took to the stage like a girl right at home in the spotlight.
Whipping her long braids around to Timbaland-style beats, the 15-year-old knew how to work it like a truly Independent Woman, introducing songs she had co-written and even helped produce with style, especially the defiant, catchy “Solo Star” — which sets out to prove she’s no carbon copy of her big sister’s sound, and succeeds (see “Solange, Beyonce’s Lil’ Sis, Says She’s No Destiny’s Child” ). It’s not breakthrough stuff, but it is very much her own, and even four frantic backup dancers on the tiny stage couldn’t obscure her easy, dynamic presence.
Though most attendees (the audience eventually swelled to about 200) probably weren’t old enough to remember former mall-concert queen Tiffany as a pop star — and are hopefully also too young to recognize her comeback as a current Playboy centerfold (see “Tiffany Sheds Clothes To Help Shed ’80s Teen-Pop Image” ) — they seemed happy to see pop music returning to the grassroots exposure of free, local performances and away from the $60-per-ticket stadium shows and pricey HBO specials of their current idols. It will likely be a long time, however, before non-paying customers get to stand only inches away from a soon-to-be star like Solange — and buy a Mrs. Field’s cookie while they do it.
First to the stage, Devin — looking like Hoku’s glamorous older sister — bravely faced down a milling, distracted audience of about 75 with only a DAT machine and three energetic dancers to back her up. Her 10-minute set sped by with only minor distinction, though a self-assured handling of the crowd and the small kick her purported single “Can You Say” provided may portend some success in the future (August, to be exact) when her debut album is released.
More intriguing — and disturbing — were her successors to the stage, the barely ‘tween Swedish girl group Play. Decked out in the latest Lolita mall couture and shaking their non-existent hips, the foursome launched straight into “Us Against the World,” a sass-fest that should find a happy spot on the soundtrack to the “Spy Kids” sequel. That is, hopefully, the group’s demographic, and not the creepily attentive middle-aged men who wandered closer to the stage as the quartet wiggled and purred their way through their allotted three numbers.
A fair distribution of two blonds, a brunette and a redhead, Play don’t seem to have a definite leader, and all have surprisingly strong voices for their age, but the focus here was more on tiny, taut tummies and a strangely sexualized strain of Girl Power than vocal acrobatics. Songs about not wanting to be Cinderella — “I’d rather rescue myself” — and facing down memories of love gone wrong with the amped-up “I Remember to Forget” are empowered, but still far too mature for girls who look like they should still be home watching “Cinderella,” not singing about rejecting her as an outmoded romantic role model. A more age-appropriate cover of the “Grease” staple “Hopelessly Devoted to You” could go a long way toward making them the next Steps/A*Teens phenomenon. An opening spot for Destiny’s Child in London this summer probably won’t hurt either, and maybe by then, puberty will have caught up with their grown-up lyrics.