August 19, 2002
BY JIM DEROGATIS POP
Rarely has a tour been as aptly named as Scream II. As the three-act
teen-fest pulled into a sold-out Allstate Arena on Friday night, one sound
dominated, amplified by some 15,000 female pre-teens shrieking in unison.
While corporate-manufactured lily-white teen-pop phenoms such as Britney
Spears and 'N Sync seem to have finally and thankfully run their course, a
new wave of ultra-successful youth acts is fast rising in hip-hop and R&B,
and Scream II was their showcase.
Kicking off the night with short and skimpy sets were two nearly
identical syrupy-sweet vocal groups (though I use that term loosely), IMX
(three "singers" and six dancers) and the much-hyped B2K (four "singers" and
The quotation marks are there because I wasn't convinced that any of
these young would-be Lotharios actually did sing. Both groups were
"track acts," which meant they danced and allegedly sang along with
pre-recorded musical backing tracks.
But they all seemed to be lip-synching in between their ultra-energetic
aerobics-class dance moves.
The dead giveaway was that whenever one of these gents wanted to tell
Chicago how much he loved it, or to whisper sweet nothings to all the
beautiful "ladies" in the house (median age: 11 or 12), the soundman had to
frantically increase the volume level on the microphone so that the
performer could be heard. Hmmm... maybe they just sing louder than they
Musically, both acts favor a vapid, soulless form of over-produced
mainstream R&B. They are direct descendants from the old Babyface (or, more
to the point, Boyz II Men and New Edition) school of slick balladry, with a
little taste of hip-hop thrown in. But if the music was clean, the lyrics
and the imagery most certainly were not.
The performers ripped off their shirts, thrust out their crotches, pouted
with come-hither looks that were blown up and projected on giant video
screens, and sang about the joys of losing your virginity (IMX's "First
Time") and generally doing the wild thang (B2K's "Uh Huh"). All the while,
they continually enticed the crowd with the promise that they would pick out
some lucky young "ladies" to bring backstage.
Yes, there has always been sex in pop music. I would even argue that
there should be: It is an outlet to aid in the coming of age, an
inextricable part of an adolescent's socialization. But sex is best when
sold with some subtlety, especially to a pre-teen audience.
In the wake of the R. Kelly teen-sex scandal, which continues to rock the
R&B world, the horny come-on's of IMX and B2K were simply in incredibly bad
taste, not to mention potentially illegal.
There were no such problems with headliner Bow Wow, an amazingly gifted
young performer who needs little beside his considerable talent to galvanize
At the ripe old age of 15, the Columbus, Ohio, native (a performer since
age 6) has dropped the "Lil'" from his stage name. And indeed, there was
nothing little about his show. Bow Wow arrived via "parachute," dropping
from the sky after a set-piece video introduction that had him helicoptering
to the venue.
Later on, he "flew" across the arena, suspended by guide wires a la
Britney or the 'N Sync boys. (When did it become a law that all teen-pop
performers have to fly during their acts?)
Bow Wow needed none of this silliness (and I also could have lived
without the mid-set trailer advertising his movie "Like Mike") because his
fluid rhyming skills and considerable stage presence were more than enough
to satisfy his many "Ghetto Girls" fans (to borrow the title of one of his
biggest hits). He projected a persona three times taller than he actually
is, and exuded a winning confidence that many talents three times his age
seem to lack.
Backed by fellow MC Rocky and two DJs (the nimble Shakim and the equally
astounding 11-year-old DJ Jus), Bow Wow lived up to his signature boast, and
then some, delivering the goods on hits such as "Get Up," "Thank You" and
As the latter tune asks, what's his name? "B" ("for bad"), "O" ("for
outstanding"), "W" ("because he's the wickedest"), "Wow" ("that's what the
Actually, what the girls said was, "Aaaaaiiiiieeeeeaaaaahhhhh!!!!!" But
in Bow Wow's case, at least, it was certainly well-deserved.