I don’t know how long ago it was, but at some point in 2009, the name Justin Bieber became a fixture on Twitter’s trending topics. For the first few weeks, I thought it was a made-up person, or an elaborate inside joke of which I’d been left out. I follow TV and film for a living, so it never occurred to me that there’d be someone that famous who had slipped under my radar. But as the weeks and months progressed, this person’s name kept popping up. A few weeks ago, I even caught my first glimpse of this being on television. As it turns out, this Justin Bieber person is a big fucking deal among a certain demographic. He’s a Canadian pop singer. He got his start on YouTube, of all places. Last year, he was the first person ever to have seven singles from a debut album simultaneously on the Billboard Top 100. He played for the Obamas for a Christmas special last year. Recently, he performed at a mall, and over 35 police units had to be called in for crowd control. That’s insane.
A few months ago, I’d never heard of this person. And even until moments ago, when I looked up the above information, I had no idea he was as popular as he is or the reasons why he was popular (really? He got his start on YouTube? That actually happens?). This is mind-blowing. It is my profession to know what and who are popular today, and this kid had completely escaped my notice.
Indeed, a smattering of our readers may know who Justin Bieber is. Most of you have probably heard his name by now, but I suspect that less than 10 percent of you had any idea of his real popularity. The same thing happened with Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, these tween phenoms who sneaked up on me after having amassed massive popularity without my knowledge.
And you know what: There are other similarly situated celebrities, most of whom I’d never heard of until I began to put together this list. It makes sense, I suppose, that the tween demographic would have a lot of celebrity idols distinct from the Hollywood presence of which most of us are familiar. After all, according to a recent study, teenagers in the United States watch television, on average, 17 hours a day during the school year and 19 hours a day during the summer break (I read that on the Internet, therefore it must be … ).
I’m not here to judge, however. Just to elucidate. I’m certain there are a number of people that many of us grew up on that were mysteries to the generation ahead of us. The cast of “Saved by the Bell,” perhaps. But even still, I don’t think most of that cast had gained as much popularity as the five celebrities below.
My task here is simple. To inform. I’m not familiar with most of the projects for which the five people below are popular, so I will withhold criticism. But, should you unfortunately come in contact with someone in the 12 - 17 year old range and they were to mention one of the below celebrities, maybe you’d like to have a passing knowledge. Or maybe you’d rather remain obliviously content, waving kids off your lawn.
Cole and Dylan Sprouse: In 2009, People magazine released a 60-page special edition devoted almost entirely to these identical twins, and I swear to you, I’d never heard of them until an hour ago. If Tiger Beat was still around (hell, maybe it is), I have no doubt that they would dominate the pages of that magazine. They are the stars of two Disney sitcoms, “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” and the television sequel, “The Suite Life on Deck” (a sequel to a television show?) Their voices were also used in Kung Fu Panda. In fact, many of you may be familiar with them and not even know it: They shared the role of Julien, the five year old, in Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy and had a shared role as the youngest child on the television show “Grace Under Fire,” back in the ’90s. (And yes: They have a face I’d like to smack, too.)
Miranda Cosgrove: Miranda Cosgrove is the second highest paid child actor on television today, getting a reportedly $180,000 per episode of her television series “iCarly.” And yes: I know there are six of our readers who are not only familiar with “iCarly,” but weird “iCarly” devotees. I have no idea what this show is. I do know that Dan Schneider, of “Head of the Class” fame, created it and that it appears on Nickelodeon. There is also an “iCarly” video game. Cosgrove, moreover, is also a pop star of some note, as well as an “ambassador” for Neutrogena, whatever that means. Many of you may be familiar with her, too, as she played a three-year-old in Jack Black’s School of Rock. She also has a voice role in the upcoming Steve Carell animated film, Despicable Me.
Jamie Chung: Jamie Chung, like the celebrity at number two, is older than the other three, and some of you — especially those obsessed with “Real World” and the “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” may be familiar with her from there. I knew her only from her co-starring role in Dragonball: Evolution and assumed that she was a similar age to her teenage character. She also had a part in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and a more significant one in the Sorority Row remake, and is set to reprise her role in a sequel to Dragonball. If you doubt her popularity, however, know this: She was voted the best female action star and best action star at last year’s Young Hollywood Awards, as well as one of the winners of Female Star of Tomorrow at last year’s Showest Convention. And, as if to validate that award, she’s been cast in Zack Snyder’s (300) upcoming Sucker Punch, replacing Emma Stone in the $100 million action flick.
Kellan Lutz: While most of you are familiar with the two main leading men in the Twilight movies — Rob Pattinson and Taylor Lautner — this dude is actually closing in on them in terms of popularity, although I wouldn’t be able to recognize him, nor do I have any recollection of him from the Twilight movies. He plays Emmett Cullen. I don’t remember who that is, although I’m guessing he’s one of the vampires. He was also in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, but apparently, his blandness also slipped by me there. No matter. It appears as though I’ll get many more chances to become familiar with him, as he’s set to reprise his role in Twilight: Eclipse and has four other movies in production, including Tarsem Singh’s Immortals where he will play Poseidon opposite Mickey Rourke’s King Hyperion, as well as a Dermot Mulroney movie where he’ll play the romantic lead opposite Mandy Moore, opposite Sam Jackson in Deathgames and the lead in Warriors, a lacrosse drama. Yeah. A lacrosse drama.
Selena Gomez: Because I’m not all that familiar with any of the five people on this list, it’s hard for me to rank them in terms of real-world popularity, but I’m fairly certain that more teenagers know who Selena Gomez is than any of the others. She’s amassed several Teen Choice and Kid’s Choice Awards, largely for her role in “Wizards of Waverly Place,” a show I never would’ve heard of had it not been for our own Brian Prisco’s appearance in an episode. Along with “iCarly,” it’s the most popular tween show on cable. “The Wizards of Waverly Place” movie, in fact, topped the ratings for all cable shows during its debut week last year. She’s also the face of Sears’ back-to-school campaigns and the star of Princess Protection Program, a Disney movie that was watched by 8.5 million viewers, good for fourth all time among Disney Channel original movies, I assume behind two of the High School Musical movies (the actors from which I’m only now vaguely familiar). She’s also set to star as one of the leads in a movie based on Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Beezus, as well as a variation of What Women Want called What Boys Want.