If there are two things that Hollywood is constantly looking for, they are the next big thing and the latest celebrity scandal.
In 2008, tabloid staples cleaned up their acts due to court-ordered conservatorships (Britney Spears), pledges of sobriety (Lindsay Lohan), and motherhood (Nicole Richie). As a result, celebrity rags and bloggers shifted their focus to a new, younger set of headline makers: the New Brat Pack.
- Miley Cyrus
- Vanessa Anne Hudgens
- Chris Brown
- Jonas Brothers
- Taylor Swift
- Jamie Lynn Spears
- Hayden Panettiere
- Zac Efron
- Selena Gomez
Like their 1980s counterparts, the New Brat Pack appear in each other’s movies, music videos, and social circles. They’re all young (21 and under), popular, and major money makers. Their youth, though, subjects them to greater public scrutiny.
Disney stars are abundant in Search, and for good reason. When one of the wholesome brand’s stars breaks the happy family façade, chaos ensues. A December Vanity Fair cover featuring 33-year-old actress Kate Winslet in nothing but an overcoat and heels barely raised an eyebrow, but an earlier photo shoot that showed a teenaged Miley Cyrus with an exposed back caused a national furor.
The “miley cyrus photo scandal,” as people referred to the incident in Search, threatened the reign of the Teen Queen, a title she’s earned for good reason. The 16-year-old is the face of the billion-dollar “Hannah Montana” Disney brand and a platinum-selling pop star. While kids may eat up Cyrus’ sugary-sweet persona, her real-life actions had grown-ups talking, and not just the parents of her fans.
Following the photo shoot, Cyrus issued a public apology, saying she was embarrassed by photos she thought were supposed to be “artistic.” Parent company Disney swooped in to protect its young star, claiming that the shoot was manipulated to sell more covers.
The backlash—online and off—forced renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz to defend her work. Vanity Fair posted a behind-the-scenes account that showed Cyrus’ parents and handlers on the set. The furor didn’t let up when shots of the bikini-clad star goofing off with friends surfaced online and news came out about her recent relationship with 20-year-old underwear model Justin Gaston. Taking flirty photos and hanging out with older guys may be typical adolescent girl behavior, but for the Teen Queen, they became royal scandals. Fans responded, and for the first time, searches on “miley cyrus” outpaced those of her alter-ego.
Cyrus wasn’t the only Disney star with a photo scandal. When nude shots of actress/singer Vanessa Hudgens hit the Web in 2007, there was speculation that she would be dropped from the Mouse House’s hit “High School Musical” franchise. What could have been a public relations nightmare for Disney became a boon: Hudgens became a household name and even got a pay raise to star in the feature-film version. Thanks to her and boyfriend Zac Efron, “High School Musical 3” became one of 2008’s biggest box-office hits.
Like Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers—Kevin, Joe, and Nick—parlayed their Disney series into a successful recording career and the original movie “Camp Rock.” Unlike Cyrus, the brothers remained relatively immune from scandal. The rockers still found themselves as tabloid fodder for, of all things, their insistence on . That inspired fans to search on terms like “purity rings.”
Songbirds and Lovebirds
R&B singers Chris Brown and Rihanna each have major followings, but their relationship catapulted their online popularity to another level. Although they’ve been photographed kissing and vacationing together, Brown continually downplayed their relationship—denials that only fueled more interest.
Taylor Swift owed her quick ascent to her girl-next-door looks and catchy country songs. The 18-year-old singer made her way into the New Brat Pack after she began dating Joe Jonas, and model Gaston starred in her “Love Story” music video as her romantic interest. Fame came at a cost, or at least heartache: Swift topped headlines and pulled searches in November after revealing she was unceremoniously dumped in a 27-second phone call.
Growing Up Fast
Although the NBC cult favorite “Heroes” slipped in viewers in 2008, series breakout Hayden Panettiere continued to generate interest. The 19-year-old’s relationship with her 31-year-old costar Milo Ventimiglia .
However, nothing was more shocking than pregnancy of 17-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney‘s younger sister. The actress broke the news in late 2007. Executives at Nickelodeon, the network that aired her show “Zoey 101,” considered pulling the show out of concern for the message her condition might send to young viewers. However, the show’s fourth and final season (which was pre-taped) aired through May, and Spears gave birth to daughter Maddie Briann in June.
The younger Spears’ situation fueled discussions on pop culture’s influence and some say glamorization of teen pregnancy—a hot online topic fueled by the 2007 film “Juno,” the ABC Family series “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” and the pregnant daughter of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
The Next Generation’s Next Generation
The life cycle of a teen star lasts only about four to six years. Afterwards, they must move onto adult celebrity or fall forever out of favor.
Selena Gomez, the latest in the line of Disney TV stars with musical aspirations, has already been dubbed “the next Miley Cyrus.” Gomez didn’t escape 2008 entirely scandal-free—she and peer Demi Lovato posted a YouTube video mocking Cyrus. The mild smackdown wasn’t the same order of magnitude as other teen stars’ troubles, and, as her fellow New Brat Packers have proved, a little scandal actually can take a career to the next level. And if she doesn’t make it, the next big thing is ready to take her place.