Teen Beach Movie
Has it been a tad quiet lately? No longer. The Disney star-making factory has roared to life again with the Mouse House's latest pop-cultural sensation: Teen Beach Movie. When the feature-length film (about two contemporary teens who find themselves magically transported into a groovy 1962 beach movie) debuted July 19, 2013, 8.4 million viewers tuned in. Counting DVR plays the next week, that figure swelled to 13.5 million, according to Disney, making it the second-most-watched cable movie of all time. (No. 1, you ask? High School Musical 2).
Disney, of course, knows how to synergize. So the movie's popularity—linked to that of Austin & Ally star Ross Lynch and The Fosters star Maia Mitchell—has, not surprisingly, translated directly to this impossibly upbeat soundtrack, which debuted at No. 3 on the pop charts. Featuring the surf-y sounds of the '60s with a few nods toward the One Direction set, a troupe of teens delivers a playfully anachronistic take on fun, sun and twitterpation.
The majority of the songs have to do with one of two subjects: How great boys/girls are, and how great surfing/biking are.
In the first category, the soundtrack's "love" songs reflect the innocent, doe-eyed romantic gushing that dominated much of pop music 50 years ago. Accordingly, we hear puppy-lovey lyrics like, "And now I'm/Falling for ya, falling for ya/I know I shouldn't but I/I just can't stop myself" ("Falling for Ya"). Also, "And I know, I know she's out there/Most definitely/ … Not phony or a fake/Sweeter than a chocolate shake/ … It's destiny callin'/And nothing will ever be the same" ("Meant to Be").
"Like Me" finds guys and girls debating what the opposite sex finds attractive—with a twist. Modern-day teens Brady and McKenzie have different values than their 1960s teen counterparts, and they give voice to that perspective here. Guys from the '60s emphasize a stoic, macho stereotype ("She likes it when I'm in control/ … Don't let her know how much you care"), while Brady counters with the sensitive, new-millennium version of masculinity ("Let 'em breathe, chill out and go with the flow/ … Look in her eyes, and tell her even if you're scared"). Meanwhile, McKenzie insists, "Don't dress for him/it's better when you dress for you," also rejecting the idea that what really gets a guy's attention are tight clothes.
In the second category, "Surf Crazy" and "Surf's Up" inhabit sand-'n'-waves, Beach Boys/Jan & Dean territory with lyrics like, "Blue skies/Gentle breeze/What a day/Sunshine and sweet harmonies/Time to play/No more complications/From now on/Just good vibrations."
On "Oxygen," a young woman in love sings, "If this is wrong, I don't care if I'm right." A bit later, she adds, "So, baby, bring it all to me/And I will warm you like the sun." (But that's about as suggestive as things ever get.)
"Surf Crazy" gushes that the beach is a "bikini wonderland" (though said bikinis in the movie itself are quite conservative). Some reckless rebellion clichés creep into the biker song "Cruisin' for a Bruisin'": "Revving our engines under the sun/ … We do anything we want, any time we want/ … We just ride, ride, ride all day/We're not gonna live any other way." Elsewhere on that track, girls talk about "hot" guys while one of those guys brags, "I was cruising for some loving."
"Meant to Be" calls a pretty girl a "chick." And it's a pretty good example of how sometimes movies and their soundtracks don't always see eye to eye. Because lyrically, nobody responds to that label, but onscreen the "chick" in question, McKenzie, isn't much pleased about it.
Likewise, this soundtrack's mildly rebellious/no limits moments are also mitigated a bit more in the movie than they are in the music itself. Still, as far as secular entertainment aimed at tweens and teens goes these days, you'd be hard pressed to find much out there that's more carefully sanitized than the Teen Beach Movie soundtrack (even among most of Disney's other offerings aimed at the same young demographic).
If there's a bigger-picture critique to be offered here, it's that Teen Beach Movie—both the movie and the soundtrack—playfully reinforces pop culture's cherished conviction that what matters most in life is butterfly-inducing romance and having as much fun as possible while you're chasing your dreams. The soundtrack's embrace of those values is mostly a superficial and innocuous one. But the overall worldview on display is nevertheless important to grapple with as families, no matter how much of a summer trifle it all seems to be.