Meet 4 Smart Teens Taking Over the World of Pop Culture

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In a time when we are forced to watch young people swing from wrecking balls and flaunt their goods, it is refreshing to find there are others out there flaunting their intellect. If you are young, you have your whole life ahead of you. If you are young and smart, you can take on the world. Here are a few teens who are doing just that. And without the use of heavy machinery.

Claire Danes as Angela Chase in My So-Called Life (AKA The Gold Standard for Cerebral Teens)
The show that a decade ago had a humble but devoted cult following has catapulted its way into the hearts of the mainstream (or at least us writers here at KQED). Claire Danes did for Angela Chase what the invention of the mirror did for mankind. No character to date has yet to capture the truth of youth like Angela Chase and it’s likely no one will.

Her brutal honesty and awkward gesticulations gave her early to mid-teen girl depth and accessibility. The overall tone of the show could only be compared to the likes of HBO’s Enlightened, melodramatic voiceovers conflated with hopeful xylophonic scores. Ms. Danes as Ms. Chase, you are a goddess and an inspiration to all the love-struck struggling humans just looking to navigate the oft-jagged realities we call life. Ginia Bellafante of The New York Times said this:

“To claim that My So-Called Life is great, watershed television is to say something so firmly ingrained in the conventional wisdom that it hardly bears repeating. The series brought us the experience of adolescence outside the bounds of artifice, peril and pathology that had provided the context for nearly every other depiction of teenagers on television. Here what it meant to be 15 was not to discover that you suddenly had to raise your 6-year-old sister or that you might be pregnant with twins but merely that you suffered everyday indignities: overhearing people talk behind your back, the plop of a grim-looking lump of mashed potatoes on a pallid cafeteria tray...My So-Called Life is essentially a study of a young mind processing desire into something less terrifying and more easily justified — substantiating it with false hopes — and in that regard it is more than a good TV show, it is a good TV show that attains the dimension and complexity of literature. The great postwar novels of adolescence deal with innocence lost; My So-Called Life deals with innocence sustained, but it offers a no-less-illuminating view of what it is to be young because of it.”

Guy and Howard Lawrence as Disclosure
Settle has become one of my favorite albums of the year and it's by artist brothers who were born like a decade after I was, which is crazy to even think about. These two cool dudes grew up in Southeast England and hit the scene three years ago when they were both in their teens (now just one is). They have received some criticism for not pushing English dance music forward but rather, harkening back to a time when they were both but a twinkle in their mother's eye. But this band of brothers have made a sound all their own. If you weren't a conscious human in the '90s then these R&B-infused beats might sound completely new to you, and so in that respect, they are for sure pushing dance music forward by introducing the building blocks to the next generation of creative thinkers.

Tavi Gevinson/Erica Parrott, Wikimedia Commons

Tavi Gevinson
This tyke shouldn't even be on this list because she was 12 when she started her fashion blog Style RookieAnd now she is becoming a household name, if you can pronounce it correctly. Like Claire Danes' Angela Chase, she is showing teenage girls what is the apparent truth. Not only does she comment and critique clothing but she has created a forum for young women to discuss their thoughts on feminism. I especially appreciate a blog post last year entitled: "How to Look Like You Weren't Just Crying in Less Than Five Minutes." Tavi is tuned in with trends and truth and like any young person who is doing well and acting mature, she is critiqued for it. Youth is dangerous and a thing of envy. Anne Slowey of Elle in a panel discussion at F.I.T. remarked, "She's been 13, for like, the past four years." Although the comment is quite funny and begs us to question our value of youth, there is a bit of dark undertone. Lucky we have Tavi to brighten things up.

Anti-pop pop star Lorde sites Etta James, Raymond Carver, Otis Redding and Wells Tower as influences. I'm not sure Miley Cyrus could say the same. When Lady Gaga was talking about Andy Warhol, everyone was talking about the new generation of thinking pop music. Little did they know someone like Lorde would come along and sing lyrics such as: "I'm kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air/So there" in her best song, "Team." The irony, of course, lies in the fact that much of what this 16-year-old (yes that's right) sings about slyly critiques mostly American pop and it is here she scored a number one album and song. The pop world needs more people like Lorde, especially when the world has Miley. Lorde is not gimmick- based. Her music is stripped down versions of what could be huge songs. I read somewhere that five years ago her songs could be considered avant-garde and would have had no place on a pop chart. Now she is the reigning queen. Seems to me she's taking things in the right direction.