The Teenagers - dedicated followers of frivolity
With their raunchy, poppy debut single and geek-chic good looks, The Teenagers are every girl's dream band. charlotte cripps meets the next big stars of the MySpace generation
Friday 14 March 2008
The Teenagers are an all-male, French indie-pop band who sing about adolescent topics in English, with thick French accents. We are having a tête-à-tête in a London café to discuss the release of their debut album, Reality Check.
Their repertoire has teenage-sounding titles such as "Starlett Johansson", "French Kiss", and "F*** Nicole". The punchy new single, "Love No", is a resumé of complaints a boyfriend puts up with from his girlfriend, including spending too much time on the computer, and even wearing a disgusting bathrobe.
The bewitchingly good-looking lead singer, Quentin Delafon, sings about love, sex and relationships over two-chord lo-fi indie, performed by guitar player Dorian Dumont and bassist Michael Szpiner.
The trio, whose real ages range from 25 to 26 years old, are unapologetic about their band name. "Technically speaking, we are not teenagers. But on some level, this is where we are stuck mentally," says Delafon. "Being in a band is a good excuse to live out the teenage dream, non? But later in life! Some of the songs are based on our own experience, while others are pure teenage fantasy. My own teenage years were much quieter."
In 2006, this underground band struck a chord with the MySpace generation and were signed to Merok, the label that launched Klaxons. Their brand of risqué pop music is not exactly angst-ridden, but is, as they put it, "totally horny".
The first of the group's releases, in May 2007, was the X-rated Homecoming EP. It was already an underground anthem by the time it hit the shop shelves – but it received no airplay due to its expletive-filled chorus about sleeping with an American cheerleader.
The video, displaying pretty teenage cheerleaders carousing in a hotel room, was directed by the fashionable Kinga Burza on a micro-budget. She had used The Teenagers' MySpace page in the background of the Kate Nash video for "Caroline's a Victim", so was keen to help them out.
In November they released the second, and rather milder, single, "Starlett Johansson", in homage to their favourite Hollywood actress.
So The Teenagers are poised for career take-off, but the big question is: will the popsters ever gain mainstream acceptance? With the somewhat unsavoury debut single behind them, it is hoped that the new album will show another side of the band.
"When we first started writing songs, we had no bigger picture of an album. We had no expectations. It was just great fun. We just sit down and squeeze our brains," says Delafon. "But we don't want to be an underground internet band forever, because it's a dead end."
The Teenagers formed in Paris on Christmas Day, 2005. "We bought some frozen pizza and vodka. We spent Christmas together. It was fun," says Delafon. "On Boxing Day we set up a MySpace page and we had written the first track, 'F*** Nicole'. The rest is history."
By 2006, The Teenagers had more than 10,000 MySpace friends and a record deal. Now the band have a whopping 70,021 friends on MySpace, listening to songs such as "Sunset Beach" about jilted lovers ("I saw her dark hair, blue eyes and an arse to die for... she said she works in fashion... she told me 'I can play air guitar'... that's when I decided to bring her back home...").
The Teenagers cite as their influences Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue, rather than The Libertines. "We listened to French pop music like Serge Gainsbourg in the Eighties, when we were really young. I quit listening to French music when I was a teenager apart from the French electronic band M83, who, like French bands Air and Phoenix, also sing in English. M83 are not famous in France at all." Other influences include The Strokes and Jacques Lu Cont, aka British electronic musician and producer Stuart Price, whose acclaimed remixes have included The Killers' "Mr Brightside" and Madonna's "Get Together" on the album Confessions on a Dancefloor.
But it seems that The Teenagers don't really have a sense of belonging in the indie crowd: "We are featured in NME, which is cool because it gives us some visibility – but I don't feel we are in the same field as The Enemy. What we are doing is very different," says Delafon. "I suppose we are very lucky. We signed a record deal before we had played a gig. I have seen my fair share of bands struggling – but we are able to live from our artistic vision. We are the MySpace generation. You just make music with your computer by yourself. You don't even need a label. You just need to create a MySpace page. We've never rehearsed like other bands do, every Sunday night in the basement."
None of The Teenagers even has a girlfriend right now, which makes being a professional "teenager" even more fantastical. They are still relatively unknown in France, where they spent their teenage years together in the same suburb of Paris, Sèvres. They upped sticks and moved to England about three years ago, now residing in London's East End. Both Dumont and Szpiner, who met at the age of 10, had been in bands beforehand; the latter in a hardcore metal band called Providence, and Dumont in a Swedish/French folk band, Mai. Delafon was at business school when he threw in the towel for a career in pop. "There was an artistic person sleeping inside of me," he says.
Now, as The Teenagers clock up more MySpace friends by the hour, the demand for a world tour grows. A three-week whiz around the US in January saw 500-plus capacity venues sold-out by twentysomethings (the gigs are 18-plus) in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington. The Teenage US tour continues next month – they are dropping off in Mexico and Canada too, and performing at the Coachella festival in California. They tour the UK in April.
"People are so excited about us everywhere – even Australia and Japan," says Dumont. "We are so much more popular than we were at high school," says Szpiner.
Right now, the issue of maintaining a career beyond teenage obsession is not at the top of their worry list. Delafon assures me that there is "more depth to the songs than people realise". "Our songs are not just fantasy. It is making fun of the relationship between males and females and how we view things differently. It's not just about a lousy Brit boy who sleeps with an American cheerleader, there is some depth to it, but people don't tend to see it, which is fine as well," he says.
Will they ever grow up? "One day at a time – but right now we are reliving the teenage years we wanted to have back in the days."
The Teenagers tour from 1 to 12 April (www.theteenagers.net); 'Reality Check' is out on Monday on XL Recordings; Andy Gill reviews it on page 19
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