On a recent afternoon at a Burbank production studio, the members of Big Time Rush were shooting a music video for their song “24/Seven,” a characteristically chipper ode to living every day like a holiday. After the shoot the Nickelodeon-bred boy band was headed to Orlando, Fla., where it had a performance scheduled at the Universal Studios theme park, and then onto an appearance at the Mall of America near Minneapolis.
Kendall Schmidt, James Maslow, Carlos Pena and Logan Henderson — professional actors cast, Monkees style, in a kids’ television series depicting the adventures of a fresh-faced pop group — were up for the action to come. But what the young men, all between the ages of 22 and 23, seemed more excited about during a break from the video was recounting their brush with a different scene at last year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
“Our friend Snoop Dogg was performing, and we got to hang out backstage,” Henderson said, gathered with his band mates around a picnic table outside the studio. “I remember we had to work Monday, so after the show we took a chopper all the way back.” He laughed. “It was a rock ‘n’ roll moment for sure.”
This summer Big Time Rush, whose hit show is in its fourth (and reportedly final) season, is looking for a few more rock ‘n’ roll moments — less cute, slightly more cool. Set to launch June 21 at L.A.’s Gibson Amphitheatre and run through mid-August, the so-called Summer Break Tour pairs the band with another Nickelodeon alum, Victoria Justice, for a family-entertainment package more wholesome than competing tours by Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and the cheeky British boys of One Direction.
Yet in a season jammed with junior-high favorites — the Jonas Brothers will also be on the road, attempting to lure school-age concert-goers with vacation time to burn — the Summer Break trek serves as an opportunity for both acts to transition from on-screen stardom to the real deal.
That’s a complicated enterprise, requiring equal attention be paid to the artists’ twentysomething contemporaries as to the younger TV viewers who built their fan bases. And the divide between those constituencies seems wider than ever: Early this month Miley Cyrus, the former star of the Disney Channel juggernaut “Hannah Montana,” released “We Can’t Stop,” a willfully provocative new single in which she describes a wild night out complete with women “shaking it like we at a strip club.”
Cyrus’ song follows “Spring Breakers,” the violent, sex-drenched Harmony Korine movie starring ex-Disney stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens as armed robbers. And then there’s Demi Lovato, yet another Disney Channel veteran, whose new self-titled disc addresses her struggles with bipolar disorder.
You get only a trace, a whisper, really, of such grown-up matters from Big Time Rush and Justice, who in February wrapped a four-season run at the center of Nickelodeon’s highly rated “Victorious.” On its album “24/Seven,” which came out Tuesday, Big Time Rush occasionally spikes uptempo dance-pop numbers with muscular dubstep synths.
And throughout the album the group toys with the kind of double entendres that boy bands have embraced since the Beatles: “It doesn’t really matter if it’s wrong or right,” they sing in ostensible reference to an impromptu dance party, “We can do it like nobody’s around.”
Justice, meanwhile, sings with an assertive huskiness that lends weight to tunes she’s recorded for a series of “Victorious” soundtrack albums — even songs as goofy and good-natured as “Freak the Freak Out.” She’s at work now with producers including Greg Wells on her debut solo disc, which the 20-year-old described as her attempt to “reintroduce” herself. “I want to be taken seriously as a singer and a songwriter,” Justice said, and she’s already convinced Wells.
“My experience of working with her is no different than when I worked with a young Katy Perry,” said the producer. “There is the same focus.”
Both acts singled out Justin Timberlake, who began his showbiz career on “The Mickey Mouse Club” before going on to global fame with the boy band ‘N Sync and on his own, as a model for the kind of transition they’re trying to effect. (The creator of this year’s biggest-selling album, “The 20/20 Experience,” Timberlake is touring this summer as well, with the rapper Jay-Z.)
But Timberlake came of age in the era before the celebrity-gossip industry went digital, vastly amplifying the scrutiny with which young stars’ lives are examined. For Justice and Big Time Rush, becoming adult artists — and adults — is a very public act. “It’s not like we don’t go out and have fun,” Maslow said. “We just don’t tweet about it.”
“These guys have never forgotten who their fans are,” said Paula Kaplan, a Nickelodeon executive who’s worked with Big Time Rush since the show’s beginning. “Yes, some of the fans over the past five years have gotten older. But they’ve always been very clear that they’re still a band on Nickelodeon, and that demographic is 6- to14-year-olds.”
The perceived connection to a younger (and less cool) audience is part of why Top 40 radio — still an unrivaled kingmaker for pop acts — has historically proven resistant to artists coming out of kid TV, such as Miranda Cosgrove, the former star of Nickelodeon’s “iCarly.” Even Cyrus, whose “We Can’t Stop” is in heavy rotation on L.A.’s KIIS-FM, had trouble gaining traction on pop stations until she stopped recording as Hannah Montana.
Big Time Rush knows the challenge: Though it’s sold 3.4 million digital songs, according to Nielsen SoundScan, the band’s highest-charting single, “Boyfriend,” peaked at No. 72 on the Hot 100.
“The fact that we’ve had any radio play at all is a miracle,” Maslow acknowledged. “This time we just want to get a fair shot because we feel like the music is competitive with anything else out there.” (Regarding the insistently zippy title track, he may not be wrong.) Justice was even more straightforward: “Getting my songs on pop radio — that’s the goal,” she said. “It never would’ve happened with songs from my show, but now that the show’s over and I’m moving into this next phase, I’m hoping to transcend that.”
Time, of course, will tell. For now, there’s a summer’s worth of concerts to play, not to mention the potential the road holds for moments like one Schmidt recalled from this year’s Coachella. “The guys from Odd Future came up to us,” he said, referring to the infamously rowdy L.A. hip-hop crew. “And they were like, ‘This might sound weird, but we all sit at home and smoke and watch your show.’” At this the squeaky-clean Nickelodeon stars broke into laughter, savoring the unlikely admission. “Never in my life did I expect to hear that.”