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Pop Graduates: Acts That Made the Leap From the Teen Scene to Grown-Up Rock

Can the Jonas Brothers follow the Beatles, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera?

June 23, 2009 8:15 PM ET

In the new issue of Rolling Stone, on stands now, the Jonas Brothers open up about courting rock credibility while hanging on to their bubblegum image. Here's a rundown of more acts that made the leap from the teen idol scene to the world of grown-up rock & roll.

The Beatles

Early Schooling: As they did for everything from psychedelics to facial hair, the Beatles wrote the manual on how to grow up with dignity. In fact, they've been so lionized over the last 46 years, it's easy to forget that their early works contained such genius koans as, "Let me whisper in your ear/say the words you long to hear" and "Don't run and hide/just come on, come on." Which, naturally, begs the question: If they'd called it quits in 1965, would they be just another Strawberry Alarm Clock?
Turning Point: '65s Rubber Soul, where the apple-cheeked come-ons of their early work gave way to the statelier sentiments of "Norwegian Wood."
Post-Graduate Work: Little things like crafting one of the finest bodies of work in popular music, inspiring generation after generation to pick up a guitar, and holding a contest with Led Zeppelin and AC/DC to see who can keep their albums off digital music stores the longest.

Justin Timberlake

Early Schooling: Let's graciously skip right past those lost Mickey Mouse Club years, instead starting with JT's time in 'NSync, where he was the cute one with the bad dye job and the mousy voice, breaking hearts as the (not-so-secret) Mr. Britney Spears.
Turning Point: The 'NSync swan song Pop, where the whole group grew up at once, shucking the watery R&B-lite of their early years for bright, glitchy electro-pop that was as forward-looking as it was brash and relentlessly singable.
Post-Graduate Work: After crafting the best Prince album of the last 10 years, FutureSex/LoveSounds, Timberlake has been turning his attention to acting. And while his cinematic roles have been a bit hit or miss (Alpha Dog, anyone?), his appearances on Saturday Night Live — particularly his collaborations with Andy Samberg — have proven him a performer of bottomless charisma and match-to-flint comic timing.

Rick Springfield

Early Schooling: A musician long before he was a daytime TV doctor, Springfield sailed up the pop charts with the still-inescapable "Jessie's Girl," the kind of spunky FM hit that makes and kills careers within the space of three minutes.
Turning Point: 1999's Karma, where Springfield acts his age and turns in surprisingly adroit pop performances, showcasing the kind of songwriting chops that would eventually make him a favorite on the touring circuit and amass for him a quiet but loyal cadre of fans.
Post-Graduate Work: Springfield is still recording; his latest album, My Precious Little One is a spare and gentle collection of children's songs. After all, what do you think happens to Jessie's girl about nine months after she's done loving him with that body?

Christina Aguilera

Early Schooling: Another ex-Mouseketeer, Aguilera excited Craigslist enthusiasts everywhere by encouraging them to "rub her the right way."
Turning Point: Though it received more bad reviews than Land of the Lost, Stripped was Aguilera's coming out party, a brash, brave and bold (if overlong) statement of character that proved she was going to follow her own stubborn muse — consequences be damned.
Post-Graduate Work: Flipping a demure finger to everyone who cattily wrote her off as talentless trash, Aguilera has gradually emerged as one of the finest singers of our generation, barnstorming her way through the underrated old-school R&B album Back to Basics and turning in a performance of "I Love You Porgy" — her choice! — on the 2008 Grammy Nominations special that should silence all doubters through the next decade.

Mandy Moore

Early Schooling: Moore charged out of the gate as the lesser light in the Britney/Christina triumverate, proffering chirpy pop songs with little in the way of character or charm. Fortunately, she quickly outgrew the typecasting, leaving radio pop to the studio-made professionals while she pursued headier pasttimes.
Turning Point: Moore was the crackling sparkplug at the center of the otherwise ham-handed and toothless religious satire Saved!, memorably pelting Jena Malone with a Bible and driving into a statue of Jesus with her car. Even if it was just a variation on Reese Witherspoon's similarly self-righteous character in Election, Moore attacked it with gusto and a grand sense of humor.
Post-Graduate Work: Though she has (thankfully) resisted shucking her tomboyish nickname (perhaps learning a lesson or two from "Deborah" Gibson), Moore's post-teen pop work has skewed alt-country. Her latest, Amanda Leigh, is a spare and thoughtful collection of folky ballads designed to showcase Moore's fragile voice and songwriting chops.

Hanson

Early Schooling: Always unfairly lumped into the kiddie pop, the three Hanson brothers always wrote their own songs and played their own instruments, setting them apart from the bulk of their Tiger Beat peers. Is it their fault they were so unbelievably adorable?
Turning Point: Puberty (surprise, surprise). 2001's This Time Around slunk quietly into oblivion, but the trio's talent and perseverence secured them a steady cadre of fans that stuck around long past the groups' cute-pop heyday.
Post-Graduate Work: The Hanson brothers have quietly grown into elder statesmen of independent music. They established their own label (3CG), and continue to release mature, winning records that synthesize '60s pop and R&B into irresistible confections.

The Jonas Brothers

Early Schooling: Like the Hanson brothers, short-shrifting the Jonas boys is a game only for the foolish. Kevin, Nick and Joe were writing their own songs long before they started turning up on Hannah Montana, and the mania they cause is as much about pop skills at it is about good looks.
Turning Point: Lines, Vines and Trying Times, which finds the group branching out into more verdant pop terrain and earning that interview with Elvis Costello in Rolling Stone.
Post-Graduate Work: Wagers, anyone?

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Song Stories

“Love Is the Answer”

Utopia | 1977

The message of the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" proved to be a universal and long-lasting one, which Utopia revisited 10 years later on this ballad. "From a lyrical standpoint, it's part of a whole class of songs that I write, which are about filial love," Todd Rundgren explained. "I'm not a Christian, but it's called Christian love, the love that people are supposed to naturally feel because we are all of the same species. That may be mythical, but it's still a subject." Though "Love Is the Answer" wasn't a hit, a cover version two years later by England Dan & John Ford Coley peaked at Number Ten on the Billboard singles chart.

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