There's a powerful air of déjà vu permeating urban pop music, in which the boy bands are lively and snappy and the teen idols are up-front and oversexed. New Edition's "Candy Girl" days of insinuation and nuance are long gone, but still these young R&B/hip-hop stars of today echo shades of 30 years of entertainers. So far, what these new jacks have in talent, they lack in the scandal department. No Bobby Browns in this lot, but there are some haunting similarities to other former -- and current -- teen idols.
The skinny: Former lead singer of teenage R&B sensations B2K.
The gimmick: Smooth, Usher-like dance moves and a flirtatious vibe that's wise beyond his years.
Career highlight: Releasing his first solo album, O, which debuted this past March at number one on the Billboard charts.
Career lowlight: Relying too much on R. Kelly and his steez for songs.
Most likely to: Toss a sweat-moistened towel into the audience, inciting a riot.
Heartthrob déjà vu: The now 21-year-old Omarion was to B2K what Justin Timberlake was to 'N Sync. Plain and simple: He's the breakout star, the one who makes older ladies want to tadpole with this fly younger guy. As far as we know, though, Omarion is still looking for his Cameron Diaz.
Heartthrob: Bow Wow
The skinny: Formerly Lil Bow Wow, he's the rapper who received his first exposure at the age of five rapping onstage with Snoop Dogg, and parlayed it into a career guided by Jermaine "Mr. Janet Jackson" Dupri.
The gimmick: Look! He's just about all grown up! Bow Wow is like a homo-thug Chia Pet.
Career highlight: Dating (and collaborating with) R&B ingénue Ciara just as his new album is about to drop -- truly the height of his marketing savvy.
Career lowlight: Rocking the giant, iced-out Mickey Mouse chain back in the day (the ancient Nineties). And a close second: realizing he will never be as large as 50 Cent's guns.
Most likely to: Perform mouth-to-mouth on the girls who pass out in the aftermath of the Omarion-induced riot.
Heartthrob déjà vu: People are still getting used to Mach 2 Bow Wow, so many are trying to shake the déjà vu of him being the same youngster who rapped in a precracked voice about "Puppy Love."
Heartthrob: Marques Houston
The skinny: Former lead singer of R&B teenage sensation Immature, a group once practically interchangeable with B2K.
The gimmick: A curious fascination with Batman (which happens to be his nickname).
Career highlight: Ditching the "Batman" moniker from his official stage name.
Career lowlight: Not being even close to the best actor in either of his two big forays into film: Fat Albert and You Got Served.
Most likely to: Go from clothed to topless in five seconds flat.
Heartthrob déjà vu: If not for being filmed in black-and-white, the "Naked" video could pass as an overt homage to D'Angelo's famously buff video for "How Does It Feel?" If the daily BET video countdown program 106 & Park is anything to go by, teenage black girls find this video, and Batman himself, as sexy as Mr. Brown Sugar. As evidenced by recent pudgy mug shots, Mr. B.S. seems to have retreated to his house to hit the pipe and the Twinkies simultaneously, so maybe Batman does need to save the day after all.
Heartthrob: Bobby Valentino
The skinny: Ludacris's first R&B signing to his Disturbing Tha Peace imprint.
The gimmick: Being Ludacris's R&B dude.
Career highlight: Staring down a tiger while on safari in his daring support role in the Ludacris video "Pimpin' All Over the World."
Career lowlight: Follow-up single "Tell Me," which rides a variation of the same Timbaland beat as first single "Slow Down" and does something astonishing by being more trite than his debut.
Most likely to: Leave his shirt and other clothing on during his performance.
Heartthrob déjà vu: His preoccupation with how girls fit in their jeans plus his pleasant octave range is all reminiscent of Timbaland and Missy protégé Ginuwine (née Elgin Lumpkin). But visually it's a different story. Valentino lacks the (cock)diesel-powered sexual ooze Elgin has, which makes those denim inquiries a whole lot creepier. Maybe he can take the vitamin supplements Timbaland has been hawking, hit the gym, and start the course to bodybuilding that the superproducer is on (see "Organic Produce," April 7, 2005).
Heartthrobs: Pretty Ricky
The skinny: Four brothers from Miami (singer Pleasure and rappers Baby Blue, Slick 'Em, and Spectacular) that do it all for the ladies.
The gimmick: Sparkly suits and a balanced diet of rapping with R&B hooks and sauce.
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Career highlight: The breakout single "Grind With Me," still a national urban radio staple after a healthy, extended run throughout 2005.
Career lowlight: "Grind With Me," for its insidious, wormlike catchiness.
Most likely to: Bring females onstage -- and backstage -- to, well, grind with them.
Heartthrob déjà vu: The presence of a father/manager named Joseph, coordinated sequin-and-glitter stage costumes and honest-to-goodness natural harmonizing would suggest a latter-day Jackson 5, only with fewer instruments, more baby mamas than Double J, and a greater likelihood of crashing and burning more quickly (cuz Miami is rougher than Encino). Luckily no plastic surgery seems to be in effect here, nor is the attention being hogged disproportionately by any one member at this point, though lead singer Pleasure does make a valiant effort sometimes and is honestly the cutest. And no rumors of bad conduct have arisen as far as pop-ager Joe "Blue" Smith. So we won't jinx the brothers and wish 'em the best. Particularly since "Grind with Me" would be an unfortunate one-hit wonder to have stand as a group's mission statement and the best that South Florida has to offer the R&B/hip-hop world.