Teen pop is more sexualized than ever. Ask anyone who saw Britney Spears rip off her tuxedo top on last year's MTV music awards.
"We got flack, obviously, from kids' parents about that," says Britney's co-manager Johnny Wright, who says cutthroat competition pressures stars to be provocative. "Britney cannot be the same girl that she was on the first cover of the first album."
While her fans may be 8 or 9, Britney is 20, Wright says, and "she's doing what a woman would do."
Carol Weston, a mother and author of advice books for girls, thinks there is a line that shouldn't be crossed. She is concerned that sexy singers like Shakira, Jessica Simpson and Britney, all women in their 20s, are sending the wrong message to girls in their teens, even girls in their pre-teens.
"I think young kids shouldn't look sexy, they shouldn't want to look sexy when they are 9," Weston says.
It's not uncommon for pre-teens to measure themselves against their teen idols, she says, so entertainers with a big fan base of preteens send a confusing message when they adopt a sexy style. Even teen-agers envy the slender, lithe figures of the people in the videos.
"It's hard not to, when you see the "Slave" video come out and she's, you know, dancing around like a belly dancer," one Long Island teen tells Troy Roberts. "You're like 'Wow, I wish I could look like that,' especially when the video comes on and you're hanging out with a bunch of guys. And they're just like, 'Oh, my God.' They won't let you turn off the TV and if you move in front of it, they say, 'Get away.' You know?"
Britney Spear's "Slave" video has made quite a few teens insecure. "People that I know, like they don't eat or they'll starve themselves or some people are bulimic," says one girl. Another adds, "It would be nice if maybe she communicated that maybe not everyone is supposed to look like her and that you're beautiful the way you are."
One entertainer trying to bring that message to teens is 20-year-old Christina Milian. "Half the time that picture's airbrushed," she tells fans. "That person's not as perfect as you think."
Milian, a former model and actress, has harbored dreams of being a pop star since she was 7. Now, she is on the verge of seeing that dream come true.
"I met her, heard her music, fell in love with her right away," says Wright, who is also her manager. "Knew she was going to be a star."
These days, Milian, with two smash singles, is winging her way around the globe and in the process has learned that sex appeal sells albums. "As an artist, you are a product," she says.
But Milian hasn't lost sight of another reality. When she isn't performing or making a music videos, she's hitting the stage at middle schools across the country, talking to teens about self esteem.
With the help of psychologist Dr. Anne Kearney-Cook, she has launched a program called "The Secret of Self Esteem."
"I'm a real person just like them," she says. " I've gone through a lot of the same things these girls have gone through."
She admits that her esteem can drop to zero in situations involving a boyfriend and she urges them, when thinking of weight, to concentrate on physical strength, not figures on a scale.
"She's able to say, 'Look, we don't look the way we do in pictures and magazines. There's lighting, there's makeup artists, they airbrush the piece.' So she's able to give some helpful information," Cook says, "to help them realize what's the reality, what do people really look like, for instance."
The audience sees a beautiful, young woman, Cook says, but "they also hear a smart, competent woman. And she sets goals and she perseveres. She's teaching them that, and that, to me, is a very important message."