Longform You Have to Read: The Life Cycle of a Teen Idol


In a world where you have more options for satisfying longform reading than ever, your friends here at Flavorwire are taking the time once a week to highlight some of the best that journalism and longform has to offer. Whether they’re unified by topic, publication, writer, classic status, or just a general feeling, these articles all have one thing in common: they’re essential reading. This week, in honor of Leonardo DiCaprio’s 40th birthday, we’re looking at some of the greatest articles profiling and analyzing teen idols.

Can you believe Leonardo DiCaprio is 40 years old? Wasn’t it just yesterday that he was the edgy young star of The Basketball Diaries, or the brand-new crush of girls everywhere in Titanic, or the square-headed lead of The Departed? Remember how, at the apex of his young fame, he cut through New York City with his “Pussy Posse” in tow? In memory of the infamous New York Magazine article that brought Leo’s antics to light, we’re showcasing five articles that are mired in the excess and success of the teen idol at work.

“Hollywood’s Brat Pack,” by David Blum, New York Magazine, June 1985

Blum coined the term “Brat Pack” and lumped a whole generation of actors together in this article that started out as an Emilio Estevez profile and soon expanded its scope to also encompass several of his actor friends (Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson, Tom Cruise, Matt Dillion) and their A-list antics as they hit on chicks and ran that town. Blum wrote an apology for coming up with the catchy nickname in 1987.

Leo, Prince of the City,” by Nancy Jo Sales, New York Magazine, June 1998

Leo’s infamous Pussy Posse was like the Brat Pack redux, and featured such names as magician David Blaine and actors Lukas Haas, Tobey Maguire, and Jay Ferguson (better known these days as Stan on Mad Men). Sales’ article finds them partying hearty in New York, where the paparazzi wasn’t watching quite as closely. They’d throw off stink bombs in clubs and torture actresses like Elizabeth Berkley.

Britney Spears: Inside the Heart, Mind, and Bedroom of a Teen Dream,” by Steven Daly, Rolling Stone, March 1999

The infamous cover feature whose photos told us that Britney Spears was America’s next Lolita obsession, in sharp contrast to the article inside, which painted her as an innocent, despite the knowing songs. Among the piece’s revelations: she liked Dawson’s Creek, read Cosmopolitan, and worked really hard to become a pop star.

The Private Life of Natalie Portman,” by Chris Heath, Rolling Stone, June 2002

Heath spends some time at Harvard with Queen Amidala herself, then our most precocious young actress. She takes him to a reading with Salman Rushdie, Jamaica Kincaid, and John Ashbery, and regales him with tales of her thesis in psychology and her childhood friendship with Britney Spears, when they were both in the off-Broadway trenches. Although if you want something creepier, that speaks to the elusive appeal of Natalie Portman the actress/movie star, last week The Hairpin ran a smart piece called “Natalie & Me,” about the perfectionist shadow she’s cast over a certain generation of girls.

Justin Bieber: A Case Study in Growing Up Cosseted and Feral,” by Vanessa Grigoriadis, New York Magazine, July 2014

Grigoriadis’ March 2011 Rolling Stone profile starts with “Today, I’m the luckiest girl in the world.” The concept is that she’s on a date with the dreamiest teen angel, but despite the earnest songs, he’s an immature boy, saying “swag” every other word and ready to talk about his feelings on abortion (he doesn’t believe in it, which got him in trouble at the time). Three years later, the story’s much different: Bieber’s become a wannabe thung and is getting arrested, and the writer talks to his manager, Scooter Braun, and his entourage to paint a picture of what Bieber’s life is like on the downswing.