Herewith, a guide to the latest crop of musical heartthrobs

You couldn't help but tingle if you were in the audience at last week's Backstreet Boys concert at Kiel Center. The energy was palpable, the prepubescent shrieks both grating and contagious, the devotion the purest form imaginable -- the blind love of strangers. In addition to being the source of the biggest, most exciting crowd wave in the history of the world -- a tidal wave consisting of 22,000 participants, all of whom screamed and leapt with glee -- the mass (which will reconvene on Wednesday, Dec. 1, for the Ricky Martin fiesta at Kiel) was, according to the recent media-hook-of-the-moment, a small portion of the single largest pubescent glut since the baby boomers.

Get flustered, Dad. Here come the youngsters, and they're loaded: Proof being the line of limousines you paid for, seen dropping off gaggles of girlies at the front door. Proof being the Billboard charts last week: In the Top 100, seven artists aimed at this market, called the tweens, or Generation Y, or baby-boomer babies, or the Estrogeneration, have a combined total sales of 50 million records -- about half of all the Beatles records ever sold. That's a lot of youngsters going crazy over pop music.

If your cynical impression of said glut is that these artists are simply wearing different masks to cover the same insipid, pop-lite skull and that the only difference between B*Witched and the Backstreet Boys is that the former have boobs and the latter don't, well, there are vast differences among Ricky Martin, Britney Spears, Mandy Moore, Billy Crawford, Christina Aguilera, LFO and 'N Sync. Herewith, a primer.


Key words from record-company blurb: Hollywood dream come true; father in the military, violinist/pianist mother; 18 years old; hails from Wexford, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh.

Disney connection: Former member of The Mickey Mouse Club.

Essence of Christina: Playing the naive tart ("My body's saying go, but my heart's saying no.") with a deep, sultry voice, Christina's got more funk and soul than Britney, seems more hip with her beats than the competition and has this way-too-sexy squeal that she delivers at perfect moments. In a nutshell: jailbait.


Blurb extract: Killer singing voice, energy to light up a city, plenty of old-fashioned charm; 16-year-old dynamo; funky up-tempo romps and passionate ballads; natural flair of a born entertainer.

Disney connection: none (no half-Filipinos allowed?)

Essence of Billy: Dynamo is right: soft leather jacket, long hair and dangerous glare on cover suggest that Billy will take shit from no one. Over stupid bland beats and the lamest guitar solos ever recorded, Billy's faux-Michael Jackson grunts are ridiculous. This Billy guy, who opens the Pokémon soundtrack, needs a quick slap and a good shaking. He and Christina would make a perfect couple, until he dumps her for a hooker.


Blurb extract: Blurb extract: Enjoys being a girl. She loves colors that pop, romance novels and idyllic days at the beach; untamed and untarnished; hometown is Kentwood, La. (pop. 1,200).

Disney connection: Former member of The Mickey Mouse Club.

The essence of Britney: She's a princess and a plebe, a down-to-earth working girl with a pearl heart. Cover shot of her on her knees, staring at the camera with a "can-I-have-another-piece-of-cake" smile on her face, is at disturbing odds with the title, placed right above her left shoulder: Baby One More Time. Umm, what did you say, young lady?


Blurb extract: Harder, edgier sound; five extraordinarily gifted vocalists trademark harmonies; passionate heights; from Orlando, Fla.

Disney connection: Kevin used to perform at Disney World; Howie has appeared in Disney commercials.

Essence of the Boys: A couple of them seem like total bastards -- especially Kevin, whose facial hair is surprisingly satanic for a teen idol. They are, however, the perfect combination of tough and cuddly. They can't sing, but they can dance, and when they dance, they thrust their groins at the 10-year-old girls, which makes the little ones go batty with desire. This year they've sold 19 million records, so if you're thinking about buying one for your niece, don't bother: She's already got it, but she's not sick of it.


Blurb extract: She's just 15 years old, and she was meant to be onstage; honor student; poised performer of exceptional ability; fun-loving teenager; started out "jumping on my bed and singing"; from Orlando.

Disney connection: None.

Essence of Mandy: She comes and she gives without taking, but then she'll send you away. Oh Mandy. She'll kiss you and stop you from shaking, and you need her today. Oh Mandy. She opened the Backstreet show at Kiel, and she tore down the house. Oh Mandy. You need her with all of your heart and your money; Mandy's debut is called "Candy."


Blurb extract: First revealed his love of performing in school plays and choir; began appearing in television commercials at age 6; took acting and singing lessons; joined Menudo at age 12. "Ricky Martin marks the arrival of a superstar while signaling a brand new era in Latin music, a time when the whole world is "Livin' la Vida Loca'!" Hails from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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