|Concept rendering for the personas of Huckapoo. (Courtesy of Entertainment Properties, LLC)|
In truth, the girls are not all that different from one another, in real life or onstage. Lukow calls the Huckapoo characters “style statements.” Certainly, any differences end well before you get to the music. Maybe PJ will spit a few lines of rap here and there, but otherwise all five girls sing pure, hooky pop. There is nothing in a Joey Thunders song that approaches punk, or in a Groovy Tuesday song that hints of psychedelics.
Anyone who has heard pop stars come and go through the years will find little in Huckapoo’s music to either impress or disappoint. They have some terrific, catchy head-bobbers and plenty of shallow but affecting ballads composed by competent songwriters who have fed tunes to Lindsay Lohan, A-Teens, Faith Hill, and ’N Sync. There’s nothing about their music that is so blindingly original or brilliant that their success is inevitable, but it’s easily good enough that if someone told you that three years from now they’ll be the hottest band in the world, you’d be foolish to bet against them. At a minimum, Lukow hopes Huckapoo is an improvement over the most recent wave of girl bands, which mostly failed. “I think kids really, really know when they’re being pushed shit, and when something is good.” He pauses. “It’s still to be determined whether I can actually do this or whether I just believe my own bullshit.”
The girls seem to respect Lukow, and Lukow reciprocates—albeit in small ways—by soliciting some input from the girls. For example, he will sometimes present them with two songs and ask which they like better. And during the Town Hall rehearsal, Lindsay is able to convince him that, as Joey, she’d be more likely to say “wow” than “whoah.” But that’s about the extent of it. “This is not a democracy,” he says flatly.
The girls learned that early on. The band had only recently formed when they spent a night sleeping over at Brittany’s house, bonding (they are clearly, at least for now, great friends). One thing they found in common was how much they hated the name Huckapoo. The next day at rehearsals, they took a stand. “Do we have to be called Huckapoo?” they asked. Lukow laughed. “You don’t have to be called Huckapoo at all. You don’t have to do anything. You can call your parents, go home, walk out the door right now.”
Still, Lukow knew that if he couldn’t sell Huckapoo on Huckapoo, he might be in trouble. So he told them it wasn’t just a nonsense word, it meant “peace, love, and all good things” in Swahili—“kind of like shalom.”
Lukow had secured Huckapoo a spot on a tour called Camplified, which the New York Times described as “Lollapalooza for the lollipop set.” The group played fifteen summer camps across the Northeast, introducing captive audiences of young tastemakers to their music and, crucially, to themselves. After every performance, the bands were required to chat up campers, sign autographs, and pose for snapshots. “They treated us like celebrities,” says Brittney. “It was so weird. We’re not celebrities.” In fact, just to make sure the campers knew about Huckapoo at all, CDs were distributed in advance, and the girls recorded messages to be played over the dining-hall loudspeakers as the day of their arrival approached. They’d declare how they couldn’t wait to come to, say, Camp Indian Head, and then Twiggy Stardom would giggle, “Isn’t that where all the hot guys are?”
At first, the girls tried to distance themselves from their name. A typical response was “He gave it to us,” with a head jerk in Lukow’s direction. And when the Swahili fib was exposed by a summer-camp girl who inconveniently spoke Swahili, Lukow switched to Plan B: Huckapoo isn’t an entry in a lexicon, he told the girls, “Huckapoo is an attitude. It’s about being true to yourself.” He commissioned a theme song, modeled after the Monkees’: “Huckapoo, it’s about me and you, you gotta sing your own melody, be who you wanna be.” Coming from five thin, pretty white girls, it may be little more than a style statement, but the girls are convinced their fans appreciate it. “I think a lot of people can relate to us,” says Brooke. “They can listen to us and say, ‘I don’t need to be the typical girl in school. I can be whatever I want to be.’ ”
By the time Camplified ended, the girls were getting hints of what the future might hold. “We weren’t really sure what the kids would think of us,” says Brittany. “And they really took to us.” Lukow hopes it’s a sign of things to come. He needs the girls to become full-on superstars, or the whole operation goes bust: The girls get a salary no matter what, but it escalates only when the money pours in. And Lukow and Marks get virtually nothing unless they become fabulously wealthy.
It is the business model, more than the music, or the role-playing, that makes Huckapoo unique. The biggest risk Lukow is taking is not signing Huckapoo to a record label. When their first album comes out in January, it will be independently produced and distributed. Radio is not the best use of his Huckapoo dollars, he figures, except perhaps Radio Disney. Deals like the Disney Christmas CD work because he doesn’t have to relinquish any rights.
“Our business model is really built around controlling the intellectual property and leveraging this brand called Huckapoo,” says Lukow. The first thing he wants to sell is a TV movie he pitches as “Grease meets Breakfast Club.” He’s calling it an inverse reality show, but it’s more like an infomercial, something to drive sales through the band’s Website and 800 number.
Once the CD starts to sell, he says, “the Huckapoo brand can have a lotta, lotta legs.” Lukow has registered trademarks for toys, dolls, clothing, cosmetics, books, software, and plenty more. The Town Hall performance is less an actual concert than an elaborate pitch meeting, a chance for potential partners to see what Huckapoo will be about once it holds actual concerts.
To paint this picture for them, Lukow is throwing in a little of everything. The show will open with a two-minute cartoon scored to the “Huckapoo World” theme song, and there are sketches in between the songs to spotlight the girls’ personas. Backstage at the rehearsals, the boys who have been cast as the girls’ romantic interests help themselves to some food, having been firmly rebuffed in their attempts to cast themselves as the girls’ actual romantic interests. They had never heard of Huckapoo before booking the gig. “When I first heard the name, I thought it was a joke,” says one. “They got talent,” adds another, “but the name is so bad.”
The night of the concert, it’s hard to find anyone among the 1,200 ticket-holders who isn’t a friend or family. Other than a handful of kids who fell for Huckapoo on Camplified, the reasons people give for being there are all along the lines of “Brittney’s my sister,” “We’re cousins,” “We worked with Groovy,” and “My son grew up with Brian.” It’s “an audience full of shills,” as Lukow reminds his charges three days later, when he’s ready for them to stop basking and start working again. But the screaming, cheering, and sign-waving electrify the girls.
In some ways, the concert still feels like a high-school talent show. The sketches flop, and the mikes pick up too much of the girls’ heavy breathing—though this at least proves they’re not lip-synching. (Okay, the choruses are sweetened to give them more oomph. “I make no apologies for that,” says Lukow.) But here’s what counts: Angel, Twiggy, Joey, Groovy, and PJ nail their songs and their dance steps, and their charisma is brighter than the lasers. If you didn’t know better, you’d think they were real stars. The autograph table is thronged with squealing girls. “It’s like the Beatles,” marvels one mom.
“That’s a bit of a stretch,” snorts Brittney a week later, but there’s no question something has changed for this band. “When they cut half the lights and the crowd cheers, I mean, what a moment,” says Lukow. “The kids, you know, they were so pumped. It was so exciting. There was none of the bullshit. None of it. It was real.” He wipes away an authentic tear.
A few weeks later, the band appears on the New York City WB morning show. They perform two songs and chat briefly with the host. “How did you come up with the name?” she wants to know. Groovy Tuesday smiles serenely. “Since all of our characters are based on being different, and based on being individuals, we wanted a different name, and Huckapoo just seemed to fit.” Twiggy nods. “It’s more than just a name,” she says. “It’s an attitude.”