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The Strange Saga of Disney’s Preteen Devo Cover Band

The Strange Saga of Disney’s Preteen Devo Cover Band

In the early-to-mid 2000s, Radio Disney was at the height of its popularity, capturing an enormous audience of youngsters with its peppy, sanitary blend of newly-recorded songs from Disney-owned feature films. Radio Disney was the fertile ground wherein a large swath of sugary teen pop bands found purchase, and adolescent boy bands continued to stand astride the Earth like a mighty Colossus. Radio Disney also found a good deal of success with any number of cleaned-up covers of the previous generation’s pop songs; Aaron Carter covered “I Want Candy,” Miley Cyrus covered “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” and Hilary and Haylie Duff covered “Our Lips Are Sealed.”

However, the biggest of the cover bands was easily The A*Teens, a Swedish teeny bopper band that began their career singing nothing but ABBA covers. And in the aftermath of their 2004 breakup, Radio Disney—wisely or not—elected to assemble their own pre-fab teen cover band. They were to hold auditions, film videos, and record an album which remixed well-known hits of Devo, an established act associated with the 1980s, but definitely not with preteen listeners. This, presumably, would make them bank. And so, in 2006, Disney constructed one of their weirdest and worst ideas to date: Dev2.0.

With enough imagination and forgiveness, one can kinda trace the line of thinking that might have led Radio Disney execs to Devo. They had a big hit with “Whip It,” their songs had been influential, but they had not necessarily been overplayed. They have a quirky look and a sound that is ripe for remixing. I’m just not sure if anyone at Radio Disney had actually listened to a Devo song before getting the ball rolling on this idea.

Devo, as you may know, is a weird, cynical band that preaches an ethos of entropy, generally scoffing at the world in general. They’re aesthetically a New Wave band, but, because of their f*** it attitude, they’re often considered in the punk canon. Even “Whip It” was a satire of corporate language and fast-selling, easy solutions to your problems. Despite their mainstream success, Devo took a great deal of pleasure in thumbing their nose at The Man. Now The Man wanted to update their music for kids.

Radio Disney hastily assembled the band, made up mostly of actors, some of whom didn’t play any instruments. The lead singer was an enthused 12-year-old performer named Nicole Stoehr. The guitarist and backup vocalist was Nathan Norman, with Michael Gossard on bass, and Kane Ritchotte on drums. The keyboardist was Jacqueline Emerson who would go on to play the character of Fox Face in The Hunger Games.

Radio Disney then approached Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale for their blessing and/or aid. The two of them initially balked, but they eventually realized that the Disneyfication of Devo was just the next logical step in their own philosophy. Everything devolves. Why not Devo’s own music? Mothersbaugh and Casale re-wrote and remixed their own songs, providing all the backup music for Dev2.0, and Casale directed a series of music videos for a Dev2.0 DVD. Most of the videos took place in one room, and the kids in the band mimed playing instruments. Easy enough.

But what about Devo’s biting lyrics? Those had to be sanitized as well. “Uncontrollable Urge” was now about having a “snack attack,” “Girl U Want” is rejiggered entirely, and “Beautiful World” ends not with “But not for me,” but “I guess me too.” Newly antiseptic, robbed of all bite, and with the cleanest possible sound, Dev2.0 was released into the public.

Big Mess indeed.

Predictably, the reception wasn’t too positive. Most people familiar with Devo were baffled by this entire endeavor, and the 2006 Dev2.0 debut album tanked. Radio Disney did have Dev2.0 in rotation for several months, but the request lines never lit up, the live concerts didn’t sell out, and the band wilted rapidly. A few of the members have said the bands failure turned them off from becoming musicians. Disney primed them, they performed well, and they were met with indifference and scorn. Too bad. In more recent interviews, Stoehr has been candid about how hard it was, and has now gone on to perform at Devo tribute concerts called DEVOtionals.

Emerson, years after the debacle, perfectly summed up what Dev2.0 was all about. She said that the entire project may have started as an attempt by Disney to make money, but was hijacked from within by Devo’s own impishness, and that it ended up being an artistic experiment to prove that de-evolution is real.

On the surface, Dev2.0 was merely a misguided commercial enterprise that started within Disney’s giant corporate machine, but objectively, it can only be seen as a prank played by Mothersbaugh and Casale.

Are we not men?

Featured Image: Walt Disney Records

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