After nearly a decade, the Nickelodeon nostalgia has returned for Gen Z in a major way. Now in their early 30s, the four members of Big Time Rush – Kendall, James, Carlos and Logan – made their official return in 2021, with new music and a few concerts to test the appetite of the fans. The stakes were really high to come back as a boy band in a post-One Direction and post-COVID new normal, but their Gen Z fans welcomed them back with open arms – and Big Time Rush may be picking up two generations of new ones.
Where it all started
Big Time Rush was one of the biggest TV shows on Nickelodeon from 2009-2013, right in the middle of the “Make it to Hollywood” kid shows. Kendall, James, Logan and Carlos – four best friends on a journey to fame – centered around the actors doing the hard work to get there. Now after almost 10 years, the return of Big Time Rush has been majorly successful, selling out Madison Square Garden, touring all over the world and most notably – being independent of the corporate giants that previously held the rights to the Big Time Rush music catalog.
Looking back, it’s seems like the TV show and music tour combo was acting as a proof of concept for how social media strengthens brands and their fans. *In 2009-2013, Facebook existed and Instagram was just picking up steam. Snapchat was finding its sweet spot in social media and TikTok did not exist. The only way fans of the pre-teen age were able to safely access the off-screen lives of their favorite famous people was through the easily guarded, parent-approved cable TV channel, Nickelodeon. Big Time Rush expanded to live concerts, playing the songs featured in the episodes of the TV show, giving fans the opportunity to see Kendall, James, Logan and Carlos go from the screen to the stage in real life.
The decision to end the show was not due to low ratings or cancelation of the series. Their popularity was still amazing for the show and in the music world. The guys of Big Time Rush were about 22 years old when the show ended, and it was the perfect time to take a break before the world of social media took over (chart 1). The TV show strengthened their credibility as musicians and now the music is accessible at anytime with the rise of streaming music services.
After Big Time Rush went off the air, the guys went on to pursue their own passions, but they never quit the band.
“I really believe everything happens for a reason. First off we really needed to go and explore our own individual artistry whether it’s music or acting like we went off and did a bunch of our own projects which fulfilled us and made us more confident.” – James Maslow
Kendall Schmidt returned to Heffron Drive.
After the Big Time Rush show ended, Kendall jumped back into Heffron Drive (a band he started back in 2008 with his best friend Dustin Belt) without skipping a beat. He started venturing back into acting, and in 2016 did a four-episode run on the Nickelodeon show “School of Rock” (among other acting gigs).
Logan Henderson released music as a solo artist.
Logan took a few years off from the public after Big Time Rush ended. He focused more on music and experimented with a different sound that was described as “dark grunge pop”, and successfully released a number of singles. His first single “Sleepwalker” marked his debut as a solo artist with more music and albums that followed.
Carlos stayed busy with a little bit of everything.
Carlos stayed pretty active since the end of the show. He released his first solo Spanish music single, “Electrico” in early 2014 and took on some acting roles while simultaneously taking more of the family route. He and his wife Alexa are parents to three beautiful children who are a sweet part of their life journey that can be seen on their vlog, “La Vida PenaVega”. Other popular roles that Carlos took on was on Fox’s “Grease Live!” where he played Kenickie, as well as as a voice roles on Nickelodeon’s “Loud House” and “Casagrandes” as “Bobby Santiago”.
James went the acting route then started to add music back in the mix
James went on to more acting-focused projects along with a few reality shows like Dancing with the Stars and Celebrity Big Brother. He had some success in the streaming/TV world with “Sequestered” and movies including “Getaway“ staring alongside Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez. After a few acting gigs, James focused on his music and released his first album as a solo artist, “How I like It”.
What the data says
Using Google Trends, data shows growth of social media platform search terms reached its peak of interest when the Big Time Rush show was off the air (chart 2). These past ten years have been the social media post-high school ages for Gen Z leaving little access to any updates or content from Big Time Rush. Today, access to behind the scenes content, streaming the show on Netflix and the music on Spotify are right there for Gen Z to remember those good ol’ days.
TikTok and the Pandemic may have beneficial for Big Time Rush
Another factor that may be contributing to the success of their return was the introduction of TikTok, right in the middle of the pandemic. The stress of the world and the lockdowns of the cities forced a lot of people to find entertainment at home. The return of Big Time Rush was scheduled to be in 2020 but was pushed off to 2021 so the announcement was also postponed. But with the virality of social media today, the short video was instead released in 2021 and the rumors of when they would be back started circulating the internet.
Independence – at a cost
“We had a dream of hey how can we own the brand do it our way,” – James Maslow, Interview with Zach Sang Show
Once the band made the decision to pursue the comeback, one of the first major hurdles would be actually buying the rights to the Big Time Rush music from Nickelodeon, Sony and a couple other invested entities behind the Big Time Rush brand. They were successful in getting those rights back, and now the full creative control was left to the band.
“There was a Big Time Rush Instagram… @bigtimerush …which was ran by these two lovely fans who really did a great job for a long time of posting pictures of us and kind of keeping us going,” Kendall explained. “Nickelodeon or Sony didn’t have the Instagram, the Spotify had been hacked by some kid named Luigi…he was marketing his own music on the Big Time Rush [Spotify]”. – Kendall Schmidt, Interview with Zach Sang Show
The Rushers love the band members no matter what, because their humble, fun and genuine personalities didn’t really change
With the Nickelodeon funded concerts, I remember trampolines, matching outfits and opening the show with the song “Windows Down“. This tour in 2022 had trampolines and opened with “Windows Down”, followed by over an hour of the greatest hits with four new songs. Their newest music videos were essentially free to make, using the videos from existing footage and combined into a compilation of concert moments. Essentally, Big Time Rush is saving tons of money with no negative impact on their brand from the fans. As far as their outfits go… sometimes they dressed like they came straight from the gym, sometimes they were coordinated, and sometimes they all took their shirts off because it was so damn hot outside this summer.
Point is, no one cared. The fans weren’t there for the flash. If anything their low key wardrobe choices worked in their favor, boosting their credibility as the “guys we know and love” and not the super choreographed, matching leather jackets and red accented pants from back in the day with that Nickelodeon money that clearly made them sweat like crazy. They make their own rules – the beauty of being independent artists – and have extended their tour Worldwide.
I’m going to Call it Like I See It; Big Time Rush made some risky strategic decisions making their way back to the public, heavily dependent upon the fans. Even though there were no new episodes of Big Time Rush after 2013, each of the actor’s popularity spiked when appearing on mainstream TV indexing nearly as high as when Big Time Rush was on the air indicating that their fans were uniquely loyal to the actors, not just the show. Big Time Rush has been a big part of Gen Z’s popular culture where watching Nickelodeon was still “cool” and social media was being introduced with age limits. Since the actors decided to end the show in 2013 rather than it being canceled, the nostalgia factor plays a big part in their successful return in 2022. And while the show was airing exclusively on Nickelodeon, the lyrics to the songs had to be free of any explicit connotations. Because of this, they have the potential to capture fans in the adjacent younger Gen Alpha and their Millennial parents in 2022 (chart 3).
*Chart 3/Credit: Big Time Fresh
As of today Big Time Rush is one of the only boy bands to return with huge success in an open market without the other boy bands and returned before it was too late. The TV show was the boot camp that prepared them for this and brought the boys together as a tight knit family who experienced everything together. They continue to embrace learning along the way with the confidence and brotherly support with their self-assembled team – all hungry to do this on their own.
For longevity and multi-generational success, my opinion is that Big Time Rush should lean on the style of their current catalog of music for the young fans (Gen Alpha), and incorporate lyrics with a little more edge and a sound that captures current day trends in any new songs for the Gen Z fans. Fans in Gen Z are adults now, so there are no parents to block explicit lyrics, but if Big Time Rush was to change their music to be too explicit, the young Gen Alpha might have to listen to something else until they are older. The brand new younger fans streaming Big Time Rush on Netflix for the first time are living that very same feeling that Gen-Z is so fond of.
Big Time Rush has a trifecta for revenue potential with the adjacent generations. Gen Z’s beloved TV boy band lyrics are kid tested (Gen Alpha), mother approved (Millennials) and – even if you didn’t watch the show – forever etched in Gen Z pop culture history.
Check out the awesome interview with Big Time Rush on the Zach Sang Show here.
PS: Apologies for the annoying puns but since my daughter and I are huge fans we were trying to find ways to have the name of Big Time Rush songs inserted into the article. Can you find them all?
For the purpose of this article, here are the sources and methodology for the analysis:
Gen Z age = 10 years old in 2010.
Millennials age = 24 years old in 2010.
Gen Alpha (born 2013 or later) are mostly children with Millennial parents
“Social Media” is an average of the combined indices of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Not ideal for comparison, but visually should be relevant enough.
The numbers represent how often the search term was used weighted on 0-100 for months of January 2010 – November 2022. For example, between January 2010 and November 2022, the month with the most google searches for “Big Time Rush” was November 2011