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‘The Secret’ EP: Austin Mahone Provides A Nostaglic Pop Surprise

Oh, those teen pop boyz! One minute they’re on top of the world, the next they’re demonstrating remarkably poor judgment by cracking horrible racist jokes on camera.

But there’s one teen idol of the moment who’s been making noise as of late for vastly less problematic reasons — and that’s Austin Mahone.

Like Lorde, Austin was born in 1996, which — just for reference — is also the year that the Spice Girls released their debut album. In case you didn’t feel old before, you should now. You are very old, and it’s only downhill from here. In fact, you might not know anything about Austin Mahone! And that’s because you are just that old. Sorry.

But the nice thing about Austin is not his age (pervs), but his music.

At first, one might be a bit put off by the EP’s lead single, “Mmm Yeah.” After all, it’s featured in an Aquafina FlavorSplash commercial (Satan’s potion), and it features Pitbull, a frequent pop bastardizer. But don’t worry: It’s not bad. It’s actually quite catchy! It’s also the most “trendy”-sounding cut of the collection. If you a dig deeper into the EP, you’ll soon see what Austin’s really all about: Swedish Y2K-era pop glory.

Think Backstreet Boys, ‘N SYNC and Britney, ’cause The Secret is all sorts of Max Martin-esque throwback Swedish pop. Except, it’s not produced by Max Martin at all — it’s a RedOne production. And while the hit-maker is arguably most synonymous with acts like Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez, RedOne too had a hand in shaping the sound of pop years ago, back when he was just starting out and crafting tunes for acts like A*Teens.

Equipped with soaring pop melodies co-crafted by Mahone and RedOne’s team of Swedish songwriters like Bilal “The Chef” Hajji and Jimmy Joker, songs like “Till I Found You,” “Next To You” and “Secret” are instant and undeniable earworms — nostalgic ones at that, bringing the best of late ’90’s/early ’00’s teen pop to mind, from ‘N Sync’s “Pop” to Brit Brit’s “Oops! I Did It Again” to Backstreet’s “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).”

“The One I’ve Waited For,” especially, might as well be a 2014 remake of Backstreet’s “I Want It That Way.” The music carries the same sort of endearingly cheese ball sincerity, too: All these songs are dedications to you, girl. Girl. It’s all for you!

As a tight 8-track collection, the EP’s also filler-free, gleefully bouncing from one power pop anthem to the next.

“All I Ever Need,” the EP’s only slow moment (apart from the acoustic “Shadow”), is also the only time one could really draw a comparison between Austin and the bad boy contemporary currently taking up all the headlines. “You’re all I ever need,” he sweetly coos above an airy twinkle and finger snaps on the light, R&B-tinged ballad. Even this track brings back the memories from years ago, recalling Usher‘s “U Got It Bad.”

“Hey girl, just look at you…so beautiful and drop dead hot,” Austin attempts to charm on “Next To You.” Sure, it’s a bit embarrassing, but when the music sounds just like the soundtrack our own awkward middle school dances, it makes perfect sense.

‘The Secret’ was released on May 27. (iTunes)