We report on recent progress in the modelling of the near-IR spectra of young stellar populations, i.e. populations in which red supergiants (RSGs) are dominant. First, we discuss the determination of fundamental parameters of RSGs from Phoenix model fits to their near-IR spectra; RSG-specific surface abundances are accounted for and effects of the microturbulence parameter are explored. New population synthesis predictions are then described and, as an example, it is shown that the spectra of young star clusters in M 82 can be reproduced very well from 0.5 to 2.4 μm. We warn of remaining uncertainties in cluster ages.