25) Gwen Stefani: I was having a discussion with a friend of mine of similar age and he was saying how much he didn’t care for Ms. Stefani’s music and I pretty much agreed with him. Fair enough. But then I started to wonder, wouldn’t Ms. Stefani be doing something completely wrong for her career if her music started appealing directly to guys like me? Isn’t the whole point to appeal to young women? And if she connects with that audience, isn’t she then doing something right? In other words, I don’t think teaming up with Wilco would be a smart career move.
24) KT Tunstall: Here’s one of those young up-and-comers who isn’t actually as young as she seems. She’s been around for awhile and she gets good reviews, which probably means she’s doomed. In the world of pop music, the last thing you really need is a good review. You need a big stageshow and a manager who can bully everyone else into putting you on the cover of whatever magazine you choose.
23) Nelly Furtado: I remember when Nelly was more girl-next-door and she didn’t sell many records and then she changed her image and now she’s downloaded everywhere. What’s that saying about a fool and his obsession with a girl’s bellybutton?
22) Annie Lennox: People always make a big deal about pop singers who can sing. It’s like they’re surprised or something. Like, what’s that about? Once a member of the Eurythmics, who also featured a guy who would go on to hang out with Tom Petty, Lennox did it without a lot of hair in an era that was mostly big hair. That alone makes her a renegade.
21) Sheena Easton: When she first appeared on the pop radar screen, I used to get her mixed up with Juice Newton, who doesn’t look, act or sound anything like her. Then there was that “Sugar Walls” song and I started getting her mixed up with Sheila E. I can’t win.
20) Pussycat Dolls: I saw them on television the other night and thought they had their dance moves down pretty good. And only one of the members had anything resembling clothes on. The rest of them were close to naked. They covered up the private parts, but not by much. I think this makes them “really good” by industry standards. Anyone remember the song?
19) Olivia Newton-John: She once had an album called Totally Hot and whenever I was in the record store I would always stare at it and think, “It’s probably better than McCartney II.” I never bought either of them.
18) Helen Reddy: These days the Helen Reddy Fan Club isn’t as vibrant as it once was–though I think singing “I Am Woman” at top volume in any club anywhere is still a political act of defiance. What that actually means, I don’t know. But I do put her in the “Better Than Anne Murray” category and I’m not sure why. “Snowbird” was a nice song, after all.
17) Lily Allen: Her voice still gives me the hee-bees, but I like the fact that she’s not afraid to “confront” difficult topics and situations. She doesn’t mince words, unless you buy the “clean” version of her albums. Does anyone do that? What would be the point?
16) Rihanna: I don’t know. She’s been in the news because some guy hit her? And she sings about Umbrellas. And I keep thinking she was almost named after a Fleetwood Mac song!
15) Wilson Phillips: Now this was when the music mattered, man! Well, not quite, But I remember when they came out and people seemed pretty excited by the idea that these daughters of other famous musicians had come together to form a group. People seemed to think we’d gotten lucky!
14) LeAnn Rimes: She was so young and small when she started out that she was barely allowed to ride on the all the rides in the theme parks where she was singing. It was no surprise to me to see that she grew up. That’s what young girls (and boys, for that matter) do. And she got better. But that’s not always a guarantee.
13) Missy Elliott: I think most of us admire her for the fact that she isn’t your typical pop singer and she doesn’t have a traditional look and she flirts with many different genres and she looks swell in a puffy coat and has encouraged others to do the same. It’s time that art departments put down their airbrushes and Photoshop programs and let people be the real people they are. Let’s hear it for a real person!
12) The Carpenters: Karen Carpenter had a sweet voice and she was on AM radio so much in the 1970s that you’d think her family owned the entire dial. Very few musicians define an era quite like Karen, and while I no longer hear her music in the dentist’s office like I once did, that doesn’t mean she’s lost the endorsement of the 4 out of 5 dentists who recommend the Carpenters to their patients who continue to listen to music.
11) Cyndi Lauper: There was a time when Cyndi first became popular that critics and fans alike thought she’d outlast Madonna. This was the gal with the talent! Except something happened. I’ll have to watch the Behind The Music to find out, but her She’s So Unusual album sure did speak to a lot of people. Like Scientology.
10) Shania Twain: In terms of crossover acts, Shania Twain is one of those ultimate crossovers. Even people who list their favorite music as “Anything–except Country” like Shania. Or say they do. I can hum at least half a dozen of her songs and I’m not even paying attention. Imagine what it could be like if I actually applied myself!
9) TLC: I see that T-Boz is now on Celebrity Apprentice. This makes me nervous. I was hoping she still had a music career. I suppose Trace Atkins still does, so it isn’t like your career has to be completely in the crapper to share airtime with Andrew Dice Clay, Tom Green, and the Rivers twins.
8) Spice Girls: I actually paid money to see their movie Spiceworld. That was what it was called, right? I remember Elvis Costello was in it and unlike when I went to see Chevy Chase’s Las Vegas Vacation, no kids threw candy at my girlfriend’s head, so I considered the Spice Girls’ movie an unqualified success. And I liked that “2 Becomes 1” song, though it didn’t help on the math portion of my GREs…no wonder they threw me out of grad school twice.
7) Pink: I interviewed this tough cookie once. She was a fighter. I knew she wasn’t going to go down easy and anyone who thought that just because they hadn’t heard from her in awhile that she was done, they needed to think again. She was one of those determined people, who one day will sell us, if not her music, an amazing new cleaning agent! But for now, she’s back on the charts.
6) Shakira: Here’s one of those performers with international appeal. Just when you think you can’t get any more popular, she finds a new market and becomes even more populous! I’ll bet she’s the best-selling artist in Antarctica at this point.
5) Britney Spears: Sometimes up, sometimes down, but never out. I feel like I’ve lived my whole life with Britney lurking somewhere around the corner. It’s as if the Disney network planted her in my head when I wasn’t paying attention. Others feel the same. From what I’m told.
4) Avril Lavigne: I never bought the idea that she was punk-rock, but I did always think she had better instincts with makeup and clothes than most pop stars. And the hooks to her songs have always stayed with me longer than most. And someone suggested to me that sometimes it’s all about the music. Now that just seems silly.
3) Janet Jackson: Sometimes it’s a matter of what just one wardrobe malfunction can do. And carrying on the family name. And family tradition. I mean, she could’ve ended up like LaToya. But she didn’t. And I remember when she was even more popular than she is today. Some people are everlasting.
2) Kylie Minogue: Huge in Australia. Which might not mean much to you. But it means an awful lot to our friends Down Under, and I think we shortchange those people more than we should. Just because their toilet bowl water goes down in the opposite direction is no reason to get touchy about these things. And Kylie has even sung with Nick Cave, who readers of this blog know, practically owns me.
1) Madonna: OK, so she’s like 50 now. And she got involved with A-Rod. And she hasn’t been at the top of her game for some time. But if anyone defines the pop star in the past 50 years for the longest consecutive streak in history, it’s Madge. Sure, her movies were less than impressive. Her book didn’t exactly do the kind of numbers to which she’s accustomed. But she had a string of hit singles and videos that changed the way we saw ourselves. She was (and is) a mirror to our souls. Without her, we are an empty reflection on civilization and most likely would’ve burned out before the new millennium. This, sadly, is not hype, but the very truth upon which all of us exist.