Honorary nicknames in popular music are nothing new. Elvis Presley is known as the King of Rock and Roll, despite the Black originators who came before him. Bruce Springsteen is known as The Boss. Aretha Franklin is considered the Queen of Soul.
These titles have come about in many ways. Sometimes the fans start the nickname and it catches on, before spreading to the media. Other times the media themselves choose a title for an artist. And there are those occasions when the artist's P.R. team set the whole thing up.
But in order for them to work on any level, one thing must be true. The artists in question must have been the first of their genre, field, or era to set the standard for those who would come after them. While Elvis' status as King of Rock music may be debatable, he was certainly the King of Rock stardom, for better or worse.
For artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna, their status as pop music royalty is no exaggeration. They are known as the King and Queen of Pop, respectively. Jackson pioneered the music video genre, even though he despised the phrase and always called them "short films" instead. He set the mold for the modern pop star. He merged various musical genres to expand the horizons of what kind of music could be considered popular. He broke racial barriers and paved the way for other Black artists to receive airplay on MTV.
MTV is actually a significant factor here. The "Pop" that these honorary titles reference, specifically refers to the popular music and culture of the MTV generation. MTV was a watershed moment that changed popular music, the industry, and culture forever. Despite MTV's irrelevance nowadays, it led us to where we are now. It was the start of image being a significant aspect to an artist's identity.
Madonna was the first of the MTV generation's female artists to take charge of her career and image. She took ownership of her sexuality and used it as a form of self-expression, not as a way to titillate men. She worked with extremely talented directors like David Fincher to take her videos to a higher artistic level. She made statements about race, religion, sexuality, and gender when it wasn't considered popular to do so. With her "Blond Ambition Tour," she set the standard for the modern pop concert by introducing a level of theatricality not previously seen on stage.
Both of these artists accomplished a kind of global impact not seen before or since. They were among the biggest stars in countries not easy for other pop stars to achieve success in. They generated a kind of excitement wherever they went and whenever they released something new, it was an event. They were, in no uncertain terms, the two biggest stars of their time.
Yet, despite the massive, undebatable levels of influence they both have on the music world, people today still try to dethrone them. The dethroning attempts all happen for various reasons. Some are due to the biased nature of other fandoms, some are racially motivated, and some are a combination of the two.
Michael Jackson has dealt with people trying to dethrone him as King of Pop for a very long time. During his lifetime, there was a frequently repeated idea in the press which claimed his King status was dependent on positive press. Whenever he found himself in a scandal, the commonly heard sentiment was that Jackson had lost his crown.
Since his death, the press have found other ways of trying to dethrone him. They pick out younger male artists like Justin Bieber or Bruno Mars and try to hail them as the "new" King of Pop. These attempts always prove futile and come with an understandable backlash from Jackson's fans.
The latest person the media attempted to do this with was Harry Styles. Styles was Rolling Stone's cover star this month. He appeared on the cover of every country's issue, making him the first global cover star in the magazine's history. While that is an impressive feat, the U.K. cover crowned him "the new King of Pop." Obviously, this didn't sit well with Jackson fans and supporters.
Many people, including Jackson's nephew Taj , rightly spoke out against this crowning. And while Rolling Stone isn't in a position to do the crowning, it still comes across like a deliberate attempt to undermine and replace Jackson.
This is something Madonna has had to deal with as well. At the height of Lady Gaga's fame in 2011, Rolling Stone ranked several younger female artists to see which was the "new" Queen of Pop. Gaga, who was the biggest pop star in the world at the time, won the title. This was largely due to her enormous success back then in everything from YouTube views to downloads to radio airplay.
Like Rolling Stone, the fans of other artists aren't in a position to crown a "new" King or Queen of Pop either. As previously stated, it only works if the artist in question got there first. Lady Gaga was about twenty five years too late to be the ruler of the kind of pop stardom that was formed during the MTV generation.
So too is the case with Janet Jackson, except she's about five years too late. When she began making records, they were bubblegum pop songs her father forced her to record. She didn't write or produce any of the material. She didn't want to even be a singer. She wanted to be an actress. She had no artistic identity of her own and her first two albums made that very clear.
At the same time, Madonna was releasing her first two albums. She wrote many of the songs, including her very first single "Everybody." She developed her image and performance style. She figured out the kind of artist she wanted to be. She struggled for many years on her own in New York City to get her big break. She had an ambition that took her from punk bars to dance clubs; trying to be noticed.
This can't be compared to Janet begrudgingly recording songs that she didn't even want to sing. Not to mention the fact that everything Janet is now known for (intricate choreography, state-of-the-art music videos, taking control as a woman, owning her sexuality, making socially conscious statements) was done previously by either Michael or Madonna.
However, Janet's fandom is another who seeks to dethrone Madonna from her Queen of Pop title. When Beyoncé released The Queens Remix of her song "Break My Soul," Janet fans used it as an opportunity to once again unfairly drag Madonna through the mud.
The remix, a collaboration with Madonna, samples Madonna's 1990 hit "Vogue." In the song, Beyoncé calls Madonna "Queen Mother" and does her own version of the "Vogue" rap, replacing the movie stars of old Hollywood with Black women in music, including Janet.
But this wasn't enough for Janet's very vocal fans. One fan took to Twitter to point out that Shep Pettibone's remix of Janet's "Miss You Much" has a similar bassline to "Vouge," which came out months later.
However, what the tweet failed to mention is that Shep Pettibone was the same guy who co-wrote and co-produced "Vogue" with Madonna. The tweet also implied that the bassline was first used on Janet's remix when it was actually first used on Madonna's "Express Yourself" remix. Pettibone did that remix as well, which came out months before "Miss You Much."
This was a failed and pathetic attempt by Janet fans to make it seem like either Madonna stole something from Janet, or that Janet got somewhere before Madonna did. In reality, the truth was nowhere near any of those things.
Lizzo was another artist Beyoncé mentioned in the remix and she reacted to it on social media. However, Lizzo interestingly made no mention of Madonna during her reaction. This isn't surprising, since Lizzo made headlines after she tweeted that she considered Janet to be the Queen of Pop, rightfully angering Madonna fans.
This set off a heated discourse on Twitter, with many Black fans of Janet claiming that Black people don't consider Madonna their Queen. After the release of the remix, Beyoncé sent Madonna flowers and a note . The note once again saw Beyoncé referring to Madonna as the Queen and she even thanked Madonna for naming the remix.
It looks like the narrative being spun by bitter and jealous Janet fans isn't so accurate after all.
Make no mistake, Janet is an icon and a legend in her own right. When she eventually did make the decision to do music on her own terms, she achieved huge success. Janet's albums were like open journals; taking the listener through the journey of her life with each project. She influenced a lot of the artists who came after her, from Britney Spears to Ciara. The fact that she accomplished what she has as a Black woman is to be commended.
But that doesn't make her the Queen of Pop.
Lizzo's tweet is a symptom of the culture we're currently living in. It's a culture where everyone has a voice and everyone has a platform to make that voice heard. This has given birth to a wide range of people who believe their word is gospel.
This is why people have decided that words like "king" and "queen" can be used to describe their favorite artist. These words join a whole list of others who have lost their meaning. This loss of meaning results from these words being overused. It's the same reason why everything is "iconic" and "legendary" these days.
Lizzo may prefer Janet over every other female pop star of that era, and that's okay. But she doesn't get to redefine what the Queen of Pop title means.
Lots of people were defending her saying, "Janet is Lizzo's Queen of Pop." Lizzo doesn't get to claim her very own Queen of Pop. That's not how it works. These honorary titles are given to artists based on their presence and influence in music history.
King and Queen of Pop are titles with actual meanings. Your favorite artist doesn't get to be called "king" or "queen." They're not interchangeable. "Iconic" and "legendary" are words which should only be given when enough time has passed since said moment occurred. Something that happened a minute ago on Instagram doesn't get to be called "iconic." An album that came out last month doesn't get to be called "legendary."
Michael Jackson and Madonna will always have their place in music history. Their influence will be felt for generations to come, whether people know it or not. Their royal status in popular music will never be removed, despite the loads of attempts.
The King and Queen of Pop are not replaceable. They're here to stay, whether you like it or not.
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