Who Is The Future of Pop Royalty?

Pop Music Royalty image

I recently stumbled across an interesting article titled “The Future Of The Music Biz? There’ll Be None!” in which the author’s opening statement makes the bold claim that the very concept of “superstars” is a thing of the past, and something we won’t see again in the future.  For the most part, I’d have to agree with him.

In the early 1980s, Rolling Stone Magazine made a prediction about two rising female pop stars, one of which they claimed would reach super-stardom, and the other would quietly fade away and be forgotten. The one they claimed would make big it was Cyndi Lauper, and the other – Madonna.  Obviously Rolling Stone was wrong (no surprise there), and quite the reverse happened in the end. No offense to Miss Lauper, I love her stuff, but her super-stardom pales in comparison to that of Madonna, which really has less to do with the caliber of her material  much as her image, her output, and her mass appeal.  Marketing baby, it’s all about the marketing.

So Benny Goodman was the King of Swing, and Jazz had an Ambassador in Louis Armstrong, a Count Basie, a Duke Ellington, and a King Oliver. We have a Queen and a Godfather of Soul, a King and a Godfather of Rock & Roll and a King of Pop that makes me ponder who gets to give out these titles in the first place.   Hip Hop has Queen Latifah a Fresh Prince and some would even say a King in Jay-Z (although this is unconfirmed).  Sir Paul McCartney was knighted by the Queen of England herself, and while I haven’t found Madonna on anyone’s royal register, she really should be.  Lastly, let us not forget the artist formerly known as [Prince].

I know there are more, just think of them all. I mean heck, Elton John has more top 40 billboard hits than Michael Jackson which has to count for something, as well as countless other great artists and performers who are superstars without a title to speak of.

But could it possibly be true that the days of the superstar are over?

American Idol has come up short time and time again, creating what I would term (so far) as “medium” stars, yet there is another corporate machine that seems to have a formula that works, and that’s the folks over at Disney.  No, not Miley Cyrus, or at least not yet.  Hopefully she’ll learn from the sins of Spears and we won’t have a repeat performance of that mess, although Britney is widely regarded as the music industry’s last great commercial success, from a time where people still bought their music.  Was Britney our only hope?  Although I dare not make a bold and false prediction like Rolling Stone did almost three decades ago, I will go so far as to say that – in my humble opinion – there is a specific someone who, if they really wanted to, could be that superstar.

The recipe is quite simple really.  Take a heaping amount of X-factor; add incredible vocal talent, a pinch of musicianship and a grasp of what people want to hear.  Britney Spears was not the only Mouseketeer to make it big in the recent past, there is also Christina Aguilera, NSync’s JC Chasez, and most significant of all… Justin Timberlake.

Yep, that’s right, I believe Justin Timberlake has all of the ingredients of a superstar, along with real staying power.  Talent, ability, charisma, brains, good looks and in his case, a sprinkle of magic Disney pixie dust.  I had the chance to meet him briefly at a record release party for Busta Rhymes in Philadelphia about ten years ago just before he went solo, and his star quality was apparent to me almost instantly.

Will it actually happen?  Well, that’s really up to Mr. Timberlake.  So far he hasn’t stumbled artistically and he hasn’t tarnished his reputation in any way I’m aware of  (okay, so there was Janet Jackson’s boobs, but no biggie), and as long as he stays consistent putting out great solo albums and hits like Rock Your Body and SexyBack, I’m certain that he will leave his mark, perhaps even becoming one of the last of the great superstars.  He has mass appeal, and like the greatest of the great ones (Elvis and The Beatles), he crosses boundaries showing an almost limitless virtuosity.  I’m no expert, just a DJ who knows that a Justin Timberlake track will get people of all ages, races and backgrounds out on the dance floor, and that’s indication enough for me.

-Craig Sumsky

Pop Music Crown Image by Sean Gallo – Sean Gallo Designs


5 Responses

  1. Steve Croce

    As President of the Phoenixville Chapter of the Justin Bieber Fan Club, I can’t really comment on this article, but I WILL say that your punctuation and spelling is flawless.

  2. Great blog Craig. I also think it is interesting that there has not been a monster hit song in quite a few years. One that permeates almost every radio station, TV show, pop culture etc. One that everyone knows and has heard 1000 times. Im talking songs like “Everybody Dance Now” by C&C Music Factory, “The Macarena” or “Who let The Dogs Out”

    Maybe they are related…

  3. Well Steve, I certainly would have to disagree with you. There are several spelling mistakes and perhaps a few punctuation mistakes as well although I have yet to find them. For one, spell check tells me “Latifah” is not a word.

  4. Tony Azzaro


    Love the post. I would argue that JT has reached that superstar level that you allude to in this article. Not only is he a fantastic musician with a great voice and understanding of music, but he can also dance and knows how to put on a performance…and that is just on the stage. JT is involved in so many aspects of the business behind what he does when the spotlight is upon him.

    Tony A

  5. I think superstars still exist, but they are more “manufactured” over anything. Lord knows since the late-90s explosion of popstars (Britney, Christina, NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, etc) we don’t see a lot of the big names now being people who built and crafted it all themselves. Cyndi Lauper and Madonna were pop/mainstream in their time, but their style and marketing was all their own thinking. They were businesswomen as much as they were artists. They didn’t live in a realm of marketing departments crafting what they say, sing, wear, etc. They wrote their own music as well.

    I think it’ll be a long time before we see a superstar pop up who does things their way and makes it, but superstars aren’t going to vanish. Mainstream sheep need idols to worship. Shows like American Idol show how blatantly manufactured their “superstars” are that no one cares anymore. Same deal with all these new pop kings and queens whom we seem to know more about their clothing, makeup, hair, and gossip than we do their work.

    That’s how the biz works. Someone has to be on top and in the spotlight. I don’t know if one will keep a big “kingdom” like Madonna and Michael Jackson did, but as long as we have entertainment, we’ll have stars.

    The Internet just made it easier for people to get a start. Look at Justin Bieber.

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