Pop stars are musicians who have their music written for them, their instruments played for them and sometimes even have their careers created for them via talent shows or smart producers, and somehow command millions of dollars.
Pop stars are celebrities, but not all celebrities are pop stars, no matter what Paris Hilton will want you to believe. They are interesting in that even though they usually follow a very recognizable template as relates to their music, image and personalities, the truly succesful ones are the ones who prove to be the exception to the rule. Does Madonna turn out bubble gum pop accompanied by a wholesome image? No, she's more liable to spit out quasi-spiritual bullshit while doing her damndest to be as cockshrinkingly unsexy as possible, while being more out of touch with today's youth than an imprisoned pedophile. Madonna is a household name as a pop star because she went through every single motion possible for a pop star: the early bubblegum-with-an-edge years, the edgy-and-sexy years, the introspective-and-spiritual years, you name it, she's done it. Given her and Michael Jackson's pre-Jesus juice days careers, all other pop stars since then try to accomplish even a small fraction of what they did.
Michael Jackson was and is possibly the most famous pop star ever. You may remember him as the guy who died recently and released a movie soon after. He was known as the King of Pop. As far as we know, there was no primary or general election, nor was there ever a pop Magna Carta signed to relinquish some of that power (look it up, kids!). Jackson was a pop star at an early age, had mired relationships with women, had a dubious sexuality, led a loyal following and may or may not have been the buggerer of boy-children. So you know, a true king.
"Dad, what the fuck? I'm not even cold in the ground, you're trying to sell my bones on eBay."
The consensus on what makes a pop star seems to boil down to:
Lack of talent. Pop stars are typically identified as possessing no talent or unique, redeeming qualities by "true music listeners". While this may ring absolutely true of every single Spice Girl (marrying David Beckham is not a talent), some of the most successful ones can at least carry a tune, which is more than one can say for rock singers. A lot of punk rockers are actually no talent tonedeaf assclowns, but fans let them off with the "well at least they write their own songs and are sincere about it, man" defense. Fun fact: most pop songs and punk/rock songs have very similar chord progressions, and will deal with similar subject matter too, like sex, drugs, drinking, breakups. So which is it? Also, since when is sincerity a sign of talent? Giving the devil its due though: no matter what VH1 tells you, what pop stars do is anything but "difficult and gruelling". You're a small minority being paid to sing and dance, basically doing what you love, while the rest of us are paid a pittance to just about finish that project by Wednesday and not off ourselves during lunch.
Not pictured: talent
Unless, of course, you're Cher, who started as a tuneless harpy in the late 1960s on the Sonny and Cher Show. She went on to be the tuneless harpy who jumpstarted the whole mess of auto-tuned pop songs in 1999 with "Believe", a legacy that has afforded the likes of Akon a career in creepy odes to date rape.
Akon, in rare repose in before scarring your girlfriend for life
Being boring, milquetoast people who appeal to children and your parents. Eccentric private lives or not, they have anything but boring public personas, at least from the point of view of that one bitch at work who just won't shut up about Rihanna and Chris Brown. It's just that their eccentric behavior or mishaps are usually the careful work of a cabal of PR consultants, agents, producers and several shaman. Publicity's publicity, and it's well worth it to remain in the public eye as long as possible, like a hobo disrobing in the park.
Sometimes, they desperately just want to "rock out"
"Are they talking about me? My breasts get really sensitive when people talk about me."
Yes Daughtry, we're talking about you. Don't kid yourself, no matter how hard you try to prove that you RAWK...you were a fourth runner up on American Idol, and you kickstarted a rock career from the fame gained from a show that makes coiffed metrosexuals sing disco classics while Barry Manilow and a doughy British dude lecture them on their lack of presence. You're about as rock n' roll as an angry bat is a sex toy. Maybe in the right circumstances to the right people? I mean, soccer moms looking to "just let loose" before meeting the gals for rum n' cokes at the college bar will probably pop in your CD.
The most popular current (as of this writing) pop stars aping a "rock" sound are the Jonas Bros and Miley Cyrus. They espouse a rock sound, bleached completely of anything substantial of the genre, making it a safe purchase for your mom when she's rushing through Wal-Mart trying to think of what else she can get to win back your love. It's a safe, calculated attempt at bringing "edge" to purity ring wielding teens who're still on the fence about listening to hip hop and find Green Day "a little too emo" for their tastes.
The Jonas Bros. fucking dare you to play "Waiting Room" on this autographed guitar without having your head explode
No one is ever admittedly a big fan of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long", not even AC/DC fans...but everyone knows the song died a screaming, burning death the minute Celine Dion air-guitarred and covered it for her Vegas special. Consider yourself forewarned: watching these two shrill crones crank out a "girls' night out" cover of the song is about as asshole-clenchingly awful as having your mom sing "Milkshake" while dropping you off for a date at the mall.
The fact that my browser didn't explode from me typing in "Celine" and "All night long" is some miracle
Sometimes rocking out lets pop stars go against type. Some might say it's an attempt to add some "edge" to their sugarcoated exteriors, the same way a child wants to act mature by learning as many swear words as possible to impress Stacy in homeroom.
The result has the stench of "designed by commitee" all over it, giving us gems like this:
No one's contesting that you love rock n' roll, but we sure as hell want to
If you were brave enough to actually click through the Britney Spears video - and I heartily recommend you do - you would have been entreated to a hodge-podge of "rock n roll" imagery assaulting your eyeballs with the ferocity of a bear fucking a tiny camper. I don't know what high school dropout wardrobe manager they had on set, but it almost looks like Britney's sporting fucking flare on her badass leather jacket. There are also moments when the amps "bleed" (I would be inclined to think that this is meant to be a clever music joke alluding to the audio phenomenon but this is what I get for cultivating hope), Britney air guitars, and everything ends in confetti. Because whenever Motorhead ends a show, it's not by downing a bottle of JD or blowing everyone's ear drums all the way to the parking lot, it's by pretending to have a parade.
Also, check out the poor slobs they got to "rock out" in the video with her. Three assholes who practiced their instruments day and night, worked the clubs, recorded demos, who finally got their big break miming instruments to a failed, soulless cover of a rock classic. Forget zombie movies, this is what it looks like to be walking around while being completely dead inside.
Other pop stars may go the hip hop route and try to appeal to whatever street cred they've amassed among their swath of clothing lines, fragrances and PG-13 romantic comedies. The results are, however, slightly less embarassing than the contrived bullshit of "rocking out".
They are ridiculously good looking: Pictured below, is Shakira. Have a good long, look.
Image is everything with pop stars,no matter what the press will have you believe
. Even the stars themselves must know, it's not so much about the albums as it is about the singles, and to keep the singles going, for some reason, the listener must be comfortable with the fact that they are listening to music ostensibly created by an impeccably pretty person. It's on the pop star to keep his or her good looks going for as long as possible - and if you're one of the lucky few who can get by on reinvention and charisma alone, you're in the home stretch. If not, you're in the home stretch...marks
BOOSH. See what I did there?
There are definitely cautionary tales out there for pop stars with waning good looks or advancing age. Invest your money wisely, plan comeback tours prudently, and avoid HD photography when possible.
They're forgotten easily: Anyone reading this remember Enrique Iglesias? Hillary Duff? Anastasia? Westlife, Boyzone, Scary Spice? No? They were still making music earlier this decade. Where the hell are they now? Quite possibly finding some enduring success in Asian markets (where the audiences are usually less fickle and more accepting of pop acts who were washed up before they even got started in their home countries). What about S Club 7? No? Well that's because pop stars, unless they have really good management (Satan) at their side, with a crack team of image consultants and/or dieticians by their side, stand the risk of being forgotten as fast as they rose to fame.
They're occasionally involved in scandal: Pop star Adam Lambert has been causing a lot of furor over, you know, the gay thing, and plenty of people being, you know, homophobic. Vanessa Hudgens had some pretty dicey photos intended for her boyfriend pop up (sorry to disappoint, but the link only points to a blog article about them - but hey, diligence can prove rewarding). Whether you believe the controversies to be carefully plotted publicity stunts or not (Rihanna's black eye would probably beg to differ), it's no secret that pop stars aren't as much strangers to them as rock or rap stars. Country stars though? Who gives a shit.
For every pop star (more like PAP star, amirite?) who makes painfully generic music, there are a few who at least provide something of substance, creativity or sheer talent to their genre. Rihanna is not only knockout hot, but the girl can actually sing, as well as provide really enjoyable pop music - it is what it is, and it's actually done with some measure of talent and savvy. Don't deny you enjoyed the shit out of "Umbrella" when you first heard it, horrible Jay-Z intro notwithstanding.
Justin Timberlake is a testament to the fact that reinvention as well as actual talent, musical knowledge and just the right amount of self-awareness to be able to survive long past his embarassing boyband origins. UK's Robbie Williams, although never enjoying great success in the US, is sort of the prototypical Justin Timberlake; long before Timberlake made a succesful bid to bring sexy back, Robbie had also shed the regretful, mottled skin of boybandhood and become a pop star of his own right, showcasing his voice, sense of humor and some actual memorable songs. Pink started out as a pre-packaged RnB diva, but fought against that image to instead go the pop rock direction she's always wanted; it's not an instance of a pop star trying to rock out for the sake of it, but doing it consistently as the sound she has in her head (also, she actually looks like a real person). Plus her video for "Please Don't Leave Me" is pretty intentionally hilarious and spoofs some movie classics that would probably go over the head of the current pop audience.
And then you have Lady Gaga, who's probably going to end up being weirder than Madonna ever was; it's fairly clear that she'll be molding the look and feel of pop stars for the next 10 or 20 years, depending on whether she's a flash in the pan or not. Looks like a very Stanley Kubrick-esque future for pop stars then; at least it'll be a lot more interesting than Eyes Wide Shut.
The future. Shit.