As a pop music stan, the past two weeks were my Christmas. Santa—or maybe Empress Madonna in this context?—came early this year and delivered two presents of dance-tastic proportions. The first? Selena Gomez’s second solo LP Revival (Oct.9), a brilliant display of minimalist technosonics and grimy R&B grooves—far from the splashy, paint-by-numbers electro kitsch of 2013’s Stars Dance. Revival is just the type of album Selena—plagued by trolly body-shamers and cheap tabloid drivel—needs to release right now. It’s understated, in control and sexy as hell.
And then Santa/Madonna hit us with a double-whammy: Demi Lovato’s fifth album Confident, which dropped this past Friday. Demi’s record tackles an entirely separate terrain: loud, aggressive and, well, confident—anything but understated. Pop maestro Max Martin is behind a few of the record’s songs, and he armed Demi with turn-up beats with razor-sharp edge. It’s delightfully dangerous.
Notice how I said the word separate earlier. Different. Not the same. There is virtually nothing similar about Demi and Selena’s latest efforts, yet the comparisons—from fans and journalists alike—are rampant on the Internet. Just look at these three article headlines:
These media comparisons spark claws-out squabbles between Selena and Demi’s seismic armies, because there must be a winner and loser when you indulge in this rhetoric, right? Here are a few particularly, erm, pointed tweets:
Accurate representation of Revival vs Confident this week. pic.twitter.com/RpFIZAjnuF
— PopCulture Facts (@PopCultureShady) October 16, 2015
CONFIDENT IS SOLD OUT WHILE REVIVAL HASNT sOLD ANYTHING GTG pic.twitter.com/67vI717DGR
— annaliese (@ST0NESC0LD) October 16, 2015
lol on what planet? Confident sounds like a compilation of generic Top 40 hits from 2013/14 while Revival is fresh https://t.co/KKTIkd81th
— ali (@dirtygoId) October 16, 2015
Confident >>>>> Revival
— Nick! (@throughmariah) October 16, 2015
Revival >>>>>> Confident
— Allan Herrera. (@AllnHerrera) October 16, 2015
It is maddening we still exist in a music landscape that can’t resist comparing two female artists when their only commonality is proximity. Whether it’s fans quarreling on the Web or journalists stirring the pot, this type of discourse does something truly sinister: It cheapens—lessens—the work of Ms. Gomez and Ms. Lovato. It sends the message their LPs are only worth mentioning if it feeds pop queen-dethroning fodder. Many outlets that reviewed Demi’s record also mentioned Selena’s Revival. And that’s total bullshit.
Feminism definitely arises in this debate. Pop is chock-full of fabricated lady rivalries—Demi vs. Selena, Britney Spears vs. Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry vs. Lady Gaga, Madonna vs. Janet Jackson—but try to think of any male tête-à-têtes. It’s hard, right? That’s because we don’t see the novelty in pitting two men against one another. Justin Timberlake and Usher could release an album on the same day, and no one would blink an eye. But two women? Well, hot damn! Maybe someone will throw a stiletto! We eat it up. We’re programmed to see nothing wrong with picking apart two female artists’ careers or styles in relationship to each other. And just how feminist is that?
Why can’t there be two—or three or seven or nine—pop queens? Why does Selena’s success have to come at the expense (Internet translation: “Your fave could never!”) of Demi’s? Selena’s Revival debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200. If Demi’s album doesn’t, people will perceive it as a failure just because Selena’s did. Again, I have to ask: If JT hit No.1 and Usher didn’t, would we say anything? Would we care?
Selena and Demi may have started their careers similarly, but they both exist in separate (but equally as valuable) spaces. They’re both extremely talented in their own rights and have more to offer culture than the Pop War of the Worlds twaddle the media—but mostly fans, let’s be real—can’t seem to let go.
I’m not a patron saint. I’m guilty of doing this, too. Comparing two artists—especially who, on the surface, seem similar—is very easy and indulgent. But I propose a new era of pop queendom. Enough of this “Your fave could never!” nonsense. Take pride in the fact that while, yes, my fave can, yours certainly can, too.