In a music industry full of dynamite female acts, who reigns supreme as the ultimate pop goddess? It’s a daunting question, but we are determined to find the answer. Let’s get ready to rumble, because the next round of VH1?s Pop Queen Faceoff continues! Today we’re pitting two of music’s biggest divas — Janet Jackson andMariah Carey— against each other for one glitter-soaked cat fight. Who will come out on top? You decide!
[Artwork: Madelyn Somers]
Janet Jackson (1990)
Janet Jackson is clearly the pop queen of the `90s, with the decade kicking off while her fourth studio album ruled the airwaves. Rhythm Nation was actually released in 1989, but the groundbreaking LP was still churning out Top 10 hits through 1991. According to Billboard, the LP was the best-selling album of 1990.
Don’t act like you didn’t begin your childhood aimlessly dancing to “Alright,” “Escapade,” and “Love Will Never Do (Without You).” Plus, who could forget the video from the album’s title track?
The Rhythm Nation formula obviously worked for Jackson, but she completely reinvented herself for her next LP, simply titled janet. Before releasing her fifth studio album in 1993, she’d switched record labels. Jackson hopped from A&M Records to Virgin Records with an estimated $40 million deal. Her contract ushered in a new era of multimillion-dollar deals, with Madonna, Prince, and even brother Michael following behind her.
For the janet. LP, Jackson ditched her sexually conservative style, opting for a more empowering vibe. Songs like “If” and “Any Time, Any Place” saw Jackson describe voracious sexual appetites while maintaining her subdued vocal style. She solidified her sex symbol status with one of Rolling Stone magazine’s most iconic covers.Janet. debuted at the top of Billboard’s Top 200 and stayed there for six weeks. It remains only a handful of albums to achieve that feat. The lead single, “That’s The Way Love Goes,” was No. 1 on Billboard’s singles chart for eight weeks, longer than any song from the Jackson clan. Remember, we’re talking about an insanely talented family here, and Miss Jackson totally bested her brothers — yes, even Michael!
But it’s all good. Janet and Michael didn’t have any bad blood between them, at least judging from their 1995 hit, “Scream.”
Though janet. signaled great heights for Jackson, she suffered an emotional breakdown ahead of recording her next album. She began exploring her pain and her self-discovery inspired new music. Her final `90s release, 1997’s The Velvet Rope, is still hailed as Jackson’s most personal and ambitious album.
Jackson wasn’t afraid to get freaky, with songs like “Rope Burn” describing her sexual penchants for bondage and candle wax. She also retained her pop roots with singles like “Together Again,” which wound up being Jackson’s highest-selling song globally.
Since Janet Jackson managed various personas throughout the `90s and still came out on top, there’s no way anyone else owned the decade. Post-Control and pre-Nipplegate was clearly Jackson’s era as pop queen.
Do we have a comeback from Team Mimi? Of course we do!
Mariah Carey (1996)
When considering the idea of a pop queen, it’s laughable for me to not hear a resounding, Mariah Carey (pseudonyms “Mimi” and “Me. I am Mariah.” also accepted). A pop queen reigns the charts, reinvents herself as an artist and defies normalcy by being flat-out fabulous. Smell like anyone, you know, dahling?
Proof of Mariah’s status as the OG pop goddess is in the pudding, or rather the number one records but don’t think that’s enough? Mariah’s voice is, in a word, singular. The elusive chanteuse’s lower register is rich and textured that is only more colorful in comparison to her signature whistle tones. Mariah’s earliest hits thrive on that incredible break in her belt to those crystal-clear high notes. The Mariah of today’s voice is more raw and sits perfectly in her chest, begging for a jazz-vocal standards album. Ask any person with a brain to name the best singer in modern popular music and they’ll say Mariah Carey.
Unlike her contemporaries, foremost Whitney Houston, Mariah’s career has continued to evolve and grow while continuing to get airplay and sell. From her marriage to Tommy Mottola and her little black dresses to hip hop-influenced pop and her sleek blonde hair, Mariah, the artist has never remained the same. As Mimi began to steer her own career she became a trendsetter enlisting friends like Diddy, Jay Z and Missy Elliot to produce and guest on tracks – a practice that’s now run-of-the-mill with many pop singers and rappers looking for crossover success. She also started to show off her body. (ody-ody.)
A pop queen without struggle though is no queen, and Mariah’s vulnerable streak has always been evident. While her lyrics never exuded depth, her performances and personal struggles have allowed the world to see a glimpse of the woman behind the veneer. The mixed-race Long Island girl trapped in an unhappy marriage, attempting to take hold of her career and the world saw Mariah come into her own. The failed attempt at Hollywood stardom with Glitter and a very public mental break and the world longed for a comeback. And they got it. The Emancipation of Mimi brought the singer back to the top of the charts, saw her evolution into the American Idol Mariah Carey – a mother, part of a celebrity couple and a shady queen.
With unprecedented talent, number one records and five Grammy Awards on her mantle, Mariah Carey radiates superstar but her public persona as a diva only sustains her pop queendom. Like Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand and Patti Labelle, Mimi now operates on a totally different plain from the plebs of society. When you’ve won critical and commercial success, there’s no need to try and be accessible. Mariah Carey is not the girl next door and her tendency for evening gloves, oft-carrying a glass of champagne and/or small dog with her and speaking in Mean Girls quotes, only exemplify that she is other-worldly and she DGAF, dahling.
As she moves forward with her divorce from Nick Cannon and continues vocalizing while doing laundry, the world awaits a most fabulous, and record breaking reinvention from none other than Mariah Carey – Pop Queen.