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 kicks off today! And it’s not going to be easy. We pit music’s biggest don’t-give-a-f—k divas — Madonna and Rihanna —against each other for one glitter-soaked cat fight. Who will come out on top? You decide!
[Artwork: Madelyn Somers]
By Christopher Rosa
“There’s only one queen, and that’s Madonna,” Nicki Minaj asserts on the Material Girl’s 2012 song “I Don’t Give A.” And she’s right. When it comes to females in pop music, there will only be one Madonna. No woman in music has yet to scratch the cultural impact Lady M has had — not Mariah Carey, not Beyoncé and certainly not Rihanna.
To be fair, Madonna has been around longer. Her career kicked off in 1982 with the dance-tastic “Everybody,” six years before Rihanna was even born. She definitely hasn’t been short of hits since then. Madonna is quite simply the best-selling female recording artist of all time, with roughly 300 million units sold worldwide. Billboard ranked Madonna second on its Hot 100 top artists list, only behind The Beatles. Rihanna, unfortunately, missed the top 10.
And if we’re talking touring, Madonna has certainly caused a commotion. Madge’s ’08-’09 Sticky & Sweet Tour is the highest-grossing concert by a female artist. The second lady on the list is no other than — what do you know! — Madonna, with her 2012 MDNA Tour. None of Rihanna’s five headlining tours even crack the top 20. Ouch.
But numbers aren’t what make a pop queen; it’s her artistry. Madonna’s 30-year career has spanned dozens of different looks, making her the undisputed mistress of reinvention. Since the ’80s, we’ve seen Madonna turn into Marilyn Monroe, sex kitten, Earth goddess, cowgirl and disco queen among other iconic looks. Each visual transformation came with an almost-spiritual musical rebirth only Madge can deliver. From the ’80s synth calls of Like a Virgin (1984) and True Blue (1986), to the smooth R&B beats of Bedtime Stories (1994) and the incredibly progressive electronica sound of Ray of Light (1998), Madonna has always been three steps ahead of every pop act. Even 2005’s Confessions on a Dace Floor gave us a fresh dancehall sound that felt both retro and futuristic.
Despite Madonna’s recent successes—her last four albums American Life (2003), Confessions on a Dance Floor, Hard Candy (2008) and MDNA (2012) all hit No.1 on the Billboard 200—there is no question her peak of cultural and musical influence was in the late ’80s. With 1989’s Like a Prayer, Madonna went from bubbly pop act to a serious artist who received her first bout of universal acclaim. The album reached No.1 in more than 15 countries, and Rolling Stone dubbed it “as close to art as pop music gets.” The music video for the album’s title song set off a firestorm of criticism for its religious images, including Madonna dancing in front of several burning crosses. However, no female pop act had yet to challenge religion so head on, and it certainly paved the way for Lady Gaga’s “Judas” and Minaj’s 2012 Grammy performance.
And feminism. Who can forget the girl-power anthem that is “Express Yourself?” The quintessential Madonna song proudly told ladies “don’t settle for second best” and they “deserve the best in life.” The booming dance track ushered in an unprecedented female empowerment movement that is still alive today. While Beyoncé’s “FEMINIST” statement at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards was a fantastic moment, Madonna did it first. And, frankly, better. Simply put, Like a Prayer was the first pop album to evoke what female artists explore today: sexuality, religion, gender equality and independence. It was pioneering, and no woman in music has come close to doing something as groundbreaking. Not even Rihanna’s very bold 2009 album Rated R.
There are so many eras you can argue as Madonna’s best. The mid-’80s period was certainly her most fanatical, early ’90s her most sensual —“S&M?” Bah! Madonna has an album called Erotica (1992) and best-selling coffee table book aptly titled Sex — and late ’90s her most transcendent. Whatever the year, Madonna proves to be the driving force behind women in pop music. She paved the way for Britney Spears to explore her sexuality on In the Zone (2003), for Katy Perry to experiment with visuals and for Lady Gaga to do literally everything she’s ever done. And while Rihanna is an incredible artist, there really is no contest. Rihanna does have solid music sales, a sassy (and yes, evolving) performance style and personality all her own, but she’s yet to do anything as culturally significant as Like a Prayer. Or even Music, to be honest. Sorry to be a rude boy.
“Don’t f—k with the queen,” Madonna warned during her 2012 concert. And now you’ve heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. Cast your vote for Madonna, the incomparable Queen of Pop. Just like a prayer, you know she’ll take you there.
Will Rihanna’s Navy stand for this? Read on to hear from VH1’s resident Riri stan!
By Jordan Runtagh
We should begin by saying that OBVIOUSLY props are owed to dear Madonna. She was a trailblazer who opened doors for many— most notably Rihanna, who sprinted through said door, hip-checked Madge out of the way, and stole the throne for keeps. 2011 will forever be known as the year of a seismic shift in the music world. It was a time when the balance of pop power shifted from the old MTV guard in favorite of digital dominator, BadGalRiri. Allow us to explain.
With the release of “We Found Love” in late summer 2011, Rihanna scored her 20th Top 10 hit in just six years and four months, becoming the youngest and fastest solo artist in history to do so. What’s more, she smashed Madonna’s 21-year record by five months. With 10 weeks at Number 1, Billboard named the song it’s 24th biggest hit of all time. Madonna can only dream of that much time at the top. “We Found Love” went on to sell 8.2 million copies, which beats Madonna’s biggest selling single, 1990’s “Vogue,” by over 2 million. Yeah yeah yeah, all you Voguers out there can argue that the Material Girl has moved 300 million units to Riri’s measly 150 million, making her the 4th highest-selling act in history. But let’s not forget that it took Madonna 32 years to do that. Rihanna did half of that in less than a third of the time. Oh yeah, as of 2013 she has 13 total career Number 1s to Madonna’s 12. Better watch your back, Madge.
From chart records to Grammy performances, Instagram hotness to sold-out tours, 2011 was truly a high water mark for the Barbadian beauty. And what’s more incredible? She did it all without wearing pants. Seriously, it’s insane. The girl never wears pants. Ladies and gentlemen, the search for the Pop Queen is clearly over, so sit back and enjoy a little presentation we call…
Rihanna’s Year Without Pants
Rihanna set the tone for the year with an interview for British GQ Magazine, in which the singer addressed her haters. “People think I’m overly sexy,” she said. “It bothers them for some reason. Girls don’t like to see other girls dressed sexy.”
Rihanna got her year-long pants-off dance-off started right with a super sexy performance at the Grammy Awards in L.A.
As winter turned to spring, Rihanna was tapped to be the “voice” of Nivea skin care and feature in the advertisement for their 100th birthday.
Rihanna took over magazine stands this April, when she appeared on the cover of both Vogue and Rolling Stone.
In June, Rihanna released the video for her song, “Man Down.” The controversial short film drew fire for depicting extremely disturbing scenes of drug taking, violence and homicide. It was also criticized for not containing enough scenes of Rihanna pantless.
In July, Rihanna continued to sell out arenas around the world with her Loud Tour, wearing unforgettable outfits such this Lisa-Frank inspired bikini.
As the summer continued to heat up, a bikini clad Rihanna appeared as the guest of honor at the Kadooment Festival in her native Barbados. The results made her a finalist for the 2011 FABLife Bikini Awards.
As kids of all ages were heading back to school, Rihanna appeared in print ads for Emporio Armani. The spots consist of Rihanna lounging around a vintage car looking very buffed and waxed. (err, we’re talking about the car).
As the leaves started to fall, the video for
Requiem For A Dream: The Musical “We Found Love” also dropped. Responding to critics of her last video, this time she appeared in many scenes without pants. In October Rihanna was also named the Sexiest Woman Alive by Esquire.
Rihanna tried to wear pants for her appearance on the U.K. edition of The X Factor this November. Really, she did!