Monday, December 6, 2010

Is It Time To Crown A New King of Pop?

Michael Jackson’s song “This Is It” was nominated for a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, alongside Michael Buble, Adam Lambert, Bruno Mars and John Mayer. If the King of Pop wins on February 13, 2011, there will no doubt be a tearful acceptance speech from an appreciative family member. It’ll be reminiscent of the moment at the Oscars two years ago when Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight and his parents accepted on his behalf: a painful reminder that we are losing talented artists way too early.

And it got me thinking. Michael Jackson has been gone for a little more than a year. Is it time to crown a new King of Pop?

To fans and family members and artists influenced by Michael, the answer would probably be, “No way. Not ever.” But statisticians, the people who love tallying album sales and counting awards, might say, “Eh, we’ll see. There might be another artist in our lifetime capable of such accomplishments.”

And what accomplishments they are.

Over a nearly 40-year career, Michael Jackson has won just about every type of music award you can possibly think of (Grammies and Golden Globes and everything in between) and has been recognized by everyone from MTV to the Guinness Book of World Records to world leaders. Five of his solo albums are among the top-sellers of all time. He’s had 13 number one singles. He won 13 Grammies. He’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. “Thriller” is the largest selling album in the history of the recording industry. He has sold an estimated 750 million records worldwide.

Not to mention that he is profoundly influential, having inspired subsequent generations of pop, soul, R&B and hip-hop artists.

So the bigger question might be: Is there another performer out there capable of all that?

Surely there are some performers well on their way to such stardom and artistic greatness. Artists like Usher, perhaps, who has released seven albums in 15 years. He’s had 13 consecutive Top 20 singles, seven of which were #1. He’s won 17 Billboard Music Awards, nine ASCAP awards, eight Soul Train Music Awards and five Grammies. He’s also an accomplished actor, record company owner, best-selling fragrance spokesman, and devoted mentor for youth leadership. Not too shabby for a 32-year-old. (He’s the first person to come to mind when I think about an heir to the King of Pop throne.)

But what about Jackson’s fellow nominees? Bruno Mars is considered a relative newbie on the scene, but dig deeper and you’ll find he’s no overnight success. Behind the scenes he was creating hit singles for some of today’s top talent, including Flo Rida and Travie McCoy. Bruno was barely out of high school then. Over the years, he’s leant his voice to top hits and produced hooks and has just released his own first solo album. He sings and writes and plays piano. Last week he learned he was nominated for seven Grammies. He’s just 25.

John Mayer’s guitar skills are no joke. He’s also a songwriter and music producer, as well as a philanthropist, supporting veterans’ healthcare issues. His first two studio albums went multi-platinum. He has several Grammies under his belt and has been nominated for four more this time around. He’s 33.

Michael Buble is only 35 but he’s already sold 25 million albums worldwide. This Canadian’s first album reached the top ten in Canada and the UK and soon enough he reached worldwide fame with the albums that followed. He acts and has won numerous music awards.

Adam Lambert found the stage before a singing career took hold. He starred in many European and U.S. theatre productions as a boy and teenager, after which time he met the people who would help him launch his recording career. This 28-year-old is most notably known as the runner-up on the 8th season of American Idol, but he’s won several awards, cementing him as someone to watch in the pop world.

The fact that the other four artists nominated alongside Jackson are 35 and under is nothing to shake a stick at. They’ve all accomplished so much in so short a time that it begs the question: Are any of these men (Usher included) capable enough of filling Michael Jackson’s shoes? Not yet, of course, but in time—with more training and more hits and more experience—any one of them might very well be handed the crown of King of Pop.

Well, except maybe John Mayer and Mars Bruno and Michael Buble. Because they don’t dance. Not that that’s a prerequisite. I’m just saying.

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