THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE | the state of pop music 2015

RED wedding

Pop music is the world’s last true matriarchy, and like all political systems defined by competition and domination it’s a breeding ground for cruelty and abuse.  It’s a bleak kingdom filled with backstabbing, radicalism, and zealotry, and in the end it’s held to one guiding principle – that there can only ever be one.

Passions run wild in this never-ending war, and to obtain a true perspective of the state of pop music affairs one needs to take a step back and look at this with something resembling objectivity.  Many historians have triedmany have failed.  This is our attempt to delineate the armies.  This is the state of pop music in 2015.

[In case it isn’t already obvious, there are some spoiler GIFs in here.  If you aren’t sure what’s being spoiled then just leave now for the sake of your future television-viewing happiness.]

HOUSE KNOWLES

Twitter – 13.8 million followers
Instagram – 22.9 million followers
top video – 347 million views
metacritic career score – 70
x platinum (albums/singles) – 12/16
top 10s in 2014 – 1
years relevant – 11
Google hits – 146 million

At the end of 2013, Beyoncé Knowles was **the** undisputed queen of pop music.  There was a throne, it was real, and everyone else was watching it.  She’d just catered the decade’s biggest musical event to universal critical praise – she’d birthed the result of one of the greatest political unions in global history – she was the epitome of beauty, the definition of feminism, the progenitor of fierceness, and she was fabulously, fabulously wealthy.  You might not have liked her, you might have distrusted her, but you never question her claim.  Queen Bey.  No royal title ever came so naturally.

2014 was a rocky year.  The unprecedented horror of the Elevator Incident shocked the world and shattered the illusion of the Great American Marriage.  The coinciding familial bliss tour was marred by rumors and speculation.  The feminist stance, once taken as a given, was questioned and, in some cases, deliberately attacked.  A majority of her singles failed to chart – her many videos failed to make a lasting viral impression.  Her only 2014 release, the platinum edition of “Beyoncé,” failed to garner more than passing interest.

Beyoncé holds the throne.  Her claim is strong, but her grasp is weak.  Divorce looms.  Further chart success appears next to impossible.  The question is not if and why, but how and when.

blue wedding

HOUSE SWIFT

Twitter – 49.9 million
Instagram – 17.7 million
top video – 443.5 million
metacritic career score – 75
times platinum – 22/66
top 10s in 2014 – 2 (both no. 1)
years relevant – 8
Google hits – 360 million

The single greatest threat to Beyoncé’s throne is Taylor Swift.  Taylor is backed by universal appeal, stunning record sales, a massive social media army, but mostly just by simple divine ordination.  The throne was meant for her.  It is as the gods would will it.

Taylor, unlike any of her competitors, possesses a fan base united by their singular and absolute devotion to her cause.  Her extreme whiteness, extreme conservatism, maybe not extreme chastity but overall extreme-in-the-most-pumpkin-spice-latte-sense basic-ness, has nothing to do with anyone else on the radio.  She is stunningly generic, but there is somehow no one else like her.  The result is a core fan base that is interested in her and only her.  They are zealous, they are growing ever day, and no other pop star can touch them.  This is a level of universal but entirely singular devotion to which no one else on the planet outside of North Korea can aspire.  If Taylor can sustain it then she can literally take over the world.  I am being kind of extreme right now but I actually mean the real literal world.  The throne is hers.

taylor got gif

HORDE PERRY

Twitter – 62.8 million
Instagram – 12.3 million
top video – 758.4 million
metacritic career score – 49
times platinum – 5/68′
top 10s in 2014 – 1
years relevant – 6
Google hits – 125 million

Katy Perry is the dark horse in the room here (I don’t know what I mean by that here but I don’t think Katy knows what it means ever so that’s okay).  There’s a lot going for her – her Twitter army is an uncountable mass, her video numbers are incredible, her record sales are strong, and the only arena where she fails extraordinarily is critical appeal.

By most standards, Katy has just as much claim to the throne as Taylor. But she’s so entirely lacking when it comes to a unified platform that I can’t imagine her hypothetical coronation.   Beyoncé is a cohesive ruler – Mariah was a cohesive ruler – even Madonna, with all her incohesive phases, was cohesive within each phase.  What would Katy’s reign even look like?  It would be meaningless.  It would be kind of empowering, kind of sleezy, very occasionally borderline Christian and then like omg aliens.  Maybe this is what the world wants.  We live in crazy times, or something.  But Katy Perry is so lacking in vision – and the critical world is so lacking in a vision of her – that I think it’s impossible for her to pull off a successful coup.  She doesn’t have an army – she has a collection of hordes.  She doesn’t have an image – she has a collection of half-considered parts.  To put her on the throne would be to dump a pile of dismembered limbs on a chair in the vague order of a human and call it a ruler.  I would say that we must never let it happen, but I don’t think it’s even possible.  The Roman Empire fell, but the Barbarian Empire didn’t follow.  Team Katy is an already divided mess and will ultimately dissolve into obscurity.

katy got wild

HOUSE GRANDE

Twitter – 23.2 million
Instagram – 22.1 million
top video – 364.4 million
metacritic career score – 72
times platinum (album/single) – 1/13
top 10 singles in 2014 – 4
years relevant – 2
Google hits – 180 million

Ariana wants it.  She wants it badly.  She will do literally anything for it.  But she can’t have it.  She lacks maturity, she lacks grace, and, frankly, no one likes her.  She is straight-up unlovable.  Anyone who disagrees is a bad person.  Liking Ariana Grande is like liking Malfoy, or rooting for the Lakers.  She is evil and a villain.  This makes her one of the most attractive figures in contemporary pop music, but completely disqualifies her claim to the throne.  2015 will be the year she stretches too far, experiences horrific failure, and combusts – maybe spectacularly.  My only hope is that no one gets killed.  But actually that would be really interesting so I don’t even know.

ari got gif

HOUSE IGGY AZALEA

I am not even going to address Iggy Azalea because just refusal.

iggy got

HOUSE RIHANNA

Twitter – 38.7 million
Instagram – 13.8 million
top video – 515.6 million
metacritic career score – 67
times platinum – 7/53
top 10s in 2014 – 0
years relevant – 8
Google hits – 184 million

Rihanna could have it if she wanted it.  But she doesn’t want it.  Actually, fuck it.  Rihanna already has it.  She’s queen of Rihanna and that’s what’s up.

rihnaaan kill

HOUSE GRIMES

Twitter – .2 million
Instagram – .1 million
top video – 24 million
metacritic career score – 80
times platinum – 0
top 10s in 2014 – 0
years relevant – 2
Google hits – 37 million

Grimes has no claim in this race.  Her numbers can’t touch a single one of her competitors.  Most people have never even heard of her.  But I’m including her because I think her claim is the only true claim and because I will support her cause until I die.  She is the force in the East who possesses a power that no one else can comprehend.  If she arrives on the mainland someday the game will be over and the rest of them will have no idea what hit them.

grimes got grinch

HOUSE KARDASHIAN WEST

Twitter – 27.3 million
Instagram – 23.5 million
top video – sort of n/a but actually kinda not ?
metacritic career score – 61
times patinum – 0
top 10s in 2014 –
years relevant – 7
Google hits – 646 million

Kim’s numbers are incredible – her Google searches are nearly 4x Beyoncé’s.  She has massive Twitter and Instagram appeal – the only contender here other than Ariana Grande with over 20 million followers on each.  She has a popular heir and is 50% of history’s second greatest political union.  Her only disqualifier is that she is not actually a pop star.

If the rules completely changed – if we discovered that the world of pop was not real and that the physical boundaries of notes and rhythm were nothing but illusions – Kim Kardashian could be queen.  There may be a universe that exists right now where she already is.  I’m afraid of that universe, but maybe that’s only because I don’t understand it.  Maybe Kim exists on a plane with a different and wholly wonderful system of morality where worth is measured in whether you have a butt or not and existence is high art in and of itself.  I’m skeptical, but I’m not ready to rule it out.  The next phase of human experience could be one where Music becomes irrelevant in the shining light of Pure Celebrity.  Maybe the next step is just to understand that.

kim got end

IN CONCLUSION –

We’re not quite on next-level yet, so for now there is still only one, and that one is Taylor Swift.  She doesn’t hold the throne yet, but she will by the end of the year.  Her reign will be defined by the elimination of the Perry Horde and by many years of fresh-baked cookies and freely reproducing cats and New York.  It will be comfortable and good and #blessed.

I’ve said it before and I say it again – God save Queen Taylor.  Long Live the Queen.

red wedding nice day f

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