Live Pop Stars

We live in a pop-star renaissance, and while some have made albums that are deep, varied, and enjoyable, there are others in both pop (and hip-hop) that seem to just be tracking out product with pablum and predictability. Unlike the past, there doesn’t seem to be a unifying theme except trying for as many radio hits – using multiple producers, musicians, and co-writers.

I mean, this stuff isn’t BAD, but is it something we’ll be remembering later on, or will these artists be shuffled off to retrospective comp-land like many pop acts of days gone by? I may have already reviewed some record by these folks, and some true pop icons of today (Taylor Swift, Katy Perry) are already in the main catalog.

For the record, if they’re on here, they’re on an Amazon playlist and not in my regular library. They have to ‘earn’ their way there. Some songs will earn their way if they strike my fancy, but not the whole record. So this is a list of current (and recent past) pop stars of the streaming era that you should probably pick and choose at your discretion.

112 – Nice harmonies, but the songs and production are something to be desired. Pretty voices aren’t congruent to pretty good records.

Christina Aguilera – Until I looked, I had no idea that she hadn’t had any hit singles in a while. I mean, everyone knows who she is, but she’s got no Top 100 run at all lately. Hmmm. There’s not a comp for her post-2008 work, which would be helpful.

AJR – They’re a little more than radio fodder, but there’s not a lot of substance under the glossy hooks. Bonus points for DIY. I’d like to see them explore outside of the pop realm.

Iggy Azalea – I could ignore her altogether if it wasn’t for the damn “Fancy” track, and that’s all because of Charli XCX. Her best tracks (save one) feature someone else. That’s about right. The less of her, the better!

Natasha Bedingfield – The timeline from ‘it’ to ‘not it’ can be short and sharp. Moving from pop songs about empowerment to mushy ballads could be a factor, but there was too much sheen and gloss on everything, and the records wound up disposable. A collection may be what she needs before she totally goes off grid.

Regina Belle – Duets with Peabo Bryson notwithstanding, she’s a generic 80’s R&B singer.

Tamar Braxton – She went away, and came back thanks to Reality TV. Sentimental R&B ballads broken up by the occasional up-tempo tune. In 10 years she’ll need another jolt of Reality TV to become relevant again.

Toni Braxton – We’ll always have “Unbreak My Heart”.

Camila Cabello – Eye candy? Ear candy? She’s like one of those peppermints I used to get at Stuckey’s, which were all puffed up and sweet but had no substance inside.

Alessia Cara – She had a good turn with a single from Moana. But she’s not broke out of the teen-pop-diva pack, mainly because the material sounds like everyone else’s.

Ciara – While she’s in the press now as a model and the wife of Russell Wilson now, she had a viable career earlier that had a few hits but not very deep for the most part. She really needs a good compilation that covers her whole careers, including her last few albums past 2012.

Colbie Calliat – She’s a pleasant sounding singer-songwriter that gained fame on…wait for it…MySpace. Her music seems constructed to offer the most vanilla product imaginable. There’s no hot fudge, nor sprinkles or nuts. Her singles sound good on both Pop and Adult Contemporary radio, which perhaps is damning with faint praise.

Aaron Carter – Part of me is seduced by the hooks of “Aaron’s Party (Come Get It)”, then I came to my senses.

The Chainsmokers – There’s a lot of backlash here, and yeah, some of it’s deserved. But they do make earworms you hate-listen to. Minus 1,000 points for F-N Coldplay (which doesn’t help their case in any way shape or form).

Deborah Cox – Generic R&B can come from Canada as well.

Taio Cruz – You know, that one song? Yeah, “Dynamite”. It’s lasted a lot longer on people’s minds than the #1 single he had with Ludacris. He also did one with Ke$ha about sending dirty pictures that hasn’t aged well, really.

Miley Cyrus – Yeah, I’m plopping her here until she makes a consistent record or has a greatest hits album so you can pick the good stuff and leave the dross. To be honest, she’s more of a follower than a leader – and I think she wavers between wanting to be Madonna or Taylor Swift.

Daya – A nice, quirky voice and a hooky pop song doesn’t make a long term career, or even a memorable record. She’s probably going to be best remembered as a singer on DJ’s songs.

Gavin DeGraw – A hat with some songwriting chops but his production puts every song square in the “Adult Alternative” area with some pop crossover. He also tries to be too witty for his own good. (Though I have that issue as well…)

Lana Del Rey – Life’s too short to be this sad and mopey.

Jason Derulo – Nice voice, and bland material. Not even Snoop helped him cross the finish line in my ears.

DJ Khaled – Hey, you don’t have to be a damn DJ on your own records. We know who the hell you are.

Drake – My goodness, he’s prolific, and wordy, and needs an edit / purge function. He’s not QUITE the Guided By Voices of pop / hip-hop, but it’s close. Now, the trend is NOT to do a compilation, so I guess I’m going to have to do one myself. It’s just a lot of stuff right now to plow through and 20+ tracks per record and playlist and mixtape.

George Ezra – He’s a big deal in the UK and bettar than Ed Sheeran, that’s for sure. But aside from “Budapest” and “Shotgun” I haven’t heard something that hooks my attention in a special way. I’m watching him for later progress.

Fetty Wap – The term “One Hit Wonder” may have to change in this environment of streaming and digital singles. He had three Top 10 singles from his debut, but nothing else has hit pop. In this time of mixtapes and studio albums and guest tracks, there are a lot more chances for someone to get another hit, even accidentally. “Trap Queen” is what we’ll know him for.

Fifth Harmony – Sweeter than saccharine, and probably as cancerous. Goddamn, though, “Worth It” is a freakin’ earworm, though.

G-Eazy – There are some good beats, but he’s a one trick pony to my ears in regards to delivery and flow and style. The radio will suffice.

Jess Glynne – She does well when teamed with Clean Bandit. That’s something there. Otherwise, it’s rather forgettable.

Selena Gomez – With or without the Scene, she comes across as a ‘dabbler’ in pop music. All of the songwriting and production machinery is behind her, but I’ll be damned if I can recall one of her hit singles right now.

Gotye – His big song has an apt title, since we haven’t heard hide nor hair from him since.

Grimes – Critics (and Elon Musk) love her, but I haven’t been moved by her oddities yet.

Halestorm – Nothing bores me more than mediocre hard rock / heavy metal. You can’t make fun of it, and it’s too generic to really jam to. Moments, they have a few, but not enough.

Adina Howard – “Freak Like Me” was a statement, of sorts, but she kept saying the same thing over and over and over…

Hozier – Just listening to “Take Me to Church” and you had this feeling he’d be a one-hit wonder. He had another Top 20 in the UK, but nothing else here. The second album debuted at #1 but now that means people streamed it when it came out.

Imagine Dragons – They sound better one off on the radio than all together on a record. There’s only so many uplifting pompous choruses you can handle in a stretch.

Iron & Wine – I’ll put him (them) here since a record hit #2 in the charts, but I’m just not a fan of this hipster-campfire-folkie stuff. He’s less insufferable than to Bon Iver, though, and I may keep one record if it moves me more than his (their) other stuff.

Jagged Edge – Three #1s, a #2, and a #3 on the R&B chart, but empty calories for the most part. Their albums still chart pretty well on the R&B albums chart, so they have a fan base, but nothing has struck the singles charts’ fancy lately.

Carly Rae Jepsen – A few catchy tracks every three years was her pattern, but her 2019 release may have converted me somewhat. We’ll see when I dive in.

Joe – Still plugging away, but the only song that moved me was the one with Mystikal yelling on it.

Juvenile – He had a #1 hit in 2004, and a #1 album in 2006, but “Back That Azz Up” is his legacy. And a fine legacy that is!

Karmin – From You-Tube stars to an unfortunate SNL appearance to…Qveen Herby? Oooof. Some people shouldn’t rap…

Mat Kearney – Nice hat(s).

Kimbra – She sang on Gotye’s big hit. She moves albums in New Zealand and Australia. Her stuff has some interesting twists and turns, but is still rather slight.

Kungs – He gave Cookin’ on 3 Burners more ears, which is fantastic. But he’s more of a DJ or producer or studio dabbler.

Adam Lambert – He’s flamboyant with a good voice, and good on him for being cast as Freddie Mercury by the remnants of the band Queen. Yet, his stuff sounds manufactured and at times soulless, good for the radio on the odd occasion or nostalgic sing-alongs to American Idol reruns.

Lenka – If Zooey Deschanel was Czech, played a little keyboard, and made songs for commercials. After “The Show” was used in a commerical, it became a hit, and since the commercial isn’t on the air anymore, it’s safe to listen to.

Lykke Li – Swedish pop-chameleon hasn’t broken through here or in the UK. Upon listening, it’s not for lack of trying. It’s just…meh.

Magic! – Points off for the unnecessary punctuation, given that their sound neuters both reggae and The Police.

Bruno Mars – Hooks with no substance. Beats with no soul. He does it all, but it all seems plastic. Catchy as heck, though, and he’s attractive to teens, tweens, and their moms. That may not be always a good thing.

Meek Mill – He’s selling (or streaming) a lot of product, and has released a lot of mix tapes and EPs besides his albums since 2008, but that volume has diluted his work I feel. That product may be due to his legal issues, which have been going on with the same judge since 2008. I’m giving his 2017 record a chance to prove me wrong.

Shawn Mendes – He seems like a nice, Canadian boy. He needs to move beyond that and write more diverse songs that don’t feel like they’re from a song factory. Also, add some grit, or maybe a smidge of testosterone.

Mims – A one-hit wonder that makes you feel better about streaming instead of buying entire CDs.

Kylie Minogue – My gosh, she’s 50, and has been working since the mid-80’s. Good on her. She’s moved past being a pop-tart to a more serious dance artist, which is great. Still, she’s not on my radar, despite loving that BMX Bandits song.

Mis-Teeq – “Scandalous” is an earworm, I’ll give them that. Aside from that, they never really caught fire here in the US, and were just kind of lumped in with other groups of similar ilk.

Mandy Moore – You heard what she did to XTC, right? You heard that, didn’t you?

Next – Well, record buyers said that as soon as “Wifey” left the charts.

Oh Land – Danish disperser of dance-pop made a small impact over here in the US. Except for her slight accent, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from anything over here.

Rita Ora – The controversy over “Girls” found it an audience. But there’s nothing really here to sustain said audience.

Owl City – “Fireflies” was kind of out of the blue when it hit, and it’s a catchy, twee pop track. “Good Time” was catchy and had Carly Rae Jepsen when she was hot. Yet his records are inconsistent and you probably should stick to the radio singles if you really want to hear him again.

Phantogram – I didn’t know where to put them, really. They sound ‘nice’ but don’t excite me and they suffer from same-ism. They sell records, though, I’ll give ’em that.

Post Malone – It seems like someone should wake him up, since he raps like he’s about nodded out.

Kelly Price – She won the lottery by singing the hook on “Mo Money Mo Problems” but nothing else roused me.

Kelly Rowland – The Denny Laine to Beyonce’s Paul McCartney.

Shakira – Right now, she’s more famous for being famous. The Voice will do that to you. In her time, she had a couple o’ good rump shakers, and her influence in Latin America is still strong.

Ed Sheeran – He of the red hair, half-raps, and mathematical symbols for album titles. I mean, he’s trying to diversify, but the formula’s the same in my ears. I can take or leave his stuff. It’s just radio pablum and when he breaks into semi-raps it gets a bit trying.

Sir Mix-A-Lot – There’s no compilation streaming, and his albums are spotty at best. You know the song to have, and there may be a couple others lurking about.

Jordin Sparks – While American Idol has produced more hit records than any other talent show, the staying power of most of the winners (I SAID MOST) is short, and their catalog scanty. She’s only here because of her tribute / rip of “Let the Music Play” and a couple other minor tracks.

Vince Staples – I’m holding full judgement here. “Big Fish” was OK, but I didn’t hear anything else that popped out at me, and his latest had no radio tracks per se. However, he could move off this list soon enough. Others have. Sorry, Ed Sheeran.

SWV – The production screams the 90’s. They weren’t as memorable, or catchy, as En Vogue. Dated and mediocre – not a good combo.

Tinashe – As of this writing, she’s a one hit wonder with “2 On”, though her albums seem to place well in the R&B chart. She’s just going to be radio fodder unless something drastic changes. It’s a living.

Ty Dollar $ – Lots of guest artists, which is OK. But I think they disguise his weaknesses more than enhance his strengths.

Walk The Moon – “Shut Up and Dance” was all over the place a few years back. Nothing more has stuck, and they released an album in 2018 to crickets. It’s almost time to call them a one-hit wonder. Almost.

Paul Wall – Remember him? The grill? And…that’s all you remember, right?

The WeekendTrilogy is, well, long and unfocused at times (since it comes from three projects, it doesn’t cohere as much as it could). Kiss Land is shorter, and focused, but that focus isn’t as palatable as many would like. The hooks came later…but not the consistency. Nice voice, though.

Wiz Khalifa – Another artist with lots of product, big hits, but inconsistent records. His mixtapes and guest artistry at times overwhelms someone trying to follow his career. He definitely needs a good retrospective package.