Diva Madness: The 90’s!
The final group of first round match ups is from a kind of golden era for divas. Even the great divas of previous decades spent the 90s showing up on VH1 Specials or award shows to have an ultimate Alpha-Diva sing-off. It could be argued that before this decade, we had seen massive female superstars who could sing, but in the 90s, at the birth of the pop era, we had women of legendary status with control of their voices as well as over everything around them. In that golden 90s era, these 16 divas emerged as the young divas ready to take the baton from their older role models in their midst.
Mariah Carey (1) vs. Faith Evans (16)
Regardless of her era, Mariah has more #1 Billboard singles than any of these potential competitors – in fact she has more than any solo artist ever. She may be turning out fewer hits than in her earlier years, but this extraordinary voice has an ongoing show in Vegas, and a yearly Christmas special in NYC. And that 5 octave range is no joke. Faith Evans is probably most known for singing hooks on Puff Daddy tracks or being married to Notorious B.I.G., but this gospel singer has a set of pipes and an attitude that are hard to beat.
Faith Hill (9) vs. Toni Braxton (8)
If you want an idea of the kind of power and popularity Faith Hill as a country singer had in the 90’s, think Carrie Underwood. She could sing, she was gorgeous, and yet had this sense of relateability about her. Meanwhile Toni Braxton‘s life has had so much drama that they made a lifetime TV special based on her story. Plus, no era is complete without a lower-than-average alto vocal that commands any audience with her regal presence, and without a doubt it was Toni in the 90s. I’m not entirely sure what she’s up to now – maybe doing the casino tours – but I would be completely fine with a comeback album.
Mary J. Blige (5) vs. Erykah Badu (12)
This is one tough competition. On the one hand, when we’re talking about the stage presence of a diva, Mary J. Blige is a textbook example. From the moment she entered the realm of pop music, it felt like she had always been there; from the time she was brand new it felt like she was influencing everyone around her. Meanwhile, nobody can touch the level of artistry that Erykah continues to bring to her performance. She is a diva with attitude and the kind of unique voice that doesn’t need to be loud to express power. As I am writing this, I have no idea who I will vote for. So good luck to the rest of you.
Missy Elliott (13) vs. Jennifer Lopez (4)
Missy may be a rapper, but there is hardly any doubt that she has reached diva status in every other category, and really was the original rapping diva that made room for Nicki Minaj to occupy the the diva category. In a lot of ways I see this as an incredibly fair match up, since both Missy and J.Lo began their careers as entertainers (J.Lo as a dancer or “fly girl” on “In Living Color”) though not necessarily vocalists. Which makes it kind of cruel to have them compete with slower melodies live, but at least it’s not a strength for either of them.
Britney Spears (3) vs. Nelly Furtado (14)
Britney Spears might as well have ruled the 90s. She may be only seeded third, but my bet is that when we think of this era, for better or worse, Britney is a bit of a summarization of 90s pop music. She became the model for pop princesses: get a childhood gig, be sexualized way too early, crash and burn, and make your way slowly back into the music business. Nellie Furtado has made some news with her recent butchering of the Canadian national anthem, but they say no publicity is bad publicity, and maybe it was just enough to remember how much we liked Nellie’s unique voice and blend of folk, pop and eventually hip hop.
Lauryn Hill (11) vs. Shania Twain (6)
So yes, this is an odd match up. Lauryn Hill dominated with her debut solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, after making a name for herself as the female third of The Fugees. She has always been a diva with her mix of immaculate rap flow and soulful gospel vocal tone, but eventually she also took on the attitude and drama associated with the title. Shania Twain has had some drama, but has been out of the spotlight for some time now. In her golden era, Shania put Canada on the country music map, and continues to be one of the most international symbols of Canadian music and culture. Seriously, she’s right up there with Bryan Adams.
Christina Aguilera (7) vs. Aaliyah (10)
With her regular gig on The Voice, Christina Aguilera has found a way to remain in our consciousness years after significant billboard success. From the very beginning of her popularity, it was always her powerful vocal range and style that was singled out, usually in comparison to contemporaries like Britney Spears. As crass as this sounds, Aaliyah has tragic death on her side. We can only imagine what success Aaliyah might have seen if she had made it to her 23rd birthday, but considering that in her short 22 years she was named the Princess of R&B, I think we can guess a lot. For the record, the Aaliyah video below should read 1997… it’s not some crazy post-humous hologram or anything.
Jill Scott (15) vs. Celine Dion (2)
Jill Scott still does not get enough press. She may not have as much drama or flashy performance as some of the others on our list, but Jill Scott’s voice is one of pure tonality and power. She is also a poet and a writer who puts 100% of her very soul into the songs she sings. She likely ranks low because she tends to get billed as a jazz singer, a genre which has not gotten much commercial love in the past several decades. Still, here she is, representing, though she is up against one of the biggest most dynamic and dramatic voices of the 90’s, Celine Dion. This French Canadian is a highly technical singer who also manages to add flair and personality to everything she sings. She is holding a residency at Vegas now, as many of the great divas have done, giving those prepared to make a pilgrimage a chance to hear her talent live.
That’s it for our 90s divas! Watch out for round 2 early next week, where the remaining divas will be featured by up-tempo party-starting tracks.