All the first round polls have been closed and 32 Divas now remain. For the rest of the week, I’ll be posing a a quadrant of 4 polls every day, so get your vote on, but don’t forget to come back and check on the rest of the brackets! We’ll move chronologically through the eras this time, starting with the classic divas, who had the fewest upsets of Diva Madness so far. Here are the updated (and embellished) brackets for those following along:
Barbra Streisand (1) vs. Linda Ronstadt (9)
I doubt that anyone is shocked to see Babs continuing to hold her #1 seeded spot, although her competition with Gloria Gaynor did get pretty close at times. We’re going to see this musical queen go up against the folk-country-rock goddess, Linda Ronstadt, who squeaked out the tightest win in this category against Dionne Warwick (a fact I haven’t yet made peace with personally). The style of these two videos could not be more different, but I think they respectively represent the two divas’ strengths as performers. Will you keep the country rocker or the musical songstress?
Aretha Franklin (5) vs. Tina Turner (4)
Well, that got real, and fast! It was clear that both of these divas would make it to the second round, beating their competition with more than 70% of the votes. But now we have a situation where both of these divas are favoured to win the whole competition, but only one can make it to the sweet 16. Either way, this poll will break some hearts. Since Dionne Warwick has already been eliminated, I feel better about sharing Aretha’s version of “I Say A Little Prayer,” because it is so wonderful. As for Tina, this seems as good a time as any for some “Proud Mary”. Oh yes, it is ON.
Cher (3) vs. Ella Fitzgerald (6)
Cher had a few close calls against Debbie Harry from Blondie, but here she is, ready to defend her diva-title as long as you’ll let her. She certainly has the confidence and attitude to take her to the end, and she’s had to, having regularly carved out space for women in the male-dominated entertainment industry. Meanwhile, shy Ella seems to transform into an extrovert every time she starts swinging, and “Mack the Knife” is easily one of my favourite performances of hers, showing off her ability to not only produce the beautiful clear tone she’s known for, but also produce a near perfect imitation of Louis Armstrong’s growl.
Janis Joplin (10) vs. Diana Ross (2)
Janis Joplin was the only real upset of the category, beating out disco queen Donna Summer with relative ease. She has on her side raw emotional pain, and an early death. She may not have any dance tracks, per se, but she could rock a stage like no one else. Now she goes up against Diana Ross, who is hardly a lightweight in this competition, having the second most #1 billboard singles after Mariah Carey – that’s more than Madonna, Whitney, or Beyonce. Can we also take a minute to appreciate the purple one-piece paired with a bright red boa in the video below?
Round 2 polls are now all open! Go vote (links are below), and check back March 16th for Sweet 16!
Diva Madness Round 2: 1980s (Until midnight, Sun., March 13th)
Diva Madness Round 2: 1990s (Until midnight, Mon., March 14th)
Diva Madness Round 2: Modern Divas (Until midnight, Tues., March 15th)
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.
You still have a couple of days to submit your own final four predictions for the Diva Madness Tournament! Just print the brackets below, fill out the winners, and post a photo of the filled in brackets to twitter @djwhysoserious #DivaBrackets. Or you can also fill in this handy google doc. Any brackets shared before March 1st that correctly predict the final four will be entered to win some TBD diva-related prize!
Continuing the theme of a classic ballad, I should warn you that since we’re looking at the 80’s era, you are in for a healthy dose of synthesizer and sax solos. Truth be told, quite a few of these divas continued to make names for themselves in the 90’s, but for the sake of this round we’ll attempt to remain in and experience the decade that brought them into the spotlight.
Madonna (1) vs. Grace Jones (16)
Although Madonna has the top spot in her era, some would argue whether she deserves the diva title. Though she began her career relying heavily on her dance ability and stage presence, her role in Evita caused her to take her vocals seriously. Now, three whole decades later, she has proven herself neither fraud nor fad, and is often crowned the Queen of Pop. Keep in mind that the video below is taken from her 1987 tour, but something tells me you’ll have no problem considering more of her career. Grace Jones may not have the same level of recognition as her competition, but has been equally influential over more recent artists. Her concerts and music videos read as performance art, and though they didn’t always translate to commercial popularity, there is no question that her voice is powerful, and her artistry was ahead of her time.
Paula Abdul (9) vs. Chaka Khan (8)
It is a little odd posting ballads from both of these women who are known for their pop and funk dance tracks. I suppose you’ll have to vote for whoever you’d like to see compete with more upbeat music in the next round. Many now know Paula Abdul by her judge responsibilities on American Idol, X Factor and SYTYCD, but her qualifications for those gigs are based on her incredible performing career. Though Chaka Khan’s musical career began as the front-woman for the funk band Rufus, she went solo in the 80’s, showing off her powerful and sultry voice and stretching the bounds of what could be popular in music. Did you know that her 1984 hit, “I Feel For You,” is the first ever pop song to feature a rapper? Groundbreaker.
Stevie Nicks (5) vs. Kylie Minogue (12)
Stevie Nicks is yet another example of someone who began their musical career in the 70’s singing in a group, but was included in the 80’s category based on her solo career. Her success with Fleetwood Mac set the tone for her reception, having been heralded by Rolling Stone Magazine as the “Reigning Queen of Rock and Roll.” Her deep contralto vocals and her fondness of white flowing fabric have caused some to wonder if she is a witch of some kind. If she is, she certainly has a spell on me. Australian diva Kylie Minogue disappeared for a long time after making it big with her 1987 hit, “The Locomotion.” Actually, that’s not really true – for over a decade she was releasing singles in Australia and the UK that never seemed to make it to North America in significant ways. But in 2001, when radios started “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” she suddenly flooded back into the American consciousness as a solid performer and diva.
Pat Benatar (13) vs. Gloria Estefan (4)
This may be the hardest decision for me in this bracket, because I love both of these women for such different reasons. Pat Benatar still seems to me to be one of the most powerful woman in rock music history, for her sheer voice and persona. Her songs continue to summon 80’s passion in a quintessential way, making her gritty yet classicly trained voice perfect for a retro film soundtrack. Meanwhile, Gloria Estefan paved the way for Latin artists to cross over into American pop charts. She became a staple at Superbowl and Olympic performances (before this year, she was the only woman to perform and multiple Superbowl halftime shows). If Pat represents 80’s emotional rock, Gloria represents for me a joyful (and possibly naive) optimism.
Janet Jackson (3) vs. Sinead O’Connor (14)
I’m going to go ahead and be honest: I have no idea how to talk about the great Janet Jackson in a tiny paragraph such as this. I will just point out that when it comes to dancing and singing at the same time, very few compare. She is an absolute force to be reckoned with in this competition, and in pure reality. Then again, so is Sinead. Both of these 80’s superstars continue to make music today, and although they are not as popular, I get the feeling they are pleased with their art. Sinead O’Connor is like Sia in the modern era bracket, more of an anti-diva, which makes her even cooler than your average diva. She has risked and lost commercial success in order to stand up for her convictions, which in a backwards kind of way seems pretty freaking diva. Not to mention that voice.
Annie Lennox (11) vs. Ann Wilson (6)
Annie Lennox made a name for herself as half of the synthpop duo Eurythmics, making her diva status known early on for having a rich, soulful alto voice, and pulling off amazing attitude with androgynous style. Since moving on to a solo career, Annie has won the Brit award for Best female artist more than anyone else, and shows up in every list involving female vocalists I’ve ever seen. Ann Wilson has also made a name for herself in a duo, as one half of the Wilson sisters in the huge 80’s band, Heart. While Nancy played guitar and sang harmonies, it was Ann’s unique and dynamic lead vocals mixed with her phenomenal stage presence that thrust this Seattle band into massive commercial success. And it doesn’t hurt that they continue to tour today with nearly as much energy as they had almost 40 years ago.
Cyndi Lauper (7) vs. Sade (10)
Cyndi Lauper started out as a mere pop star, but has grown to be so much more. She is one Oscar away from having an EGOT, having received her Emmy from a guest appearance on the TV show, Mad About You, and a Tony for her score of the musical Kinky Boots. She is known for her activism for the LGBT community, most recently with a focus on ending LGBT youth homelessness in the States. When Sade first started releasing records, she’d print a clear pronunciation of her name on the cover, “Shar-day,” but that is hardly necessary now. This London diva may only have a couple of Grammys, but along with her Brit award, she receives a ton of international acclaim, including a couple of Porin (Croatian music) awards. Her breathy vocals are usually the sexiest thing on any playlist, and over the three decades of her career she’s been constantly touring, while regularly charting on UK and American billboards.
Debbie Gibson (15) vs. Whitney Houston (2)
It may have been a while since Debbie Gibson has had much of a spotlight, but in her day she dominated the charts and looked adorable doing it. She paved the way for every young, cute pop star we’ve seen since, and you may think of that as a negative thing, but the truth is that Debbie could really sing – especially at age 16, when she got her first single, “Only In My Dreams,” a song she wrote herself. Unfortunately however, she’s up against Whitney Houston, who in many ways embodies each and every possible definition of a diva. The drama and addictions took her away from this world way too soon, and yet she still left us three solid decades of timeless music characterized by her powerful, clear, and effortless vocal quality.
Get yourselves prepared to vote on the 90’s bracket, although I can’t promise to have it up this weekend- check back early next week. The Classic era is officially closed, but if you haven’t yet voted for the modern era divas, you still have a chance to make your opinions count. May the best diva win!
Perhaps I should not assume that everyone is as obsessed with Missy Elliott’s return as I am, but considering her new video for WTF (WHERE THEY FROM) basically broke the internet yesterday, I know I’m not the only one. So, for those of you who cannot get enough of M.E., I’ve compiled a few of her outstanding tracks and videos for your enjoyment and consumption. You may also want to check out some of my archived Video Stars top 10 lists (that admittedly need some updating) in which Missy made a few appearances here, here, and here. And now for just a few more of M.E.’s memorable multimedia masterpieces.
At first I considered taking “old” as literally as possible, and sharing something from Missy’s girl group days. My own personal intro to Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott’s skill and style was on the Dangerous Minds OST, but since Sista never had a video for IT’S ALRIGHT, I’ll stick with the now iconic video from 1997, THE RAIN featuring Hype Williams’ favourite fish-eye lens.
If only Missy’s collaboration with Janet Jackson on BURNITUP! had a video. While we wait for that (and hopefully a new album!?) I am quite sure that WTF (WHERE THEY FROM) – with all of its personality and energy – will more than suffice (even if the whole thing would benefit from keeping Pharrell behind the soundboard and away from the microphone… ).
This was tricky. For one, the most obvious sample is the fabulous WE RUN THIS, borderline covering APACHE. Secondly the samples that make up WORK IT are subtle genius, not to mention the video is one of her all time greatest. Maybe I’ll bring it up here on another day. And then there’s everyone who ever covered GET UR FREAK ON, highlighting another one of Missy’s more brilliant and memorable videos. Instead I’ve picked the video for I’M REALLY HOT, which has some amazing dance-off style choreography. At around the 3:00 minute mark, the video version turns into a bit of a remix of itself, sampling this catchy jazzy piano line used in Soho’s HOT MUSIC (JAZZY MIX).
Although officially sampled from Soho’s mix, the bar of piano is originally lifted from a Marcus Roberts’ solo on Wynton Marsalis track, SKAIN’S DOMAIN from his 1986 album, J Mood. We’ve only heard about a bar’s worth so far, and these guys swing hard. The whole thing is definitely worth a listen if you’re up for a break from the visuals.
Generally Missy supplies us with party anthems, but there are a couple tracks where she slows it down. The woman has definitely mourned her fair share of friends and colleagues, which has been the inspiration for TAKE AWAY and even the video intro for PASS THAT DUTCH. But TEARY EYED is a breakup song that reminds us of Missy’s serious side and vocal abilities, even if it leaves you wanting to click another link for a bit more rap.
What are your favourite Missy videos?