In today’s modern world of music, genres have been criss-crossing in and out of the musical language. Fusing in and out, several genres began sprouting sub-genres, and these sub-genres sprouting even more genres that man could ever think of. The popularity of music over the world as the “universal language” began to stream almost everywhere. New styles are taking form every minute and composers, trying to create something new, end up in jumbling the musical jargon for the whole world; such as when the “pop” culture came.
Pop is short for popular, and it affected almost every single way of life. By definition, this is essentially a bandwagon phenomenon, something that the people majority watch, or something that most celebrities wear, or the brand of watches that are in style right now, and so on. In terms of music, it is simply something that is of time, and that many listens and appreciates. Since the generation of the world keeps changing in time, it is expected of the pop culture to change, and fit the needs of current generation. Music, for instance, began shifting to different forms, and what is known to be “pop” in the 70’s were now regarded as, well, 70’s – a thing of the past.
And yet, amidst all of this, it is amazing to notice how some artists are still able to contribute to the pop culture through time. Their songs never fade, and they are always accepted by every generation, old or young, in today’s time.
Probably two of the most known pop icons of all time are the singers Michael Jackson and Madonna. The fact that they are branded, until today, as the “King and Queen of Pop” shows the support and the belief of the popular audience. And being both royalties of pop, they were able to showcase their music with obviously similar aspects.
Since both emerged almost during the same era, most of their music are floating on the same measure. The beat was fairly fast in most of their songs, and lively, happy, and upbeat were the thematic rhythms of their albums. It was the era of dances, and the songs are usually accompanied and related to dance steps (Campbell, 1993). This was what drove the popular culture then. And yet, the similarities between these two artists stop here. For they were very different in other musical details, which made the popular culture more interesting.
For one, these singers had different backgrounds, and therefore different influences. These would also greatly affect the choices of genres they would use, and the topics on which their lyrics would be based upon.
Michael Jackson was of an African-American descent, which would support his experiments with the jazz and swing genres. His heritage may also do something with his innate ability for rhythm, and the dancing of his body. The Motown dance era also gave rise to several ideas to Michael Jackson (Campbell, 1993). But being exposed early in music, Michael Jackson became very affluent with musical ideas coming from different genres. In one of his best selling albums, Thriller, Michael was successful in fusing different forms of music. There are ballads which are of the soul and swing style, hard rock and aggressive rhythmic songs, disco-pop music which are very much danceable, and funk-jazz fusion. One notable track here is the song Beat It, which is fairly a riff-driven song. It sounds like a cross between a hard rock guitarist and a disco dancer. The beat and rhythm is heavy enough for a rock song, not to mention the addition of a guitar solo in the middle of the song. And yet Michael was able to sing in a slightly mellow and pop manner, and the song became danceable in a way that one would refer to as pop (Noonan, 1994).
On the other hand, the “Queen of Pop” had the origins of an American, with a heritage of Italian in her blood (Taraborrelli, 2002). This would, as she mentions, influence her song writing and her experience with music. If Michael Jackson’s songs are closely related with a fusion of many styles, Madonna’s early years focused on the dancing songs of disco pop. One of her first hit singles, Like a Virgin, is very much associated with the pop culture during that time. The music was also upbeat like Jackson’s, but it was fairly simple and straightforward. It also, however, included a lot of dancing energy, a reminiscent of Madonna’s dancing lessons before. From the titles themselves, a lot of Madonna’s songs became controversial. Not only that, but Madonna’s sense of fashion became increasingly appealing to most young women, and together with the lyrics of her songs like “Like a Virgin”, drove the sense of freedom and rights of women. Madonna also aimed to explore on topics revolving sex and religious symbolisms, which created an even greater controversy. But nevertheless, her songs were witty enough to convince many to buy her albums. The power of this probably lies on the content of her songs, which tries to put females on top of everything. Furthermore, the danceable rhythm which was the same pop element Michael Jackson uses made a name for Madonna.
Madonna’s songs revolve around the common interests of people, like love, power, happiness, and sexual prowess. In fact, it was the love song “Crazy for You” that made Madonna even more famous up to this date, where several renditions of it has been made. It was the topics that caught the attention of many. On the other hand, Michael Jackson’s songs range from end to end in terms of subject. Some songs include common interest like those mentioned above, while some would have some interesting parts in them. Some would even contain bizarre events, like the song “Thriller” which tackles on the supernatural. Simple love stories are made into tragedies, adding elements such as a frustrated lover turned killer, or an over-attached fan (in the song Billie Jean).
Aside from these, differences can also be noticed on the orchestration and the instrumentation of the singers’ pieces. Madonna’s songs are mainly played by live instruments accompanied by some synthesizers. These synthesizers became increasingly popular, since they are able to imitate several instruments without the hassle of obtaining players for these (Taraborrelli, 2002). As such, most recording were easily made. Madonna enters the studio and sings accompanied by a prerecorded track. Michael Jackson also did this style, and one big similarity between the two is the extensive use of electronic drum loops in their songs. These are programmed drum beats that are played over and over again. The consistency is very much needed, and since the songs are straightforward excessive fills and complicated drumming is not used.
Another thing that separates Michael from Madonna is his use of other effects in creating his songs. Looking again at the song Thriller, Michael Jackson incorporated a lot of different elements such as cinematic sounds, scary vocal voice over, and other haunting sound effects (Noonan, 1994). His songs are also good example of early electronic music, which exploited sound effects from the environment, from simple knocking on the wood to police cars wailing around.
However the great differences between the both of them, they were able to provide a great era of popular music. Their numerous awards were fit enough for them, and the contribution they gave to the society can never be matched by any other artists. Today, they are still considered active musicians and performances are being scheduled in some parts of the world. To this extend, it is safe to safe that their reign has not yet ended, and their position as the “King and Queen of Pop” would still remain.
Campbell, L. 1993. Michael Jackson: The king of pop. New York: Branden Press.
Guilbert, G.C. 2002. Madonna as postmodern myth. Canada: McFarland.
Noonan, D. 1994. Michael Jackson. New Jersey: Orion.
Taraborrelli, J.R. 2002. Madonna: An intimate biography. New York: Simon & Schuster.