Sunday's 2012 American Music Awards show illuminated the characteristic monotony of today's male pop artistry. A ridiculous Justin Bieber seemed singularly fixated upon shedding his youth, the one attribute that once separated him from his tired, disenchanting mentor, Usher. Though equally outlandish, the female showing at the AMAs was considerably healthier. Indeed, the current popular music industry is blessed with a diverse cast of prima donna chanteuses, who grace the airwaves with their musings on life, love and the club. All this diva energy can be overwhelming for the common listener, though. How does one process this highly prolific golden age of girl power? Here is a humble attempt to categorize the principal female artists of the day, such that the layman can digest this whole lot of fierce.
The Legendary Vocal Powerhouse – Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey
This iconic diva arguably holds a place in musical history already; her vocal prowess and live-performance ability are simply unmatched. Having been on the pop scene for a number of years, she now has the leverage to take musical risks (see Beyoncé’s 4 and Aguilera’s Bionic) that don’t always achieve widespread, Billboard-worthy acclaim and popularity.
The Risqué, Semi-Talented Hit Machine – Rihanna, Katy Perry, Britney Spears
Ruler of the charts, this diva churns out the #1 hits, presenting listeners with a polished brand. Often prone to not-so-noticeable reinventions, this highly scrutinized artist is a factory of heavy-handed sexual sensationalism (see “Birthday Cake,” “I Kissed a Girl” and “3”). She is ubiquitous and eccentric, but rather disenchanting live. She surely does not have the range or stamina of the Legendary Vocal Powerhouse.
The Whiny Child – Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus
"All you are is mean and a liar and pathetic and alone in life and mean”; these are the one-dimensionally immature thoughts of the Whiny Child diva. She is immensely popular but often criticized for lacking poise or depth. Her break into the industry might have been associated with the Disney Channel, though she strives to replace her juvenile beginnings with an even less adult image.
The Autotuned Rapper – Nicki Minaj, Ke$ha
This diva can drop a sick, speedy verse but doesn’t have much license to sing and therefore uses autotune as a crutch. Still, her lyrical genius and punchy beats overshadow this musical injustice.
The Mainstream Hard-ass – P!nk, Kelly Clarkson
Consistently popular, rough-around-the-edges and vengeful, this songstress belts ballads about sour relationships or self-confidence. She also churns out the hits, but her voice is frankly better than that of the Risqué, Semi-Talented Hit Machine.
The Stylized Indie Mystery – Lana del Rey, Marina and the Diamonds, Ellie Goulding
There is cagy allure in the image of this singer; her music and style is considerably more conceptual than her pop peers. Melancholic siren Lana Del Rey, for example, resurrects ‘60s folk with hazy electronica; she is not necessarily a powerhouse singer, but her music evokes a certain artistry that seems profound but could also pass as contrived.
Other categories include:
The Classy (Troubled) British Broad – Adele, Duffy, Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse
The Duo Spotlight Stealer – Karmin’s Amy Heidemann, Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles
The Enigmatic, Agenda Driven Performance Artist – Lady Gaga