We are lucky people. Due to some wonderful twist of fate, we are alive at the same time as some of the best pop stars ever to exist. As you read this, the likes of Rihanna, Ariana, Beyoncé, Britney and Madonna are alive and well, going about their lives, breathing in the same air and inhabiting the same world as we do. We could have been born during any era in history, like the reign of the Tudors when the nearest thing to a pop star was Anne Boleyn, but no, we got lucky.
But of course, not all pop stars are great. For every Grande there’s a Gary, for every Shakira there’s a Shawn and for every Miley there’s a Meghan. But though we can all agree these pop stars are shit, what exactly defines their shitness?
A lot of it comes down to blandness, plain and simple. Looking back at history’s most memorable pop stars, from Jackson to Bowie to Gaga, they have embodied eccentricity, flair and fashion. But these are rare examples of extraordinary pop stars. If we look at pop stars who are not extraordinary but are merely passable (imagine a bad bottle of white wine but it’s been in the fridge for a good hour so it’s sort of OK), we find that blandness doesn’t always equal shitness.
Take Rita Ora, for example. For all means and purposes, she is bland. Her style of bandwagon pop music offers nothing new or innovative and her personal brand is about as interesting as J.K Rowling’s hot takes on the Labour Party. But is she a shit pop star? Well, not quite. But why? I attribute it to Ora’s sense of fun – her only saving grace. From flamboyant fashion choices to an Instagram account dedicated to documenting her luxurious, party lifestyle, Ora gives off the impression that she is having the time of her life. Fergie (the Duchess of York, not the other one) once told her daughters: “No one wants to see a princess not smiling; not appreciating what they’ve got,” and the same is true of pop stars. If their talent is thin on the ground and their music altogether uninspiring, the least they can do is look like they’re having a good time. It’s Ora’s attitude that saves her.
And attitude is an important factor. This is a tough one, as different attitudes suit different pop stars. For example, very few could pull off Rihanna’s cocky swagger just like very few could persuasively embody Adele’s brand of humble superstardom. For those in doubt, keeping tight-lipped and down-to-earth feels like the safest route, but there are those who misjudge their public persona so spectacularly that they become public enemy number one. Look at Meghan Trainor, for example. An abominable pop star who has lumped us with some of the worst songs of the 21st Century (don’t even get me started on ‘Mom’), she gives off the self-satisfied air of someone who hasn’t actively made the world a worse place. And then there’s Gary Barlow, possibly the worst person in the world, who has the gall to have a Northern accent and vote Tory at the same time. It feels like a small thing, these nuances in attitude and opinion, but if there’s something people innately hate, it’s misplaced cockiness.
There’s a thing called the Shit Pop Star Triangle. And when I say it’s a thing, I mean it’s a thing I just made up. But I’m pretty sure it has some credibility. It’s essentially the idea that a shit pop star is composed of three essential elements. The first two, we’ve already discussed: blandness and a bad attitude. The third is the simplest – shit tunes. Even the most barely-passable, just-scraping-a-C-in-music pop star needs to have a few half-decent tracks under their belt. An uneven ratio of good to shit tracks is a classic sign of a shit pop star – but in accordance with the aforementioned triangle – an interesting persona and a decent attitude can make up for this.
Let me explain. In order to qualify as a Shit Pop Star™, a pop star has to tick all three boxes. For example, I would argue that Katy Perry has far more terrible tunes than good ones, but is she a Shit Pop Star™? No, because she’s saved by a colourful, flamboyant persona. The same is true for Jessie J.
Likewise, while Morrissey is dogged by his awful opinions, he can’t quality as a Shit Pop Star™ because his ego is so unrelentingly fascinating. And while Coldplay have blandness down to an art form, there’s no denying they have more than enough decent tracks to keep their heads above water.
So who does qualify? Iggy Azalea makes awful music, has a stinky attitude and is consistently dull in her appropriation-chic aesthetic. Is she a Shit Pop Star™? Yes, she is. The Chainsmokers, Migos, Gary Barlow, Meghan Trainor and Shawn Mendes also manage to tick all the boxes. Likewise, Sam Smith and Liam Payne. Not only do they have more bad songs than good, but they’re bland, boring and have proved on multiple occasions that they are certifiable trash. You can’t prove me wrong, because the science is right there in that little triangle I just made. And that, my chums, is how you work out whether your fave is a Shit Pop Star™. Don’t @ me.