Pop’s Top

Handicapping the current crop of artists in the quest to become the new King.

By Brian McManus  
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jul. 7, 2009

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Photo by ALEX FINE

Lost in all the stories swirling around Michael Jackson’s demise—the drugs! The child custody! The child abuse! His odd appearance! His finances! The drugs!—was the rumor that former Mouseketeer and current Jessica Biel sex-haver-wither Justin Timberlake might take over the 50 London concert dates for the King of Pop.

This, in all likelihood, won’t happen, but props to Timberlake’s team for brazenly putting the feelers out to see how the public would react to such a thing. In doing so, Timberlake was essentially trying on Jackson’s crown, seeing how it fit. Because being the King of Pop is big business. And though we’ll never see another with as much cultural or musical influence, that doesn’t mean someone shouldn’t at least try and get comfy in Jackson’s old throne. 

Here, I’ve rounded up candidates who might have a shot. Each share at least some trait in common with Jackson—insano talent, broad appeal. I’ll handicap the likelihood that they’ll become the new King of Pop, from a scale of one to 10 ... along with a joke or two about sexuality and odd appearance thrown in for good measure because, like Jackson, I too am a true motherfucking original. 

Justin Timberlake

1) The high inflection of his voice. 2) He’s got the moves. 3) He’s a pop music savant. 4) He’s white too. ( Hiyo !) When Timberlake took the stage at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards for his world solo debut he was basically doing Michael Jackson karaoke, and his terribly named first effort sans *NSYNC, Justified , was pretty much Off the Wall 2: The Whitening . Timberlake is, for all intents and purposes, the Second Coming of Jackson, minus all the child rape allegations, the hidden pharmacy and Nation of Islam. 

But that’s also kind of the problem. Timberlake is too normal, too vanilla, to drum up the drama surrounding Jackson’s life, which, if we’re being honest, was part of the appeal. (Timberlake’s one-time bandmate Joey Fatone might look like a chimp, but Jackson actually owned one.) Part of the reason Jackson’s death is in constant rotation on the 
24-hour cable news networks isn’t just because they’re worthless and lazy and shitty and embarrassing and have their priorities out of whack, but because there’s so much loony to digest surrounding Jackson. 

Were Timberlake to pass today the headline would read “Nice, Normal Guy from Memphis Dies.” That just won’t cut it. 

Likelihood : 8

Could happen were he to : Buy exotic animals, start dressing with more flair, become less public.


Remember when Jackson started pulling at his cock, like, all the time? People didn’t seem to like it so much. It made waves. Because America, it’s no secret, isn’t all that comfortable with its own sexuality, and it doesn’t want or need its No. 1 star flaunting it. (See: Madonna.) 

Enter Usher. Like Timberlake he’s basically carved out a career being Jackson Lite. And like Timberlake he’s too normal. But he’s also too sexual. If you’ve ever been to one of his shows and seen him pull an unsuspecting female from the crowd to faux-bone her onstage, you know this. (For the record, I have, and it’s way uncomfortable.) 

On the plus side, Usher comes with a boatload of baby mama drama (See: “Confessions, parts 1 and 2.” See also: recently filed for divorce), so he and Jackson share that in common. 

Likelihood : 7

Could happen were he to : Stop working with Lil’ Jon, keep it in his pants.


Michael Jackson dressed like Captain Crunch, but with more glitter and gold to the point where he dazzled us with so much inconceivable WTF, we barely took notice after a while. Seeing the rotation of pictures of him in 1,000 buckle pants and aluminum foil and other countless getups and it’s been, like, whoa. 

These music stars today aren’t in his league, and if they’re going to attempt to be royalty, they have to dress the part. That means doing better than baggy jeans and a baseball cap (Usher) or starting your own line of milquetoast clothing named after your grandfather (Timberlake). 

Ginuwine falls into this category as well. He doesn’t dress the part. And like Usher, his music tends to be oversexual. On the flip side of the bedazzled coin, it’s hard to think of someone besides Jackson whose first two records were as jaw-droppingly flawless as Ginuwine’s The Bachelor and 100% , which are, it can now be told, slept-on masterpieces. 

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