THE 4 Iconic Pop Divas of the 21st Century So Far

In contemporary music, quite a few artists can deliver melodies that resonate with audiences, even on a global basis. However, a select few wield their artistry in such an enthralling manner as to leave an indelible mark on world culture.

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These exceptional female talents are often hailed as pop divas in the most laudable sense of the term. They represent pure virtuosity and are each an influential force in shaping the sociocultural tapestry of their time. Consider these four divas from the first decade of the 21st century.

1. Beyoncé

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is not just the only solo artist besides Mariah Carey to have hit No. 1 in four different decades; most fans and critics alike lean toward calling her music so compelling that it’s “nearly perfect.”

The “perfect” review comes from Vox, who also cites two sets of lyrics that underscore why Beyoncé is so dang…Beyoncé: From the 2013 track “Flawless”: I woke up like this, I woke up like this / We flawless, ladies tell ’em. And from “Formation,” from 2016: I see it, I want it, I stunt, yellow bone it / I dream it, I work hard, I grind till I own it.

Heard! Although Vox goes on (and on) to call Beyoncé’s artistry “effortless, flawless perfection” and notes her “endless effort, [and] grinding labor,” did you know that a 12-year-old Beyoncé was a member of the song-and-dance group Girls Tyme that competed on Ed McMahon’s Star Search—and lost?

Not that she ever lost again one time in her whole entire life after that, mind you, but, just sayin’…

2. Madonna

The “Material Girl” blended power, innovation, identity, and various (OK, occasionally tawdry) forms of fashion and visual art with her music since 1982, when she released her self-titled debut album. She is that rare artist who crosses boundaries as she sparks significant conversations and controversies over race, gender, cultural appropriation, and of course, as indicated by the title of her 1992 coffee table tome, Sex

“People say I’m controversial,” Madonna said, according to The New York Times. “But I think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around.” 

[RELATED: Behind the Song Lyrics: “Material Girl,” Madonna]

Beyond that, Madonna arguably turned pop music into the “ultimate genre,” according to Daily Music Roll. “She took the musical form to its highest peak, becoming the most successful pop musician of all time. In her ongoing musical career, she has never missed a beat by slowing down or failing to impress the audience. In just a matter of time, she has become the most vivacious icon of her time and beyond. She has effectively maintained her status of being the Queen of Pop with her excellent understanding of the genre and raw talent.”

3. Rhianna

Almost as soon as a then-16-year-old Rihanna signed with Jay-Z’s Def Jam Recordings, the Barbadian singer won an international fan base with her mix of dance, pop, and R&B music on her debut recordings, Music of the Sun and A Girl Like Me.

Before she turned 30, Rhianna had released 14 singles that hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, making her the youngest and fastest solo artist to do this. In addition, Black Music Scholar notes that Rihanna worked hard to release an album every year while setting many trends, such as working with DJ Calvin Harris. Plus, she continually sets fashion trends as a businesswoman who founded the fashion line Fenty, and she’s the first woman of color to head a fashion house, as well (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy).

“Rihanna doesn’t stick to the stereotypical gender roles that Black women artists are given, and therefore inspires others to follow behind her and be authentic to them,” reports Black Music Scholar. 

4. Lady Gaga

Like Madonna, Lady Gaga was a New York club scene devotee when she was young. She brought what Far Out called her “assertive, flashy, and empowering” persona to her 2008 debut album, The Fame, which melds glam rock with electronica.

“Lady Gaga’s music speaks for itself,” reported Far Out. “One of the more versatile artists in the industry, her musical style encompasses everything from pop music to EDM to avant-garde. She was influenced by artists like David Bowie, Queen, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Freddie Mercury, as well as Andy Warhol for the theatrical aspects of performance.” Her music addresses love, loss, romance, identity, drugs, money, and she is well-known for taking stands on gender, race, and other controversial topics. 

Beyond that, Lady Gaga worked with the legendary pop and jazz singer Tony Bennett, releasing their first single in 2011, “Duets II”The Lady Is a Tramp.” Together, they ended up touring the world and developing a friendship that reportedly included Gaga posing nude for Bennett so he could paint her portrait (go, Tony!). The duo won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for their album Cheek to Cheek.

 “I think something I was craving for myself was a truly authentic collaboration, a true artistic exchange,” Lady Gaga said, according to Rolling Stone. “With Tony, I found not only that, but I found a friend. Not only do we spend a lot of time together and make music, but we talk. It’s been an incredible experience all the way around.”

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Live Nation

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