Catfight: Battle of the Divas

Beyoncé vs. Mariah Carey

New feature. Biggest divas in the music world today, head to head. Let’s get to it.

There aren’t a lot of people who haven’t heard of Beyoncé and Mariah; they’re only two of the biggest selling female artists ever. Both multi-platinum artists came from well-documented (and marketed) beginnings: Beyoncé pulled a Justin Timberlake and after leading Destiny’s Child to all-time-best-selling-female-group success, branched out into an even more lucrative solo career, while Mariah Carey owes much of her earlier success to the sharp eye of music mogul and ex-husband Tommy Mottola.

The fascinating thing about these two artists is that they’re not just all-glitter and no-talent like your average pre-packaged pop star. They have pipes. Mariah is famous for her ability to break glass with her high notes, and even though Beyoncé doesn’t have quite as great a range, her vocal virtuosity has always earned much acclaim, even since the Destiny’s Child days. That doesn’t stop these two women from flaunting what they’ve got though; a few seconds of either’s music videos is enough to notice that sex appeal is just as strong a selling point as talent (who would’ve thought Mariah would still be going this road as she’s nearing the big 4-0?), and don’t they know it. Well, at least their management people do.

Tight race so far, but I have a feeling this debate can be settled by looking at how disgracefully divalicious their backstage demands are. Or… maybe not, since no list of outrageous requests made by divas these days is complete without Beyoncé and Mariah. Oh, I’ve got it now – this will definitely decide the winner of this Catfight: arm-candy. That’s right. Jay-Z may not be much to look at, but he’s certainly intriguing, and by intriguing we mean dirt-rich- all-powerful-hip-hop-king. Nick Cannon, on the other hand, can be counted on for a good laugh – he is (was?) a comedian after all. I think we can safely say that Beyoncé has chosen well, based on the Eminem Test: Eminem may enjoy picking fights with people, but he probably won’t be messing with Mr. Sean Carter anytime soon… at least, not in the way he disrespected Mimi and Nick. With her husband’s less than stellar career, her own waning popularity, and B’s sheer overpowering star power, Mariah Carey loses out by a hair in the battle of the divas.

Winning cat: Beyoncé

Rated R – Rihanna

Time flies when you’re making money, but it has been two years since Good Girl Gone Bad (and its plethora of re-releases) and almost twelve long drama-filled months since the Chris Brown “incident.” Everyone’s been salivating ever since word got out that Rihanna had started work on her fourth album, especially because her image’s staggering transformation from flirty young island girl to seriously bad diva wasn’t even provoked by anything as severe as criminal assault – what crazy change is going to come next?

There really is only one word to describe Rated R, and it’s Raw. There is no genre that you can tag on this album and be comfortable with your decision afterward because just like Good Girl Gone Bad, Rihanna does not limit herself to a strictly R&B sound. It’s definitely urban, and it definitely incorporates a lot more rock (she does get the Slash on a song called “Rockstar 101” after all), but by the time her fifth album rolls around, she will most likely be unrecognizable once again. Rihanna may have just gone “bad” before, but now she seems to be going all-out thug on us. From songs like “Wait Your Turn,” to “Hard,” to “G4L (Gangster for Life),” it’s clear that she isn’t messing around when she says “I lick a gun when I’m done because I know revenge is sweet.”

Def Jam is probably counting on the fact that people are going to be digging through all of these songs (after having bought the album) for the remains of one Christopher Maurice Brown, and to put it briefly, they’ll find him – strewn everywhere on the entire album, bits and pieces on a hook here, a chorus there. Riri isn’t raging non-stop on though; the lyrically controversial first single “Russian Roulette” is not angry, per se. The guitar is only heard sparsely after the intro, as is the rest of the instrumentation, and the song itself has an almost quietly sinister quality to it. Similarly, “Fire Bomb” is also perhaps one of the closest things you’ll get to a ballad on this album, although its story about cars and lovers and things blowing up is strikingly reminiscent to Rihanna’s altercation with her ex in his car. There is really a little of Chris everywhere in Rated R, on its artwork, the way it was marketed, and obviously in the music. Rihanna may not be singing about the incident in every song, but you have to wonder if her entire mindset hasn’t completely changed after a trial that has tested every last ounce of her resilience. “Stupid in Love” sounds exactly like a typical Stargate ballad, but the truly depressing lyrics set it apart from the rest of the album (although not necessarily in a good way).

Apart from the lead single, other standout tracks include “Te Amo,” which has Rihanna singing to a lady, but also leaked ages ago on the Internet and “Cold Case Love,” which is one of Rated R’s few collaborations, though this one blows Will.i.am’s out of the water. There’s no denying that this album is another step up in intensity from Good Girl Gone Bad (who would’ve thought it was possible?), with the F-word and N-word thrown casually around and the audible grit in every word that Rihanna spits out. It’s just a shame we can’t have a “Kanye vs. 50” throwdown because Chris Brown’s management pushed his album back so much (smart thinking).

Transition – Ryan Leslie

Ryan Leslie is back after with his second album just nine months after his self-titled debut. Granted, Ryan Leslie was received quite well by critics, but wasn’t exactly a chart-shattering record like something Ne-Yo would have been expected to conjure up.  Just like the first album, Transition is a one-man show in terms of songwriting and production, although I would venture to say that this is only a slight improvement. Listening to the album, you get the feeling that the level of Ryan Leslie’s musicality is higher than what his two albums so far have revealed it to be; other than a few standout tracks like “Addicted” and “You’re Not My Girl” (the lead single), he’s somehow failed to make a splash in the urban scene. Is he just out of sync with what kind of music is hot right now? Or is it because so-called R&B fans are hopping on every auto-tuned song that sounds hot in the club when everyone’s tipsy?

Transition has a couple of playlist-worthy tunes, but most of it is midtempo fare that is so chill and laid-back that it risks sounding just bland. Songs like “Never Gonna Break Up” and “Is It Real Love?” would fall under this category, although oddly enough, the instrumentation on “I Choose You” is so sparse that the song itself is really allowed to shine through – until you realize about a minute into the song that the repetitiveness actually isn’t going anywhere. There are definitely Stevie-Wonder-influenced moments, with breezy synths on songs like “To the Top,” but after the first few minutes into the album, you can see why R-Les can’t find his place in the club – the only exception may be “You’re Not My Girl,” which has a thumping beat that sets it apart from the rest of the album. Other tracks that save the album from downright mediocrity include the island-flavoured “Nothing” and “All My Love,” which has an insanely catchy hook.

If this album is proof of anything, it is that Ryan Leslie has heaps of talent. Unfortunately, he just needs to harness it better and channel it into a larger variety of songs so he can branch out from the laid-back-midtempo-ballad sound. A club-banger or two along with a couple truly soulful slow jams would have definitely raised Transition from a decent/good album to a smash record.

Evolution of a Man – Brian McKnight

Brian McKnight just seems to be one of the last few models of consistency left in the R&B world; whether or not the charts agree, though, is up for debate. Evolution of a Man marks the changes and maturity that Brian McKnight has gained in the seventeen years and that have seen him release over ten albums since he first came onto the scene. While his star is definitely waning (Usher’s fate in another ten years, perhaps?), he’s still found it in him to make a decent record to appease his both his fans and aficionados of that smooth unautotuned nineties-flavoured R&B.

This is no Anytime or Back At One – that time is past – but there are a couple of beautiful songs on the album. Sometimes I wish that every song had some piano on it, because the few that do are among the most outstanding. “Another You” has some jazzy undertones, showcasing Brian McKnight’s readiness to experiment (although this is much better than that country thing he tried in Ten), and “Never Say Goodbye” is likewise exquisite, with some Boyz II Men-esque harmonies.

The album does occasionally step it up to 2009 though, with tracks like “I Miss You” that have some synthwork reminiscent of something Polow da Don would come up with. “I Betcha Never” is another one that seems to be out of the usual Brian-McKnight realm, with jumpier beats and a post-2000 sexiness. He channels Stevie Wonder on “While,” with some really interesting tambourines livening the mood, and making it different from the smooth, sultry sound he is known for.

While the first single, “What I’ve Been Waiting For,” is without a doubt one of the best ballads on the album, there are times, especially in the chorus, when the voices of the Backstreet Boys (although with a lot more soul) come to mind. “Next to You” is a darker mid-tempo song with a sound that is quite different from the others, with sparse instrumentation and dramatic vocals. As a whole, Evolution of a Man, although it is in every aspect a solid (songwriting, production) R&B album, especially by today’s standards, it probably won’t be able to touch the late nineties gems that really sent Brian McKnight flying. That being said, the evolution is far from over; if he keeps this pace he can probably crank out another couple albums in the next decade.

The Problem with Leakage

It seems like no one really has to wait until official release dates anymore to get a listen to new albums. The rule of thumb is: the more popular the artist, the earlier his or her tracks leak, and the faster they spread. Just ask Ciara. While her latest album can’t exactly be considered a flop, it’s definitely no fantasy ride, as pretty much the entire project leaked to the internet weeks and weeks before it was due to be released. You just can’t hit them listeners like you used to – and when it comes to responsibility, again, larger projects means more people being involved and more people being involved means a higher chance of someone letting something slip.

Then again, leaking one track early has the potential to make your entire album – if it’s good enough. Usher’s “Yeah!” (how could we forget?) lit everything on fire when Lil’ Jon, its producer, deliberately let it loose while Usher was prepping “Burn” as the lead single. Fans loved it, critics loved it, and Confessions went Diamond in the US (that’s Platinum status times ten for you people who’ve never heard of it). Brilliant marketing tactic… or just crazy luck?

Off the top of my head, upcoming artists whose albums in danger of pulling a Leona Lewis include: Ryan Leslie (although it’s doubtful because he’s writing and producing everything himself); Rihanna (although it’s unbelievable how tightly under wraps her new project is); Mary J Blige (she is working with quite a few producers); and of course, Usher (can you say high-profile??). While fans who just can’t wait for new music may benefit from all this lack of discretion, admittedly, it’s pretty damaging to the artists themselves. You’ve got artists like Cassie who are leaking songs every day, and although it’s not clear whether or not this is being done deliberately, it’s definitely not helping their careers – from what we’re seeing now, at least.

Rihanna’s new album is by far the most interesting out of the upcoming releases; she may not be the best singer, but everything she touches turns to gold. What I can’t fathom is how no one, apart from her camp, has any information whatsoever about her fourth album. It’s slated to drop in November, but as of right there isn’t even a hint as to what the name may be. Impressive. It’s doubtful that she’ll last all the way to the day of release without at least a song leaking (apart from the lead single), but the building anticipation promises pandemonium – could this be the antithesis to Usher in 2004? Or will a major leakage happen and make this just another warning for artists and producers who want to leak tracks without knowing what they’re doing?

Top 5: Albums to Look Forward To Before 2010

1. The Element of Freedom – Alicia Keys
Projected Release Date: Dec 1/2009
First single: “Doesn’t Mean Anything”

Alicia Keys is back with her fourth studio album, and even though we’ve been wondering “How could she possibly top what she did last time?”, she has always managed to do it. She went all for the Motown and old-school soul on As I Am, her last album, and on this one, she has said that she’ll be experimenting with new sounds as opposed to old – everyone seems to be saying that about his/her album these days. Let’s just hope she doesn’t abandon what makes her stand out from the typical R&B we hear on the radio.

In her own words: “The way that the songs progress [on the album] are gonna take you on a natural high. I just want you to feel a sense of freedom, I want you to feel out-of-the-box, feel inspired… you’re going to hear things that you probably didn’t think that I would sound like. It’s a journey.” – interview on 106 & Park

2. Raymond vs. Raymond (previously Monster) – Usher
Projected Release Date: Dec 8/2009
First single: “Papers”

After the absolute flop (well, by Usher’s standards, at least) that was Here I Stand, Usher is picking himself up and releasing another album. Amidst rumours and speculation that he had “gone soft” with his marriage to ex-wife Tameka Foster, the title of the first single, “Papers,” is definitely up for interpretation. Now in his thirties, Usher has to prove that he still has what made Confessions the massive commercial and critical hit that it was; two failures in a row would put him firmly in the “Up-for-retirement” class.

In his own words: “Racy, risky, and edgy” – interview with People magazine

3. Transition – Ryan Leslie
Projected Release Date: Nov 3/2009
First single: “You’re Not My Girl”

The strange thing about Ryan Leslie is that his career never really took off, despite lots of solid production work for artists like Cassie, New Edition, and Britney. He has earned the respect of many artists within the industry for his unique musical style, but his fame on the charts (and in the gossip columns) has been surprisingly limited. For a man who graduated from Harvard when he was 19, Ryan Leslie could be doing a lot of other things with his life right now, but his dedication to music is impressive, to say the least – he wrote and produced his entire debut album, which is almost unheard of in the music scene today. Transition is receiving the same treatment, but as of right now the odds of it being either a Confessions or a floptastic Here I Stand are pretty even.

In his own words: “I don’t really get into the idea of making excuses or giving explanations for why I’m not massively exposed… we’re at an age now where if people really want to expose something… they’ll expose it.” – interview with PinBoard

4. D.N.A. – Mario
Projected Release Date: Oct 12/2009
First single: “Break Up”

Sporting a new shaved head, Mario is back with D.N.A., an album that was supposed to be released ages ago, but kept getting pushed back. It’s hard to believe that this is his fourth album (he’s only 23), but Mario’s talent can’t be denied. He’s like a younger, more contemporary-R&B-sounding male version of Alicia Keys. He has all the producers that the hip-hop and R&B singers in the game want on their albums too, and seeing as this is Mario we’re talking about and add to that the fact that he’s been working on this album for so long, this will probably keep R&B afloat until the end of the year when all the other artists drop their albums.

In his own words: “… you’ve got the Trey Songzs, the Ne-Yos , and you’ve got the Chris Browns of the world—you’ve got all these new artists. This is my fourth album, and some of them aren’t even on their third [album]—I’m coming back with something fresh and new.” – interview with DJBooth.net

5. Echo – Leona Lewis
Projected Release Date: Nov 11/2009
First single: “Happy”

Is there a more anticipated album this year? Well, there probably is, but this one is up there with the rest of them. Spirit was the hit album that every American Idol winner after Kelly Clarkson desperately tried to attain unsuccessfully (with the exception of perhaps Carrie Underwood), and Simon Cowell is not letting go of the reins on this one, having once again chosen the producers for every song. If the first single is any indication though, she seems to be following the formula for her debut a little too closely – “Happy” sounds dangerously similar to, well, every single on Spirit that featured piano instrumentals. Leona Lewis might be toeing the line with this one.

In her own words: “I’ve taken more control this time and I feel more at ease with everything.” (Don’t make me wish that you pushed yourself more, Leona.)

Top 5: Hip-Hop Protégés

Snoop Dogg

Snoop D-O-double-G has been around for so long that it’s hard to imagine him being the protégé of anyone. He is, though. Way back in the early nineties, Cordazar Calvin Broadus was fresh out of high school and a couple of convictions of cocaine trafficking. His freestyle over an old En Vogue song somehow made its way to The Dr. Dre’s ears, and after an audition, Snoop Doggy Dogg found a home at Death Row Records. He certainly has a thing for doctors, as he not only caught the attention of Dr. Dre, but also The D.O.C. (from gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A.), who gave him pointers on how to craft some good rap. Random fact: Snoop is a spokesperson for “Chronic Candy,” made in Switzerland and tastes like… you guessed it: marijuana. On second thought, maybe that’s not so random.

Eminem

Probably the most famous protégé in the history of hip-hop, Eminem made a huge name for not only himself when his Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers LPs came out, but also Dr. Dre, the man who seems to be some kind of talent magnet. That or he just knows how to pick those rappers; thanks to Em, his label, Aftermath Records, found its biggest star, and with Dr. Dre producing the bulk of his albums, Eminem became the rapper that you and your mom knew about. In any case, Eminem’s undying obsession with controversy ensured that music listeners will always be likewise obsessed with Slim Shady – and how could we not? It’s not everyday that a non-African-American rapper has the power to shock you like no gangsta rap has ever done.

50 Cent

From one rapper with an eye for talent to another, Eminem must’ve been taught well by Dr. Dre because when he picked up 50 Cent, he got Aftermath Records another multi-platinum superstar rapper. A little know fact about 50 is that he had some help before Eminem and Dre came along; Jam Master Jay was technically his first mentor in the art of writing songs. After 50 Cent got shot in the infamous nine-bullet-wound incident, one of his CDs found its way into Eminem’s hands, he got flown out for an audition… and everyone knows what happened after that. The lesson here? If you want to make it big you’ve got to go straight to the top – that’s where the people with the jets are.

Drake

You might know him as that guy in the wheelchair from that Degrassi show, but apparently, Aubrey “Drake” Graham raps even better than he acts. Actually, it might have something to do with the producers of his show getting rid of the entire cast, but that’s a different story. After working on a bunch of mixtapes in his early career, Drake finally ended up on Lil Wayne’s Young Money label, and was (still is, probably) one of the most hyped Canadian rappers in a long, long time. It remains to be seen if Lil Wayne, his mentor who’s pretty young himself, can pull a Dr. Dre, but given how Drake is doing on the charts, the chances look pretty good.

Danja

Rappers aside, one of the biggest protégés in hip-hop music has to be “Danjahandz,” or simply Danja, who’s been the perfect student for Timbaland. This record producer has worked with Nelly Furtado, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Lloyd Banks, T.I., and of course, Timbaland himself, picking up a couple of Grammys along the way. Stepping out of his mentor’s shadow though, Danja’s experience with piano and drums sets him apart from other beat-makers who go completely digital and forgo their instruments, and this strategy earns him at least 50k per track at the last count. Not too shabby.

Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3 review

He’s baaaaack.

All that hanging around Kanye must’ve given Jay-Z the resolve to take hip-hop in a different direction (and we don’t mean auto-tune), because the experimentation on this album is producing some much appreciated new sounds. He’s also brought in a staggering number of guests, from Swizz Beatz and Drake to the more obscure Luke Steele (from psychedelic pop group Empire of the Sun) and J. Cole, the first signee to Jay-Z’s own label Roc Nation.

While you can definitely hear the musical innovation that having Kanye West as the main  producer brings, Jay-Z’s lyrical stamp is still all over the album. What that means, unfortunately, is that most of it is typical, predictable, Hova fare. You’ve got the bravado, the swagger, and the (repeated) declaration of his position as hip-hop king. While Jay does switch things up on tracks like “On to the Next One” and “Young Forever,” which sample “D.A.N.C.E.” by Justice and “Forever Young” by Alphaville respectively, the rest of the album is missing that spark that makes a rap album blazing fire. Two of the best songs on the album are only memorable because of the featured artists – note to other rappers: R&B divas do your tracks good. Phoning in Rihanna and Alicia Keys was a good decision; the only minor setback is that Jay-no longer owns the spotlight on “Run This Town” and “Empire State of Mind,” although I have a feeling he doesn’t mind.

Unlike its immediate predecessor American Gangster, which focuses thematically on – what else – the life of a street king, The Blueprint 3 is (structurally and lyrically) more akin to The Blueprint²: The Gift & The Curse. It even has a second try at a duet with Beyoncé, but while “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” was a pump-up-the-jam kind of song that I wouldn’t mind cruising to, “Venus vs. Mars” is just plain awkward. Jay-Z has a seductive side now? Maybe only to Beyoncé, and I’d rather we keep it that way.

For true fans, this album would be a worthwhile purchase; there are three or four truly remarkable tracks that would make your regular playlist rotation easily, but you’d have to be a real fan to actually take the time to sift through the rest. That being said, Jay-Z can still spit rhymes with the best of them, and the fact that he’s turning the big 4-0 at the end of this year has not escaped his attention – it probably really does hit home for him because “Young Forever” is brilliant both in lyrics and delivery. How fitting that it also serves as the conclusion to Jay-Z’s latest offering; it makes the lesser songs easier to forget… and much easier to forgive.

What are the chances that Mr. Shawn Carter will finally “retire” when he’s 50?

Top 5: Paper Gangsters

Can’t say they’re gangsta with a straight face.

DJ Khaled

I watched about six minutes of this DJ Khaled on MTV Cribs before I decided on the topic for this article. Listening to this man talk was just straight up bad. From yelling “We da bessssst,” upon entry into his home (and repeating it countless times after that), to basically overdoing every physical and verbal aspect of the stereotypical gangster rapper, there’s maybe an extremely small chance that DJ Khaled is as gangster as he makes himself out to be. Since he completely blew that image out of proportion on Cribs, though, that’s highly unlikely. Mr. Khaled Khaled is by far the most annoying rapper I have ever had the misfortune of noticing.

Kevin Federline

Why oh why didn’t you just stick to dancing, K-Fed? Oh right, you wouldn’t have gotten half of Britney Spears’ fortune if you did. Kevin Federline started out as a backup dancer, then went into modeling, rapping, and being Britney’s baby daddy. His rap “career” was just a huge embarrassment to hip-hop, with his debut album being dissed by everyone in every direction; you can’t really rap about how you’re “gangster” and a “star” while every song on your album is about how you’re going to throw away your (insanely wealthy) wife’s money on weed and parties. It doesn’t work, Fed-Ex.

Akon

Like 50 Cent, Akon has built his entire image on the “hardened gangster.” Unlike 50 Cent though, Akon’s street cred is completely hollow. For a guy who brags in every other interview about being an ex-ringleader of a huge car theft ring, writes songs about being “Locked Up,” and has a record label called “Konvict Muzik,” Akon has never been convicted of anything substantial. Ever. Actually, he did do three years probation for gun possession, but really? Gun possession? Aren’t guns more common than fast food in the States?

Rick Ross

No, this ain’t Ricky Ross the LA drug trafficker; this is William Leonard Roberts II. The big thing with this big man is this: he’s no drug dealer; he used to be a corrections officer. Yeah, he had a gun alright. Thing is, he wore the badge too. Rick Ross also claimed to have gang ties to Miami’s Carol City Cartel when he was busted for marijuana in ’08. Unfortunately, he couldn’t prove it, his lawyer prove it, and the officer in charge had to take his case off the gang task force. Paper gangster much?

50 Cent

Okay, okay. I get that Fiddy has the roughest childhood out of all five rappers/singers on this list. No father, mother was murdered when he was eight, grew up in Queens, sold crack, and even got caught at his high school with drugs and guns – G-Unit isn’t an empty name. However, as of right now, I think it’s safe to say that 50 Cent doesn’t have much time for anything other than straight business. He has a young son who’s a pretty important part of his life, from what he’s said in interviews, and it’s hard to imagine him going back to the street life, especially now that he’s made his gold. Curtis Jackson III is in business with Reebok, Vitamin Water, movies, video-games, and TV – in addition to music, of course. You’re more likely to find him in a suit than swinging a rag, although if he is swinging one, it’s probably Louis Vuitton. He’s come a long way, and I have to say that out of the five artists on this list, he’s the most deserving of mine, so props to you, 50.

Top 5: Michael Jackson Wannabes

You know that really bad cliché about truly great artists who will never die? These five artists are doing their best to make sure this cliché stays alive for the King of Pop.

Usher

He sings like him, glides like him, and owes 99.9% of his success to the late Michael Jackson. Usher’s R&B crown rests largely on the gloves and the smooth moves, trademarks of the original King of Pop. Apart from dance, Usher and Michael Jackson share an almost fanatical support from the African-American community at their respective heights of popularity. MJ’s influence on Usher’s performance style is so thorough that anyone who calls himself a fan of Usher (whether he knows it or not) is inevitably a fan of the man who originally popularized the moonwalk. Just sayin’.

Justin Timberlake

You could call Usher the black Michael Jackson… or you could call Justin Timberlake the white Michael Jackson. At the risk of getting a “Too soon,” I’ll just keep my mouth shut. What’s there left to say? Ever since he ditched ‘N Sync, JT has made no secret about his love for Michael Jackson. His first ever solo performance at the VMAs had the fedora, the gloves, Michael-Jackson-inspired choreography, and falsetto after falsetto. Even after his music started transitioning toward a more rock and even electronic sound, JT is not afraid to experiment and take risks. Just like someone who released Thriller back in ’82. If Michael Jackson were 25 years-old today, he’d be Justin Timberlake. Except for the… never mind.

Chris Brown

Chris, Chris, Chris. If it weren’t for his shocking assault on Rihanna, he’d be one of the biggest stars of this generation. Originally touted as the next Usher, this 20 year-old can literally dance his shoes off – as if you can be the next Usher without knowing how to do a decent glide. His singing leaves a bit to be desired, but hey. Like every other artist on this list, Chris Brown’s dancing is the most immediate connection to the legacy that Michael Jackson left behind; his tribute performances of Billie Jean and Thriller make that much clear. Now if only he can do something about that voice – oh and fix his ruined image.

Ne-Yo

Music, check. Fashion, check. Dancing – well, Ne-Yo poses more than dances, but close enough. Check. Shaffer Smith is the closest to what Michael Jackson would’ve been if he’d stuck with R&B instead of experimenting with different genres. He rocks the fedora too, but that might be more of a sneaky way to hide his receding hairline. Ne-Yo even has his own equivalent of MJ’s signature hiccup: the holler. Except of course it doesn’t sound as cool as the hiccup and he really overdoes it. And the choreography… it’s strange because the man tries to move, he really does. He has maybe two or three go-to moves/poses that come up about ten times per performance – check them out, they’re not hard to miss. Compared to the others on this list though, Ne-Yo is nowhere near the prolific dancers they are. Song-writing’s his bread and butter, and it’s probably better that way.

Ciara

The only female on the list, Ciara Princess Harris has no problem taking risks with her choreography – just like… guess who. The woman who comes closest to putting on the moves like Ciara is probably Michael’s sister, Janet Jackson. Like Chris Brown, Ciara’s singing has a long way to go before she can get anywhere close to MJ’s level, and honestly, I can tell you it isn’t happening anytime soon. Her tribute performance of “Heal the World” is perfect evidence. Cici’s “1, 2 Step,” fortunately, is on point and her dancing is the best tribute that she could give the King of Pop.