Pop Music

Susan Boyle vs. Ke$ha: Pick your champion

With two weeks left in the year, Billboard has posted it's 2010 year-end charts. The top single of 2010? Ke$ha's "Tik Tok." Wouldn't necessarily have been our guess, but fair enough -- seems like one of a handful of 2010's defining singles.

The album race, however, has more shocking (and discouraging) victor: Susan Boyle's I Dreamed A Dream, which you will recall came out in November 2009. Still, there is some symbolic catharsis to these results: Who better to represent their respective mediums (singles and albums) than Ke$ha and Susan Boyle? And if what you want is pop domination, who would rather have on your team?

Obviously, we'd rather take Ke$ha, for every reason imaginable. We'll take bitchy glitter weirdos over overgrown choir girls every day. What is not obvious is whether we're right.

The album is dying a slow, well-documented death. The single, meanwhile, is doing just fine, thanks, due to online stores where a) you can pick and choose through albums and b) the cost of a single song is below the "ahh, fuck it" threshold of most people. But what increasingly matters much more than either sales figure is a sort of general brand.

The models for success as a musician are no longer limited to selling music and touring. There's a whole infinite range of ways to earn money. And in our celebrity driven pop culture, your image is ultimately more important than your product. So then: Who's got a more appealing image, Ke$ha or Susan Boyle?

The answer: Susan Boyle. She's got the rags-to-riches thing we all love so much, she's safe and regardless of what you think of her music, it's hard to hate her personally. Not so with Ke$ha. And the strong sales of Susan Boyle's new album (number one again for the fourth time!) suggest the novelty hasn't worn off.

Susan Boyle and Ke$ha are obviously not the only people in contention for most popular pop artist of 2010. Two other clear choices are Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, who you'll note, fall neatly into the same categories as Susan Boyle and Ke$ha, respectively.

There are two more people who have to be in this discussion: Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. And they are actually better representatives of the pop landscape than anyone above, because they are more well known for their personalities than their music.

We've also without doubt crossed into the territory where hip-hop is pop music. Stylistically to some degree, but here we mean ideologically. Rappers are no less relevant as cultural icons than saps with guitars and pianos. So add Drake, Kanye West and Eminem, and maybe even Nicki Minaj and Lil' Wayne to the list of candidates.

Who do you think was the king or queen of pop music in 2010? One of the above, or someone we didn't even mention? Let us know below.

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Kiernan Maletsky is Westword's music editor. His writing has appeared in alt-weeklies around the country as well as Miley Cyrus's mom's Twitter feed.
Contact: Kiernan Maletsky