Most influential pop music icon: Michael Jackson or Madonna?
via AP

Most influential pop music icon: Michael Jackson or Madonna?

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Michael Jackson and Madonna are the crowned King and Queen of Pop. Both legends shaped pop music and influenced generations of artists. MJ's magical dance moves, visually-compelling music videos and showmanship inspired today's top entertainers. Madonna's reinvention, sexual freedom and female empowerment not only pushed boundaries, but helped future pop divas to continue that legacy. While MJ and Madonna proudly earned their honorific titleswho ultimately influenced pop music more? 🎤 👑

The Votes Are In!

There have been numerous comparisons in legacy and impact, but who had a greater influence on pop music? Moonwalkers and Madonna Wannabes have two weeks to vote on either pop icon. Voting closes on March 27. GO!


Michael and Madonna are among the best-selling artists of all time. It wasn't that uncommon for their paths to cross. In fact, they tried working together. Obviously that didn't happen, but they hung outas Madonna explained at the 2009 VMAs. She later revealed they also had a brief romance. Though it was understood they were king and queen of pop, they were also fierce competitors. 

Both have inspired today's artists, but there can only be one greatest pop music icon of all time.


The King of Pop literally broke records and barriers in music. He cemented a level of greatness that no other artist could accomplish. His art was visually-compelling, and his showmanship was magical. Many artists have followed in his footsteps. Michael taught them to reach for the stars, but he was truly one of a kind. The greatest entertainer of all-time, to be exact.


The Queen of Pop is also the queen of reinvention. Madonna constantly reinvented her look, fashion and music style—always remaining relevant and setting trends. She used controversy to push boundaries with her sexuality, and empowered freedom for other women and LGBTQ people to "express themselves." Because of Madonna, more female artists are able to explore sexuality, girl power and independence in their music.

To be honest, many believe no other music artist will ever accomplish what MJ did—not even Madonna. Back in 2010, The Atlantic writer Hampton Stevens wrote: 
If Jackson had only been a great musician who also invented music video, he still wouldn't have mattered as much. Madonna, his only worthy heir, was almost as gifted at communicating an aesthetic on-screen. The aesthetic Jackson communicated, however, was much more powerful, liberating and globally resonant than hers. It was more powerful than what Elvis and Sinatra communicated, too. Hence, that whole "Most Influential Artist" thing.

Madonna cemented her influence on pop music by always controlling the narrative. She always knew what she was doing by pushing the envelope and remaining a controversial figure through her art. And through all that public heat and reinvention, Madonna was able to break down barriers for future artists. 

Cleveland's Laure DeMarco wrote:

Madonna's ability to turn controversy into publicity was never more apparent than with the 1984 release of her second album, "Like a Virgin." It was this release, with the white-lace-clad singer on the cover in a virgin/whore pose and Boy Toy belt, that established Madonna as a superstar. It sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and spawned five Top 10 singles.
But more than that, it was the visual and lyrical content that set a successful pattern Madonna has followed through her career: intentionally provoking with a mix of overtly sexual content, religious symbolism and devil-may-care girl-power rebellion.

MJ broke the color barrier on MTV with his visionary music videos "Billie Jean," "Beat It" and "Thriller." He shook the world when he moonwalked across the stage at Motown 25. "Thriller" became the best-selling album of all time—cemented MJ's status as the King of Pop. "Thriller" inspired so many artists, and set a precedent for what a pop star could accomplish. 

His groundbreaking "Bad World Tour" showed just how powerful of a pop icon he really was, breaking even more records in 1988. "Bad" was the album that paved the way for artists like Katy Perry to have five #1 Billboard Hot 100 hits from the same record. He continued to produce visually-compelling stories after "Thriller" in music videos for hits like "Bad," "Smooth Criminal" and "Remember the Time." MJ also continued to give groundbreaking performance after performance, like the halftime show at Super Bowl XXVII.

MJ remained a visionary artist and magical entertainer throughout the '80s and '90s. Usher, Justin Timberlake and Chris Brown have all emulated Michael's moves. His unique voice and musical styles inspired the sounds of Ne-Yo, Bruno Mars and The Weeknd. MJ's showmanship paved the way for Beyoncé to become an entertainer of a similar trajectory. To put it simply, artists of today wouldn't exist without the groundbreaking and unmatched talent of the King of Pop.

Watch an ode to MJ below, and see for yourself.

While Madonna became a pop star with her self-titled debut album, her sophomore effort "Like a Virgin" made her pop icon after her performance at the 1984 VMAsMany girls wanted to be like Madonna following that VMA performance in 1984—coining the phrase Wannabes, but can you blame them? She later paid homage to her iconic performance with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 VMAs

That's just the thing—Madonna influenced so many female artists to come, and broke down gender barriers. She became the ultimate sex symbol, fashion icon and gay icon. It started with that controversial-yet-iconic VMAs performance. 

She continued to explore her sexuality with songs like "Justify My Love."  She talked about controversial subject matters on hits like "Papa Don't Preach," and tackled religion on "Like a Prayer." She jumped on trends with hits like "Vogue." She empowered women on tracks like "Express Yourself."

Madonna's sexual freedom and stage presence inspired Britney. Her sense of reinvention influenced Christina. She's a reference point for both the musical styles and fashions of both Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. That empowerment many artists feel to use their art to create controversy, be free, lead trends and reinvent themselves can be credited to the Queen of Pop. 

Watch an homage to the Queen of Pop, and see what we mean.

Watch MJ's legendary performance of "Billie Jean" at Motown 25.

Watch Madonna's iconic performance of "Like a Virgin" at the 1984 VMAs. 

Madonna changed her image time and time again, but what didn't change is her impact on women, LGBTQ people and the world.

Today's artists truly try to emulate MJ, but they know the King of Pop can't be matched or surpassed.

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