September 3, 2023
Music Industry

Hey! Where Have All the Male Pop Stars Gone?

Sure, there’s still Bieber, Bruno and Pitbull, but the guys are greatly outnumbered by the girls right now. Entertainment Weekly takes a look.

Women didn’t always rule pop.

In 2011, the still-ascendant Beyoncé, en route to global romination, posed a question: “Who run the world?” Four years later, at least if we’re talking about the pop music world, her answer has never rung more true: girls.

For the better part of two decades, I’ve had a front-row seat to the mercurial circus of pop music. And never in those years can I remember a time when that world was so dominated by female artists, nor a time when men felt so on the sidelines.

In a matter of months, the wheels seem to have come off the pop juggernaut that is (was?) One Direction. Zayn Malik made headlines when he abruptly split in March, talk surfaced this month that the group would “take a break” in 2016, and alpha member Harry Styles appears to have one foot out the door; a fifth record—if it happens—will surely be their last. Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake, the platinum standard for 21st-century male pop artists, has effectively exited the stage. (After winning an iHeartRadio Innovator Award this spring, he announced that he was heading home to “learn how to change a poopy diaper.”) JT’s newborn son could well be in kindergarten before Dad turns out another record. As for that other Justin, the 21-year-old Mr. Bieber? After months of bad behavior that crashed and nearly burned his career, he’s still making penance rounds in the press, and has lately been in charm overdrive, gingerly laying the groundwork for a comeback try.

“I think it’s pretty clear that when we say ‘pop star’ in the 2010s, we mean a woman,” says NPR Music critic Ann Powers. “Even if Ed Sheeran is selling as many records as his friend Taylor Swift, we’re not gonna think of him before we think of Taylor.”

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 36986 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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