Wednesday, September 8th, 2010
91

Who is the Greatest Diva of the Last 25 Years? We Offer Scientific Proof!

DVIA!By way of eulogy to the dying animal that is the Diva, my crack team of consultants, statisticians and graphic designers have assembled DIVA-OFF 2010, a highly scientific (we used computers!) evaluation of the greatest divas of the past twenty-five years. A list of divas was evaluated on eleven levels of diva-ness, and, because each diva characteristic is not created equal, we scaled the values in the hopes of creating an aggregate diva number that will serve as a reference point for future generations.

Here is why we needed to do this. On April 14, 1998, at the Beacon Theater in New York City, VH1 put on a live show titled "Divas Live: An Honors Concert for VH1's Save the Music."

Despite the disastrous title, despite the VH1-ness, the organizers of the event managed to put together an impressive list of performers and presenters. When the last spangle had floated down off the last corseted dress, no less than the likes of Aretha, Gloria, Shania and Mariah had done their part to save the music. To close the show, the multi-culti dream collective of divas convened on stage and vocally gangbanged "Natural Woman." It would have been the predictable, if thoroughly satisfying end, to a magical night and an appropriate closing night for a new franchise-but the Divas and VH1 were not interested in nice, easy endings. Just as the audience was getting ready to toss down their bouquets, Aretha took everyone to church, leading the ladies through a mindboggling ten-minute rendition of "Testimony."

The pyrotechnics of "Divas Live" were impossible to follow, but VH1 still tried, gamely, for the next seven years. In 1999, they trotted out Brandy, Cher, Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, Faith Hill, LeAnn Rimes, Mary J and a fantastically manic, sweaty Whitney. (Much of Maya Rudolph's SNL impersonation must be based on the footage from this concert.) Those girls had a nice moment, banding together to sing "Ain't No Way," but after that, the franchise fell apart and the word diva evolved to take on different connotations. By "Divas 2004," the list had been distilled down to Sheila E, Ashanti and Jessica Simpson. Last year, the show attempted a comeback with this line-up: Adele, Miley Cyrus and Leona Lewis.

The decline of "Divas Live" is, in many ways, the mark of a network that never quite knows when its shows have run their course, but it is also indicative of a change in the landscape of popular music. While the word diva has found its way into common usage, the actuality of the diva-a puffed-up, preternaturally gifted and hopelessly drama-filled songbird-has been sold off in favor of an endless line of talentless smut merchants (Katy Perry, Ke$ha, Justin Bieber) and boring moaners (everyone else). Consider this potential Divas 2010 lineup: Beyonce, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Carrie Underwood and the Autotune 5000. Sure, that might be an interesting show, but when those six girls convened on center stage to sing an old Aretha song, what could it sound like? Would you hold your breath the way you did when you saw Whitney stumble up on stage next to Mary J Blige and her fucked-up hairdo? Could RoboDivas 2010 pound out a ten-minute anything?

Almost all of this is Beyonce's fault. After dumping Kelly Rowland and Michelle T, the BORG of Beyonce has gone on to swallow up everything diva, going as far as to portray former divas like Etta James in really shitty movies, thereby scrapping together whatever excuse she needs to cover songs and convert them into her own specific brand of catchy, alluring, but ultimately plasticine pop music. This Godzilla stomping act has made Mariah's late years irrelevant and has marginalized Mary J. to the point where the Soul of the Ghetto now covers U2 and Led Zeppelin songs. Celine remains in exile in Las Vegas. (For some reason, every time I think about Celine's cage underneath the Bellagio, I picture her sitting cross-legged in a pile of hay. A little rat sits in her hand, and, in her butchered pygmy French, Celine tells the rat that everything will be alright….) The Dixie Chicks are in negotiations with NBC for a five-part reality TV show in which they train to fight all five members of En Vogue. Aretha is now just a hat. Babs is just another joke about Jews on "Glee." Shania Twain has been reduced to a shade of Canadian tan that is impossible to describe. Gloria Estefan is a pickle sandwich. Whitney is a fat, bow-tied Taiwanese boy.

All these dying divas presented the following questions.

  • In twenty years, when enough dirt has been kicked over Aretha's grave for Beyonce to cover "Respect," will we even be able to remember what life was like before Beyonce?

  • What precipitated Beyonce? How did we all become so lame?
  • Before the soft, interring dream of Beyonce becomes the new Tron, what can we do to show our children's children that something real once existed?

From these questions came the following document.

AN EXPLANATION OF THE LIST OF DIVAS

After months of consultation, the crack team came up with the following list: Aretha, Barbra, Beyonce, Celine, Diana, Etta, Gladys, Mariah, Mary J, Whitney and Jordin Sparks. We included Jordin Sparks as a control, meaning, because Jordin Sparks sucks and sucks in a really boring way, she could provide a necessary context for how a really boring, shitty singer might rate out on the scale. We did not include Madonna because for a diva to really be a diva, the majority of her career must be built on the strength of her voice. Yes, it's debatable whether or not everyone on our list fulfills this requirement, but none fail as disastrously as Madonna. Given the parameters we set up, there is simply no way to evaluate her without throwing off the entire system. Some others that would obviously have been included just a few years ago-Christina Aguilera, we're looking at you!-have deemed themselves ineligible. (See also: outliers that seem like they are divas but are not, such as Grace Jones, Pink, etc.)

THE RANKINGS

We present the following categories and rankings. The parenthetical numbers are the relative weight of the characteristic to the overall greatness of the diva. Bear with us, please. This will make sense by the time you get to the end.



TAKING THE LISTENER ON AN EMOTIONAL JOURNEY (300)

Were it up to only me, this would be weighted even more heavily, but the crack team of statisticians outvoted me 13-1. Here's my argument: The diva's role in society is to act as an emotional touchstone for her millions of listeners. To be a true diva, then, the singer must make us feel her pain. We have to care when she's struggling, we have to believe the songs aren't just bombed-out commercial jingles written by a team of 30 corporate songwriters. Many divas have attained their status without a great singing voice (Mary J), but only Beyonce has done it without the ability to take her listeners on an emotional journey. It is a sad reflection of what has happened to music, by the way, that the only diva left standing is also the one who can't make anyone cry. (She came close with "Halo," but I need to see a good live performance of that before I can count it.) Imagine if Jordin Sparks had sung "The Greatest Love of All" instead of Whitney. The history of music would be unalterably changed for the worse.

Here's the crack team's argument: An emotional journey cannot happen without a great singing voice. The two are intertwined. Weighting TTLOAEJ higher than pure singing voice makes it possible for Fantasia to rate out higher than Celine Dion. We can't have those sorts of insane inaccuracies in the system or else we're going to look really stupid.

My response: Exactly! Fantasia is exactly why the system works. Whatever the post-litigation, post-pills Fantasia puts out is going to be fucking huge. I mean, the girl already learned to read, raised a kid on her own and upstaged Oprah. She just needs to sing some good songs. If the system is good, it should also have some predictive power.

Crack team: Dude, unlike you, I have a job. I can't answer these insane emails all day. Go watch Beaches or something.

EMOTIONAL JOURNEY
Notes: Mary J. has built her career on this category-nobody emotes quite as well as she does. Mariah rates low here because she doesn't quite emote as much as she just kinda arches her back and/or sticks her arm up in the air.



PURE VOICE (300)
Doesn't need much explanation. Can you sing?
CAN THEY SING?

Notes: Beyonce is rated correctly here. If anything, she could be bumped down a bit. Why does the girl never show up in any live performances that aren't her own? Why are all her shows lipsynched? Until she gets on stage with a real diva (again, the reason she can't is because she ate all of them), we won't really know. Even a battle with Kelly Clarkson might show us something. In her one diva-to-diva moment with Jennifer Hudson, she got smoked. And that's Jennifer Hudson, not Etta James or Celine.



ICONIC SONG/MOMENT (200)

The weighting of this was extremely difficult, especially in differentiating it from overall commercial success. But every diva must have one, preferably two. If she's wearing some inexplicable headpiece during that moment, all the better.

MOMENT

Notes: Barring some unforeseen war which will necessitate a greater performance, Whitney's National Anthem at the Super Bowl will always be the greatest diva moment of all time. Consider the context: the country has entered the first Gulf War and the soldiers are watching the game, thinking of home. And here comes Whitney in a nylon tracksuit and a cleaning lady headband to belt out the most rousing, incredible rendition of the National Anthem ever. Aretha never had a moment like that, but has strung together enough semi-moments to be on a similar stage.



OVERALL COMMERCIAL SUCCESS (180)
Eh, this bores me, but it has to be counted. Mariah has the most #1s of all time. What the hell does that mean? Are you happy, crack team?

COMMERCE
Notes: none. This category is necessary, but boring.



UPSTAGING PRESENCE (100)

Watch the first minute of the video above. That's how it's done. Poor Carole King. She really had no chance-even if this had been "Divas Live: An Honors Concert for VH1's Save the Ku Klux Klan," she wouldn't have been able to get in a single bar over Aretha. These sorts of moments are why "Divas Live" was such a good idea. "Divas Live: Battle Royale" would have been even better. Simply put, if you are on the stage with another diva, how badly do you blow that other bitch away?

UPSTAGING
Notes: This category was determined by the following computer simulation. We took each diva, put them all on a stage and programmed them all to sing "The Weight." Each time a diva was out-sung or out-volumed by another diva, she was disappeared. At the end, the stage was Aretha, Celine, Barbra, Etta James and Whitney. Any of these divas could have won, but because it was Aretha's song, she ended up blowing out a game Whitney at the end to claim the crown. Celine's promoter would like us to point out that if the song had been "I Drove All Night," that Celine would have won. This is true.



HAND GESTURES (80)

Turn the sound off on this video and watch from 0:38 to 1:07

Of all the diva characteristics, Hand Gestures is the most open to personal preference. I certainly don't like Celine's slow-motion-deodorant-commercial hand gestures, but who am I to tell your mom that they aren't cool? And while I always liked how Mariah would point out the notes in her runs, I can also see why your mother might find this to be a bit show-offy. One thing your mother and I can agree on, though: Carrie Underwood will never ascend to diva status because of her awful, awful work in this category.



HAND GESTURES
Notes: The real divider here was Mariah. Some in the community seem to not enjoy her habit of pointing out the notes of her runs. Here's my argument-it would be annoying if the notes in the run weren't so impressively distinct. For example, if Maya was going on one of her mushy, pointless runs and pointing out notes that weren't there, this would be annoying. But that's not the case with Mariah-she is simply pointing out her greatness, which is the whole point of hand gestures anyway. Also, nobody ever did the block-your-earhole-with-your-finger-and-squeal move better than Mariah. Diana Ross rates so high here because she invented and perfected the float-around-and-wave-slowly maneuver that inspired Celine.



HAIR (40)
Maybe we should call it the "personal hair evolution of said diva." To score highly in this category, there must be at least one, preferably two fucked-up periods. Ideally, the fucked-upness of the hair will reflect the fucked-upness of the diva's personal life.
HAIR
Notes: Some would argue that Etta doesn't deserve the top spot here because her hair didn't change much. But more than any of the other ladies, Etta understood the possibility of hair as a branding mechanism. Hair was simply more important to her than the others. Mary J is just entering her fucked-up hair stage and should rate even higher in a few years.



STANK (30)

Mostly used in live performances, stank is how all the great divas differentiate themselves from the chaff-how much attitude can you throw out there for your adoring fans? How heh is your heh? For an example of stank, go to 0:32 and listen to how Gladys Knight pronounces the word "business."
STANK
Notes: Whitney's chronic inability to muster up much stank was her Achilles heel. She could always blow away the other diva, but was always vulnerable to the other diva just getting nasty and out-stanking her. Imagine her and Etta James-Whitney blows her away with a run, but Etta just smiles and pours out a bucket of stank on the stage. The crowd gravitates to the personality, not the technical expertise.



MAKING INSANE DEMANDS/GOING TO REHAB/OVERALL DRAMA (40)
Because we can only evaluate the diva within her own historical context, the approximate value of making insane demands/going to rehab/overall drama must be proportional to the average levels of those things during the diva's time.
DRAMA
Notes: We almost put Liza on this list because of this.



WEIGHT FLUCTUATIONS (30)
The wilder the better. Kelly Clarkson, who, at this current trajectory, will approach diva status in 2016, certainly seems to understand the need to plump up every once in a while. Getting big, like getting fucked-up hair, creates a bond with the listening audience.
WEIGHT
Notes: Another point of contention between myself and the crack-team: I said that Mariah should rate way higher here because her weight fluctuation, while not as dramatic as the Disco Aretha to Post-Disco Aretha swing, was certainly more shocking and concerning. The crack team pointed out that Mariah's weight gain was too short-lived to compete with the four or five different versions of Aretha. This was our darkest hour in the process. I quit and broke a computer. The crack team shook their heads, sadly, and told me to grow up. Numbers are numbers.



AGING INTO A DRAG QUEEN/WEARING INSANE HATS (30)

It happens to every single one of them, so there must be some connection. Yes, some of the women on the list are a bit young to be anointed into the "Age into Drag Queen" Hall of Fame with Donna Summer and Celine Dion, so all values were generated in the crack team's time machine. The insane hat phenomenon seems to trail closely behind the drag queen look. Aretha, of course, brought the hat issue to the national forefront at the inauguration, but really, that hat was the last chapter in a long, long story. As crack-team member Wally Johnson said, "That woman cannot resist the urge to find weird shit and put it on her head."
DRAG QUEENNESS
Notes: Poor Celine. At least her underarms still look good.



RESULTS
Each Diva's stats were compiled and graphed out in scaled circles. These circles were then clustered together to give a visual approximation of the diva's overall greatness. Each circle's color corresponds with the characteristic shown in the graph above.

RESULTS!



CONCLUSION
Nostalgia is always the first casualty of hard science. While we would like to conclude that Aretha was the greatest diva of the past thirty years, the numbers showed a slight edge to Whitney Houston. Exploring deeper, the crack team discovered that the edge was mostly culled from the incalculable importance of Whitney's Super Bowl performance. While Aretha pretty much broke every song she ever performed, leaving it smoking on the stage, never to be touched again, Whitney broke our goddamn National Anthem. On a slightly lesser scale, Whitney's version of "And I Will Always Love You" slightly edged out any of Aretha's recordings, not only because it spawned the entire really-famous-song-you-forgot-was-in-a-terrible-movie phenomenon, most recently evidenced by Michael Jackson's "Free Willy" footage, but also because it created its own YouTube phenomenon. Again, it can be argued that Aretha cannot be blamed for missing out on the YouTube and music video stage, but a diva's greatness is, in part, a result of her place in time.

Within her context, there was never a singing star who shone as brightly as Whitney Houston. The run was shorter than almost every one of her competitors, but diva greatness is not a marathon, but rather, a shining example of the possibility of the human being. There will probably never be another Aretha-certainly, the Beyonce BORG and the militias of teenybopper chart-toppers seem to indicate the end of her era-but it's probable that the never-to-be-famous next Aretha is singing in some church, somewhere. She exists but she simply will never be. Whitney, on the other hand, stretches what we can reasonably comprehend-how could we ever expect to see another with those pipes, that face, that knack for the moment, that personal drama, that incandescent potential?




Jay Caspian Kang is a frequent contributor to Free Darko.

88 Comments / Post A Comment

saythatscool (#101)

Why was HiredGoons not considered?

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Certainly not for lack of stank or insane headgear.

I look forward to DVF-OFF 2010, where wrap dresses go head-to-head to be evaluated on fit, color, print, makeup-repellent capability, and stank.

Why does the girl never show up in any live performances that aren't her own?

Does this not count? It was on TV and everything!

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

The earrings are about to come the fuck off, let me tell you.

allyzay (#321)

Did you just suggest that a Jay-Z performance is not, in fact, a Beyonce performance? C'mon.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

According to My Gays, Patti LuPone deserves an automatic berth on the diva list. Confirm/deny?

Bittersweet (#765)

I think Broadway stars go into a whole other category of diva, Pete…

melis (#1,854)

Patti LuPone deserves a slap in the mouth for her turn as a terrifyingly randy elderly librarian on Oz. Six seasons of HBO-level violence and she's the one who gave me nightmares.

melis (#1,854)

And a follow-up slap for recording a duet with Seth McFarlane on that Family Guy album.

Brian (#115)

How about embracing your gay fans? Beyonce would get a "homophobic."

cherrispryte (#444)

This is a really impressive use of what I am assuming is Excel.

I'm just gonna put this link here and back out quietly.

La Cieca (#1,110)

You're not backing out quietly until I can put this link here.

YES. (Which of course reminds me of the time she did those same spins while she was, like, 38 months pregnant, and thanks for that.)

Am I pedantic (yes okay I'm pedantic, but am I unbearably pedantic) for thinking this study could've used a few more qualifiers? Slipping "Who Is the Greatest [Mainstream Commercial Pop] Diva [from the U.S. or Canada]" would've excused the exclusion of, say, Diamanda Galas or Jessye Norman or Celia Cruz or anyone else from a musical tradition not already represented on Vh1.

La Cieca (#1,110)

And not forgetting this link!

Game. Over.

gaytheist (#929)

I'm with you, here I was all ready to tell my Kathleen Battle dress rehearsal story but I guess that would be OFF TOPIC.

I do love that Whitney Star Spangled Banner though.

La Cieca (#1,110)

You are more than welcome to tell your Kathleen Battle dress rehearsal story here.

logovisual (#3,256)

Look, I'm sorry to blow this off, because a massive amount of effort went into this and it is a topic DEEPLY IMPORTANT TO OUR SURVIVAL AS A NATION, but I am not going to stand, or sit down, or whatever, for this shoddy treatment of Beyoncé, whose name, I feel honor-bound to point out, contains an accent aigu. Clearly you did not spend B-Day (September 4th, DUH), watching THE BEYONCÉ EXPERIENCE on DVD like I did, or you would understand that she really is a deeeee-VUUUHHH and that you are giving her a deeply unfair rap. I am just saying. I am just saying, is all.

I know the numbers don't lie or whatever but a real diva understands that if the numbers put you anywhere other than number 1, THE NUMBERS LIE.

Do you think the concept of stank has any musical content? I certainly think it does, which is why I think the example you chose to illustrate it is a poor one. To me stank is a quality that emanates from the interpretation of the melody. To me, stank is something like this. Yes! And it's a damn shame that it has such negligible value in the contemporary diva economy. And yes, I registered solely so that I could post that Etta James clip.

lawyergay (#220)

Awesome.

Robert A George (#7,343)

Considering that you included such categories as weight fluctuation, hair and stank, your failure to include Chaka Khan (who actually appears in the video with Gladys Knight) is inexplicable.

gregorg (#30)

that video adds mightily to the list of Chaka Khan's inexplicabilities. yow.

HA! See, my comment was going to be that until I saw that video, I thought the omission of Chaka was inexplicable. (She totally does not stand up to Gladys or Etta there. Nope!)

Jay Kang (#7,344)

@reappraising stank: of course the concept of stank has musical content, but, like tadpoles, it can only be measured in flux. That's why I used the video of Gladys as an example– not because that's the epitome of stank, but because it's so much stankier than Gladys usually gets. Of course, Etta James is the Queen of Stank (read the graph!).

@logovisual, @maura: does Beyonce ever make you weepy? Also, who is she? Can you nail down a persona that's not just a corporate shell? We know who Whitney and Aretha are, but who is Beyonce, really? I mean, do you even believe that she and Jay-Z are a real couple?

Also, did you input numbers into a spreadsheet? Did you hit the function option?

Hmm, that is a good question about B's weepiness-induction. "Irreplaceable" made me get sorta misty once, actually, and singing "Independent Women Pt. 1" at karaoke one night got me fairly emotional after the fact.

No spreadsheets, though.

But like right now I'm totally grooving on the way that Pearl Jam's "Breath" (you know, from the Singles soundtrack?) has been making me Feel Things In A Sorta Incoherent Way for the past couple of weeks.

So I'm probably not the best judge at this juncture. Although I want to note that you dismiss Kelly Clarkson at your peril.

It's just that is pains me to see stank given less weight than hair and hand gestures!

Ok, here's an idea. What if it's not Beyonce's fault? What if it's our fault? What if it was once the case that, to be taken seriously, you had to possess at least a certain baseline level of stank? (Let's call it the Gladys line.) Later we relaxed our standards for the extremely talented but stank-challenged Celines, Mariahs, and Whitneys, and left the door open for the Beyonces and even the Jordin Sparks, who are just plain boring. A theory!

Jay Kang (#7,344)

@reappraising, the part of stank you're discussing might be contained within Taking the Listener on an Emotional Journey… Also, the Gladys line is something I wish I had thought of.

elence (#12,230)

@Jay Kang If you don't like Beyonce that doesn't makes her not DIVA.
She has voice you can dream of, she has style, she is not popular because of her scandals, and unlike Rihanna her songs are not about sex.
PLUS She makes music that is popular today, if the people today listen to shitty music, its not her fault. If Beyonce was a singer from the '70 i'm sure that she would have been greater than Aretha! THEN people were different, now most of them are Gaga fans or Kesha or whatever is her stupid name..

Rod T (#33)

I mocked this on Twitter after reading the title only. I regret the decision. This is epic.

Ingrid C (#3,596)

Loved this. I work with Excel and charts all day and I wish the analysis and subject matter were as fun as this.

Bittersweet (#765)

No kidding. I'd be freaking thrilled to be creating bubble charts.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

I'm not even a diva fan, but I love this just on concept and execution.

Also, I went to middle school with Michelle Williams, late of Destiny's Child. I think that qualifies me to speak on this subject.

With credentials like that, you should have been on the panel.

Why oh why in the name of all that is Fierce was the mighty Patti LaBelle not considered in the data?! All results are therefore flawed by her exclusion.

Oooh. Second!

barnhouse (#1,326)

Enjoyed. But there is a missing category: Sadness Factor. For all the times one was innocently standing in line at the supermarket, standing there in a state of reasonably good cheer, only to be suddenly stabbed in the heart by the sight of Whitney Houston brought so low so many ways, so variously, on the cover of the Enquirer. If (as I believe) divas were put on this earth to create amazement and pleasure, the points subtracted from Ms. Houston's showing here would put Aretha in the lead, as she should be. Agreed that Patti LaBelle is a sad omission; I will maybe be mocked for this, but I missed Tina Turner as well. I love how she sings. Her story. And her relationship with David Bowie, so touching too.

Wonderful work, was mainly what I came to say. Loved this piece.

My brother and I were just discussing the myriad of way Tina also belonged on the list. And yet! I previously neglected to mention how much I enjoyed this study of Diva. It's added greatly to overall Diva scholarship.

semiserious (#2,430)

1. Of all the things that could have followed "is a frequent contributor to," Free Darko was about the last blog on the planet I would have guessed.

2. I really want to see a greatest post-Madonna popstress version.

It actually all clicked into place for me as soon as I saw "Free Darko." I love that The Awl is the sandbox in which gifted writers can spread their wings to take a pass at new genres (to badly butcher multiple metaphors).

VanityFeral (#6,607)

What about Lauper, you fucking idiots?

This was amazing. Thank you.

Private Hangnail (#2,576)

Would being Scottish disqualify one from diva status? I only wonder for Miss Annie Lennox, who might have made me gay in the mid-1990's.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Hangnail! Please to check your messages *elsewhere*.

Evan Hurst (#3,398)

Can I just say, since nobody else mentioned it, that Shania Twain's face in all of those videos was just offensive? Woman cannot sing, and I felt the silent superiority and frustration in the other divas every time they had to endure her opening her mouth.

MinnZ (#3,006)

I vote Anita Baker.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyf9DmXK3Yo

I'm not fancy, so I don't know how to embed links here AND I won't take the time because I just 1) dropped my cigarette and 2) spilled my beer, so cut and paste that link and listen to that buttery voice, follow the emotional journey illuminated in her lyrics, watch her hand gestures, and tell me she isn't a Diva — capital d.

Atencio (#399)

Jordin Sparks made the list but Kelly Clarkson and Shirley Bassey didn't?! FLAWED. Anyways, I still agree with your conclusion, though I worry that indeed, the Superbowl performance may have weighed too heavily.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Please to be rereading WHY Sparks was included- as a control.

blank (#7,354)

Where's Christina?

jolie (#16)

Good morning loves! See the section titled 'An Explanation of the List of Divas' for Xtina.

jolie (#16)

HOW IN THE CLUCKING CLUCK IS TINA NOT INCLUDED?? Hair? Emotional journey? Stank? Voice? HAIR???? COME NOW.

Other than that so epic it's giving Homer a run for his money.

carpetblogger (#306)

this must be addressed.

borisadmin (#7,356)

Fantastic.

But – as the article alludes to – it does throw up the quantitative fallacy in the social sciences, which is that qualitative decisions must be made on the nature of the problem, the dimensions to be measured and the relative weighting assigned them. In general methodological terms, this is less of an issue for well defined problems with high degrees of conceptual consensus (e.g. GDP growth). Here, I am sure that the relative weighting of "stank" will be adjusted upward significantly by future scholars in this field, and ironically this would lead to a hierarchy more in line with established conservative canons.

In the humanities, we can learn from the singular and unverifiable. So I can say that Loleatta Holloway gets my vote over Whitney, because you can do more with her (as Whitney herself did, undoubtedly) but I understand why she can't be considered in this rubric.

More like this please!

katiebakes (#32)

I agree that Mariah should rate even higher with respect to weight fluctuations. The great thing about her is that no matter how fat she gets, you KNOW she's gonna drop like 80 el-bees to pose for the cover of her next album. It's like clockwork. Soothing, metronomic clockwork.

I'm trying to figure out some way to make this whole post the background of my laptop.

rj77 (#210)

See, I always thought her album-cover-slimness was due to the intervention of PhotoShop and airbrushing. And Spanx.

jolie (#16)

Agreed. The woman had AIRBRUSED-ON ABS for crying out loud! She merits a much higher ranking in the weight flux category for that alone.

jolie (#16)

EDIT BUTTON PLS

Mariah's no stranger to a cold operating table.

#<3yourworldviewkatiebakes

allyzay (#321)

Dude, Mariah does not drop anything. Mariah has computer wizards to remove her weight from photos for her. REMEMBER WHEN SHE DATED DEREK JETER FOR SOME REASON? Honestly, Mariah should just win this. GLITTER!

katiebakes (#32)

I'll concede that the Emaciation of Mimi may be more like 40% dropped and 60% 'shopped. But 40% is still 32 pounds and like, I want that diet.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Hot damn, what a great piece! Every sentence is perfection.

I am wondering why abusive/druggy/and/or gay husbands was not also a subset. Needless to say, Tina would blow them all away with Whitney nipping at her heels and Liza (and her Mom) knocking on the door.

Kevin Patterson (#5,933)

Expand the list to the past 50 years and it gets really interesting

logovisual (#3,256)

Yeah, I strongly second the nomination for Man Troubles as a category. Something to consider for the 2011 rankings.

garge (#736)

This was just so good and beautiful and felt like it was for me and me alone, paralleling a true diva performance.

It reminded me of watching the Original Divas Live with my family (which was very unusual for this teenager), and wildly looking at their faces at times, is this really happening???.

So good. So good!

LondonLee (#922)

This may be the greatest thing I have ever read on The Awl.

I know the numbers don't lie but my heart (and ears) belongs to Gladys Knight.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

This is DEFINITELY the greatest thing I've ever read on the Awl. I didn't want it to end!

ShanghaiLil (#260)

It's a Divaissance.

allyzay (#321)

You've forgotten the most important category of all, the "Were they in Glitter?" category. Mariah gets 500 points for that and wins.

Sakurambobomb (#1,722)

This should be submitted for the "Greatest Awl Article of the Last 25 Years."

I want to very belatedly (I wanted to read this when I really had time to savor say thankyou thankyou thankyou for so many things here, not the least of which was the crazy cacophony of the Divas Live concert. And with it, the memory of Aretha on Murphy Brown many moons ago when she sat down at a piano to sing Natural Woman and, at the first of poor Murphy's attempts to insert a plaintive "aoo" into the verses, stopped, looked at her coldly, and said, "I don't sing with people." (Not verbatim.)
Hey! Look!

Haha! Even better (and verbatim):
"Now, listen. Let's get one thing straight. I'm not Martha. And you ain't no Vandellas."

LondonLee (#922)

Watching the "Upstaging" video above of Aretha KO-ing all the others with ease reminded me of seeing Usher doing a duet with Luther Vandross. The young man was emoting all over the place with great straining effort then Luther walks on, opens his mouth, and blows the young fucker off the stage without no more effort than picking some lint off his jacket.

Jabber Wonk (#7,365)

Conclusion is totally bogus. Not only did Gladys Knight have the best pipes, she had Pips. Game, set, and match.

SoWhatWhoCares (#7,374)

Where the eff is BETTE MIDLER????? I can't even take this article serious since you didn't include the Divine Miss M.

Rex Banner (#7,382)

whitney is #1. the voice. our everything. she is not finished yet. : ) 2000's will be hers too. : )

Rex Banner (#7,382)

sorry. 2010's……. : )

Yah Right (#7,389)

LOLMG, this is great…im going to go ahead and co-sign most of this MESS. I would add that Aretha did have a Great Memorable Moment – 1998 Grammy's she stepped in for Pavarotti at the last minutes, moments after singing a rather standard version of her "R.E.S.P.E.C.T." and delivered what The Grammy's named "The #1 Grammy Moment of the Century" during their 1999 special – an impromptu "Nessun Dorma" to a standing ovation from everyone in the audience (including great diva CELINE) and at home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DwZ-GMHyho&feature=related

kathleya (#46,430)

I think each of them are Divas in their own right. They have different genres and style and they became successful.

belltolls (#184)

I really thought this was going to be about opera.

It's posts like this that make the Internet great. It had the perfect ratios of snark, personality, drama and actual content; plus the reader learns something and to a depth I hadn't imagined possible about this particular topic. It may be the best internet post ever.

Rob Scott@facebook (#207,509)

Awesome list and article,but where is Patti LaBelle?

haha aloved this – soem really accurate and great annalyiss and a few that are bit off. Etta james? rellay? how about donna summer? Celine dion was underated in manmy categopries and out sang aretha big time! aretha was amazing but celine was spectacular. top 3 should be mariah, celine and whitney. beyonce got way too much. celine had a huge career performance and song moments like whitney –

so agree about the end of real diva/voices now with pop vocal run crap like beyonce all show not voice or emotion

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