Top 20 Pop Music Stars Of All Time



Top 20 Pop Music Stars Of All Time

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Don Ekama
These pop stars are iconic! For this list, we'll be looking at solo pop musicians whose commercial success, cultural impact, and critical acclaim have made their music timeless and granted them pop star status. Our countdown includes Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Madonna, Whitney Houston, and more!

Top 20 Pop Music Stars Of All Time

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Pop Music Stars Of All Time.

For this list, we’ll be looking at solo pop musicians whose commercial success, cultural impact, and critical acclaim have made their music timeless and granted them pop star status. We’ll be focusing on just solo artists, so we won’t be including renowned pop groups like ABBA and the Bee Gees.

Which of these pop music stars have had the most impact on your life? Let us know in the comments.

#20: Pink

There’s only one pop powerhouse whose stage presence is a little more elevated than her counterparts and that powerhouse is Pink. A native of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Pink got her start in music performing with two R&B girl groups that never quite took off. Noticing her star quality, she was signed on by L.A. Reid, putting out her hit debut album, “Can’t Take Me Home.” Over the years, she’s established herself as an edgy, pop music rebel experimenting with R&B, rock, and dance influences, which has earned her three Grammys in pop and rock categories. This edginess not only seeps through her music, but is also evident in her high-energy, out-of-this-world acrobatic live performances.

#19: Shakira

This Colombian superstar was already a Latin pop sensation in the late 90s, before breaking into the English-language market with the release of her fifth album, “Laundry Service.” With the hit singles “Whenever, Wherever” and “Underneath Your Clothes,” Shakira quickly became a household name, and proved herself to be a leading crossover artist. Known for her mesmerizing belly dancing and signature yodeling, Shakira has racked up multiple international chart-toppers like “Hips Don’t Lie,” “Beautiful Liar,” and “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” which became the official song for the 2010 World Cup. She has sold more than 75 million records and is among the most awarded female artists in Latin Grammy history, earning her the title of “Queen of Latin Music.”

#18: Justin Bieber

After being discovered on YouTube in 2007, Bieber was signed on by Scooter Braun and quickly became one of the biggest pop stars in the world. His debut album, “My World 2.0,” reached multi-platinum status and cemented him as a teen idol, who melted girls’ hearts around the world so much that their obsession with him was dubbed “Bieber Fever.” Making the transition from teen pop to adult contemporary pop and R&B, Bieber has charted eight albums atop the Billboard 200, becoming the youngest solo artist to achieve that feat. Love him or hate him, he sure helped hits like “Despacito” cross over to English audiences and brought artists like Carly Rae Jepsen significant attention - a testament to his undeniable influence.

#17: Taylor Swift

The world of country music was shaken when Taylor infused modern pop sounds on her 2012 album, “Red,” then made a complete transition on her magnum opus, “1989.” The pop songstress has faced overwhelming odds throughout her career - her widely covered relationships, public feuds, and losing ownership of her masters - but has dealt with them the only way she knows how - putting pen to paper and her mouth to a mic. Her narrative songwriting has transcended her genre shifts from country to pop to folk, and inspired a generation of singer-songwriters. The 11-time Grammy Award winner became the first female artist to win the Grammy for Album of the Year thrice when she picked up the award for her eighth album, “Folklore,” in 2021.

#16: Katy Perry

Originally going by Katy Hudson, Perry’s first venture into music was as a gospel singer, putting out a self-titled album that failed commercially. Like many other little girls with big dreams, she flew to L.A., changed her stage name, and released the controversial hit song “I Kissed A Girl,” which introduced her as a bubblegum pop star with a quirky, sexualized wit. Perry dominated the global scene in the early 2010s with her albums “Teenage Dream” and “Prism,” the former becoming the first album to produce five number-one singles since Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” She may not have won a Grammy yet but who needs a Grammy when you’ve sold nearly 150 million records and have the most-watched Super Bowl halftime performance in history?

#15: Adele

You know you’ve achieved pop stardom when the appearance of a number in major cities around the world gets your name trending. Famously known mononymously, Adele shattered global records with her second studio album, “21,” which won a record-tying six Grammy Awards and fittingly became the best-selling album of the 21st Century. Her introspective analysis of heartbreak, regret, and relationship woes connected to listeners worldwide, bridging the gap between older and younger generations. These themes recurred on her third album, “25,” which was the best-selling album of 2015 and earned her her second Album of the Year Grammy. In a modern pop world of music fandom divisions, Adele is the one artist whose songs unite us all in deep, heart-wrenching tears.

#14: Mariah Carey

Born in Huntington, New York in 1969, Mariah was exposed to music at an early age, taking singing lessons from her mother, a trained opera singer and voice coach. Her world-famous five-octave, melismatic vocal prowess redefined the sound of pop music and established her as the “Songbird Supreme.” Perhaps Mariah’s greatest impact was popularizing song remixes, by teaming up with rappers and creating a perfect blend of pop, hip-hop, and R&B - a format that has been widely used ever since. She has made the Billboard charts her playground, once going eleven consecutive years charting at least one number-one single on the Hot 100 and holding the record for the most number-ones for a solo artist. All hail the Elusive Chanteuse!

#13: George Michael

Destined for the spotlight, George Michael founded the high-energy pop duo Wham! with his friend, Andrew Ridgeley, striking gold with both of their albums and becoming a defining 80s pop act. His debut solo album, “Faith,” helped transform his image from teen pop idol to macho sex symbol and global superstar, winning him the Grammy for Album of the Year and cementing him as an MTV icon. After coming out as gay in 1998, Michael championed LGBTQ+ rights and helped change public perception at a time when it was still a sensitive topic. A passionate philanthropist, Michael was also known for his good-hearted gestures towards individuals - blessing the world with his music and genuine kindness. A pop legend who is sorely missed.

#12: Bruno Mars

A multi-talented singer, songwriter, dancer, and producer, Bruno Mars is the definition of a well-rounded musician. While classified under the broad pop umbrella, Mars is known to infuse a wide range of other genres and constantly breaks down generational barriers with his music. His performance ability and old-fashioned showmanship have led to him being compared to some of the greats like Michael Jackson, Prince, and Elvis. In 2018, Mars did a complete sweep at the Grammys, taking home the awards for Album, Song, and Record of the Year. His success is just as commercial as it is critical, with the Hawaii native charting eight number-one singles on the Hot 100 and selling over 130 million records worldwide.

#11: Rihanna

What’s more impressive than being a pop megastar, beauty mogul, and one of the best-selling music acts of all time? Achieving all of that before you’re even thirty years old. Since being discovered in Barbados, Rihanna has soared through the charts, releasing eight albums over a span of eleven years and selling more than 250 million records. Her immense impact is felt as much in fashion as it is in music, as the pop star founded her Fenty fashion line in 2017, which broke new ground in its formulation of beauty products for a wider range of skin tones and body sizes. With an estimated net worth of 1.7 billion dollars, Rihanna is currently the world’s richest female musician, and deservedly so.

#10: Britney Spears

With the release of “...Baby One More Time” in 1999, the world could tell that a star had been born. Britney put out her debut album just before the turn of the new millennium, which heralded the teen pop revival of the 2000s and earned her the title of “Princess of Pop.” After releasing three internationally successful albums in the early aughts, Britney’s career suffered an onslaught of personal problems that eventually gave way to one of the most powerful comebacks in music history. Her vibrant, production-heavy pop sounds and choreographed music videos inspired a generation of female musicians, making her one of the most influential pop stars, who is stronger now than ever before.

#9: Janet Jackson

A member of pop royalty, Janet Jackson broke out of her siblings’ shadows to kick-start her music career in the early 80s. Her third album, “Control,” introduced listeners to an unprecedented fusion of electro-funk, pop, and R&B, which helped popularize the new jack swing genre and propelled Janet - Miss Jackson, if you’re nasty - into an international superstar. This success was replicated on “Rhythm Nation 1814,” with its political themes and immersive music videos. If video killed the radio star, it was to make way for the burgeoning icon that was Janet Jackson. Her success rivaled that of her brother, Michael, in the 80s and 90s, and her knack for reinvention and crisp choreography has influenced nearly every female musician since then.

#8: Lady Gaga

“Stefani Germanotta, You Will Never Be Famous” was a Facebook group created by former classmates of the one who would become Gaga. Years later, her ingenuity and unwavering desire shattered expectations and brought her to the forefront of pop music. Her provocative style showed in every facet - from her electropop music with its taboo themes to her bizarre fashion choices, Lady Gaga proved to be not only a pop star, but a pop spectacle. Although she debuted in 2008, Gaga’s existence in the music scene was a defining point of the entire 2000s. A versatile powerhouse, the Mother Monster later took up acting, earning a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Surely, those 99 people in the room were dead wrong.

#7: Frank Sinatra

An extraordinary vocalist, Frank Sinatra was instrumental in making pop music mainstream amidst the rock ‘n’ roll wave of the 50s, and is largely attributed with the advent of concept albums. His heart-swooning voice, piercing blue eyes, and impeccable fashion sense characterized by a custom-tailored suit and tilted fedora won him a lot of fans - from teenage girls to affluent adult audiences. Throughout his lifetime, Sinatra won 11 Grammy Awards and an Oscar for his dramatic turn in “From Here to Eternity,” which revitalized his music career after a slump in the early 50s. The establishment of his own label, Reprise Records, paved the way for artists like Jay Z and Madonna, who sought creative control of their material, to do the same.

#6: Beyoncé

Beyoncé first caught national attention as the lead singer of Destiny’s Child, where she shone so brightly that she drew comparisons to The Supremes’ frontwoman Diana Ross. She kicked off her solo career with 2003’s “Dangerously in Love,” which saw her go from a blossoming teen idol to a full-fledged pop star. Beyoncé’s impact on music and pop culture, in general, is immeasurable - popularizing the staccato rap-singing style, revitalizing the release of cohesive albums, and using her music as a tool for social justice. Her god-tier vocal range and impressive choreographed performances have inspired a legion of musicians, some of whom appear on this list. She is currently the most awarded singer at the Grammys with a jaw-dropping 28 gramophones to her name.

#5: Madonna

There have been many iconic female figures in pop history, but only one truly deserves the title of Queen of Pop and her name is Madonna Louise Ciccone. With a career spanning more than four decades, Madonna changed what it meant to be a musician. Constantly evolving and reinventing her musical styles and persona, she has received equal doses of critical acclaim and public backlash for her explicit dissection of sex, power, and religion. The publicity has only helped, as she currently ranks as the best-selling female artist and one of the highest-grossing solo touring artists of all time. Her adamancy in wielding control over her work was unheard of for a woman at the time, and set a great precedent for female musicians to come.

#4: Whitney Houston

Some of the most powerful vocalists in history got their start singing in church choirs and Whitney Houston was no exception. Her powerful yet soulful voice melted the hardest of hearts and brought tears to the driest eyes. Whitney’s brand of pop-R&B infused soul, jazz, and gospel sounds, helmed by extraordinary vocal techniques that inspired just about every female singer who came after her. She dominated pop and R&B in the 80s and 90s, becoming the first artist to chart seven consecutive number-one singles in the U.S., and selling the most physical singles of any solo female artist in history. For all her groundbreaking achievements, she was inducted into the R&B and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.

#3: Elton John

Born Reginald Dwight in Middlesex, England, Elton John always dreamed of becoming a star. At age 20, he met lyricist Bernie Taupin and the two kicked off a longtime collaboration, writing more than 30 albums, so far. A masterful pianist, John’s extravagant feathered costumes and his ferocious live performances quickly endeared him to fans across the pond and beyond. He has charted a flurry of top 40 singles in the U.K. and U.S., most notably “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from “The Lion King” soundtrack and his Princess Diana tribute, “Candle in the Wind,” which became the best-selling chart single of all time. His life was depicted in the 2019 biopic, “Rocketman,” starring Taron Egerton as the gay icon.

#2: Prince

The Artist Formerly Known As Prince was a musical god - a multi-talented singer, songwriter, producer, and actor whose music transcended the mainstream definition of pop, being influenced by everything, from funk to new wave to jazz. He played a host of musical instruments on his records and in live performances, most notably the guitar, and was renowned for his flamboyant and androgynous fashion style. Prince made his acting debut in the 1984 film, “Purple Rain,” and recorded the film’s soundtrack of the same name, which topped the U.S .charts for six consecutive months and received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. He was a highly productive musician, leaving behind a vault of unreleased projects after his untimely passing in 2016.

#1: Michael Jackson

No ranking of pop stars is ever valid if the King of Pop is not at the peak of it. More than just a musician, Michael was a cultural landmark, influencing the global music scene more than any other artist in history and advancing important social causes with his music. His sixth album, “Thriller,” broke global records, becoming the best-selling album of all time, with an estimated 70 million copies and winning Michael a whopping eight Grammys in one night. His stage presence was second to none, popularizing dance moves such as the moonwalk and the robot. With his cinematic music videos, sonically diverse hit songs and unbeatable performances, Michael built a legacy that will forever remain invincible.