Pop Power Ranking: Madonna, Ariana Grande, Rihanna, and the Business of Being a Dangerous Woman

Pop Power Ranking
Last week's biggest winners and losers on pop.

Climb to the top of the pops and dive deep down into the depths with the flops in our latest edition of Pop Power Ranking.


Welcome back to Pop Power Ranking, my attempt to make sense of the week that was in the world of pop. Please consult the inaugural Pop Power Ranking for a bit more information on how I put this together, but also know that it’s pretty self-explanatory — I start with the flops and end with the week’s biggest winner — and that you can probably just jump right in…

5) Madonna

Madonna has not, objectively, had a great year. Rebel Heart, her 13th studio album, released almost exactly one year ago, failed to do much of anything on the charts and was unable to spawn even a minor hit single. Her tour in support of that album has fared a little better — it has already made more than $100 million — but by the time it wraps at the end of the month, the total tour gross will be just over a fourth of what her Sticky & Sweet Tour brought in in 2008/2009. (Her 2012 MDNA Tour also brought in more than $300 million.) And then, this: while touring in Australia, Our Lady of Reinvention staged intimate “Tears of a Clown” shows, in which she dressed up as a clown, pretended (according to Madonna) to get drunk, and fell off a tricycle for “laughs.” They have not been subtle, artful performances, although it should be said that the set lists have been incredible. The media covered these events the way they cover anything that smacks of a celebrity “meltdown”: with hyperbole and faux concern. Now, Madonna is claiming that the coverage is “sexist,” that she would of course never be drunk or high while performing (though she didn’t address her habit of showing up hours-late to her shows), and that, essentially, people just don’t “get it.” Her reaction rings a little bit hollow considering, if what she says is true, she’s been dressing up in cheap, jokey costumes and pretending to get drunk in front of a large audience (all of them with cell phones), ostensibly to spur the very attention and coverage she’s been getting. It’s understandable that she is suffering emotionally due to her ongoing custody battle with ex-husband Guy Ritchie, but that she’s turning her very real troubles into a very literal sideshow is, like the clown makeup, not a good look.

Pop Power Rating: 11/100

Last Week: N/A

4) Meghan Trainor

It’s becoming impossible to say “no” to Meghan Trainor. Last month, Trainor walked home with the Best New Artist Grammy, and this week, she followed up her big win by sharing a new single, “No.” Shortly after its official release, “No” shot up to the top of the iTunes singles charts. This week, “No” debuted at No. 11 on the Hot 100, making it her seventh entry (and highest debut week position) on that chart. (And that’s without a music video or any streaming points from official YouTube audio). Like it or not, it seems we will be stuck with Trainor for the foreseeable future. But hey, if we have to be stuck with her, we’ll take “No” over “All About That Bass” any day.

Power Rating: 44/100

Last Week: N/A

3) Rihanna

While it’s true that Rihanna is finally finding her footing in the complicated, convoluted age of ANTI, the era remains a mess of contradictions and obscured reality. The good: “Work” earns its fourth week atop the Hot 100, an impressive feat indeed. Also, Bad Gal kicked off her ANTI World Tour to a sold-out crowd in Jacksonville, Fla. The not-so-good: While the tour’s first show was apparently sold-out (though that was not the case a day out), it remains to be seen what will become of the tour overall when everything is done and dusted. Rih already had to postpone the kickoff, and several European dates were downsized or canceled entirely. And while ANTI stays perched at No. 3 on the Billboard Album 200, it fell out of the Top 10 on the Album Sales chart, meaning that people are streaming but not buying. For an artist of her stature to not even be able to go gold via pure sales is confounding. But hey: she already bought has a platinum certification, so she is surely unbothered by the facts.

Power Rating: 68/100

Last Week: N/A

2) Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande has, for the last couple of years, been on the verge of something major without actually managing to completely break away from her tween star roots. It seems likely that this will change in 2016. Last week, Grande dropped the most mature (and some have said “best“) single of her career, “Dangerous Woman,” and the song immediately flew to the top of the iTunes singles chart. (It is, as of this writing, sitting comfortably at No. 2 behind Lukas Graham’s “7 Years.”) Though Grande’s “Focus” was a misguided flop, Grande appears to have effortlessly moved past that mini setback and has kicked things back into high gear ahead of the Dangerous Woman album release on May 20. Expect “Dangerous Woman” to debut high on the Hot 100 next week, and watch out for big numbers and bigger things from Miss Grande in 2016. Big things like her Saturday Night Live double-duty-hosting-and-performance gigs. Big things like her impressions (she’s really riding that train, huh?) of Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, Britney Spears, and Celine Dion going viral. Big things like the Age of Ariana finally dawning.

Power Rating: 74/100

Last Week: N/A


1) Kendrick Lamar

King Kendrick! Today, Lamar’s untitled unmastered, surprise-released just over a week ago, tops the Billboard Album 200. Earning a No. 1 album is, in and of itself, no easy task, especially for a politically-charged, socially-conscious rapper with no current mainstream hit. But also consider that untitled unmastered is essentially a collection of unpolished demos, that it was released without any promotion, that it sold more than Rihanna’s ANTI did its first week out, and that it comes less than a year after he last topped the chart with To Pimp a Butterfly, and it is utterly astounding.

Power Rating: 93/100

Last Week: No. 1