The current forms of what we now call “pop music” emerged in the United States and the United Kingdom around the middle of the 1950s. Up until recently, the terms “rock” and “pop” were used interchangeably; currently, “pop” is used to describe music that is more commercial, fleeting, and approachable. The best of 1980s pop music is instead celebrated for all its vivid hues, oddball charm, and wide range of styles.
1. Michael Jackson
Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009) was an American singer, composer, dancer, and philanthropist. He was dubbed the “King of Pop” because of his prominence as a cultural figure in the 20th century. He became famous worldwide thanks to his four-decade-long career in music, dance, and fashion and his highly publicized personal life.
Jackson’s record sales were reportedly between $400 million and $1 billion, making him one of the highest-grossing artists. With thirteen songs reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100, he is the male musician with the most numbers. The RIAA has named him the most successful music artist in terms of sales. As “Artist of the Decade,” George H. W. Bush honored him in 1990.
If you’re wondering about “How Tall is The King of Pop?” check out our article on Michael Jackson Height . Gain insight into MJ’s height and his fashion choices which accentuated his tall figure.
U.S. singer-songwriter and actress Madonna Louise Ciccone was born on August 16, 1958. Madonna, sometimes called the “Queen of Pop,” is renowned for constantly reinventing herself and displaying a wide range of talent in music production, composition, and performance. Madonna has sold more than 300 million albums worldwide, making her the best-selling female music artist. She has more number-one hits on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 than any other solo artist.
Over four decades, Forbes has recognized Madonna as the highest-paid female artist a record eleven times (the 1980s–2010s). In 2008, her first year of eligibility, she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. VH1 named Madonna the best woman in music, and MTV and Billboard named her the most outstanding music video artist. Rolling Stone ranked her as one of the best composers and artists.
3. Stevie Wonder
Stevland Hardaway Morris, better known by his stage as Stevie Wonder, was born on May 13, 1950. Wonder is an American singer-songwriter who has been cited as an inspiration and innovator by artists working in styles as diverse as rhythm and blues, pop, soul, gospel, funk, and jazz. More than 100 million copies of his albums have been sold worldwide, making Wonder one of the best-selling musicians of all time.
Twenty-five of the Grammys he’s up for are already under his belt, making him the all-time solo winner in that category, and he’s also got a (Best Original Song for the 1984 film The Woman in Red). Songwriters Hall of Fame, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame have all honored Wonder with inductions. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 and appointed a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2009.
When talking about great musicians like Stevie Wonder, it’s hard not to mention his fellow Michigan natives. Check out this list of famous people from Michigan, which includes other notable musicians, actors, and athletes.
4. Janet Jackson
Musician, composer, actor, and dancer Janet Damita Jo Jackson was born in the United States on May 16, 1966. Jackson is among the best-selling musicians of all time, with record sales of over 100 million. With 18 top ten singles on the US Billboard Hot 100, she is the female artist with the most consecutive top ten hits. She also has the distinction of having the number one singles from a single album (Rhythm Nation 1814) in the chart’s history.
She is one of the most distinguished musicians of all time, with eight Guinness World Records and five Grammys to her name, as well as eleven Billboard Music Awards, eleven American Music Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and several other honors. Michael Jackson was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year (2019). Many artists have praised her for raising the bar for what it means for a pop singer to have a great sound, fabulous stage presence, and great sex appeal.
5. Elton John
Hercules, Sir Elton Reginald Kenneth Dwight (born 25 March 1947) is a British vocalist, pianist, and songwriter. In his six-decade music career, John has sold over 300 million albums worldwide, making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time. He has over fifty UK Singles Chart and Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 hits.
In 2019, Billboard named John the best solo artist in US chart history (third overall) and the best Adult Contemporary artist of all time. In 2021, John became the first solo musician to have six UK Top 10 songs.
If you love Elton John, you may also be interested in reading about our most popular A-list celebrities of all time. These celebrities are the cream of the crop and have made waves in the entertainment industry over the years. Get to know more about your favorite stars and learn about their journey to success.
6. Whitney Houston
Singer and actress Whitney Elizabeth Houston (August 9, 1963 – February 11, 2012). Her nickname is “The Voice,” She is one of the best-selling performers of all time, with over 200 million recordings sold worldwide. It’s no secret that Houston’s strong, soulful voice and vocal improvisation talents have inspired countless other pop singers.
In 1988, she only had seven songs that simultaneously topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart. She was inducted into the Grammy, Rhythm and Blues Music, and Rock and Roll halls of fame, and she won two Emmys, six Grammys, sixteen Billboard Music Awards, and twenty-eight Guinness World Records during her lifetime and after she passed away.
7. Lionel Richie
The 20th of June 1949 saw the birth of Lionel Brockman Richie Jr., an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and television judge. In the ’70s, he became famous for his songwriting and role as co-lead singer of the Commodores band. Four Grammys Richie received were for “Best Male Pop Vocal Performance” in 1982.
A diamond album award was Richie’s first of several accolades bestowed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Richie gets nominated for a second Golden Globe despite having previously won one. In 1982, he received an Academy Award nomination for the original song he created for the film Endless Love. The theme song from the 1986 picture White Nights, “White Nights,” earned him an Academy Award nomination. Furthermore, this song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
If you love Lionel Richie’s music, check out our article on the greatest musical artists of the 1990s. You might find some other artists that you’ll love as well!
8. Mariah Carey
Musician, actress, songwriter, and record producer Mariah Carey was born in the United States on March 27, 1969. Her five-octave range, melismatic, innovative vocal style, and signature use of the whistle register have set her apart throughout her career. Several media outlets, including MTV’s Princess Gabbara, have crowned her “Queen of Remixes.”
Carey has received several accolades during her career. Among her many accolades are nineteen World Music Awards, ten American Music Awards, fifteen Billboard Music Awards, and one Grammy. Carey was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in August 2015.
9. Phil Collins
English drummer, singer, composer, record producer, and actor Philip David Charles Collins LVO was born on January 30, 1951. Collins has made his mark in many different types of art. After achieving fame as a solo artist, he joined the rock band Genesis, for which he played drums and was the lead singer.
Collins had seven U.S. number-one singles and three U.K. number-one singles throughout his solo career from 1982 to 1990. Genesis’s commercial success may largely be attributed to Collins’s worldwide fame. According to Atlantic Records, Collins sold over 100 million copies of his solo albums worldwide by 2002.
Check out our list of tall celebrities to see if Phil Collins makes the cut. Standing at 5’11”, Phil Collins certainly isn’t the tallest celebrity on our list, but his talent as a singer, songwriter, and drummer puts him head and shoulders above the rest.
10. Celine Dion
On March 30, 1968, Canadian singer Céline Marie Claudette Dion entered the world. Dion has sold over 200 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time. Dion is considered one of the most critical and successful singers in pop music history. After four decades in the business, Dion has earned the titles “Priestess of Pop” and “Doctor of Music” from Berklee and Université Laval, respectively.
According to Billboard, she has more Adult Contemporary radio hits than any other female singer, earning her the title “Queen of Adult Contemporary.” With almost $747 million in earnings from record sales and concert tours, Dion was named the top-earning artist of the 2000s by the Los Angeles Times at the decade’s conclusion in 2009.
11. Bryan Adams
Bryan Guy Adams, OC OBC FRPS, a Canadian guitarist, singer, composer, and photographer, was born on November 5th, 1959. Some say Adams has sold as many as 100 million records and singles worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. Adams has over a dozen songs in the top 40 in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia in the 2010s and 25 in the top 15 in Canada.
Adams has been nominated for several important awards. Among these are 20 Junos (56 total nominations) and 15 Grammys. In 2008, Adams was ranked number 38 on the Billboard Hot 100 50th Anniversary Charts, the greatest artists of all time.
If you’re a fan of the iconic 80s pop song “Summer of ’69”, you should definitely check out Bryan Adams, who not only sang the hit song but also wrote it. With a career spanning over four decades, Bryan Adams has been a beloved pop icon for many generations.
12. Olivia Newton-John
Dame Olivia Newton-John AC DBE was a British-Australian singer, actor, and activist. She was born on September 26, 1948, and passed away on August 8, 2022.
Her music career includes several more Top Ten successes on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, five number-one hits, and she was the recipient of four Grammy Awards. She also had two albums that debuted number one on the Billboard 200 chart.
Newton-John is one of the music artists who has had the most success in terms of record sales from the latter part of the 20th century up until the present day. He has sold more than 100 million albums all over the world.
Her trademark solo recordings include the song that won the Grammy for Record of the Year and was the single that ranked highest on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart throughout the 1980s.
13. Billy Joel
William Martin Joel is an American singer, pianist, composer, and songwriter. He was born on May 9, 1949, in the United States. Joel’s solo career extended 20 years, during which he reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and had 33 top 40 hits in the United States, all of which he wrote himself.
In addition to being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1999), and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (1999), Joel has been nominated for a total of 23 Grammy Awards (2006).
In 2001, Billy Joel was honored with the Johnny Mercer Award, presented annually by the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In recognition of his significant impact on American society via the arts, Joel was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors in 2013.
If you’re a fan of Billy Joel and want to discover more male musicians from the same era, check out this list of short male celebrities. These artists may be small in stature, but they’re big in talent and have made a significant impact on the music industry, just like Billy Joel himself.
14. Dolly Parton
Dolly Rebecca Parton is an American singer, songwriter, actor, philanthropist, and entrepreneur born on January 19, 1946. She is most recognized for her contributions to country music, although she has also been active in other fields.
She has won eleven Grammy Awards and been nominated for fifty more, including the award for Lifetime Achievement. She has also been honored with ten awards from the Country Music Association, including the Entertainer of the Year award.
She is one of only seven female artists to win the Entertainer of the Year Award from the Country Music Association. She has also won five Academy of Country Music Awards, including the Entertainer of the Year award, four People’s Choice Awards, and three American Music Awards. She is the only female artist to win all of these awards.
She is also part of an elite group of individuals who have been recognized by the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, Tony Awards, and Emmy Awards, each with a nomination at least once. Parton was honored with induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999. She was given a nomination for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the year 2022.
15. Kenny Rogers
Kenneth Ray Rogers was an American singer, composer, and actor. He was born on August 21, 1938, and died on March 20, 2020. Rogers was incredibly well-liked by country music fans, but he also had more than 120 hits in other musical genres. His albums topped the country and pop album charts for over 200 separate weeks in the United States alone.
Because he sold more than 100 million albums all over the world throughout his lifetime, he is considered one of the most successful musicians in the history of recorded music. His reputation and career encompassed a variety of musical genres, including country, pop, rock, folk, and jazz. He reinvented himself as an artist and became one of the most successful cross-over artists in the industry’s history. 2013 was the year that he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Are you a fan of Kenny Rogers? Check out our list of famous people born in Texas, which includes the legendary country singer himself. From actors to athletes, this list features some of the Lone Star State’s biggest names that you won’t want to miss.
16. Juice Newton
Judith Kay “Juice” Newton is a popular name in the music industry in the United States, having held the roles of vocalist, composer, and guitarist. Her birthday is February 18th, and she was born in the United States of America.
Newton has been nominated for the Grammy Prize for Best Female Vocalist in the Pop and Country categories five times, and she took home the award for Best Female Vocalist in Country in 1983. She gets awarded Female Album Artist of the Year by Billboard for two years and the Top New Female Artist award from the Academy of Country Music.
Newton has also been awarded the People’s Choice Award for “Best Female Vocalist” and the “Number One International Country Artist” award from the Australian Music Media. These are only two of the many accolades that she has garnered.
She had 14 singles that reached number one on the Billboard Country, AC, or Hot 100 charts throughout the 1980s. Of those, she had the most success with the Hot 100. Six of her songs peaked at number one on the charts, making her one of the few artists whose work has been able to cross over into different types of music effectively.
Prince Rogers Nelson was an American singer-songwriter, musician, and record producer. He was born on June 7, 1958, and passed away on April 21, 2016. He is widely considered one of the most talented musicians of his time and has received several prizes and nominations for such honors. Funk, R&B, rock, new wave, soul, synth-pop, pop, jazz, and hip hop were only a few of the genres that were mixed into his work.
Because he sold more than 120 million records worldwide, Prince is considered one of the best-selling musicians of all time. His accolades included the Academy Award, the Golden Globe Award, the Billboard Icon Award, the Grammy President’s Merit Award, and the American Music Awards for Achievement and of Merit.
In addition to being inducted twice into the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame in 2022, he was admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004; the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006; the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2016; and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006.
18. Debbie Gibson
Deborah Ann Gibson is an American singer-songwriter, pianist, record producer, and actor. She was born on August 31, 1970, in the United States.
Out of the Blue, Gibson’s debut album was released in 1987 and was certified three times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Out of the Blue generated other singles in other countries across the world.
Gibson is the youngest female artist to create, produce, and perform a tune that peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. She has gone on to shine in prominent roles in Broadway musicals in addition to her musical career.
19. George Michael
George Michael was a famous English singer, songwriter, and record producer. He was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou on June 25, 1963, and passed away on December 25, 2016. He is among the best-selling musicians of all time and is regarded as one of the MTV generation’s most prominent cultural icons. He has sold over 120 million albums all over the world. He was able to reach number one status for seven of his singles on the UK Singles Chart and number one status for eight of his singles on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Michael received several prestigious music prizes, including two Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards, three American Music Awards, twelve Billboard Music Awards, and four MTV Video Music Awards. On Billboard’s list of the “Greatest Hot 100 Artists of All Time” compiled in 2015, he was ranked 45th. According to the Radio Academy, he was the most-played performer on British radio stations between 1984 and 2004.
20. Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman is a well-known American singer and songwriter born on March 30, 1964. This album was nominated for six Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. Of those nominations, she took home three: Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her hit “Fast Car,” and Best Contemporary Folk Album.
Crossroads, Chapman’s second album, was released in 1989. She received a nomination for this album for an extra Grammy Award in the Best Contemporary Folk Album category.