Diva resurgence

Didn’t you hear? The catfight is so hot right now – what with that video of those Miami cheerleaders beating each other up and da-da-da-da-da. It’s, like, totally awesome to watch hot chicks butting heads. So you can imagine our excitement when the two greatest “divas” in the world, blessed-with-a-seven-octave-vocal-range Mariah Carey and the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna, decided to release their new albums within weeks of each other. Will the claws come out? Of course they will – divas don’t come with retractable claws.

Just as chic, 2008 marks the comeback of those babealicious divas. We’re celebrating by mixing the returns with the new generation of divas. Who’ll be next in the madness of super-popular, multiplatinum, too-many-number-ones-to-count? We’re not sure, but we’re guessing it won’t be Ashlee Simpson or Heidi Montag.

Mariah Carey
LABEL: Island Records

After her post-“Glitter” mental breakdown, Mariah Carey checked into a hospital to rest up and rebuild herself. After a short stay, she pulled it together and kicked out “Emancipation of Mimi,” which grabbed a Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Album and gave birth to several singles, including two chart-toppers, “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us.” We liked this new Mariah’s self-empowering attitude.

The diva’s anticipated re-comeback “E=MC2” may very well feel like Mariah’s second album, because she’s shouting the same “new-me” attitude on her next set of tracks. The album has already produced “Touch My Body,” which rocketed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Carey’s 18th number one single.

Miss Mimi brings exactly what we expect to “E=MC2,” a stunning voice that is capable of whistling higher than even dogs can hear (in a good way). Featuring collaborations with Young Jeezy, T-Pain and Damian Marley, Carey seems determined to keep her place at the top of the charts.

The album, as a whole, lacks unification. As expected, it is a compilation of possible Carey number ones. She favors soulful R&B and pop beats, but also experiments with Gospel and Reggae rhythms, as in the track “Cruise Control.”

It seems like the album is delivered with two separate themes. First, Mariah touts her “bad girl” side, busting out things “to feature my hips” in “Migrate” featuring T-Pain. The other theme is Mariah’s emotional strength and perseverance that provides a glimpse “inside the private hell we built” in her earlier marriage to Tommy Mottola.

Overall, the album is strongest when Mimi sticks to the basics. Tracks like “I’ll Be Lovin’ You Long Time” are catchy, but overdone. The layers of sound editing and electronic synthesis result in a sound that’s far cheaper than the Mariah we once knew.

John Sand

ALBUM: Hard Candy
LABEL: WEA/Reprise

Let’s face it: Madonna is awesome. There is nobody on this planet cooler than Madonna. She foresees and dictates trends, she saves the world, she studies ancient Jewish mysticism and she has a small arthropod species named after her. Oh, and she just beat Elvis as the artist with the most top ten hits in history. Pretty badass, Madge. So, of course, the whole world is on its toes, waiting with bated breath for her latest musical offering, “Hard Candy.”

But here’s the deal. “Hard Candy” is under closer wraps than Suri Cruise, and it has yet to officially leak before its April 28 release date. Madge even addresses the mounting anticipation with her so-naughty advertising campaign for the album: “Are you getting Hard (Candy)?”

You’ve probably heard the first single off the album, “4 Minutes.” You know, the one that sounds like an outtake from Justin Timberlake’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds.” Smartypants Madonna had the sense to pair up with JT and his impresario producer Timbaland, whose magic hands turn everything he touches into gold like King Midas – it’ll be huge, even if “4 Minutes” isn’t half as good as “Hung Up” from “Confessions on a Dancefloor,” or anything Madonna did during her “Vogue” period of the early-90s. In the scheme of things, it’s a mediocre single (for Madonna’s standards) that will get old quickly because it’ll be played every ten minutes on KDWB. On the other hand, it’s the perfect example of Madonna’s endless (and successful) efforts to keep herself relevant by morphing what’s currently hot and stamping it with her trademark Madonna sass – she may be 49, but she’s still as sexy as she was in 1982, and she knows it.

“Hard Candy” veers from the disco-darling persona so carefully cultivated on “Confessions,” and instead immerses itself in hip-hop and R&B. For any other 49-year-old woman, this would be awkward and discomforting, but for Madonna, she’s right at home alongside Pharrell (“Candy Shop” – not reminiscent of the 50 Cent tune in the slightest, except for the occasional bon-bon of innuendo) and Timbaland. The album is certain to be a hit at the Gay 90’s and probably in more than a few high school girls’ bedrooms on weekend nights; though girls and gays have always been her Madgesty’s target audience, there’s enough hook to give her credit with the straight dudes who not-so-secretly dig JT.

Mrs. Richie is savvy, and she’s at her savviest when prepping for the release of her albums. Her current incarnation riffs on the ’70s workout-wear theme of “Confessions on a Dancefloor,” only more corseted, hipper, and with buffer arms. It’s amazing that, at 49, she’s still got us wondering, “What will she do next?” That’s her main strength, and no matter the material on the album, you have to respect Madonna – she didn’t beat out Elvis AND The Beatles for nothin’.

Kara Nesvig

Kylie Minogue
LABEL: Capitol Records

Speaking of infectious club-happy diva-pop, Kylie Minogue joins the league of recently-released albums with her third studio release, “X.” It possesses no single as irresistibly catchy as “Can’t Get You Outta My Head” from 2002’s “Fever,” but it’s just as catchy and frothy as her previous offerings, like a fizzy pink ginger ale spiked with mandarin vodka and an Ecstasy tab.

Though “Heart Beat Rock” belongs to Gwen Stefani, the rest of the album is the pure crystalline Kylie energy that made her a Europop sensation – though she should have “X”ed the ballad “No More Rain” in favor of the Daft Punk-meets-1984 sugar rushes she’s known for. The word “dance” is repeated about six hundred times throughout the course of “X,” and rightly so, because this is an album for shakin’ it. Who cares about deep, eloquent lyrics when you can have glitter coursing through your veins and choruses of “oh-oh-whoas” and “wow wow wows”? A Madonna and Kylie cocktail would be a potent one, indeed.

Kara Nesvig

Leona Lewis
ALBUM: Spirit

The UK sensation Leona Lewis, winner of the third season of the British talent search “The X Factor,” may very well be next in the line of fabulous divas. Lewis’s first American album, titled “Spirit,” delivers exactly what the title promises.

The album is trim and br as featured in her first single “Bleeding Love.” The strings and drum pattern of “Better in Time” is effective in its simplicity. Lewis’s soulful voice slides methodically through “Footprints in the Sand,” which tackles the issue of third-world poverty.

Lewis hits her mark in every song. Her vocal power isn’t masked by complex beats, because she simply doesn’t need them. “Spirit” is a fresh departure from the overwhelming pop music scene.

John Sand