Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson turn 50 this year
Besides being three of the most famous (infamous?) musicians of their generation, Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson have something else in common:
They're all turning 50 this year.
Prince's birthday is TODAY. Madonna and Jackson get to blow out their candles Aug. 16 and Aug. 29, respectively.
So is this cause for celebration? Or alarm?
"In two of the three cases, I'd say it's cause for celebration," says Jonathan Cohen, senior editor of the music trade magazine Billboard.
"As for Michael Jackson . . . it's just sad. Knowing how old he is just makes it all the more creepy."
Jackson's career has yet to recover from allegations of child molestation (despite his acquittal in a 2005 trial), financial woes (he narrowly avoided foreclosure on his Neverland Ranch in Los Olivos, Calif., this year) and increasingly strange behavior that have earned him the nickname Wacko Jacko.
Prince, on the other hand, is riding high after a scene-stealing performance in April at Coachella, an ultra-hip music festival in the California desert. And don't forget His Purple Badness' rain-soaked halftime show at last year's Super Bowl, too -- as if anyone who caught the electrifying performance could.
"Prince is sui generis," says music industry analyst and former record company executive Bob Lefsetz, publisher of the Lefsetz Letter blog.
Prince "has the icon status of a Paul McCartney," Lefsetz says.
As for Madonna and Jackson, "they've both had too many visits to the plastic surgeon," Lefsetz says. "They're trying to be young, trying to be somebody they're not."
Madonna might just be about the buffest 50-year-old out there.
On the new Madonna album, "Hard Candy," the Material "Girl" collaborates with several younger hitmakers, including Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. They're featured on "4 Minutes," a Top 5 single.
"This record feels like a bit of a cop-out," Cohen says. "Ten or 20 years ago, Madonna was the one discovering hungry new talents and presenting them to the world for the first time. It's not the case anymore.
"I can't say I'm a huge fan of Madonna's new music, but it seems to have revitalized her a bit, after uneven responses to her past couple of projects. She remains a huge superstar internationally, if not so much here in the United States."
It's business as usual for Prince on his latest album, "Planet Earth," released last year.
"Prince is still writing the same kinds of songs he's been writing forever," Cohen says. "The messages are timeless. You don't hear him coming out with confessional acoustic ballads about middle age or things like that. I don't think anyone really wants to hear that from him anyway."
Jackson's landmark 1982 album "Thriller" has sold 27 million copies in the United States alone. It's second only to "The Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975" on the Recording Industry Association of America's list of the best-selling albums of all time.
Jackson hasn't put out a new album since "Invincible" in 2001.
"It got pretty bad reviews, but there are some great songs on there and some really cool production," Cohen says.
The trick of aging gracefully
If nothing else, Prince, Madonna and Jackson can take some consolation in the fact they'll always be younger than the Rolling Stones.
Mick Jagger -- oops! We mean Sir Mick Jagger -- has never lived down saying he'd rather be dead than singing "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" when he was 45.
Jagger (the same guy who once sang: "What a drag it is getting old") turns 65 next month. The rest of the Stones are sexagenarians, too. And "Satisfaction" is still on their set list.
"A lot of artists from that era are still performing," says Jim Henke, chief curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
"This idea of 'Hope I die before I get old' doesn't really hold true in pop music anymore," Henke says.
Jackson is a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, enshrined for his accomplishments with the Jackson 5 and for his solo career. Prince and Madonna are inductees, too.
"I don't know how many teenagers are listening to any of them, but they still have their audiences," Henke says.
"You never know what Prince is going to come out with next. Madonna has done pretty well as far as keeping her music up-to-date. Michael Jackson has gone through some difficulties, so I'm not sure where he fits in today in terms of being relevant."
As they pass the half-century mark, Prince, Madonna and Jackson are entering largely uncharted territory. In pop music, "maturity" can be a dirty word. Growing old (or older) gracefully is tricky business, a contingency some pop stars didn't count on.
"When people said they couldn't foresee doing what they're doing at their ages -- well, they couldn't foresee doing something else, either," Lefsetz says. "When you're 20, you don't even believe you're going to be 50, never mind what you'll be doing.
"This is what they do. Wannabe musicians don't give up when they reach 50. Why should the stars?"
All indications are Prince and Madonna will remain major players for years to come.
"I believe Prince will be like an old jazz musician, playing until he drops," Lefsetz says.
"With Madonna, does she retire? One would think not, because she loves the spotlight too much.
"Does she reinvent herself as some kind of torch singer? Unfortunately, she doesn't have a good voice.
"I think her next move is to act her age and try to get her audience to rally around her."
Madonna is set to kick off a world tour in August. Last fall, she inked an unprecedented recording and touring deal with mega-promoter Live Nation, worth $120 million.
"A lot of people were skeptical about the deal, because there aren't a lot of models of female pop artists who are still out on the road as they're approaching 60," Cohen says.
"God knows what her show will be like at that point, but I would never write her off. Given her prior history, I'm sure she'll find a way to make it cool."
Michael Jackson turns 50 this year. His nose is considerably younger.
As for Jackson's prospects, your guess is as good as the experts'.
"Michael Jackson has become a joke, for all the obvious reasons," Lefsetz says.
Still, you can't entirely rule out a comeback by the artist formerly known as the King of Pop.
"No one can predict what he'll do next," Lefsetz says.
"Michael Jackson's personal weirdness and legal troubles aside, I still think there's a market for new music from him, if he could just put it out," Cohen says.
Adds Cohen: "If he could get his act together, behave like a normal person, put out a record and go on tour, he could do huge business. People are clamoring for that."