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Pop Stars vs. EDM Stars, What's The Difference?

Evaluating the scene staples, female trail blazers and viral sensations of both worlds.

Photo by Jason Nevader

As startup correspondent, Jeff Israely points out in a recent article, "The medium is the message at 145 m.p.h. on a curvy highway—and this convertible has no seat belts."

This assertion can also be applied in the pop and dance music worlds, which see a kaleidoscope of manufactured production coalitions, the tasty and the trash and the recordings you simply step over. Popular music revolves around those computing the rope that lassos the audience, even if it is for a hot minute. After all, that hot minute can snag thousands of fans, instantly.


Call them pop, dance, electro-pop, whatever, these artists are accessible to the masses, maintain a strong following, and have become staples through radio, YouTube, and the blogosphere. They are tracked, followed, liked, charted—champions of the social and in-demand.

The life of a pop star and that of a DJ conjure up piggybacking visuals of partying, lip syncing and press-play artists, Twitter feuds, endorsements and so on. There are the sellouts, the ghostwriters, the overnight and underground sensations and the genre-defying types, but really, how different are these two breeds of entertainers? Are their recipes for success premised on similar tactics? Do they play the part written for them or create their own performance shticks?

We placed both types side by side for a small breakdown, touching on everything from personal style to social engagement.

1) The Scene Staples

By the Numbers:


 Justin Timberlake

 Instagram: 958,009

 Instagram: 4.5 million

 Twitter: 2.84 million

 Twitter: 32.7 million

 Facebook: 9 million

 Facebook: 37 million


 Age: 33

The Skinny: Joel Zimmerman and Justin Timberlake hold musical signatures; the later escaped the boy band plague and the 'mau5 spearheaded a new way to experience EDM, visually and rhythmically. While Joel may voice his opinion regularly—lashing out at everyone from David Guetta to Avicii's manager, Ash Pournouri, Justin tends to shy away from in-your-face banter, opting for a more PG-style way of sharing. Still, people care about what Deadmau5 says and the same holds true for Justin Timberlake. Why? Because they've proved themselves as artists of substance, even if they spawn from different style pools.


Both have their own investment ventures, with Joel's holdings seen much in music under the mau5trap umbrella while Justin's holdings tip into the hospitality and fashion markets. As you may recall, Justin was deemed "The New King of Pop" by Rolling Stone and graced the cover of the authoritative music magazine. Deadmau5 also graced the coveted cover, which praised him as one of the most instrumental forces in EDM.

Simply put, these two lads are leaders, distinct in their craft, and have cult-like fan bases. You can identify a Deadmau5 progressive tune and the same holds true for Justin's vocals. They are popular, know how to rattle up crowds, and are appreciated on a global scale because of it. They are showmen with skill. Most of all, they are artists that know how to build anticipation around what they will do next.

2) The Female Trailblazers

By the Numbers:

 Annie MacManus (Annie Mac)


 Instagram: 135,515

 Instagram: 1.6 million

 Twitter: 618,000

 Twitter: 392,000

 Facebook: 190,000

 Facebook: 17 million

 Age: 35

 Age: 55

The Skinny: Madonna has paved the way for female pop stars and Annie Mac has done the same for emerging DJs/producers. Still, there is a generational gap between the two. While Madge may not be on the cusp of modern lingo (throwback to her 2012 Ultra stint when she asked the audience "How many of you have seen Molly?"), Annie Mac's leading BBC Radio 1 show puts her front and center of everything electronic; she is a cutting-edge voice that sticks. She is also a recognized, self-taught DJ/producer who's played alongside Fatboy Slim, performed at Glastonbury, is a regular Ibiza staple and her Annie Mac mixes are bloody treasures. The two may share some similarities in how they've shaped the way music is critiqued, but Annie's attitude and fortitude is humbling and never too raunchy, which differs from how Ms. "express yourself" approaches things. Plus, Annie doesn't fake an accent just because.


3) The Viral Sensations

By the Numbers:


 Justin Bieber

 Instagram: 749,300

 Instagram: 17 million

 Twitter: 1.53 million

 Twitter: 52.4 million

 Facebook: 5.8 million

 Facebook: 70 million

 Age: 26

 Age: 20

The Skinny: Hardwell is the youngest DJ to ever top the DJ Mag100 list and Justin Bieber is the only artist to lock in five No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart before the age of 19. The salacious mouthpiece of their mighty followers defines their impact with word of mouth and social media playing a pivotal role in each act's success. From live documentaries to annihilating YouTube videos with millions upon millions (upon millions) of views to align with seasoned veterans—both artists have made their checkmates count. Arguably, it's Hardwell's big room stain of progressive and electro-frenzied live shows that have solidified his reign whereas Justin's successful album record and dedicated Beliebers have kept his pop monopoly in tact. Yet, there's no denying that their popular sound has made them international stars. Having heavy hitters like Tiësto and Usher as mentors is also a good look. The man who discovered Justin Bieber, a.k.a. Scooter Braun, once told Forbes,  "If he's the real deal the kids will run with it because they'll feel like it's theirs, and their own self-discovery." This very notion applies to Hardwell supporters as well, just in a completely different sound arena with less screaming fan girls. Actually, maybe not. In the fashion department though, they couldn't be more different and thank the EDM gods for that.

One thing that is seemingly missing from the pop recipe is the love of the twosome. On the other side of the spectrum, the list of well-received DJ duos like Justice, Knife Party, Dog Blood, and Disclosure are among the biggest showstoppers when it comes to festivals and big-ticket events.

It may sound cooler to deem DJs as rock stars, but pop stars may in fact be the better classification, and that's not a bad thing. Or is it?