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Britney, J-Lo, Michael Jackson Dominated Pop Headlines in 2004

  • Ray McDonald

The year in pop music provided plenty of action for cultural observers, mixing the tragic and the trashy. While some stars kept fans guessing about their marital status, others battled for their professional lives. VOA's Ray McDonald looks back at some of the defining moments of 2004.

Five years into her recording career, Britney Spears decided it was time to get married and she liked it so much, she did it twice. At 5:00 a.m. on January 3, 2004 the 22-year-old singer wed her childhood friend Jason Alexander in Las Vegas and that afternoon arranged an annulment.

Described as a joke taken too far, it resulted in embarrassment for Britney's family, and a sizeable payday for Mr. Alexander. Nine months later, Britney again recited wedding vows, this time with dancer Kevin Federline. The two remain married, and Britney Spears is said to be concentrating on starting a family.

Britney wasn't the only star to walk down the aisle in 2004. On June 5, twice-divorced Jennifer Lopez married salsa star Marc Anthony. The two had first dated five years earlier; Marc Anthony officially divorced his wife less than a week before the ceremony.

Jennifer's former boyfriend Sean "P. Diddy" Combs enjoyed a spectacular 2004. The rap mogul, who runs the multi-million-dollar Bad Boy Records empire, earned positive critical reviews for his first appearance on Broadway. April 26 saw him begin his three-month run in the latest revival of the play A Raisin In The Sun. After it ended, P. Diddy threw himself into politics, establishing the non-partisan "Citizen Change" organization in an effort to raise voter awareness among young people and minorities.

While Mr. Combs continues to burnish his image, another superstar's career sinks deeper into disarray. On April 30, Michael Jackson pleaded innocent to 10 counts of child molestation handed down by a grand jury in Santa Barbara County, California. The 46-year-old self-proclaimed "King Of Pop" stands accused of committing lewd acts on an underage boy, while having plied him with alcohol. This is the second time Michael Jackson faced such charges, having escaped a possible 1993 trial by paying an undisclosed sum to another boy's family. District Attorney Tom Sneddon seems determined to press his case; December brought news that Michael Jackson's fingerprints, along with those of the boy whom he allegedly molested, were found together on pornographic magazines seized last year at Michael's Neverland Ranch. The trial is slated to begin January 31.

Ray Charles' legion of fans long ago dubbed him "The Genius" and with good reason. This child of poverty, who was blind by age seven, electrified the music world in the 1950s by blending blues and gospel. He later incorporated rock, jazz, and even country into his sound. On June 10, Ray Charles succumbed to liver disease at age 73. Tributes poured in from around the world, while the U.S. marketplace also responded. His final studio album, Genius Loves Company, appeared in August, and has sold more than two million copies. October brought his big screen biography Ray, in which actor Jamie Foxx portrayed him with Oscar-caliber accuracy.

Awards shows seem to proliferate with each passing year, but some stood out from the pack for all the wrong reasons. A brawl at the November 15 Vibe Hip-Hop Awards resulted in a 26-year-old man being sent to the hospital with stab wounds. Police have charged rapper Young Buck - his real name is David Darnell Brown - with the attack. He is scheduled to be arraigned January 14, and faces up to eight years in prison, if convicted.

Through all the chaos, music repeatedly proved its power to uplift and transform and December brought honors to five of its most outstanding acts. Earning slots in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame are U2, The Pretenders, Buddy Guy, Percy Sledge, and The O'Jays. They'll be honored at its 20th annual induction ceremony, taking place March 14 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Critics and consumers alike say U2's latest album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb is among its best.

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