kelly-rowland-dirty-laundryI have a thing for sidekicks.

I consider myself a Rhoda, not a Mary, and, furthermore, I prefer it that way. Maybe that’s why I find myself wondering so much about the second-in-commands, the slightly-blurry-but-not-totally-forgotten portions of big pop acts. George Michael was my first true pop lust, but his Wham! sidekick, Andrew Ridgeley, did not escape my attention. This explains my deep affection for the film Music and Lyrics, in which Hugh Grant plays a character clearly inspired by Mr. Ridgeley. “Pop Goes My Heart” should’ve been a massive real-life radio hit, and Jason Street playing the George Michael in the video is priceless:

More recently, I felt a tug at my heart for the boys of ‘N Sync not named Justin Timberlake when they were coerced into serving as, essentially, backup dancers in a tribute to Timberlake’s career. J.C. Chasez’s final trill into the mic before the boys disappeared again made me ache for the career Chasez, if no one else in the band, should have — you are missing out if you haven’t listened to his solo work or his work with Basement Jaxx.

This all leads me to Kelly Rowland. Her record, Talk a Good Game, was a highlight of this year, music-wise. I listened to it almost non-stop this summer while training for a fall half-marathon, and thought a lot about what it must be like for her. Here’s a woman who’s exceptionally vocally talented (my friend who’s a professional opera singer prefers her voice to Beyonce’s) and beautiful, and yet she must have spent most of her life feeling a little lacking — because the measuring stick for Kelly Rowland is, by definition, her Destiny’s Child bandmate Beyonce Knowles. In any other life, Kelly Rowland would have been the prettiest, most talented girl for miles and miles and miles. In a life growing up next to Beyonce, you’re always not-Beyonce. Of course, there are advantages, as evidenced most clearly by Ridgeley’s perfectly happy, mostly regular life, in comparison to Michael’s constant string of public sex- and drug-related problems. But, man, Beyonce’s a whole other level to find yourself constantly compared with.

I believe Rowland when she says she “wants [her] own path.” But I have to think that for her, or any human being in her shoes, that takes a lot of therapy. I hope she’s proud of the amazing album she put out this year — on which she, I would argue, beat Beyonce to the raw-and-real-album party by a few months. Beyonce may be singing about limo sex while putting out secret albums, but Kelly gave us an ode to cunnilingus and a string of startling personal admissions about an abusive relationship as well as her Beyonce-envy in “Dirty Laundry.”

So while we all celebrate the pop-album achievements of Beyonce and Justin this year, let’s also take a moment to appreciate the lesser gods of their pop music pasts. If you’re sick of hearing “Mirrors” and “Suit and Tie,” if you’re sick of talking about how Beyonce changed music as we know it, just turn on a little JC or Kelly. You won’t regret it.