Like I said I don't follow football that closely and will defer to the die-hard fans for any technical or statistical comparison, but to me the idea that Messi belongs in the same league as Maradona and Pelé if not even higher is almost comical. For most of us casual fans the WC is where football legends are born, and Messi has been lackluster to say the least on the world's biggest stage. First off he can't even claim his rival Ronaldo's excuse of being stuck with a middling team, but it's really not the fact that he never led Argentina to victory but his lack of a standout performance which hurts him vs. not only the two GOATs but also Fontaine, Garrincha, Muller, Cruyff, Rossi, Beckenbauer, Zidane, the other Ronaldo, etc.
And yeah yeah CLs and all that, but no serious tennis fan would agree that a non-Slammer with whatever other record deserves to be ranked #1 in any given year and that's almost what we're looking at here. If one wants to put Messi over any of that latter group, fine, but over the co-players of the 20th century? I say that's stretching an already dubious logic well beyond its breaking point.
I was still living in (East) Asia when The Bodyguard
came out in 1992, and I can tell you for a fact that the name "Whitney" wouldn't have rung a bell for me and most of my schoolmates until her soaring rendition of Dolly Parton's old hit
became the worldwide smash that defined her career. Both Maradona and Pelé were household names well before then. And have you even checked to see how many football fans watch old Maradona clips every day?
Again you're not trying hard enough to look beyond your borders. We agree on sports vs. pop culture overall, but Whitney even at her absolute peak was no MJ or Madonna. Not even close, either in cultural impact or in artistic merit which will ultimately decide their legacy. Houston was at best a tremendously gifted vocalist who abandoned her gospel roots for pop schlock which she turned into commercial gold through one-of-a-kind pipes and charisma. And like others of its kind that gold will ultimately prove fraudulent - with the one exception courtesy of Dolly, yes, which somehow makes perfect sense as it's an unwieldy mixture of sincerity and self-delusion that she struggled to balance throughout her career. This one time her gospel influence won out, almost overpowering Dolly's fragile aria of resigned love which dimmer critics mistook for bombast but which in fact imbues the song with an additional layer of catharsis missing from the original. For that reason "I Will Always" will always be known as Houston's signature song even though she didn't write a word or note of it, and I do expect it to endure as long as Parton's own timeless classic "Jolene"
which appeared on the same original album, but this version is in the end not one but two covers - one serving as a return to Houston's Black Baptist heritage and the other as a tribute to the country great whom she clearly wanted to do justice. No wonder she never came close to duplicating the stroke of serendipity.
Now I can already hear you saying, "But Madonna was never half the singer Whitney was." No, she wasn't, nor is she much of an instrumentalist. But she's had a hand in most of her best songs, which are among the most enduring pop confections ever written and span at least three decades: "Lucky Star," "Into the Groove," "Live to Tell," "Papa Don't Preach," "True Blue," "Open Your Heart," "La Isla Bonita," "Who's That Girl," "Like a Prayer," "Express Yourself," "Cherish," "Oh Father," "Dear Jessie," "Vogue," "This Used to Be My Playground," "Deeper and Deeper," "Rain," "I'll Remember," "Secret," "Take a Bow," "You'll See," "Frozen," "Ray of Light," "Drowned World/Substitute for Love," "The Power of Good-Bye," "Nothing Really Matters," "Music," "Don't Tell Me," "Hung Up," "Sorry," "Get Together," "Jump," "Celebration" and likely more to come. And that doesn't even include such first-rate singles as "Holiday," "Borderline," "Material Girl" and "Dress You Up" that she handed over to her collaborators early in her career.
Not even MJ boasts as extensive a parade of hits, and while Madge has never been a great lyricist and remains like Jackson a dance artist at heart "Like a Prayer" is among the most majestic of all art pop while "Live to Tell" finds her at her most searingly introspective. Add to that "Vogue," "Express Yourself" and other immortal dance anthems and a constant urge to reinvent oneself (which you typically dismiss as attention grabbing and nothing more) and you've got a pop royalty second only to Jackson since the Beatles. By contrast Whitney wasn't an auteur of any kind but more of a producer-editor who needed the right material and circumstances to strike gold. Not everyone can be an MJ or MDNA, and there's no shame in that.
In postwar popular culture there's Michael Jackson and there's everyone else. Chaplin is probably the closest equivalent before the war, but like you said MJ was a child prodigy so he would've had a leg up even without the built-in media advantage of his era.
Also comparing these numbers is always a dicey business. By official counts even the most successful albums sell no more than 30-50 million copies, but that's only certified ownership figures and we know the number of people who've listened to the most popular singles from these records or viewed the MVs is far higher. Likewise the Game of Thrones
finale might have attracted "only" 13.61 million viewers in the US, but there were millions more outside and the series is one of the most pirated ever. Hence the estimate of as high as 1 billion viewers worldwide
, and assuming the number isn't too far off we're talking a global event on par with WC finals. And I'm guessing you already know that the 1 billion-ish WC estimate is for peak viewership, with an average of about half the total.
Still don't think Whitney is all that close to Maradona in worldwide fame and impact, but when you turn to a living legend like Paul McCartney the comparison gets rather more complicated, especially since everyone knows the other half of L&M is dead... and Paul then has to share some of the spotlight with Ringo! Does that mean PM would be entitled to only 1/4 of the Beatles' legacy? Far from it, but you can already see why these cross-field comparisons are so tricky.