Music Article

The Hit Parade

Will their new albums be chart toppers? -- Upcoming releases from Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, X-tina and more

Nelly Furtado, the Pussycat Dolls, and Rihanna should be shaking in their stiletto Guccis right now. In a moment of pop-music convergence that harkens back to the days when boy bands ruled the earth, the next two months will see six of the hottest acts around drop albums...and drop-kick Nelly and Co. off their thrones. Starting with Christina Aguilera's Back to Basics, we rounded up this diva-licious crew to analyze their pop prospects.

CHRISTINA AGUILERA AUG. 15

WHERE SHE'S BEEN Aguilera's last album, Stripped, cleared nearly 4 million copies, but since 2002 the ex-Xtina has washed off the stank and married music producer Jordan Bratman.

WHAT'S NEXT The double disc Back to Basics is a cocktail of Aguilera's newfound love of the 1940s, mixed with modern beats. One CD is a throwback to old-school jazz (Stripped's Linda Perry supervised), while the other (produced by DJ Premier) has a hip-hop edge.

PROGNOSIS ''You're going to see Christina be the most consistent out of these artists,'' says Romeo, music director for NYC's Z100. And sure enough, ''Ain't No Other Man'' has been a top 10 summer single. Still, will fans tune in to her artistic evolution? Because, don't tell anyone, we kinda miss the stank.

JESSICA SIMPSON AUG. 29

WHERE SHE'S BEEN Besides the tabloids? Simpson has been pursuing other interests, like movies (The Dukes of Hazzard) and edible shampoo (her own beauty line, Dessert). Her last CD, 2003's In This Skin, ended up going triple platinum, largely due to the success of MTV's Newlyweds.

WHAT'S NEXT Her new disc, A Public Affair, will be the first serious test of whether Simpson can actually compete with the rest of these divas.

PROGNOSIS ''A Public Affair'' is the best single we've heard from her ever, but that's probably because it's actually a retread of Madonna's ''Holiday'' with some Diana Ross ''Ain't No Mountain High Enough'' thrown in. We're in wait-and-see mode, but casting Andy Dick in her video ranks as a serious warning sign.

BEYONCÉ SEPT. 5

WHERE SHE'S BEEN 2003's Dangerously in Love was a smash. Since then, Beyoncé released her final album with Destiny's Child in 2005 and has started making films like the Oscar-hopeful Dreamgirls, out Dec. 21.

WHAT'S NEXT The video for ''Deja Vu'' — featuring boyfriend Jay-Z — is jaw-droppingly hot, but this lead single off of her second solo album, B'Day, has been a slow burn. Only recently has it caught fire: Last week, ''Deja Vu'' jumped from No. 32 to No. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100.

PROGNOSIS Apparently, Beyoncé's fan base, like her talent, is as big as her hair.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE SEPT. 12

WHERE HE'S BEEN Timberlake has been musically bye-bye-bye since 2002's triple-platinum Justified. Since then, the former 'N Sync-er has focused on his film career (with spotty returns — um, Edison Force?) and girlfriend, Cameron Diaz (better results).

WHAT'S NEXT Since Timbaland produced one of the strongest tracks off Justified (''Cry Me a River''), he's been enlisted to help craft most of the beats on Future Sex/Love Sounds. ''It's going to sound like something you've never heard before,'' says the hip-hop maestro, who provides guest vocals along with T.I. and Three Six Mafia.

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