A Brief History Of Musicians Name-Checking Celebrities

Once upon a time, troubadours and court musicians wrote the names of royals and enemy soldiers into their songs to entertain their listeners. The mention of a famous person is easy shorthand for "rich," "beautiful," "mean," "trouble," or any other concept the songwriter wants to express with a good rhyme. And, name-dropping hasn't changed much since.

Overt references to pop culture in a song can go one of two ways. They're either clever allusions that make the song's meaning crystal clear, or they're ticking time bombs, set to make the track seem dated and corny in a few short years. The difference isn't always clear. Somehow, a Kanye West rhyme about Mary-Kate and Ashley seems like it's going to be hilarious for decades to come. Say what you will about Ye's other traits; the guy knows how to make a good pastiche. But, the insults in an old Eminem song seem, well, kinda old and lame. So, what differentiates a lasting name-drop from one destined to burn out? The answer seems to be a combination of rhyming well, choosing the right timeless personalities to reference, and tossing in a little extra magic.

Ahead, we analyzed 15 prime examples for your careful examination.
Opener photo: Han Myung-Gu/WireImage.