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Required reading: Diva conduct

So Beyoncé lip-synced at the Obama inauguration. Has she let the diva-hood down? Where does the contemporary pop diva culture come from? And if Beyoncé's stock has fallen, who is the greatest living pop diva? Only the books can tell us.

So the rumours are true. Only a few days old, Barack Obama's second term has been hit by scandal. The United States Marine Corps band confirmed last week that Beyoncé lip-synched The Star-Spangled Banner at the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday.

Faking your way through your country's most hallowed song on one of the most important - and watched - days on the national calendar is hardly a good look for the woman whom many consider America's leading diva.

But where does the contemporary pop diva culture come from? And if Beyoncé's stock has fallen, who is the greatest living pop diva? Only the books can tell us.

- To understand the foundations on which the contemporary diva stands, turn to Adelina Patti: Queen of Hearts by John Cone. Patti was one of the 19th century's first superstar sopranos. At the height of her fame, she demanded a fee of US$5,000 (Dh18,365) per night, paid in gold before the performance; she also insisted that her name be printed larger than that of any other cast member in all publicity materials, and trained a parrot to scream "CASH!" whenever her manager walked into the room.

- The 21st-century diva, though, surely owes just as much to another famous lady. Turn to Ed Ifkovic's Diana's Dogs: Diana Ross and the Definition of a Diva for a portrait of the soul legend who only this month caused a scene at a Beverly Hills restaurant when she was asked, and refused, to wait for a table alongside other customers.

- Foundations established, see Divas for a coffee table roundup of the 20th century's greatest divas, from Edith Piaf to Marilyn Monroe. And read Mariah Carey The Unauthorized Biography by Marc Shapiro, Beyoncé and Madonna by Daryl Easlea and Eddi Fiegel to judge the three women with strong claims to be the greatest diva at work today.

- Meanwhile, those seeking a deconstruction of the diva myth might try Lori Burns's Disruptive Divas: Feminism, Identity and Popular Music. Others, though, might prefer to embrace their inner diva with I Am a Diva: Every Woman's Guide to Outrageous Living. Diamond-encrusted tiara not included.

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