When a singer has been in the music industry for a while, it’s inevitable that their particular ‘sound’ changes and evolves over time. Whether it’s subtle stylistic tweaks or a totally blatant change of genre, switching things up can prevent a singer’s material from becoming boring or cliched. You don’t want people to start complaining that all of your songs sound the same! Likewise, artists sometimes switch their sound around just for the fun of it. They might want to try something new, be a bit experimental, or just confuse their fans for the fun of it. Yes, I’m thinking about that time Snoop Dogg became a reggae artist. That was a plot twist and a half…
Some of the biggest stars in the world today started out singing in a style that’s totally different to that of their present records. Just look at Taylor Swift, who’s definitely left her country roots behind. Question is, did these musicians make the right choice in changing up their sound, or should they have stuck to their original genre? We’ll let you decide…
17. Katy Perry
Taylor Swift’s frenemy Katy Perry hasn’t always been the pop star we know and love. In fact, she used to perform under a different name and in a very different genre. Under her real name Katy Hudson, Perry released a gospel album back in 2001. While the album was a critical success, it only ended up selling around 200 copies. It was shortly after this initial flop that Perry decided pop was for her and made the transition from religious to secular music. Even throughout her pop career, her sound has varied a bit. Perry’s debut album, One of the Boys, was more pop-rock than pure pop. However, her sophomore album Teenage Dream changed all that. Perry has been a bona fide pop star ever since.
16. David Bowie
’80s hitmaker and general musical legend David Bowie constantly changed up his sound over the course of his 44-year career. He was the king of reinvention and constantly kept music fans guessing what his next move would be. A memorable development was his switch from pop-rock to glam rock, with Bowie re-entering the music scene as his alter ego Ziggy Stardust.
In 1975, he changed his sound once again to a style he referred to as “plastic soul.” The late 1970s brought a shift to electronica-infused pop, while the ’80s brought a more rock-influenced sound. The ’90s were probably Bowie’s most experimental years, with the singer making forays into jungle and industrial-style music. His final album, Blackstar, marked his return to experimental rock. This famous musical sound-shifter tragically died just a few days after this last record was released.
15. Lana Del Rey
Let’s be real – we all went through a Lana Del Rey phase when we were a slightly miserable teen. Del Rey’s haunting vocals and soft pop tunes have made her records smash hits. Her songs almost have a gentle, dreamlike quality to them, despite tackling some pretty heavy topics. However, Del Rey’s signature sound was not always this cinematic and pop-inspired.
Back as Lizzy Grant, her music didn’t have the dramatic, Hollywood-style quality that it does now, and is also a whole lot less depressing than some of her current fare. Del Rey initially tried to sweep this first release under the carpet when she found fame, but her most dedicated fans found it anyway.
14. Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus‘ transformation from innocent Disney teen star to scandalous twerker was quite the sight to behold. When Miley debuted her new scantily-clad, controversy-courting self, her musical style changed quite drastically alongside her image. Country-inspired gentle pop hits like “The Climb” and “7 Things” were replaced by the hip-hop and dance inspired album Bangerz.
“We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” heralded the start of a new, raunchier Miley era. However, her slightly bizarre follow up album Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz was once again totally different to Miley’s prior work. It was pretty experimental and featured elements of psychedelic rock as well as pop. Despite all of this change, Miley seems to be returning to her country roots at the moment. Still, what a rollercoaster ride her musical career has been so far!
Cuban rapper and perpetual shades-wearer Pitbull has dabbled in quite a few different genres over the years. While these days his rapping is quite pop-friendly, this wasn’t always the case. He started off as a full-on gangster rapper, collaborating with Lil Jon and touring with 50 Cent and Eminem. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that he switched to his current, more party-orientated sound. Pitbull has also released extensive Latin-inspired music and even tried his hand at reggae once. To be honest, that’s kind of hard to imagine. Still, all the rappers do it apparently – just look at Snoop Dogg! Who knows what Pitbull will try next. Operatic rap, perhaps?
12. Nelly Furtado
Portuguese-Canadian singer Nelly Furtado started off producing quite gentle, easy-listening pop. Her singles “I’m Like a Bird” and “Turn Off The Light” reflected her softly-sung, generally peppy style. Furtado stuck to this type of music for the first five years of her career and the formula worked well. However, in 2006 she decided to be experimental. Furtado’s album Loose featured elements of R&B;, hip-hop, and 1980s electronica, and spawned hits like “Maneater,” “Say It Right,” and “Promiscuous” – the latter being her first number one single in the States. It was a marked departure from her earlier work, but ultimately this gamble paid off!
11. Snoop Dogg
Remember that time when Snoop Dogg decided that he was actually Snoop Lion and went off to make a reggae album? It was a total diversion from the norm for an artist usually associated with hip-hop and gangster rap. However, in 2012 Snoop informed the world that a Rastafarian priest had re-christened him ‘Lion’ and that reggae was now his jam. It was actually a year of many musical styles for Snoop – later in 2012, he released an electronica album under the name ‘DJ Snoopadelic.’ In 2013, he branched out even further and formed a funk duo with fellow musician Dâm-Funk. All of these projects now seem to have petered out – Snoop is back to his classic rapping ways. However, we’re glad he got all of that musical experimentation out of his system.
10. Lady Gaga
The notoriously unconventional Lady Gaga has done her fair share of genre-shifting over the years. Before she became the international superstar that she is today, Gaga started off making avant-garde electronic dance music. This eventually morphed into the glam-rock-inspired electro-pop style featured on her debut record, The Fame. Her follow-up album, Born This Way, featured much of the same fare. However, in 2011, Gaga decided to go in a totally different direction. She collaborated with musical legend Tony Bennett for the first time, releasing a cover of the classic jazz song “The Lady is a Tramp.” This later blossomed into a full album of jazz duets in 2014, a record that showcased Gaga’s astounding vocal ability. Her most recent solo work, Joanne, was also a departure from her dance-pop roots, featuring a collection of country and folk-inspired tunes. Gaga definitely isn’t one to stay in a pre-assigned musical box!
9. Alanis Morissette
Singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette is best-known for her scathing alternative rock and grunge-style songs. However, she started out her career in a very different way. Morissette’s first album, Alanis, had a totally different sound to her subsequent records. This first release was firmly in the dance-pop genre, featuring songs that were a lot less harsh than those of her future hit record Jagged Little Pill. Her follow-up piece, Now Is The Time, was full of gentle ballads that featured much less production than dance-pop Alanis’s tunes. It wasn’t until Morissette moved to Los Angeles in 2003 that the sound we all know and love was born.
8. Gwen Stefani
Gwen Stefani is one of the most successful pop artists of the last twenty years. Singles such as “Hollaback Girl,” “The Sweet Escape,” and “What You Waiting For?” have made her a household name. She’s been a judge on The Voice, has won three Grammys for her efforts, and even released a holiday album this past Christmas.
However, her initial musical style and sound were very different to the bubblegum pop we’ve become used to. Stefani famously made her start in the rock band No Doubt, an alternative group who saw quite a bit of success in the ’90s and early 2000s. Stefani still collaborates with her former bandmates every now and again, most recently in 2015.
7. Jessica Simpson
Just like Katy Perry, pop princess Jessica Simpson got her first taste of the music industry in the Christian music genre. When Simpson was a teen, she was spotted by a Christian music executive while singing in her church choir. Simpson was subsequently signed to Proclaim Records and began to record a debut album. However, she was apparently dropped from the label for a pretty questionable reason. As Simpson got older, it was deemed that she couldn’t possibly continue in the Christian music industry as her breasts were too large. Yep, seriously. Simpson transitioned into pop, where this most definitely wasn’t a problem, and her career finally got going.
Music producer and DJ Skrillex is mostly known for his work in the EDM and dubstep genres. He’s won numerous Grammy awards for his solo work and collaborations and recently produced a track for Justin Bieber‘s hit album, Purpose. However, Skrillex – real name Sonny Moore – had a very different sound at the start of his career.
Aged 16, he became the lead singer of the post-hardcore emo band From First to Last. The group enjoyed moderate success and even toured with big-name bands like All Time Low and The Rocket Summer. However, Moore had to leave the band in 2007 due to the immense strain it was putting on his vocal cords. He pursued his solo career as Skrillex for a while before rejoining the band at the start of 2017. He’s still with them, and the band plans to release new music in 2018.
Pink‘s music career started when she was just 14 years old. She began to perform in clubs in Philadelphia at that age, dabbling in a whole load of unexpected genres. While we now know her as a pop and pop rock queen, Pink started off singing everything from hip-hop to rave music with a few skater songs thrown in there too. At 16, her focus switched to R&B; when she joined girl band Choice. The group had a few successful singles but ended up disbanding pretty quickly. When Pink’s solo career finally took off, she started as quite a traditional pop artist; however, she utterly hated being given that label, and in 2001 she decided to make a change. The release of the album Missundaztood marked the start of Pink’s pop-rock era, and she hasn’t looked back since.
4. Queen Latifah
Question: is there anything Queen Latifah can’t do? She’s a successful actress, a talented talk-show host, and a total feminist icon – and that’s without mentioning her music career. Latifah has changed up her sound more times than Elizabeth Taylor changed husbands. From the late ’80s to the early 2000s she focused on R&B;, rapping about the issues faced by black women. She then switched to singing mostly soul, gospel, and jazz, even earning a Grammy nomination for her album of jazz covers. More recently, Latifah has returned to her hip-hop roots. She released her most recent album in 2012 and has been focussing on her on-screen career ever since. How does she manage it all?
3. Joni Mitchell
Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell is often hailed as one of the most important and influential female musicians of the 20th century. She’s inspired huge stars like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Ellie Goulding, as well as having a pretty notable career herself. Mitchell started out in the folk scene, winning the Grammy for Best Folk Performance in 1970. She continued in the same vein for a number of years before abruptly switching her style to jazz in 1975. While this new sound didn’t bring Mitchell as much commercial success, it left her far more creatively fulfilled. In her later years, Mitchell dabbled more in pop, electronica, and even orchestral-backed recordings, leading to the famous use of her song “Both Sides Now” in the movie Love Actually. If you didn’t cry when Emma Thompson cried, you’re lying.
2. Kanye West
To be honest, it’s easy to forget that Kanye West‘s actual profession is ‘musician’ rather than ‘professional controversy-causer’ or ‘Kardashian spouse,’ However, he was a rapper before he was either of these things, and we must try to respect that. Yeezy’s sound has evolved dramatically over the years. When he first started out, he was a fan of incorporating soul into his music, usually in the form of accelerated samples. He then moved on to using a huge amount of thumping base in his electronica-themed tunes, before adding in an orchestral, classical element in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Yeezus was a return to the basics: stripped down rap with brash lyrics. Kanye may be unpredictable in a number of ways, but you can never complain that his music is too ‘samey.’
1. Taylor Swift
T-Swiz has gone through what has to be one of the most remarkable transformations in modern music history. She started off as a saccharin country teen star, plucking out hits like “Our Song” and “Teardrops on my Guitar” on said guitar. Her sophomore album, Fearless, wasn’t as overtly country but still had some Nashville vibes in there.
However, 2012’s Red is where it all changed. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “22” sounded distinctly poppy, while “I Knew You Were Trouble” even had dubstep elements! What?! After that, country Taylor was most definitely dead and pop Taylor came to the forefront. Her first official pop album, 1989, won Swift a number of Grammys, while her latest record Reputation caused quite a stir — being vastly different from anything else she’s done thus far. One thing’s for sure – it looks like Taylor is done with country for good.