10 Musicians Who Successfully Transitioned from One Genre to Another

Most artists spend their careers continuously trying to hone in and experiment with their sound. For a handful of superstar acts, the decision to make a significant sonic shift led them to a new level of success.

Videos by American Songwriter

[RELATED: 6 Artists Who Are Genres Unto Themselves]

You may not realize it, but many of your chart-topping favorites first found their start in a completely different genre. Other artists have opted to try something new, taking on the challenge of trying to become a multi-genre hitmaker. We take a look at 10 famous artists and bands that successfully switched up their sound.

1. Darius Rucker

In 2008, famed Hootie & the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker officially pivoted from rock to country by signing a record deal with Capitol Nashville. A few months later, he made history with his No. 1 single “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” positioning him as the first Black artist to take the top of Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart in 25 years.

2. The Bee Gees

This British trio of brothers are known as leaders of the 1970s disco scene, but The Bee Gees embraced a much different style during their early years of performing. Through the ’50s and ’60s, the Gibbs played venues across the U.K. as the rock and roll outfit The Rattlesnakes before entering an experimental, transformative period that led to their trademark, dancefloor-ready sound.

3. Taylor Swift

She’s now one of history’s most successful pop artists, but Taylor Swift‘s career began on Nashville’s Music Row. Swift was only a teen when she inked a deal with Big Machine Records, leading to her chart-topping debut album in 2006. Each album that follows features additional pop elements, leading to her 2014 crossover LP, 1989. She hasn’t completely severed ties with the genre, though, often infusing country and traditional folk sounds into her compositions, including her 2020 records Folklore and Evermore.

4. Beastie Boys

During the late 1980s and early 90s, the Beastie Boys dominated the airwaves with their brand of brash, humor-tinged hip-hop. But in the years prior to their debut album, Licensed to Ill, the record-breaking act was firmly planted in the punk rock scene. Encouraged by their friend and then-burgeoning record producer Rick Rubin, the band fully embraced the world of rap and hip-hop, paving a creative path all their own.

5. Katy Perry

Before she became the wide-eyed, technicolor pop star she is today, Katy Perry was simply known as Katy Hudson. After months of trying to make connections in Nashville, she was offered a record deal and released her self-titled debut album in 2001. The 10-song LP is firmly rooted in contemporary Christian rock, sprinkled with polished pop elements that hint at what lies ahead.

6. Michael Bolton

He won the hearts of millions with his soaring soft rock ballads during the ’80s and ’90s, but Michael Bolton’s music wasn’t always so family-friendly. Before he topped the charts with songs like “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” he spent years chasing success in the hard rock scene as the frontman of his short-lived band Blackjack.

7. Tinashe

The past decade has been fruitful for Tinashe, who has been praised for her captivating blend of pop and R&B. That unique sound was crafted over many years, stretching back to the early 2000s during her stint as a member of the pop girl group the Stunners. The project only lasted five years, never finding its footing, even with the support of a major label deal. Tinashe used the experience as a learning opportunity, driving her to achieve new goals as a solo artist.

8. Lil Nas X

In 2018, the internet found its latest viral sensation with Lil Nas X’s irresistibly catchy song “Old Town Road.” The track spread across social media within days, eventually taking the previously unknown teen’s self-composed track onto both the country and rap airplay charts. A remix of the song, featuring ’90s country star Billy Ray Cyrus, broke streaming records and made Lil Nas X one of country music’s most unexpected new stars. With the release of his debut 2020 record Montero, he largely steered away from country influences, pivoting him into the realm of mainstream pop.

9. Gwen Stefani

As the fierce frontwoman of No Doubt, Gwen Stefani delivered a fresh fusion of rock, pop, and ska to the masses during the 1990s. The California-based band topped the charts with songs like “Don’t Speak” and “Just a Girl,” but that all came to a pause during the early 2000s. That pause allowed Stefani to pursue her own solo career, resulting in the ’80s electro-pop-inspired Love. Angel. Music. Baby. She’s undergone another sonic transformation in recent years, embracing the pop-country sound purveyed by her husband, Blake Shelton.

10. Miley Cyrus

Few artists have gone through as high-profile of metamorphosis as Miley Cyrus. After finding fame with the role of Disney Channel star Hannah Montana, she shed her squeaky-clean pop image and sound. Her eyebrow-raising 2018 record Bangerz found Cyrus teetering between genre lines cementing her as a true modern pop star.

(Photo by Michael Esposito, Courtesy of Sony Music)

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Jessi Colter

The Meaning Behind Jessi Colter’s Declarative “I’m Not Lisa”

Songwriter U: Lyrically Speaking-Rhythm Schemes