Music is an ever-changing field. To keep up with the times, you must adapt to them, or be left behind. Musicians in particular suffer under the yoke of modernity, since something new is happening literally every moment — not to mention that they tend to be creative types with a million different ideas up their sleeves. Whether temporary or permanent, out of necessity or on a whim, these musicians have changed their sounds, styles, and minds in huge ways that have affected their music, their fans and in many cases, their world. Click through to check out our list, and let us know which of your favorite musical transformations we’ve missed in the comments!
We’ll defer to the words of another songwriting giant, Loudon Wainwright III: “When Bob went electric man, everything changed.” Dylan was the acoustic voice of a generation, and his foray from folk into rock music polarized his audience, drawing boos at his historic 1965 Newport set, which he had decided last minute to play electric. In the years that followed, he heard cries of “Judas!” when he brought out the axe, but since then everyone has pretty much settled down and accepted his brilliance in both forms.
Our dear beloved Britney may have had the most transformations of them all. Starting as an adorably wholesome Mickey Mouse Club cadet and moving up to a slightly titillating Catholic schoolgirl in “Baby One More Time,” she was America’s sweetheart . Then she got sexy, was a “Slave 4 U” and gave Michael Jackson a birthday cake in an S&M outfit. Then she got crazy, started marrying people, and shaved her head. Then she got normal again and they did a whole Glee episode about her. Everyone talked about her weight the whole time. For further reading, check out our visual timeline on the pop princess.
Once known for his controversial, political lyrics, extensive rap sheet (he used to be a Crip), and often used as an example of the most violent, misogynistic gangsta rap, Snoop gave up his rough image in favor of a luxe, ghetto-pimp vibe in the early 2000’s. Now, he writes for Bollywood movies, appears in sugary Katy Perry videos and makes mashed potatoes on Martha Stewart . Although, um, the two of them have served roughly the same amount of jail time, so who’s to say.
Despite her many costume changes, from white wedding to pointy breasts to leather and lace, Madge has been a constant fashion icon and sexually provocative figure of controversy from the get. But after her daughter Lourdes’ birth, she changed from sex symbol to a grown up businesswoman, more involved in philanthropy and invested in Kabbalah. She has matured gracefully from the upstart pop star she was in the early 80’s to the undisputed Queen of Pop she is today.
Sigh. In 1999, country star Garth Brooks created a pop star alter-ego for himself called Chris Gaines, releasing an album under that name entitled In the Life of Chris Gaines. Though the public recoiled at Brooks’ weirdness and the album was widely panned, it did get Brooks his only US top 40 pop single to date. Luckily, after a few months, he changed back.
In 1975, the world knew Lou Reed as the driving creative force behind the Velvet Underground, and after he left the band in 1970, as a progressive, solid rock star. Then he came out with Metal Machine Music, a double album of electronic feedback completely unlike anything he had ever done. Though Reed insisted it was a serious musical effort, most critics balked, interpreting it as contemptuous towards his fans and the music industry. Nonetheless, the album is cited as one of the most important forerunners of the advent of noise music. And then he came back with Coney Island Baby.
When Eminem first came onto the scene in 1997, he was an irreverent, potty-mouthed goofball with a violent streak and a serious lyrical talent. After a series of personal and legal problems in the 2000’s and a three year hiatus, however, he returned in 2010 with a more serene, serious temperament and a new album entitled Recovery, his most introspective album to date. Hopefully this means he’ll continue to leave behind the gross-out antics and channel that musical prowess towards some more interesting fare in the future.
At the height of his popularity in the late 1970’s, folk legend Cat Stevens converted to Islam, adopting the Muslim name Yusuf Islam, and auctioned all his guitars off for charity, giving up music to devote his life to philanthropy. Though the world mourned the loss of his music, it celebrated his work for peace (he has won many awards for his philanthropic and peace promoting work). In 2006, he re-emerged with a new pop album, released under the name Yusuf.