Once upon a time, an artist like Madonna was an outlier for changing her sound between albums. (Sure, her attempt at rapping was cringey, but at least she tried.) However, the days of sticking to one style of music are over. Today’s hottest singers are also the biggest risk-takers; they aren’t afraid to show off their versatility and prove that change is good. Check out our list of artists who switched genres mid-career and find out how their efforts were received.
Any serious Swift fan knows the story of how she moved to Nashville at 14, dead set on becoming a country music star. But as quickly as her star rose, she dropped it all for a sharp left turn. Her 2014 album 1989 swapped the Grammy winning country ballads from Fearless and Speak Now for unexpected pop tunes. Who would have thought the guitar-strumming “Tim McGraw” songstress would one day collaborate with Kendrick Lamar?
And she hasn’t stopped keeping us on our toes. In 2020, Swifties and critics went wild for her sister albums, Folklore and Evermore. The stripped down, indie folk sound was a perfect match for her life during the start of the pandemic. At this point, there’s no telling what she’ll do next.
Not a single Gen Xer could forget Darius Rucker asking you to “Hold My Hand.” As the frontman of the 1990s radio station-favorite Hootie & the Blowfish, his unmistakable baritone-voice made the Southern roots-rock band a mainstream success. But Rucker’s career didn’t end with Hootie. He tried his hand as an R&B solo artist in 2001, then switched to country music. The crossover was a success: he’s released five studio albums since 2008, earned a 2014 Grammy Award for Country Solo Performance, and was the first Black artist to join the Grand Ole Opry since 1993.
If Perry’s 2008 single “I Kissed a Girl” was considered racy by mainstream standards, imagine the reaction from her earliest fans. In 2001, when she went by Katy Hudson, she released a self-titled Christian rock album. It sold all of about 200 copies before the Christian record label that released it shuttered.
Perry, who was raised in a strict home by Pentecostal ministers, spent the next few years undergoing a reinvention. She emerged as a pop artist with 2008’s One of the Boys, trading tunes like “Faith Won’t Fail” for “Ur So Gay”. The new persona launched her to superstardom—to date, she has sold well over 140 million records worldwide and boasts an estimated net worth of $330 million.
In the early 2000s, EDM superstar Skrillex was more likely to be found at a punk show than a Las Vegas club. That’s when he was known as Sonny Moore, the frontman of the emo/post-hardcore band From First to Last. Moore stuck with the band through two studio albums (Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Body Count and Heroine) before he started releasing his own music on MySpace. By 2008, he began producing and performing under his current moniker. The transition to electronic music has earned him 8 Grammy Awards and a reported net worth of $50 million.
But he hasn’t forgotten his roots. In 2017, he reunited with From First to Last at a live show in Los Angeles. He also stays busy with plenty of side projects, including Jack Ü (with fellow DJ Diplo) and Dog Blood.
Miley Cyrus could have rode her dad’s coattails straight into country music stardom, but instead, she opted for a career that spans too many genres to count. The former Disney Channel teen idol launched her career as a pop artist, then ventured into R&B territory with her 2013 album Bangerz. Two years later, she took an entirely different direction with the trippy psychedelic rock record Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.
In 2017, Cyrus switched gears again and released Younger Now, which had a country sound and guest vocals by her godmother Dolly Parton. She returned to pop on her 2019 EP She is Coming, but her most recent release, Plastic Hearts, channels Blondie-era punk and new wave and features icons like Billy Idol, Joan Jett, and Stevie Nicks.
As the vocalist for No Doubt, Gwen Stefani was the princess of horn-heavy ska music. But as a solo artist, she had the freedom to experiment with her sound. Her 2004 debut album Love. Angel. Music. Baby. spawned six singles that ranged from electro pop (“What You Waiting For?”) to hip hop (“Hollaback Girl”) to dancehall (“If I Was a Rich Girl”).
In recent years, Stefani started experimenting with country, thanks to her relationship with Blake Shelton. The couple has recorded a number of duets, including “Go Ahead And Break My Heart,” “Nobody But You”, and “Happy Anywhere.” However, the 2021 single “Slow Clap” is a return to her reggae and pop roots. Except a similar vibe on her upcoming fifth album.
Before she became the angsty goddess of alternative rock, Alanis Morrisette was a successful young pop star in Canada. However, she quickly grew tired of comparisons to 1980s pop princesses Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.
In 1995, she moved in a completely different direction with her release Jagged Little Pill. Her raw, confessional music was just what she needed to shed her former image. She instantly attracted a diehard fan base and to date, she has a total of nine studio albums, seven Grammy Awards, and has sold more than 75 million units worldwide.
Machine Gun Kelly
Machine Gun Kelly attracted the attention of Sean “Diddy” Combs in 2011 when he was an up-and-coming rapper, but he’s since proven that he can do more than spit rhymes (and pick fights with Eminem).
After attracting fans with his bars over the course of four albums, he enlisted Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker to co-produce the 2020 pop punk record Tickets to My Downfall. Fans didn’t abandon him for the sudden 180—in fact, they wholeheartedly embrace it. MGK is now known to surprise his audience with covers by Paramore, Rage Against the Machine, and even Rihanna.
Jewel spent her childhood in a yodeling duo with her dad and studied opera in college, but she hit the mainstream in 1995 with her debut album Pieces of You. Fans fell in love with her folksy sound and acoustic guitar playing, which were captured in hits like “Who Will Save Your Soul?”
However, they never expected that by 2003 she would release the surprisingly well-received electro pop album 0304. Jewel didn’t stop there, either. In 2008, she went country with the album Perfectly Clear. The following year, she recorded Lullaby, a combination of original children’s songs and nursery rhyme covers.
Liz Phair’s critically acclaimed debut album Exile in Guyville made her a feminist heroine in the early 1990s. She capitalized on her reputation in the later half of the decade by joining fellow female songwriters (Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris) on the Lilith Fair and as an opening act for Alanis Morissette.
However, Phair surprised fans when she released her self-titled album in 2003. The pop rock sound—which drew comparisons to Avril Lavigne—divided critics, and by 2005 she returned to the rock genre with Somebody’s Miracle.
We all know Snoop Dogg is a hip-hop legend, but let’s not forget his brief phase as Snoop Lion. After converting to Rastafarianism and claiming he was the reincarnation of Bob Marley, the rapper took a break from his signature sound to release the 2012 reggae album Reincarnated. He also took on the name DJ Snoopadelic and created Loose Joints, a compilation of electronic music.
These days, he’s back to the genre that made him blow up in the first place. His latest release, From Tha Streets 2 Tha Suites, received positive reviews for Snoop’s return to West Coast rap.
Garth Brooks was a country superstar with the best-selling live album in history when, in 1999, he turned his work into performance art. He re-introduced himself as Chris Gaines—a fictional, raven-haired Australian rock star who bore no resemblance to the “Friends in Low Places” singer from Oklahoma.
He released one album, Garth Brooks in … The Life of Chris Gaines, under the moniker, and despite fans’ confusion over the gimmick, it reached the number 2 spot on the Billboard 200. After that, Brooks promptly returned to form and carried on with this country music career.
As a rap trio, Beastie Boys changed over the course of their career and ultimately denounced the misogynistic lyrics of their earlier albums. But that’s not the only example of their evolving identity. What some people don’t know is that even before they fought for your right to party or chanted “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” they were a hardcore punk band. The group, which had a different lineup in the early 1980s, played famous punk clubs like CBGB and opened for bands like Bad Brains and the Misfits.