For many of your fave artists, success wasn't instant. Many worked for years as they played small gigs at clubs, released demos no one listened to, and hustled to get to where they are today. And during that time, they went through several musical iterations before landing on the sound that would make them famous. Lady Gaga was a Billy Joel-esque singer-songwriter before realizing she could be more popular if she turned herself into a cartoon character. And there are many more musicians who followed similar career paths. Sure, some might say they sold out, while others might say they pivoted for the better. Whatever the case, their early career choices are definitely a tad surprising if not a little embarrassing. Below, 12 of the most notorious ones.
Katy Perry first burst onto the scene in 2007 with a retro bubblegum aesthetic and an arsenal of cupcake-colored wigs. She might be one of the biggest pop stars today, but before making it big, she was a Christian singer. Back then she went by her real name, Katy Hudson, had short blonde hair, and didn't shoot whip cream out of her chest. After being dropped twice by labels, Katy switched Hudson for Perry, started working with producers like Dr. Luke, and created a whole other identity that was feisty, fun, and definitely not religious. Hey, it worked.
Lana Del Rey
Lana has crooned her way to the top with her arsenal of flower crowns and sultry sadness, but before her debut Born to Die, she actually made another album that was shelved by her label. Back then she was Lizzy Grant, a blonde (gasp) college student who wore T-shirts and jeans (double gasp). After her 2010 album was shelved by her label, she went back to the drawing board. She changed her name, became a brunette, and even lowered her singing voice. Voila! Lana Del Rey was born.
After making it big, some psychotic fans hacked her computer and uploaded her entire "Lizzy Grant" era to YouTube. Although it's unclear if Lana ever meant for her old, blurry videos to be seen by anyone, it's certainly an interesting juxtaposition to how her image is today, with some fans even fighting over which "character" they like more.
Lady Gaga has gone through several evolutions in her career, but when she first made her big splash, she was a hair bow-wearing party girl with an arsenal of weird, glittery hats. It was a formula that worked and made her a mega pop star, but before she became Lady Gaga she was just Stefani Germanotta, a brunette singer-songwriter who played piano and made mostly mediocre pop rock. It's unclear why her debut album was shelved, but there's mysteriously no mention of it on her Wikipedia page. Her team has worked hard to unsuccessfully scrub her early demos from the internet. Whatever the case, somewhere in Gaga's early musical career, she decided to invent a whole new personality and start making dance music. Can't blame her.
Before Iggy annoyed people everywhere with her summer hit "Fancy," the rapper actually had a failed pop music career. Internet sleuths dug up an old music video of Iggy singing and dancing to a song that sounded like a Britney Spears reject track. According to the uploader, the song was made with a record company that Iggy almost signed with. When the deal fell through, Iggy decided to change course and sign with T.I.'s label Grand Hustle instead, switching from pop to hip-hop. The switch worked in her favor, but unfortunately for her, she became a one-hit-wonder anyway.
Before she became the shouty voice of the '90s with hits like "You Oughta Know" and "Ironic," Alanis was actually a cheesy teen pop star. She had big hair, hoop earrings, and did the running man in comically huge parachute pants (oh, the '90s...). Although she was a huge hit in Canada, she hated her image/sound and decided to reinvent her whole image when she came out with Jagged Little Pill in 1995. Many people today still have no idea of her embarrassing pop star past — and she probably prefers it that way.
Remember them? "Fly" was everywhere, as well as other hits like "Someday" and "Every Mornin'." Most folks probably just remember lead singer Mark McGrath's swoon-worthy face. Anyway. Although the band was a staple of the '90s, they were surprisingly a metal band before they made it big. However, after their single "Fly" made them millionaires, they all decided to sell out and keep releasing music that sounded similar to the song that made them famous. Hey, it was a good strategy. After all, songs like "Mean Machine" were never going to be a hit.
Smash Mouth was another one of those '90s bands that was literally everywhere thanks to hits like "All Star" and "Walking on the Sun." But shockingly, that poppy ska sound that made them famous wasn't their original style. Before making it big, their sound was harder and louder. But after years of unsuccessful albums, and a meeting with a rep from Interscope Records demanding them for a No. 1 hit, the band decided to record a pop song.
"I think I picked up a Billboard magazine," member Grey Camp said. "Like, 'What do people listen to these days?' It's, like, 'I don't listen to the radio.' So I was just checking it out. And I'm like, 'All right. OK. We need something that’s going to be a little bit funky.'" From there, the band wrote "All Star," which they knew would be smash hit, and they weren't wrong.
Goo Goo Dolls
Back in the '90s, their song "Iris" was literally everywhere thanks to being featured on the soundtrack of every movie back then. Although the song made them famous, they were around for years before that. Back in 1989, they were a punk band. As for how they evolved into poppy soft rock is beyond me. At least they get to laugh all the way to the bank.
Before she became a '90s Lilith Fair darling alongside Sarah McLachlan, Tori worked hard to get discovered the old fashioned way: playing small gigs and sending out demo tapes. After doing this unsuccessfully for years, Tori got desperate and decided to sell out. She put on a tight dress, teased her hair, and started a cheesy synthpop band called Y Kant Tori Read. After all, synthpop was all the rage in the '80s, but the formula didn't work. The album went nowhere and later became an embarrassing blip on her resume when she finally made it big in 1992 with Little Earthquakes. Fortunately, she laughs about it these days. "The only good thing about [Y Kant Tori Read] is my ankle high boots," she has said.
Before "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," Cyndi originally was in a rockabilly band called Blue Angel. Their doo-whop album of retro love songs was a complete failure, which caused them to get dropped from their label. A few years later, record execs convinced Cyndi to go solo. When she agreed, she thought she'd be writing her own music, but the studio handed her a bunch of prerecorded music to make instead. Fortunately, Cyndi was able to make small creative decisions, like changing the lyrics of "Girls" to make it more feminist and having a completely original sense of style, to keep her from being just another manufactured pop star.
They might've pioneered the rock/rap sound, but they didn't start off that way. When the band first started off, they were a four-member, shouty punk band. However, over time, the band started incorporating more hip-hop influences and finally went full throttle once two members of the original punk band left and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz was added. A few years later, they released License to Ill in 1986, leaving their modest punk beginnings in the dust.
Before becoming "the most successful all-female rock band of all time," the poppy '80s girl group was a gritty punk band. (Apparently, in the '80s, everyone was.) However, over time the band's sound evolved, and by 1980 they had a small following with their hit "We Got the Beat." Realizing they found a successful formula, they stuck with that sound for the rest of their career.
See? Everyone starts somewhere.