What 30 Musicians Looked Like at the Start of Their Careers: Photos

Britney Spears was on “Star Search” in 1984 before becoming the Princess of Pop.

An 11-year-old Britney Spears on "Star Search" in 1984, and Spears performing in 2018.

 

An 11-year-old Britney Spears on “Star Search” in 1984, and Spears performing in 2018.

CBS; C Flanigan/FilmMagic via Getty Images

Britney Spears got her start young. She first appeared on Star Search in 1992, at age 11, singing a strong rendition of The Judds’ “Love Can Build A Bridge.” Her stage charisma was undeniable, but Spears lost the competition to Marty Thomas. She later joined “The Mickey Mouse Club,” and, after scoring a smash with 1999’s “Baby One More Time,” quickly became known as the “Princess of Pop.”

She’s one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

A young Whitney Houston debuted on “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1983, and Griffin called her “simply breathtaking.”

Whitney Houston on "The Merv Griffin Show" in 1983, and at the 2004 World Music Awards.

 

Whitney Houston on “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1983, and at the 2004 World Music Awards.

NBC; Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Whitney Houston was completely unknown until musical magnate Clive Davis discovered her in the early ’80s. Davis set up her first performance on “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1983 — when Houston was just 19 years old — by saying, “She was [a] stunning beauty, stunning vocalist, and I brought her on national television. I introduced her to the next generation. If there would be a Lena Horne, a new Dionne Warwick, it would be Whitney.”

Houston didn’t release her debut album until two years later, but after that, her career sky-rocketed. She remained one of the world’s most lauded singers until her death in 2012.

Drake jump-started The Weeknd’s career after coming across his mixtape in 2011.

The Weeknd performing in 2011 and at the premiere of "Uncut Gems" in December 2019.

 

The Weeknd performing in 2011 and at the premiere of “Uncut Gems” in December 2019.

Clinton Gilders/Getty Images; Jean Baptiste Lacroix/Getty Images

Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, anonymously released his first three songs on YouTube in February 2011. Two weeks later, Pitchfork graded one of the songs, “What You Need,” as a “Best New Track.” Later that month The Weeknd dropped a full mixtape, “House of Balloons,” which piqued Canadian rapper Drake’s interest so much, he shared it on Twitter.

Between the Drake publicity and numerous music websites naming the album one of the year’s best, The Weeknd quickly gained popularity and made his identity public. He signed a record deal with Universal Republic and the rest is history.

Demi Lovato started their career as a child actor on “Barney and Friends.”

Demi Lovato in 2009 and in 2020 performing a Super Bowl LIV.

 

Demi Lovato in 2009 and in 2020 performing a Super Bowl LIV.

Bob D’Amico/Getty Images; Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Lovato later moved over to the Disney Channel to star in “Camp Rock” in 2008 and then had their own show, “Sonny with a Chance,” from 2009 to 2011.

They went on to release seven studio albums, joining the impressive list of Disney stars to make it big after their child acting careers.

Sir Elton John has been rocking his eye-catching costumes since 1970.

John's first US television appearance on "The Andy Williams Show" in 1970, and playing a concert in Detroit in 2018.

 

John’s first US television appearance on “The Andy Williams Show” in 1970, and playing a concert in Detroit in 2018.

NBC; Scott Legato/Getty Images

Sir Elton John released his first American album in 1970, and began to make television appearances at the time. That same year, he sang one of his now classics, “Your Song,” on The Andy Williams Show, a popular variety show at the time. He began to achieve success almost immediately and has since won five Grammys, two Oscars, a Tony, a Kennedy Center Honor — and been knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

In 2007, Lady Gaga was excited about the launch of a single that kick-started her career.

Lady Gaga in 2008 and 2021.

 

Lady Gaga in 2008 and 2021.

ANDREAS BRANCH/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images; Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Two years after getting signed to but quickly dropped from Def Jam Records in 2005, Lady Gaga was working at Interscope Records writing hits for stars including Brittany Spears and New Kids on the Block. That year, Akon saw Gaga performing a burlesque show and offered to sign her to Kon Live, a subsidiary of Interscope.

She went on the release her first album “Fame” which included the hit single “Just Dance,” which would go on to launch her career. Since then, she’s worn meat dresses and other outrageous outfits, dyed her hair blonde, won a slew of Grammys, and won an Oscar for her song, “Shallow,” from “A Star Is Born.” She also just secured a Golden Globe nomination for her role in “House of Gucci.”

When rapper B.o.B. released “Nothin’ On You” in 2010, everyone obsessed over Bruno Mars’ feature.

Bruno Mars at the 2010 Jingle Ball and the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in 2018.

 

Bruno Mars at the 2010 Jingle Ball and the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in 2018.

Mike Coppola/FilmMagic via Getty Images; Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Bruno Mars achieved moderate success in the studio early in his career, writing hits for artists like K’Naan, but he wasn’t publicly known. This changed when B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ On You,” which featured Mars, became a hit in 2010. The same year, Mars released his first solo single, “Just The Way You Are.” Since then, the “Uptown Funk” singer has become a hit machine.

Eminem was discovered by producer Dr. Dre in the late 1990s.

Eminem at the Source Hip-Hop Music Awards in 1999 and at the rag & bone X Eminem London Pop-Up in 2018.

 

Eminem at the Source Hip-Hop Music Awards in 1999 and at the rag & bone X Eminem London Pop-Up in 2018.

Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage via Getty Images; David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Rag & Bone via Getty Images

Eminem had a tough early life, which he traced in his biographical film “8 Mile” in 2002.

His career first took off after releasing “The Slim Shady EP” in 1997, which was discovered by former N.W.A. member and producer Dr. Dre. He then released his first solo single, “My Name Is,” in 1999 and would follow that with many more appearances, hit songs, and controversies. Eminem released a new album, Kamikaze, in 2018, and he even performed at the 2020 Oscars — although some viewers were confused about that.

Madonna got her start as a dancer and New York “scenester.”

Madonna in a publicity photo for 1985's "Desperately Seeking Susan" and performing in 2017.

 

Madonna in a publicity photo for 1985’s “Desperately Seeking Susan” and performing in 2017.

Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images; Venturelli/Getty Images for LDC Foundation

While studying dance on a full scholarship at the University of Michigan, Madonna earned a six-week scholarship to study at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. That led to her performing with choreographer Pearl Lang in 1978, who then encouraged her to drop out of college and pursue dancing full time.

After short stints working various jobs including as a showgirl in Paris and drumming in Dan Gilroy’s band Breakfast Club, she started her solo career with the single “Everybody,” which reached number one on the dance charts in 1982 and helped her sign a deal with Sire Records. Her career lived beyond the ’80s: Madonna managed to score hits in the ’90s and 2000s, solidifying her title as the “Queen of Pop.”

Harry Styles got his start with the rest of One Direction on “The X Factor.”

Harry Styles arriving at an "X Factor" press conference in 2010, and Styles at SiriusXM Studios in March 2020.

 

Harry Styles arriving at an “X Factor” press conference in 2010, and Styles at SiriusXM Studios in March 2020.

Neil Mockford/Getty Images; Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Harry Styles was just 16 years old when he auditioned for “The X Factor.” Although his rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” didn’t win over the judges, he was brought back with four other rejected solo contestants — Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, and Zayn Malik — to advance in the competition as a group, thus forming what would eventually become One Direction.

One Direction went on to make history with the release of “Up All Night,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and was the first debut album from a UK artist to debut at the No. 1 spot.

Since leaving One Direction in 2016, Styles has released two albums, “Harry Styles” and “Fine Line,” and he has starred in movies including “Dunkirk” and Marvel’s “The Eternals.”

At age 15, Rihanna sang Mariah Carey’s “Hero” … and was signed to a label a year later.

Rihanna performing in 2003 and at the anniversary event for her makeup line, Fenty Beauty, in 2018.

 

Rihanna performing in 2003 and at the anniversary event for her makeup line, Fenty Beauty, in 2018.

Caroline McCredie/Getty Images for Fenty Beauty by Rihanna

Rihanna was signed to Def Jam records at just 16 years old, but before that, she was a young singer from Barbados trying to make a name for herself. One of the earliest recordings of her is at a talent contest when the future pop star was just 15, singing Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” After sharpening up her skills, she released her first album, “Music of the Sun,” in 2005 — and has since secured her place as one of pop’s most popular acts with multiple Grammys and MTV awards.

Ariana Grande got her start on the Nickelodeon show “Victorious.”

Ariana Grande in 2014 at the Kids' Choice Awards, and in 2020 at the Grammys.

 

Ariana Grande in 2014 at the Kids’ Choice Awards, and in 2020 at the Grammys.

Steve Granitz/Getty Images

The world may never have been blessed with the music of Ariana Grande if Gloria Estefan hadn’t discovered her during a cruise ship performance when she was 8 years old.

But before Grande was dropping certified bops like “thank u, next” and “7 rings,” the pop superstar was a cast member on the Nickelodeon sitcom “Victorious.” Grande played the bubbly character Cat Valentine from 2010 to 2013 and went on to star in a short-lived spinoff sitcom “Sam & Cat” from 2013 to 2014 with Jennette McCurdy of “iCarly.”

Since releasing her debut album, “Yours Truly,” in 2013, Grande has gone on to release five additional albums. She has been nominated for 12 Grammys and has won two: best pop vocal album for “Sweetener,” and best pop duo/Ggoup performance for “Rain on Me.”

Like many popular rappers today, Post Malone got his start on SoundCloud.

Post Malone in 2016 and 2018.

 

Post Malone in 2016 and 2018.

Raymond Hall/GC Images; Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Post Malone — real name Austin Post — dropped out of community college and moved out to LA only a few years ago. He claims to have gotten into music through Guitar Hero 2, which he quickly mastered and which led him to pick up a real guitar. After releasing his single “White Iverson” to SoundCloud to much success, Malone is now one of the most popular acts in music.

Megan Thee Stallion rose to fame with the release of her second EP “Tina Snow,” which featured her first entry on the US Billboard Hot 100, “Big Ole Freak.”

Side by side photos of Megan Thee Stallion

 

Megan Thee Stallion in 2018 and in 2021.

Theo Wargo/Getty Images; Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Glamour

She has since collaborated with Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and many more.

The inventor of hot girl summer collaborated with fellow Houston native Beyoncé on the remix for her single “Savage.” Megan was also featured on Cardi B’s critically acclaimed single “WAP.” These two songs earned Megan her first and second No. 1 spots on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Her successes have transcended the charts: In October 2021, Popeyes announced a partnership with the hip-hop star to promote a new hot sauce. The “Body” singer also graduated with a bachelor of science degree in health administration from Texas Southern University in December 2021.

Jay-Z released his debut album, “Reasonable doubt,” in 1996 and has since become one of the most influential figures in the hip-hop industry.

Side by side photos of Jay-Z at the start of his career and now.

 

Jay-Z at the 1998 Billboard Music Awards and him at the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony.

Steve Granitz/WireImage; Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Brooklyn-born rapper has won over 20 Grammy Awards and has been nominated for 80.

In addition to helming an enviable career for over two decades, he played a pivotal role in launching the careers of fellow multihyphenates Rihanna and Kanye West.

He is one of the most decorated hip-hop artists ever. He has the most Grammy nominations in history and holds the record for most No. 1 albums by a solo artist.

Making history seems to be the mogul’s favorite pastime; in 2019 he became hip-hop’s first billionaire. In October 2021, Jay-Z became the first living solo rapper to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

One of hip-hop’s biggest names, Kanye West, started as a producer in the late ’90s and early 2000s for other artists, such as Jermaine Dupri and Jay-Z.

Side by side photos of Kanye West

 

Kanye West at the Artist Empowerment Coalition’s Grammy Sunday Brunch in 2003 and West at the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.

Adam Rountree/Getty Images; Karwai Tang/Getty Images

West produced four songs on Jay-Z’s 2001 sophomore album, “The Blueprint,” which has frequently been touted as a classic.

West’s debut studio album, “The College Dropout,” was released in 2004 and debuted at No. 2 on the US Billboard 200. Since then he has won over 20 Grammy Awards and created one of the most influential apparel brands in the world. His footwear and clothing brand, Yeezy, is a powerhouse collaboration with athletic wear brand Adidas. The brand has been a favorite of streetwear enthusiasts since its launch in 2015.

Alicia Keys signed her first label deal at just 15.

Side by side photos of Alicia Keys

 

Alicia Keys in 2000 and Keys performing at a concert in Dubai in the Gulf emirate in 2021.

Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; AFP/Getty Images

Keys, a classically trained pianist, released her debut single, “Fallin,” in 2002. The song won her three Grammy Awards and reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

She teamed up with Jay-Z in 2009 for the culturally renowned single “Empire State of Mind,” a love ballad to the city of New York.

Her book, “More Myself: A Journey,” appeared at No. 3 on The New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover nonfiction. The book also won the 2021 Audie Award for best narration by author.

She released her eighth studio album, “Keys,” in December 2021.

One of the biggest names in R&B history, Janet Jackson, got her start on TV.

Janet Jackson as a child and now.

 

Janet Jackson in 1974 on the set of “Good Times” and Jackson at a pre-Grammy Gala in 2020.

CBS/Getty Images;Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

The youngest member of one of the world’s most famous families, Janet Jackson, captured hearts everywhere as Penny Gordon on CBS’ “Good Times.” She also starred opposite Tupac Shakur in the 1993 romantic drama, “Poetic Justice.”

Jackson made history with her third studio album, “Control,” which had five top-five hits, making her the first female artist to have five songs from one album on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. She has won five Grammy Awards and has received nominations for 26.

Jackson also starred in award-winning films such as “The Nutty Professor,” Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married?” and “Why Did I Get Married Too?”

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