Taylor Swift is no longer the country darling that she was at the start of her career. While her last album, Red signified the beginning of her cross over into pop, the album still had shades of Tay’s former country self. However, with the release of her latest number one hit, “Shake It Off”, she’s shaking off her country persona — and indeed her country sound — entirely in order to pursue traditional pop. With Taylor as our inspiration, we’re looking at not only her mid-career genre change, but at some of our other favorite musos who have done the same, and rating their transformations.
From Jewel’s guitar folk to her pop Queen revolution; Queen Latifah’s transition from hip hop and rap into singing soul; Skrillex’s 180 from scream metal to dub step and even Gwen Stefani’s leap from ska punk to glam pop: we’re taking a lot at some of the biggest career overhauls by genre, and judging them. Let us know if you agree with our grades in the comments!
1. Taylor Swift
As we’ve already mentioned, Taylor Swift started off as a country sweetheart, but she’s veered well into pop territory with her latest offering “Shake It Off”, and shows no sign of heading back to her country roots. While you’d think such a bold move could be alienating to fans, you’d be thinking wrong — Taylor does pop with such aplomb it’s like she’s never done any different. And Tay’s fans are likely to follow her wherever she might go, and with “Shake It Off” going to number one on the digital charts, the proof is in the pudding.
2. Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah is best known as a sassy hip hop and rap star, but in the mid ’00s something changed. In 2004 she released her first all SINGING (yes, singing, NOT rapping) album The Dana Owens Album, which she followed up with 2007’s Trav’lin Light, a soul and blues, Grammy winning alum (the song “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die” won Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist, and was also nominated for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album). A far cry from the rap genre she’s best known for (with iconic classics like “U.N.I.T.Y“), her soulful singing didn’t diminish her star power — although we can’t help but think of old Queen Latifah and new Queen Latifah as two totally different people, and our preference is definitely the Latifah we remember from the 90s!
Madonna is the Queen of reinvention, but there was a point at which her music genre changed, and that was in the late 90s when her sound shifted dramatically from traditional pop to mostly electronic, dance floor anthems like “Ray of Light”. Considering Madonna has continued to produce dance music ever since, it wasn’t an entirely unsuccessful move. Although for Madonna, her icon days ended when she shifted gears, and her legacy will always be rooted in her “Papa Don’t Preach“, “Express Yourself”, “Material Girl” pop days.
4. Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj first came to major prominence with her hard rap verse on Kanye West’s “Monster“, and forged a career for herself as a powerful female rapper in a generation where there wasn’t really one (Lil Kim and other 90s female rappers like Queen Latifah’s careers having dwindled). However in the past year there’s been considerable controversy over exactly what genre Nicki fits into, with many, like Hot 97’s Peter Rosenthal, who maddened the diva by proclaiming her song “Starships” was pop rather than hip hop. While it seems like Nicki went from pure hip hop/rap to treading into pop territory, she’s at the top of her game right now, saturating the charts not only with her own songs but by making appearances on just about anyone who’s anyone’s songs, including Beyonce, so she’s definitely doing whatever she’s doing right!
5. Snoop Dogg/Lion
Last year Snoop Dogg changed his name to Snoop Lion and came out with his 12th studio album, Reincarnated. Only it wasn’t a hip hop record like you’d expect from the legendary rapper — it was a reggae album! Snoop’s transformation has been received mostly with bemusement, but he’s not exactly making the next “Next Episode” or “Gin & Juice” in the reggae genre. While his change of pace is vastly inoffensive, it’s got nothing on his iconic back catalog of rap music.
6. Gwen Stefani
In the ’90s Gwen Stefani was best known as the kick ass front woman of ska-punk band No Doubt, and while she still fronts the iconic band, she’s also got her own solo career — as a pop artist. In 2004 she released her first independent album, Love. Angel. Music. Baby. which was a far cry from her early days moshing with her band. Gwen’s solo work is decidedly pop with a sprinkling of glam, and she’s been every bit as successful on her own doing pop as with No Doubt. If anything, No Doubt’s popularity has waned as Gwen’s appeal as a single performer has increased.
Jewel began her career with small, folksy hands, and it was great. Strumming her guitar with her soft, sentimental vocals, Jewel’s best known song, “Hands” peaked at number 6 on the Billboard charts in 1998. Five years later, Jewel’s career took a turn for the poppier, not to mention the sexier, and she released “Intuition” which flopped off the charts after reaching only number 20. It seems for Jewel, buying into a pop career was just a foolish game. But we have to admit that 2001’s “Standing Still” actually was kind of awesome.
8. Eddie Vedder
Best know for fronting grunge-rock band Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder’s distinctive voice suits the genre perfectly. In fact, he probably can be credited with defining the genre. But in 2011 he released a solo record called Ukelele Songs which is -you guessed it- a compilation of folksy ukelele songs. While Eddie Vedder’s voice sounds great with just the ukelele, we’re not sure that folk music is the best use of his talents.
The King of dub step (at least in the mainstream), Skrillex, got his start in a scream punk band called From First to Last. So from one deeply annoying genre to another. Although his dub step career has been vastly more lucrative, and skyrocketed him to fame.
10. Nelly Furtado
Remember when Nelly Furtado was a pop artist? Remember “I’m Like A Bird“? The younger amongst us probably only know Miss Furtado from her days as a hip hop/R&B artist with songs like “Say It Right” featuring Timbaland. We have to say, we LOVE Nelly Furtado both ways, as has her career, as she’s done well with her songs in both genres, but selling 10 million copies on her R&B break out album, Loose suggests she’s better suited to that genre.