What 20 famous musicians looked like at the beginning of their careers

Twitter/Lady Gaga and Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for ELLE MagazineOn the left: Lady Gaga right before dropping her first single, ‘Just Dance.’

Everyone’s gotta start somewhere.

From a young Justin Bieber singing his heart out on Youtube, to Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera honing their talents on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” the world’s most famous musicians were once just like everyone else in the business: trying to make it big.

We took a look back at 20 famous musicians at the dawn of their careers, and compared their humble beginnings to where they are now.

Keep scrolling to see your favourite artists before they climbed the charts.

Before she was a certified diva, Mariah Carey was just trying to promote her new record.

BET and Frazer Harrison/Getty ImagesMariah Carey on the show ‘Video Soul’ in 1990 and at the 2018 American Music Awards.

It’s hard to believe that Mariah Carey was once unknown, but in the early 1990s, her career was just getting started.

She made her national television debut on “The Arsenio Hall Show” in 1991, shortly after releasing her first single, “Vision of Love.” Hall introduced her as a “very impressive young talent,” and Carey’s performance earned thunderous applause. She’s since won five Grammys and 32 Billboard Music Awards – and broken multiple chart records.

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

CBS and C Flanigan/FilmMagic via Getty ImagesAn 11-year-old Britney Spears on ‘Star Search’ in in 1984, and Spears performing in 2018.

Britney Spears got her start young. She first appeared on Star Search in 1992, at age 11, singing a strong rendition of “Love Can Build A Bridge.” Her stage charisma was undeniable, but Spears only made it to round two of the competition. 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.

Like Spears, Christina Aguilera got her start on “Star Search.”

CBS and Michael Tran/FilmMagic via Getty ImagesChristina Aguilera on ‘Star Search’ in 1989, and performing at the 2017 American Music Awards.

Another pop diva, Christina Aguilera got her start even younger. The fledgling musician appeared on Star Search at the age of 9 in 1989, singing Etta James’ “Sunday Kind of Love.” Like Spears, Aguilera was eliminated early on – but she soon joined “The Mickey Mouse Club” and saw a meteoric rise to success after her song “Genie in a Bottle” was released in 1999.

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

NBC and Kevin Winter/Getty ImagesWhitney Houston on ‘The Merv Griffin Show’ in 1983, and at the 2004 World Music Awards.

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, “There’s Lena Horne, there’s Dionne Warwick, and now this.”

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.

Alanis Morissette was big-haired and perky on her 1990 “Star Search” appearance — then completely switched up her image.

CBS and Don Arnold/WireImageAlanis Morisette on ‘Star Search’ in 1990 and performing in 2018.

Five years before “You Oughta Know” swept the national airwaves in 1995, Canadian rocker Alanis Morissette was trying to get her name out there on “Star Search.” She appeared on the popular talent competition in 1990, singing a surprisingly upbeat song and styling big hair and neon clothes – a stark contrast to the grungy image she would later assume.

“Jagged Little Pill” – the album that spawned several hits, including “You Oughta Know” – would go on to be nominated for nine Grammys, and it remains one of the best-selling albums of all time.

Justin Bieber was discovered on Youtube.

Youtube/Justin Bieber and Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/RedfernsA young Justin Bieber performing ‘With You’ on his Youtube channel, and Bieber performing in 2017.

Justin Bieber’s mum began uploading videos of her son singing to Youtube in 2007. Bieber was just 12 years old when producers discovered the videos, flew him out to Atlanta to audition, and quickly paired him up with a mentor, Usher. Almost immediately, Bieber released “One Time” and became an international phenomenon.

Taylor Swift got her foot in the door writing and singing country songs before her pivot to pop.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc via Getty Images and Steve Granitz/WireImage via Getty ImagesTaylor Swift in 2006 and at the American Music Awards in 2018.

It’s no secret that Swift got her start singing country music. The curly-haired blonde moved from Pennsylvania to Nashville when she was just 14 to break into the music industry, soon becoming the youngest artist signed to the Sony/ATV Music publishing house. She wrote many of her early hits, like “Picture to Burn” and “Our Song,” and eventually crossed over from country to pop, establishing herself as one of the world’s biggest pop stars.

Sir Elton John came up in the ’70s.

NBC and Scott Legato/Getty ImagesJohn’s first US television appearance on ‘The Andy Williams Show’ in 1970, and playing a concert in Detroit in 2018.

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, an Oscar, a Tony, a Kennedy Center Honourand been knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

In 2007, Lady Gaga was an excited brunette about to launch the single that kick-started her career.

Twitter/Lady Gaga and Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for ELLE MagazineLady Gaga in 2007 and at ELLE’s 25th Annual Women In Hollywood Celebration in 2018.

Lady Gaga tweeted this 2007 photo on her 32nd birthday, earlier this year. According to the star, it was taken right before she released her first 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 is getting Oscar buzz for her recent performance in “A Star Is Born.”

Before Beyoncé achieved success with Destiny’s Child, she was in another group called Girls Tyme.

CBS and Larry Busacca/PW18/Getty Images for Parkwood EntertainmentBeyoncé performing on ‘Star Search’ with Girls Tyme in 1993, and Beyoncé onstage during the On The Run II Tour in 2018.

Before Beyoncé went solo and achieved legendary status, she was part of Destiny’s Child – but before that she was in another all-girls group, Girls Tyme. The crew appeared on the 1993 season of Star Search, and Queen B actually samples the introduction to the performance in her song “***Flawless.”

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

Mike Coppola/FilmMagic via Getty Images and Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan via Getty ImagesBruno Mars at the 2010 Jingle Ball and the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in 2018.

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” became a hit in 2010, and soon after, 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.

Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage via Getty Images and David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Rag & Bone via Getty ImagesEminem at the Source Hip-Hop Music Awards in 1999 and at the rag & bone X Eminem London Pop-Up in 2018.

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

His career first took of when he was discovered by former N.W.A. member and producer Dr. Dre in the late 1990s – especially after the 1999 release of his first solo single, “My Name Is.” He went on TRL that same year to promote it, and would follow that with many more appearances, hit songs, and controversies. His decades-long career is still going strong, too: Eminem just released a new album, Kamikaze, in 2018.

Drake used to be an actor on “Degrassi: The Next Generation.”

CTV Television Network and Prince Williams/WireImage via Getty ImagesDrake on ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation’ and in May 2018.

The popular Canadian rapper Drake seems to produce hit after hit these days. But before music, Drake – real name Aubrey Graham – found minor success staring in the long-running teen soap opera “Degrassi: The Next Generation” as wheelchair-bound Jimmy Brooks. Drake began making hip-hop mixtapes while he was still working on the show, and eventually earned the attention of Lil Wayne. He was signed to Wayne’s label in 2008, and the rest is chart-topping history.

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

Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images and Venturelli/Getty Images for LDC FoundationMadonna in a publicity photo for 1985’s ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ and performing in 2017.

After dropping out of college, Madonna was determined to “make it” in New York in the early 1980s. She started work as a backup dancer, eventually signing a record deal with Sire and releasing her first single, “Burning Up,” in 1983. Her career lived beyond the ’80s: Madonna managed to score hits in the ’90s and 2000s, solidifying her title as the “Queen of Pop.”

Lil Wayne got his start at Cash Money Records at the ripe age of 16.

Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage via Getty Images and Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for BETLil Wayne in 2000 and 2018.

Before he went solo, rapper Lil Wayne started in the group Hot Boys signed to Cash Money Records. The group included up-and-coming rappers B.G., Juvenile, and Turk, in addition to Wayne, and spawned the moderately successful albums “Get It How U Live” (1997) and “Guerilla Warfare” (1999). Soon after, Wayne went solo and got even more successful, eventually founding Young Money Records, which later signed Drake and Nicki Minaj.

During her “19” era, Adele used to sport a beehive hairdo like Amy Winehouse.

Jay Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/Contour by Getty Images and Dan MacMedan/WireImage via Getty ImagesAdele in 2008 and at the Grammys in 2017.

Adele sky-rocketed to fame after the release of her 2008 album “19,” as its breakout single “Chasing Pavements” climbed the charts. At the time, Adele sported heavy eye makeup and a beehive hairdo, most likely emulating Amy Winehouse, an artist Adele has claimed “changed her life.” “19” marked the beginning of an amazing career: 15 Grammys later, Adele is still churning out hits.

Like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake was a member of the “Mickey Mouse Club.”

CBS and JB Lacroix/WireImage via Getty ImagesTimberlake on ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’ in the early ’90s and at the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Festival.

Justin Timberlake was a young talent on “The Mickey Mouse Club” in the early 1990s. On the kid-friendly show, which was a breeding ground for future talent, Timberlake performed goofy skits and musical numbers – one of them with future ‘NSYNC member JC Chasez and Oscar-nominated actor Ryan Gosling. By 1995, though, ‘NSYNC had fully formed, and Justin Timberlake was on his way to superstardom.

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

Youtube and Caroline McCredie/Getty Images for Fenty Beauty by RihannaRihanna performing in 2003 and at the anniversary event for her makeup line, Fenty Beauty, in 2018.

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.

Raised in a strict Christian household, Katy Perry started off as a gospel singer.

Youtube and Steve Granitz/WireImage via Getty ImagesKaty Perry on her tour bus in 2001 and at a gala in 2018.

Pop royalty Katy Perry started out as a Christian singer in the early 2000s. Her first album was a gospel record called “Katy Hudson,” which is the singer’s real name, and it was actually well-received by critics. But it was a commercial flop, so Perry quickly switched directions, taking her mother’s maiden name and assuming a more “pop” identity. Over a decade and countless record-breaking songs later, it is safe to say the transition paid off.

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

Raymond Hall/GC Images and Frazer Harrison/Getty ImagesPost Malone in 2016 and 2018.

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.


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