If you want to stay on top in the world of pop, you’ve got to keep one step ahead. Sure, there are plenty of brilliant popstars who find a successful formula and stick to it, but what about those who take a chance and try something new?
Does changing your game mean a change in your fortunes? Inspired by our recent search for pop chameleons in our weekly Pop Gem feature, we take a look at eight popstars who took the reinvention route and what it meant for them.
Barbadian megastar RiRi has never been one for standing still. After her debut album Music Of The Sun, she totally reinvented her sound, coming back to the Official Singles Chart with the poppier, sample-heavy SOS, but her greatest gear change was probably around the time of the release of her fourth album Rated R.
Following life-changing events in her personal life, Rihanna had grown up pretty fast, and that was reflected in lead single Russian Roulette. While RiRi still knew how to have fun, she’d taken a darker turn – and it would lead her to even greater success.
Russian Roulette may have been kept off Number 1 by comedian Peter Kay’s Children In Need medley, but the last laugh belonged to Rihanna. Her career went stratospheric, and there were five more Number 1s to come, and four million-selling singles.
CHART FACT: Russian Roulette is one of seven Rihanna singles to go no further than Number 2. It sold over 475,000 copies in the UK, and Rated R has sold over 710,000 copies.
Indie duo Goldfrapp – who take their name from leading lady Alison Goldfrapp – started out rather indie and folky with debut album Felt Mountain in 2001. While critically acclaimed, and shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, it didn’t make the Top 40.
A slight shift to dancey electronica and glam rock for second album Black Cherry gave them their first Top 40 hits, but it was the all-out danceathon of third album Supernature which brought them huge success, with highest charting single Ooh La La hitting Number 4 in 2005 and the follow-up Number 1 also going Top 10.
The album peaked at Number 2, and most pop acts would be content to coast along in the same style and reap the rewards, but that was not an option for Goldfrapp.
For the follow-up album they went back to their folky roots, and did pretty well pout of it. Album Seventh Tree reached Number 2 and A&E gave them another Top 10 single.
Madonna isn’t known as the queen of reinvention for nothing. While you’re guaranteed a good variety of outfits at a Madonna-themed fancy dress party, there’s more to Madge than a collection of hairdos and eye-catching costumes.
Over the course of her career she’s flirted with dance, pop, rock, disco, R&B and, of course, musicals, but perhaps her most successful – and surprising – transformation was her 1998 comeback as trance-folk Earth mother.
Album Ray of Light and its atmospheric lead single Frozen saw Madonna shake off the glitz and slickness of previous campaigns and embrace a dancier, edgier sound – yet all still very radio-friendly.
It was a huge recipe for success: Frozen scored Madonna her first Number 1 on the Official Singles Chart in almost eight years. She was back with a vengeance and Ray Of Light was a global hit.
CHART FACT: Frozen was Madonna’s eighth Number 1, selling over 550,000 copies.
Someone else who is no stranger to changing her sound, Kylie Minogue has defied critics and kept things fresh over a career spanning 27 years. While there have been quite a few incarnations of Kylie over the years, the major one was probably her shift from PWL pop princess to cool, credible and sophisticated star with the 1994 release of her comeback single Confide In Me.
Kylie had scored three Number 1s and released four hit albums under the watchful eye of master-producers Stock Aitken and Waterman, but decided it was time to do her own thing, moving to hip dance label Deconstruction and working with DJs Brothers In Rhythm, Dave Seaman and the Manic Street Preachers, among others.
While other reimaginings were on their way, with a flirtation with indie and a return to pop all in her future, it was Kylie’s first strike out all by herself that still stands out as a huge moment for her – and for pop in general.
CHART FACT: Confide In Me was Kylie’s seventh single to peak at Number 2. It sold over 180,000 copies.
Some popstars are chameleons, but David Bowie is the one to rule them all – he’s pretty much a shapeshifter. Over the course of his 45-year career the Thin White Duke has experimented with a variety of looks and sounds under numerous guises such as Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust.
It would be difficult to pick which of Bowie’s career-shifting moments had the most impact, but despite all his wildest reinventions, his evolution from the avant-garde into slick, sharp-suited popstar of the ‘80s was quite possibly one of the most unexpected.
First of all he sang Peace On Earth – Little Drummer Boy with veteran crooner Bing Crosby, having a Top 3 hit in the process, before kicking off 1983 with a Number 1 smash Let’s Dance.
And he’s still managing to surprise even now – in early 2013 he released a new single overnight and announced a new album The Next Day, giving him his first chart-topping album in 20 years.
CHART FACT: Let’s Dance was fourth out of five Number 1s for David Bowie, staying at the top for three weeks.
Remember when Robbie Williams temporarily hung up his designer threads and donned a tracksuit and turned his hand to rap? For his seventh album, the former Take That star went in a completely different direction just a year after mega-selling album Intensive Care by releasing Rudebox, an ambitious, confessional cult classic.
Teaming up with William Orbit, Mark Ronson and Pet Shop Boys, Robbie thought outside the box, if you’ll pardon the pun, and gave his fans something they really weren’t expecting, including five cover versions and some serious dance beats.
Critics didn’t know what to make of it – although most were positive – and some fans were left scratching their heads too, and perhaps sales weren't as massive as you'd expect from one f Robbie's traditional releases, but it was still a Number 1 album. The follow-up a year later was on more familiar territory, but Robbie’s Rudebox era demonstrated that even popstars with long chart histories can still surprise.
CHART FACT: Robbie has released 13 albums, including two swing collections, a live album and two greatest hits. Only two of those releases missed the top spot, peaking at Number 2 instead.
Remember when Pink first came on the scene in 2000? She still had the same no-nonsense attitude, yes, but wasn’t there something a little different about her? She may be famous for ballsy anthems that have you pogoing up and down in defiance, but while the tough-talking stance is still the same, the backing track most certainly was not.
At the start of her career, Pink’s Kool-Aid was definitely R&B-flavoured, and it wasn’t until the second album Missunaztood that Pink decided, despite worldwide success, her destiny lay in a different direction.
A risk at the time, it paid off – Pink has scored 13 Top 10 hits since her reinvention and her hell-raising records have inspired a generation of people who really don’t care what you think, thank you very much.
CHART FACT: Pink has had three Number 1s but her bestselling single wasn’t a chart-topper at all! 2012’s Just Give Me A Reason FT fun’s Nate Ruess takes the honour, with over 800,000 sales
Kicking off her career in 1999 with the confident, confrontational Caught Out There, Kelis has experimented with much more than her hair colour in the years since.
While she started out primarily an R&B artist, Kelis has flirted with other genres in scoring a Top 10 hit with dance mastermind Richard X on Finest Dreams in 2003, having a huge global hit with electropop smash Milkshake and teaming up with Enrique Iglesias on Latin-flavoured Not In Love.
But it was with 2010 album Flesh Tone that Kelis really shifted gear, working with big names in house music like David Guetta and Benny Benassi. Lead single Acapella was a huge hit, and Kelis’s future as a dance diva seemed assured. But why stay the same when you evolve, right? Right.
For her next album Food, Kelis ditched the thumping beats and mixed elements of electronica with good old-fashioned soul. What’s next? Who knows!
CHART FACT: Acapella was Kelis’s eighth Top 10 hit, selling over 250,000 copies.