Before making their name as solo artists in the music industry, a number of singers have risen to prominence as members of popular boy bands or vocal groups.
AceShowbiz – All roads lead to Rome. When starting out their music careers, some singers didn’t get the chance to choose whether to debut as solo artist or part of group. However, despite initially sharing the spotlight with their group members, a number of stars managed to stand out with their talents.
With the rose of their popularity individually, these singers decided to launch their solo careers, with some still becoming part of the groups and others departing from their bands. Looking back at the start of their careers, here are some successful solo artists who debuted as group members.
Fergie a.k.a. Stacy Ferguson went through a long way before she became a solo artist. As a child, she worked as a voice actor and starred on a TV show. She was also a member of the female trio Wild Orchid with Stefanie Ridel and Renee Sandstrom for years before leaving the group in 2002.
She was then invited to join Black Eyed Peas ahead of the release of their third album “Elephunk” (2003). With Fergie on the lineup, the group had their first major hit, “Where is the Love?”. In between performing with BEP, Fergie released her debut solo album “The Dutchess” in 2006 and it spawned a number of hits, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry”. While BEP continued to make charting albums, Fergie followed up her debut solo album with “Double Dutchess” in 2017, before she departed from BEP in 2018.
Today, he is perhaps best known individually as Sting, but back in the 1970s and 1980s, he was widely known as the frontman for new wave rock band the Police. The group’s critically-acclaimed works include “Every Breath You Take”, while they received many Grammy nominations and won a few of them.
Before the Police officially disbanded in 1986, the English musician launched his solo career by releasing his first solo album, 1985’s “The Dream of the Blue Turtles”. His standing-out talent continued to show with hits like “Russians” and “When We Dance” as he continued to add accolades as a solo artist.
3. Gwen Stefani
Gwen Stefani rose to prominence as a member of No Doubt, which she formed with her brother Eric Stefani and John Spence. With other musicians on the instruments, the band released their self-titled debut album in 1992, but it wasn’t until their 1995’s single “Just a Girl” that they achieved mainstream commercial success. While Eric left the band to work in animation full time before their breakthrough, Gwen remained on the group.
Eric continued to contribute to No Doubt though, with their biggest hit “Don’t Speak” (1996) being co-written by Gwen and her brother. When No Doubt was on a hiatus, Gwen released her debut solo album “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” in 2004. The album’s third single “Hollaback Girl” became her first U.S. No. 1 single, with her other hits including “Rich Girl”, “Wind It Up” and “The Sweet Escape” ft. Akon.
4. Robbie Williams
Robbie Williams‘ time on Take That wasn’t that long, but it did help catapult him to fame. Joining as the youngest member of the group, he performed with four others, including Gary Barlow, for five years before they disbanded in 1996. During the relatively short span, the group had their biggest hit single “Back for Good”.
Robbie soon launched his solo career in the same year with a cover of George Michael‘s “Freedom”, which reached number two in the U.K. Singles Chart. “Angels”, the fourth single off his solo album “Life thru a Lens”, became a hit around Europe and Latin America and he continued to score more hits with “Millennium”, “No Regrets” and a cover of “She’s the One”. After Take That reunited in 2006, Robbie rejoined the group in 2010 on their sixth album “Progress”.
5. Pharrell Williams
Pharrell Williams‘ biggest achievement is perhaps his 2013 song “Happy” which earned him a Grammy Award and Oscar nomination, but his music career started way back in the early 1990s. He briefly joined a hip-hop group named Surrounded by Idiots, which members included his cousin Timbaland, before he formed “R&B-type” group the Neptunes with Chad Hugo, Shay Haley and Mike Etheridge.
While the Neptunes mostly worked behind the scenes by producing hit songs like Jay-Z‘s “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)” (2000) and Nelly‘s “Hot in Herre”, Pharrell, Chad and Shay later switched to performing under the moniker N.E.R.D. The trio’s debut album “In Search Of…,” failed to replicate the success of the Neptunes’ previous productions, but their following works continued to receive critical acclaims.
6. Justin Timberlake
Everybody who has been following Justin Timberlake‘s life must have known his early popularity as a member of NSYNC. The boy band became a worldwide sensation in mid-1990s, with their biggest hits including “It’s Gonna Be Me”, “Bye Bye Bye”, “Girlfriend” and “This I Promise You”. Selling more than 70 million records worldwide, they became the fifth-best selling boy band in history.
With the general decline in the popularity of boy bands and Justin’s interest in starting solo career, NSYNC disbanded in 2002. He went on to debut solo single “Like I Love You” at the 2002 MTV VMAs, while his debut solo album “Justified” was released in November that year. Having landed on music charts with songs like “Cry Me a River”, “Rock Your Body” and “SexyBack”, he has headlined four world tours as a solo artist.
7. Diana Ross
Younger generations may not know this, but Diana Ross used to perform as part of The Supremes. She rose to fame as the lead singer of the vocal group, who became Motown’s most successful act during the 1960s and one of the world’s best-selling girl groups of all time. Their hits included the likes of “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me” and “Love Child”.
In 1970, Diana left The Supremes and embarked on a successful solo career in music, film, television and on stage. Her eponymous debut solo album was released in the same year and featured the U.S. No. 1 hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. Her next albums “Touch Me in the Morning” (1973), “Mahogany” (1975) and “Diana Ross” (1976) also became commercial success, as her songs such as “Endless Love”, “If We Hold on Together” and “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” became some of her biggest global hits.
8. Harry Styles
Harry Styles first gained attention when he auditioned for U.K.’s “The X Factor“. On the show, he was put in the “Groups” category with Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik. The fivesome performed under the moniker “One Direction, which they kept using after the end of the competition and they were officially signed to Simon Cowell‘s label Syco Records. The boy band soon rose to stardom, with their mainstream popularity being compared to that of The Beatles.
After a string of successful singles like “What Makes You Beautiful”, “Live While We’re Young” and “Story of My Life”, the band went on an indefinite hiatus in 2016. Harry then started working on his solo album, which was preceded with his first solo single “Sign of the Times” (2017). His self-titled debut album was released in May of the same year and debuted at No. 1 in several countries. The 29-year-old followed it up with “Fine Line” (2019) and “Harry’s House” (2022), and he has since received various accolades, including three Grammy Awards.
One of the most respected female artists as of today, Beyonce Knowles started out as a member of R&B group Destiny’s Child who was managed by her own father Matthew Knowles. The trio had a number of hits, including “Crazy in Love”, “Baby Boy”, “Say My Name”, “Survivor” and “Lose My Breath”, as Billboard named them one of greatest musical trios of all time.
Following their disbandment in 2006, Beyonce released a series of successful solo albums, including “B’Day” (2006), “I Am… Sasha Fierce” (2008), “4” (2011), “Beyonce” (2013), “Lemonade” (2016) and “Renaissance” (2022). She headlined the Super Bowl XLVII halftime show in 2013, during which she reunited with her former groupmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams (II). In 2023, the wife of Jay-Z broke the record for most Grammy wins with a total of 32.
10. Michael Jackson
Everybody must have heard the name Michael Jackson, but not many know his early career as a member of the Jackson 5 (later known as the Jacksons). With his older brothers Jackie Jackson, Tito Jackson, Jermaine Jackson and Marlon Jackson, little MJ performed from the 1960s, but it wasn’t until 1970 that their career gained steam as “I Want You Back” became their first song to reach No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
After the Jackson 5 scored more hits with “ABC”, “The Love You Save”, and “I’ll Be There”, Michael released his debut studio album “Got to Be There” in 1972. With his distinctive vocals and performances, he was later hailed the King of Pop, who popularized complicated dance moves such as the moonwalk. “Billie Jean”, “Thriller”, “Man in the Mirror” and “Black or White” were just some of his hits, as his career was rewarded with 13 Grammy Awards, as well as the Grammy Legend Award and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
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