One of the most difficult jumps that some musicians may have to make in their careers is the leap from glassy-eyed pop starlet to mature, adult pop star. Many have tried, and the list of those who have failed is long. But sometimes, child pop stars can successfully position themselves as genuine articles.
It seems improbable to think that a kid who once wore cornrows with a straight face and who was a member of *NSYNC would go on to be one of the most respected pop singers in music. We were shaking our heads back then, but now there are a lot of eggs on a lot of faces. It started off slow, though. When Timberlake released Justified, it seemed like a minor fluke, a respectable initial offering. Then, holy hell, FutureSex/LoveSounds came out, and that was it, *NSYNC Timberlake was gone forever and grown-up, refined JT was in the building. It’s the trajectory that Justin Bieber is currently attempting to emulate, and you can’t blame him. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who dislikes Timberlake, and he has become one of the most-loved performers in the country.
Beginning as a chaste and cherubic young country star diva and TV actress, Miley Cyrus shocked (depending on how you use the word “shocking”) her legions of adoring pre-teen fans by executing one of the messiest career 180s ever. It’s not that people take Miley seriously, but more the fact that after years of being cocooned as a Disney star, her switch to an experimental visual artist of sorts is one of the most fascinating storylines to emerge from music in a long time. She knows how to gather eyes to whatever it is that she’s up to at any given moment. What's most significant though is that Cyrus does her stunts on her terms, whether it’s making an ambitious, clumsy album with The Flaming Lips, or performing naked on tour, and doing things on your terms is surely one indication that you are no longer an adolescent.
If the rest of the stories on this list are examples of when things go according to the script, MJ is the example of when things go awry. Tutored from a young age to be an all-singing, all-performing machine, Jackson traversed the child star minefield with such an ease and grace that people barely even remember his pre-King Of Pop days. For most, Jackson’s career starts around when he released Off The Wall in 1979. Rarely do people mention his four solo albums prior, and only briefly do they include his stints in The Jacksons and the Jackson 5 as vital pages in the Michael Jackson story. Those days aren't trivial. But the fact remains that his solo output from ‘79 onwards revealed such a gulf in quality between his kid days that it was almost like two different artists; there’s MJ the Kid and MJ the Adult (sometimes they were one in the same), and it’s clear which one made him the spectacle that he was. But, while his star was the brightest ever to burn in musical history, his storied downfall was a farrago of legal trouble, estate squabbles, eccentric behavior and bizarre rumors co-starring Macauley Culkin, Bubbles the Chimp and Blanket Jackson. It was as if the phrase “mo’ money, mo’ problems” had come to life and in the end, it was one hell of a ride.
Imagine what you were doing at 25. Actually, the answer to that depends on when you were 25. It may very well be possible that you were in a war, taking care of a family or caught in the uncaring maw of student loan debt with nary a cent in your checking account, let alone your savings account. But imagine being 25-years-old and possessing the ability to command an entire industry and, with the snap of your fingers or an utterance, force multinational corporations to change their course. That is the station that Taylor Swift is currently at, and thinking back to 2006 when she released her self-titled album, there was never an indication that she would be where she’s at now. Swift is currently one of the highest paid female acts in music. But outside of raw business numbers and dollar signs, with 2014’s massive pop bombshell 1989, Swift proved that regarding music, she holds an impressive songwriting ability that separates her from her contemporaries.
At the tender age of 14, LeAnn Rimes was the youngest singer ever to win a Grammy award. Despite the recent emergence of Bro-country and country pop, it’s safe to say that the worlds of country and pop are still far from each other. Perhaps not in terms of how individual songs are composed and how singers make albums, but rather in how the media affords blanket coverage to one genre over the other. When a career is born in pop music, that particular artist receives grown-up pop media hounding at any age level. With country, however, things are more subdued, younger artists are given relatively more breathing room. It’s probably why Taylor Swift can maneuver in the media landscape as it is now; her evolution to pop star occurred at an age where her (and her handlers) were able to tame it, use it to their advantage without growing pains and constant surveillance. That was the story for Rimes. After a start in country, she gradually made the switch to full-on pop and her career was all the better for it. She has since shifted from pop to rock back to country throughout her career, and along the way has sold millions of albums and has picked up numerous awards.
He started out at 11-years-old as a charming and bright piano and harmonica act. But Stevie Wonder quickly turned into a musical genius whose work in the ‘70s and beyond showcased a profound intellectual depth and masterful degree of musicianship. His “Classic Period” stretch of albums--beginning with Music of Mind and ending with Songs in the Key Of Life--indicated a total departure from his prior singles-oriented albums and saw the singer grappling with social and political issues, composing music that is as galvanizing as it is euphonious. Astoundingly, Wonder is still active today, his career perhaps a perfect example of an artist who transitioned from child star without losing his head in the process.