Have you ever wondered whether you’re better off as a lone vocalist, or as part of a band? Find out which famous singers that started out in a group and why they decided to go solo.
Some singers who used to be in bands have gone on to have illustrious solo careers. Many have achieved a greater degree of fame and artistic autonomy by doing so. While others will always be best known for the hits they recorded within a group.
In this article, we take a look at some of the big names who have experienced both sides of the industry – as a singer and band member.
Singers who used to be in bands
Singing or playing in a band can be a useful way to build confidence, peer camaraderie and contacts in the industry. But for many artists there comes a time when they just want to do their own thing. Being in a band comes with compromises and challenges.
From those who played in groups at school, to chart-topping band members who chose to go it alone, here’s our rundown of 20 names who struck out by themselves.
Famous singers that started out in a group
#1 Nelly Furtado
As a daughter of Portuguese parents, Nelly began singing in Portuguese at the young age of four and as a teenager, she joined a Portuguese marching band. After school, she moved to Toronto and formed Nelstar, a trip-hop duo with Tallis Newkirk.
When she left the group she concentrated on writing and recording which led to a record deal with DreamWorks Records. Her ability to sing any musical genre from pop to rap to Latin music gave her a wide platform and popularity.
#2 Camilla Cabello
As a member of the girl group Fifth Harmony Camilla achieved success in the American X Factor. The group was signed to Syco Music and Epic Records. After leaving the group she collaborated with a number of singers before her debut solo single in 2017.
Her massive hit ‘Havana’ reached no.1 in many countries including UK, Canada, USA and Australia, and became Spotify’s most-streamed song by a solo female artist with over 888 million streams at the time.
Female singers who left a group
Born in Barbados, Rihanna grew up listening to reggae music and at the start of her foray into the music industry she formed a girl group with two friends. They landed an audition with American record producer Evan Rogers, who was so impressed by Rihanna he invited her to the United States to record demos as a solo singer.
The tapes were sent to Jay-Z who was CEO of Def Jam, which resulted in her being signed with a six-album record deal. Rihanna went on to become one of the most influential pop stars and listed among Forbes’ Top 100 Most Powerful Women of 2019.
Beyoncé rose to fame in the 90s as part of Destiny’s Child, one of the most successful girl bands of all time. She’s since found even bigger success as a solo artist, releasing six records on her own which all went to number one in the US.
#5 Emily Middlemas
Starting in a band called Loud N Proud at the tender age of nine, Emily began writing songs aged 13. In 2014 she had her first taste of success winning the national competition TeenStar. Two years later she reached the semi-final of the X Factor mentored by Simon Cowell. She released her first single ‘Lost and Found’ before embarking on a UK tour. In 2019 she announced her new stage name ili, and released her latest single ‘Breath’ in 2020.
#6 Debbie Harry
Debbie Harry’s name is synonymous with Blondie but in her early career she was a member of various bands including Stiletto, Angel and the Snake, and as a backing singer for The Wind in the Willows. Her solo career began with the album KooKoo.
After global success with Blondie and as a solo singer, Debbie starred in a number of films and 2019 released a memoir ‘Face It’. She received the Elle ‘Style Icon of the Year’ award in 2017. A Blondie UK arena tour is scheduled for 2021.
What singers went solo from a group?
#7 Gwen Stefani
Before becoming a solo star Gwen was the lead singer of No Doubt, an American ska punk band. Although they had a UK No.1 in 1996 with ‘Don’t Speak’, it was not until 2004 that Gwen’s solo career kicked off with an 80s inspired album which spawned singles such as Hollaback Girl and What You Waiting For?. Her solo chart record includes 7 top 10 singles and 3 top 40 albums and has sold more than nine million albums as a solo singer.
New Zealand born Lorde was part of school band Extreme, Battle of the Bands finalists. She later formed a covers duo and began taking singing lessons and writing songs. Her single ‘Royals’ brought huge commercial success, peaking at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100. She was 16 years old and the track won her two Grammy awards. Lorde has also won two Brit Awards for International Female Solo Artist.
Male solo artists who joined a band
#9 Jaymi Hensley
As a member of ‘Triple J,’ the band auditioned for the X Factor where the name was changed to ‘Union J’. They became hugely popular and went on to release their debut single ‘Carry You’. Since going solo Jaymi has appeared on numerous TV programmes including Celebrity Masterchef. In 2019 he starred as Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Prior to X-Factor Jaymi was a finalist in Open Mic UK.
#10 Harry Styles
As part of One Direction, Harry Styles achieved worldwide fame, but his first band was while he was at school, as lead singer for White Eskimo, winners of a local Battle of the Bands competition. In 2016 he signed a recording contract with Columbia Records as a solo artist. His debut album reached No.1 in several countries including the UK and USA. A tour of Europe and North America is planned for 2021.
#11 Zayn Malik
Harry’s One Direction bandmates have all gone solo now, including Zayn Malik, who released his first solo song I Won’t Mind in 2015. The same year, Zayn signed with RCA Records and released his debut solo album, Mind of Mine, in 2016.
#12 James Arthur
The singer/songwriter rose to fame as the winner of the X Factor in 2012, but he gained valuable experience at a young age in a number of bands. He was the lead singer in prog rock band Moonlight Drive, followed by Cue the Drama, Save Arcade and indie band Emerald Skye. His successful career has included winning the BMI Pop Awards for best song ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’. In 2020 he confirmed he has begun working on a fourth studio album.
#13 Justin Timberlake
Justin became famous as the youngest member of boyband NSYNC (and also for dating fellow Mickey Mouse Club alum Britney Spears). He went solo in 2002 with Justified, featuring the hit singles Rock Your Body and Cry Me a River.
#14 Robbie Williams
Originally a member of the boyband Take That, Robbie found solo success with hit like Angels and Rock DJ, taking home a record 18 BRIT Awards during his career.
Rock singers who went solo
#15 Rod Stewart
Superstar Sir Roderick Stewart is a legendary singer, but his early ventures into music included being part of various bands. After busking with a harmonica he joined The Dimensions as a harmonica player and vocalist in 1963. In 1967 he joined The Jeff Beck Group before becoming the singer for the Faces two years later. At the same time, he released his debut solo album. His big breakthrough came in 1971 with the album Every Picture Tells A Story, which featured the iconic chart-busting ‘Maggie May’. His awards and recognition on both sides of the Atlantic are testaments to his amazing career, culminating with a knighthood in 2016.
#16 Ozzy Osbourne
Ozzy’s name is almost inseparable from Black Sabbath but his membership of bands goes back much further to 1967 in Rare Breed, followed soon after by Polka Tulk Blues. Black Sabbath met with swift success with gold and platinum records to follow. In 1979 Ozzy focused on his solo career and gained commercial success, including Ozzfest, created and managed in the 90s by his wife and manager Sharon. In 2020 Ozzy released his first solo album in ten years.
During her teens, the Icelandic singer formed the all-girl punk band Spit and Snot. This was followed by a jazz group Exodus, and later another group Tappi Tikarrass. Various groups and collaborations followed before Bjork became the lead singer of the alternative rock band the Sugarcubes. After their break up in 1992, Bjork moved to London and started her award-winning solo career. In 2021 Bjork is scheduled to headline the Bluedot Festival, a music and science event held at Jodrell Bank Observatory.
Artists who left bands for successful solo careers
#18 Selena Gomez
Formed in 2008, ‘Selena Gomez and the Scene’ was a pop-rock band from Hollywood, which won Teen Choice Awards and People’s Choice awards. When the band took a break Selena concentrated on her solo work and her already successful acting career as well as touring. She is also the executive producer of a number of shows and films. In 2020 ‘Rare’ was released, becoming her third consecutive No.1 album.
Pink joined her first band, Middleground, when she was in high school. She started writing lyrics as a young teenager and joined another group, Basic Instinct. When they disbanded she joined with two other girls to form Choice. This led to her being offered a recording contract as a solo singer. This soon took her to success and she has now sold over 40 million albums and 50 million singles worldwide.
Artists you didn’t know were in bands
#20 Lionel Richie
As a student Lionel Richie formed a number of R&B groups before becoming a singer with The Commodores, eventually signing to Motown as support act to The Jackson 5. He wrote for many artists before becoming a fully-fledged solo singer. His endless list of hits includes the duet with Diana Ross ‘Endless Love’.
In 2015 he played at Glastonbury Festival in front of over 10,000 people in a triumphant show. In 2019 he announced a 33 date tour of North America.
#21 Jessie J
From childhood, Jessie wanted to be in the music industry. Her musical influences were some of the greats: Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, Prince, Whitney Houston. Born Jessica Cornish, she had a band with her two sisters ‘The Three Cornish Pasties’. As a teenager, she joined a girl group ‘Soul Deep’ for two years and studied at the BRIT School. In addition to her prolific solo career, Jessie appeared as a coach on The Voice Kids UK.
R&B artists that went solo
Born Shaffer Chimere Smith, Ne-Yo joined the R&B group Envy under the stage name GoGo. When they disbanded he wrote for other artists before starting a solo career as Ne-Yo, eventually winning three Grammy awards. He won MOBO awards for best song “Because of You” and best R&B. As a singer/songwriter, record producer, actor, dancer and TV judge his talents are wide-ranging.
Singer/songwriter, actor, businessman and dancer, Usher started singing aged nine in the local church youth choir. A year later he joined R&B group the NuBeginnings. He was spotted and signed while singing in talent shows. Soon after his solo career took off he made his acting debut while continuing to record albums and tour. Usher has received numerous awards throughout his career including 8 Grammy Awards, 18 Billboard Music Awards, and has sold over 100 million records.
#24 Dr Dre
American rapper, producer, record executive and entrepreneur, Dr Dre began his performing career as a member of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru. He found fame with rap/hip hop group N.W.A. His solo debut album The Chronic was released in 1992 and earned him a Grammy award. He has worked with numerous artists over the years, producing and collaborating, with his latest album featuring Eminem.
Perhaps you’re in a group right now and want to try a solo career. Remember, there’s no reason why you can’t do both. Release some songs by yourself and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work out, you still have your band.
- Who is the No 1 band in the world?
This varies according to current trends and records sales. But historically, The Beatles have held the top position consistently over the decades – despite only having a group career span of ten years. They’re closely followed by The Rolling Stones who occasionally still gig together, despite a long break
- What band stayed together the longest?
The Irish rock band U2 have been together since 1976 and continued to release music right across that period. They’ve racked up more Grammy Awards than any other band (22 in total) and set records for highest attended tours.
- Who were the most popular singers of 2020?
It depends on how you grade popularity. In terms of social, Shakira had the most Facebook followers, while Ariana Grande racked up the largest number of Insta fans. But in terms of record sales and streaming, some of the biggest hitters included Post Malone, The Weeknd, Drake, Harry Styles and Taylor Swift.
Who are your favourite singers who used to be in bands? Did you used to be in a group yourself but decided to go solo? What made you break away from your bandmates? Let us know in the comments