Whenever we hear about a new artist on the radio or online, there’s a great chance that everyone in your school or workplace is going to be singing their songs within the next few days. It can sometimes feel like an automatic process: When one artist fades away, another is introduced to the public. The new artists have got to be coming from somewhere though, right? Is there some sort of artist factory where, as soon as he or she comes out of the machine, a guy in a lab coat examines them before saying “Product #3722 is ready for release” and drops them right in the middle of the media storm with a made-up name and personality? Well…maybe. But unless you were one of the few who were just born rich and famous, you’d probably have to jump through hoops to even have a shot at achieving your dreams. So, let’s review some successful people in the music industry and see what their lives were like before the worldwide recognition they now enjoy:
1. Katy Perry’s first album sold 200 copies
Her half time performance at the Super Bowl XLIX may have helped rake in a record breaking 118.5 million US viewers (Source: CNN), but songstress Katy Perry didn’t always have dancing sharks at her disposal. Using the name Katy Hudson back in the early 2000’s, her debut album as a Christian singer sold less than 200 copies. Not 200 million. Not 200 thousand. 200.
Despite the underwhelming chart performance of her debut album, the then 16-year-old Katy continued to pursue her dreams. However, it wasn’t rainbows and cotton candies just yet. Despite being signed by The Island Def Jam Recording Group, the album Perry was working on was eventually cancelled, and she later found herself without a label. Columbia Records later took her in, only to drop her as well. To many, this would be the time when they decide their dreams aren’t worth pursuing and a reality check is needed. But to Katy, there was no other option. She was eventually signed to Capitol Records, which helped her create her breakthrough hit, “I Kissed A Girl.” Had she given up, just how would Kim Jong Un know he’s a firework?!
2. Justin Bieber was a street performer
JB. The Biebs. That singer who has just as many controversies as he has records sold. Whether or not you like the high-rolling Bieber is irrelevant, because brat or not, the Canadian singer is a good example of someone going from obscurity to complete world domination. Born in Ontario, Canada, Justin was your typical sports and music-oriented youngin’. Below is a video showing Bieber playing in the streets with just his vocal chords and a guitar. Check out how there were like, two dollars in his guitar case.
After his mother uploaded a series of homemade videos of his singing, Justin eventually caught the attention of his would-be manager, Scooter Braun. The talent manager then arranged a meeting between Bieber and Usher, which resulted to Justin eventually getting signed to his current label, Island Records. The rest was history for Bieber, who now has a reported net worth of $200 million. So the next time you see someone singing their heart out in the streets or in the subway station, know that you could possibly be looking at the next big thing.
3. Rihanna sold clothes in the streets of Barbados
What are the odds of living in Barbados and getting discovered by a music producer who’s vacationing from America? Probably 1 in a million. Fortunately for Rihanna, she happened to be that one. With the right combination of determination and luck, Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty no longer has to sell clothes with her dad in the streets of Barbados like she did as a little girl. Below is a video of young Rihanna belting out Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” Not her best, but at 16, she still had some time to work on her craft.
In a 2005 interview, Rihanna was asked what she’d want people to remember her for when she’s older and retiring. With a more noticeable accent, she said “[I want to be] remembered as being the artist from the Caribbean who came here, and made it internationally.” It’s tough to say if most people even know about her background, or if they can even imagine Rihanna as the ordinary immigrant she once was, but one thing is certain: she sure made it big.
4. Nicki Minaj was a Red Lobster waitress
Growing up in Queens, New York, Onika Tanya Maraj knew all too well about the hustle. Having witnessed her alcoholic father try to kill her mother by setting their house on fire in Trinidad, Nicki resorted to having alter egos as a means of escape. “Nicki Minaj” was originally just one of Onika’s alter egos until she decided to adopt it as her stage name. Nicki also tried to pursue both acting and rapping at a young age, but the former failed to takeoff. This may have come as a blessing in disguise to Nicki, as she was able to focus on her craft and completely hone it. She didn’t rap full time, though. In order to pay her bills, Nicki worked multiple jobs; one of them a waitressing gig at a Red Lobster in the Bronx, but she was eventually fired for apparently not being the friendliest with the customers. Probably not the best way to be when you’re trying to make a living, but hey, the last time she made any references to getting a “number 2 with some mac sauce,” it was in a song with Beyonce.
Minaj posted her tracks and videos on social networking site, Myspace, and slowly grew her audience. She would later on get discovered by rapper Lil Wayne, who would then help her land a contract with his label, Young Money Entertainment. Nicki’s love for alter egos continued even as she gained popularity, rapping and singing in different characters such as Roman Zolanski, the angry, “evil twin” with a British accent. Although she’s no longer in the traumatic situations she was once in as a child, Nicki still appears to be staying true to making fantasy her reality. Except now, her fantasy world has extended far beyond her imagination and into our television screens and headphones.
They may be some of the world’s biggest stars now, but getting to where they are was not a stroll for these four. We often see them as the brands–not people–that just appeared out of thin air to populate the radio waves and make millions. The point is, they were ordinary dreamers who, in addition to being at the right place at the right time, worked hard for years and endured several rejections before “making it big.” So if you’re honestly hard at work trying to achieve your dreams, don’t be discouraged by the many struggles you are currently or will experience. Who knows, maybe one day, someone will be writing about them too.