As a fan, it’s always a shock when an artist completely changes their style. Over the years, many big names have risked their brand and fan loyalty by releasing albums with very different genres or styles. Sometimes, the risk pays off. Here are just a few of our favorite album switch-ups:
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love”
From acting, to lighthearted college rap, to… neo-soul? Shortly after the run of his critically acclaimed TV show, “Atlanta,” renaissance man, Donald Glover, released a new project under his rap alter-ego, Childish Gambino. Fans were surprised to not hear a single rap song – the album exclusively featured experimental soul and R&B tracks. Still, the album received widespread praise as it demonstrates the impressive range of Glover’s talent.
Kendrick Lamar – “To Pimp a Butterfly”
After the huge success of previous albums, “Section.80” and “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” Kendrick took a bold new step with “To Pimp a Butterfly.” While he had featured soulful instrumentals in the past, this new album took funk to a new level with production by experimental band, Thundercat. Ushering in a new era of Kendrick Lamar, this album swapped synths and drum machines for piano, brass and bass guitar.
Tyler, the Creator – “Flower Boy”
Tyler, the Creator took a break from his signature abrasive style of rap for this very personal album. With the exception of a few tracks, Tyler swapped the usual New York-style beats for soulful, instrumental melodies. As someone who was banned from the United Kingdom for homophobic slurs, the Odd Future frontman surprised many with lyrics that revealed his bisexuality. With hits featuring R&B stars Kali Uchis, Frank Ocean and Estelle, this risk paid off for Tyler.
Mac Miller – “Swimming”
Mac Miller’s last album was a massive step forward for his development as an artist. He was always an artist that showed constant transformation and improvement, and “Swimming” proved a worthy tribute to his long climb from teen star to mature artist. Over funky instrumental beats, Mac Miller touched on his thoughts about his life and struggles he faced along the way. We lost Mac far too soon.
Taylor Swift – “1989”
Up until the 2014 release of this album, Taylor Swift was seen as largely a pop-country star. According to Swift, 1989 was her first official pop album. A transition that has lasted to this day, Swift’s switch from country to pop was very well-received. Since this album, Taylor Swift has established herself as a leading pop star at the cost of becoming more distant from her country roots.
Kanye West – “808s and Heartbreaks”
Kanye is an artist known for changing his style from album to album. His first major switch up, “808s and Heartbreaks,” swapped his signature style of upbeat rap for melancholy, autotune-heavy ballads. Fans everywhere argued about whether this album was the right step for Kanye – a trend that has continued for almost every album he’s released since.
The Weeknd – “Starboy”
Leading up to the release of “Starboy,” The Weeknd was gaining traction as a mainstream R&B artist. Featuring extremely catchy hooks and beats by Daft Punk, this album was much more pop than R&B. Played everywhere for months after their release, songs like “Starboy” and “I Feel It Coming” cemented The Weeknd as not just an R&B star, but also a pop star.
Pharrell/NERD – “No one ever really dies”
Pharrell Williams’s legendary producer and singer trio, N.E.R.D., are legends of pop culture. They have released several albums over the years, each one taking influence from the dominant sound of the time. Leading up to its release, there was no debate over whether their 2017 album was going to be experimental – the real question was which direction they would take it. As each N.E.R.D album has done before it, “No one ever really dies” takes its sounds in bold new directions, with beats ranging from smooth and relaxing (“Lifting You”) to frantically sped-up (“Kites”).