It’s not uncommon for our beloved celebs to branch out into other ventures. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres found lucrative results in real estate, child stars Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen formed a fashion empire, and comedian Jamie Foxx reps a suave eyewear collection on QVC. And hey, there’s always the option to start a lingerie line, à la Rihanna or Kim Kardashian.
But when celebrities venture into pop stardom, things can get, well, interesting. Red Table Talk host Jada Pinkett Smith told Metro that her nu-metal band (huh?) Wicked Wisdom received death threats instead of fan mail. That’s not to say they didn’t have any fans; AllMusic called Pinkett Smith “an expressive, commanding singer” and noted that “the band shows considerable promise on this memorable, if brief, debut.” And then there’s I Know What You Did Last Summer star Jennifer Love Hewitt, who famously released four pop albums in the span of a decade, one of which reached No. 37 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Pinkett Smith and Hewitt are just two of the many stars famous for something other than making tunes who sought success in the music industry at some point. Let’s take a look — and a listen! — at some celebrities who have singing careers you might not know about.
Ricky Gervais was a pop star in the Philippines
Most known as co-creator and star of the original version of The Office, tongue-in-cheek comedian Ricky Gervais has built a reputation as a riot-maker. However, he started out doing something entirely different. As Time recounts, in the late ’80s, a young, cheekbone-donning Gervais rolled up his sleeves, threw on some eyeliner, and formed Seona Dancing with classmate Bill Macrae. With Macrae on keyboards, Gervais lent his velvety vocals for synthesized ’80s art-pop anthems about — what else? — romance. The duo released two catchy new wave singles, “More To Lose” and “Bitter Heart.” But Gervais got slack for his David Bowie carbon-copy portrayal both musically and aesthetically, leaving the pair to split after just two years.
But people in the Philippines weren’t such Judge Judys! They embraced Seona Dancing in clubs all night long. Philippine Daily Inquirer music critic Pocholo Concepción told Time, “It became a favorite of Filipino youth hooked on New Wave music — a staple at so-called ‘New Wave parties’ held in upscale villages in Metro Manila.” According to All Music, “More To Lose” was such a hit that a popular Mania DJ spun both the track and band as “Fade” by Medium to prevent other DJs from being able to discover it.
When the Inquirer asked Gervais if he considered his music stint a mistake, Gervais replied, “No, it’s every kid’s dream. My mistake was that I wanted to be a pop star. I should have wanted to be a musician.”
Brie Larson toured with Jesse McCartney
Before Brie Larson was a Marvel superhero or an Academy Award-winning actor, she was a teen pop singer who sang about catty gym class teachers — which Larson told Kidzworld provided the very inspiration for the album title Finally Out of P.E.
In the ’00s, Larson’s pop career had solid momentum. “The music video for her single ‘She Said’ was played on MTV’s TRL,” E! recalled. “She went on tour with Jesse McCartney and performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2005.” What’s more, “She Said” even hit No. 31 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. But according to Vulture, when Finally Out of P.E. sold an underwhelming 3,500 copies, her record label lost interest and Larson felt the discord. “I just found that I was completely disenchanted with the whole ‘thing,'” she wrote in a 2010 Myspace post. “Being on Universal brought me to some amazing places and met, for one, all of you beauties. But what went along with it I didn’t enjoy. I wanted to write all my own songs, and they were afraid of that. I wanted to wear sneakers and play my guitar — they wanted heels and wind-blown hair.”
Of course, Larson moved on to acting but also found ways to incorporate music into her work. She starred in the indie musical Basmati Blues, recorded songs for the films Hoot and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and regularly posts personal covers of her favorite songs on Instagram.
Ryan Gosling's ghost-inspired album keeps it creepy
We all witnessed Golden Globe winner Ryan Gosling share his vocal talents in La La Land but did you know he started a goth band inspired by Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride?
The year was 2005 when Gosling met Zack Shields, and a friendship built on the shared fascination of ghosts and graveyards ultimately led the pair to “write a theatrical monster-ghost-love story for the stage,” reads the band’s bio on the Anti- website. Gosling and Shields decided to create a spooky doo-wop band, where they learned to play drums, piano, and cello along the way for a creepy, old-timey, sound that could easily lay as the soundtrack to Donnie Darko. Gosling told Pitchfork, “We’ve worked on it solid for two years. I made a couple of movies because I had to, but this is all we do.”
As the stage show proved to be quite tedious and expensive, the duo ditched it and lent their focus solely to the band. Their efforts produced an album titled Never Let A Lack Of Talent Get You Down, followed by a quick 12-city tour where they hosted a talent show as their opening act. But as time went on, their priorities shifted. Gosling became one of the biggest actors on the planet, and as Dazed noted, “Shields started working as a producer and writer on short horror movies, eventually moving on to big-budget features.” Today, Dead Man’s Bones fans keep the band alive with a few theatrical YouTube videos.
Kim Kardashian wants to forget about her pop star moment
In 2005, Kim Kardashian dipped her toe in the pop star pond and debuted her single “Jam (Turn It Up).” It wasn’t exactly a Britney Spears-level radio hit or a Grammy winner, with New York Daily News calling Kardashian “the worst singer in the reality TV universe” and Vulture claiming her vocals “[sound] as if they are emanating from a baby that is either very bored or very drugged.” Now children, if you don’t have something nice to say…
But hey, at least it was for a good cause: Ahead of its debut, Kardashian announced on Twitter that the song’s profits would go to St. Jude. However, some years later, she shared her regrets on Watch What Happens Live (via HuffPost). “But if there’s one thing in life that I wish I didn’t do … I don’t like it when people kind of dabble into things they shouldn’t be,” she said when asked about her song. “And that I don’t think I should have. Like, what gave me the right to think I could be a singer? Like, I don’t have a good voice.”
Then on a 2019 episode of WWHL, Kardashian told Andy Cohen that she’s learned to be less embarrassed about it. “But then I talked to The-Dream about [“Jam (Turn It Up)”], and he was like, ‘Did you have fun?'” she recalled. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, I had fun.’ And he’s like, ‘Okay, then stop being so hard on yourself about making a lame decision.'”
James Franco isn't worried about the charts
It’s no secret James Franco boasts a vast resume that includes acting, teaching, writing, directing, producing, photography, poetry. It would make sense the jack of all trades also started a band. As Franco told MTV, he and Rhode Island School of Design and classmate Tim O’Keefe formed Daddy not “to rise to the top of the charts or anything like that,” but just for funsies.
Daddy released their EP MotorCity in 2012, which features vocals from Smokey Robinson. As Franco explained to MTV, he was “listening to a lot of Motown” while filming Oz: The Great and Powerful in Detroit, and the EP was inspired by the genre. The duo then released the album/film Let Me Get What I Want in 2016, which features The Smiths bassist Andy Rourke. But wait, this isn’t just any actor’s band! Because the accompanying film can be viewed as individual music videos for each song, or as an hour-long production. Speaking to Vice, the 127 Hours actor said he used his very own poetry as the lyrical blueprint for the project.
Franco explained his musical project to MTV in a very James Franco way. “For me, it was a more interesting way to create a persona or a character in the world of music,” he said. “Maybe you’d expect an actor trying to dabble in music, that they would do rock or play guitar. This was a more unique kind of approach.”
Emma Roberts played a pop star on TV and in real life
Scream queen and indie sweetheart Emma Roberts sat at No. 10 on the Billboard Kid Albums chart for a brief moment in time. It was 2005 when Roberts starred on the Nickelodeon series Unfabulous as Addie Singer, a 13-year-old who writes and sings songs to deal with melodramatic ups and downs of heartbreak and hope. The starlet told MTV, “On the show, I sing and play guitar, so it’s kind of natural thing to do an album.” Robert’s album, Unfabulous and More, is a mixture of angsty teen lyrics and synthy-pop beats, which features six songs from the show, two of which, “I Wanna Be” and “Dummy,” were released as singles.
The Holidate star voiced enjoying the album-making process but noted the vulnerability that comes with being a musician. “I’ll be honest, I have a bit of stage fright, singing-wise,” she shared with MTV. “Singing, I’m still getting used to, and it’s kind of embarrassing just because everyone’s watching, either going, ‘I love you’ or ‘I hate you.'” For now, all we have is the one album to cherish from Roberts.
Boredom apparently led Robert Downey Jr. to music
Don’t tell friends over at Marvel, but Robert Downey Jr. is yawning in between takes. As he said in The New York Times in 2004, “Nothing is more boring than acting.”
While the Saturday Night Live alum has found tremendous success as silver screen star, he has other showbiz aspirations. “Nothing would please me more than if I could all but quit my day job and go play the Mint or the Pantages,” Downey told Billboard. Downey has revealed his musical talents throughout his career on film soundtracks including Chaplin, The Singing Detective, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Then in 2000, people delighted in Downey’s cover of Joni Mitchel’s “River” performed on Ally McBeal, as Entertainment Weekly noted.
So in 2004, Downey took things into his own hands and wrote eight pop ballads, played piano, and added two cover songs to his debut album The Futurist. “I have some hesitation in being an actor who puts out an album,” the Iron Man star told NYT. “But after years of writing songs, it gradually became more real.” Matt Collar of AllMusic praised Downey, writing, “The Futurist is as unpredictably moving as the best of Downey’s film work.” The album sold 16,000 copies in its first week and ran at 121 on the Billboard 200 chart, but Downey never put out another album.
Priyanka Chopra was approached to make an album
Before Priyanka Chopra became a household name in America, she was a bona fide pop star… even though she didn’t have her sights set on pop stardom. “Actually, it was never my idea,” the Quantico actor told Matt Schichter. “It was Universal’s great idea.” When the label suggested the Bollywood star try her hand at a music career, she went along with it. “I was like, ‘Hm, okay, let me just go suss it,'” Chopra recalled. “I went into the studio and I sang a little bit, started writing a little bit, and one and a half years later I have an album.”
Chopra broke into the music scene in 2012 with her hit “In My City” featuring Will.i.am. In the first week, it topped the Hindi pop chart, selling more than 130,000 copies, according to the Los Angeles Times. In October of that year, it won her Best International Debut at India’s People’s Choice Awards, according to Business Of Cinema. Chopra continued collaborating with top artists including Chainsmokers for “Erase”, and Pitbull for “Erotic.” Mr. Worldwide himself cites Chopra as Miss World in the jam, referring to her Miss World win in 2000. Get it?? Both global superstars!
In 2014, the songstress released “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which hit 34 on the Billboard charts, but Chopra then moved onto acting and the rest is, well, more catchy-dance bangers you should check out!
Scarlett Johansson got into acting for musicals
One would think Scarlett Johansson has a pretty good thing going as a Tony Award winner and Golden Globe nominee. But the Marvel siren told AP (via The Seattle Times) she got into acting for musicals. “That’s where my dream career was going to be when I was 8 years old, like the young Cosette in Les Miserables,” she shared. “Then I started making films and I never ended up doing musical theater.”
In 2008, The Avengers actor released her debut album, Anywhere I Lay My Head, a collection of covers by singer-songwriter Tom Waits but also featured David Bowie. “I’ve always been a huge fan of Tom Waits, and I had this kind of golden opportunity to make an album however I wanted,” she said. Johansson’s musical efforts got mixed reviews, with The Guardian stating it, “left you wanting more,” while Rolling Stone said (via Reuters), “Johansson’s voice is unremarkable…lost in a sonic fog.”
Then in 2009, Johansson collaborated with Pete Yorn to produce Break Up, which Yorn revealed to Rolling Stone was inspired by Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot. After critics again criticized Johansson’s vocal range, the starlet told Today, “Of course whenever you put something out you hope that people are into it. But I don’t really validate myself through critical praise.” Johansson has yet to release another album but has been featured on other soundtracks including The Jungle Book, Sing: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, and Steel Train’s Terrible Thrills.
Emmy Rossum has been living humbly as an opera prodigy
Shameless star Emmy Rossum has long been praised for her vocal talents. Rossum started performing at the Metropolitan Opera when she was a child, and in 2000, she was granted the opportunity to showcase her vocal talents in the film Songcatcher, which earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination. A few years later, Rossum was up for a Golden Globe for her performance in The Phantom of the Opera.
But it was in 2007 when the starlet wrote and recorded her debut album, Inside Out, accompanied by a 15-minute documentary about the production of her first single “Slow Me Down.” “The music is who I am and I’m telling honest stories about things I have been through emotionally in my life,” Rossum shared with Songwriter Universe. “In the movies, I’ve always felt like one piece of the puzzle. But this is all me.”
In 2013, Rossum released her sophomore album, Sentimental Journey, a collection of covers from the 1920s-1960s. Rossum told Rolling Stone it’s the type of music that she grew up with and keeps her feeling calm today. “I missed the glamour and simplicity of that music and that’s how the idea for this album came about,” she said.
While it didn’t get a considerate amount of love on the Billboard 200 at No. 92, it placed number one in Jazz albums.
Tyra Banks smized her way to a short-lived singing career
After Tyra Banks retired from slaying the runway, she craved a new outlet to express her smize energy. “The only way I thought I could continue to work that stage that I loved so much was I had to sing,” Banks told Entertainment Weekly.
The America’s Next Top Model judge made her way to respected industry producer Rodney Jenkins, and together they created several upbeat jams, including “Shake Ya Body’,’ which fans expressed their love for on Twitter. The track also proved to be a hit for ANTM. “The episode where we filmed the music video was the highest-rated episode of Top Model at the time, [but] it felt like I was forcing something,” Banks said in EW. Her team didn’t advertise the track, so nothing really came of it. Even so, Banks blames herself. “My voice was just decent, and that’s not good enough to transition from being a model,” she told the outlet.
But after a centering lunch with J.Lo’s manager Benny Medina, Banks realized she was more interested in being a role model. This newfound desire prompted The Tyra Banks Show and a memoir titled Perfect Is Boring. “I realized that it’s not a failure; it’s recognizing that something isn’t right,” she shared with EW. “And that led me on a path toward what is right. When I did that, it catapulted my business to a new level.”
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