From standout singers to drummers with too much charisma, most of these musicians are not just breakout solo artists, they’re global icons. And the rest are well on their way.
For most of these late and living legends, their record sales and playlist adds are still soaring as we speak. And speaking of record sales….
Beyonce (Destiny’s Child)
From an early age, it was obvious Beyonce Knowles was a star. The world watched her evolve from Destiny’s Child member into front and center songstress, and ultimately, the music icon she is today.
In 2001, the grammy-winning trio announced their hiatus to pursue solo careers. Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams released solo albums first, and they did well. But when Beyonce dropped Dangerously in Love in 2003, she catapulted to the top of her game and the whole world has been crazy in love with Queen Bey ever since.
The real question is, what’s next for this global powerhouse?
Mrs. Carter might have 22 hit singles to her name, but she forever gives credit to Destiny’s Child where credit is due. There are even rumors of another reunion in the works. So stay tuned.
Today, this singer/actress/businesswoman is one of the most culturally significant artists of all time. Frankly, we never know what Beyonce will wow us with next, but her every musical move only seems to get more brilliant.
Harry Styles (One Direction)
All One Direction members released at least two popular solo tracks, but Harry Styles by far has the most. Since leaving the beloved boyband behind, he’s debuted nine chart-topping hits to date.
Some fans argue the pop group will always be more powerful together, with 29 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 serving as proof. But as Rolling Stone puts it, “the Harry Charm is a force of nature.” So give him time.
Styles not only has that superstar quality, but the talent (and loyal fanbase) to back it up. Now that he’s making a move to break into acting as well, look out!
Lauryn Hill (Fugees)
In the 90s, the Fugees were huge, Wyclef was huge, and Lauryn Hill was a huge part of their success. But when she dropped The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in ’98, she ascended to her rightful place as an international superstar, selling 12 million copies worldwide.
Hill established herself as one of the greatest female MCs of all time, even if sudden mega fame might’ve proven to be too much. Per Rolling Stone, she’ll go down in history as “a quadruple threat: a rapper as well as a world-class singer, songwriter, and producer” for her solo work, no matter what.
Phil Collins & Peter Gabriel (Genesis)
In the mid-1970s, Genesis needed a new drummer. Phil Collins landed the dream job and soon became the rock band’s lead vocalist. But it was only a matter of time before he went solo. His debut album, Face Value, was released in 1981. The lead single, “In the Air Tonight,” is legendary, and as a solo artist, so is Phil.
But he’s not the only one who became even more successful once he left the iconic group.
No matter how influential Genesis was, they had major problems behind the scenes. In response to their irreconcilable creative differences, Peter Gabriel decided to try his hand as a solo artist. The move quickly paid off. Gabriel went on to sell millions of records on his own, and like Phil Collins, creatively outlasted Genesis for many more years.
Fergie (Wild Orchid, Black Eyed Peas)
Many moons before making a name for herself with the Black Eyed Peas, Fergie was part of Wild Orchid in the 90s. The short-lived trio’s big and only real hit was “Talk to Me,” but her powerful pipes and presence stood out from the start.
As the frontwoman of the Black Eye Peas, she’d find more lasting success, but her moment to fully shine was still on the way. In 2006, she went solo and The Dutchess was a wild success, firmly securing her spot on the solo superstar map.
Sting (The Police)
As solo artists go, it doesn’t get much bigger than Sting. But once upon a time, The Police were revered as one of the biggest bands in the world. So for many, his choice to jump ship sounded completely insane and ill-timed. But now we know better than to ever underestimate Sting.
Millions upon millions of album sales later, Sting was a household name in music. And the English icon continues to prove his staying power. With every breath we take, Sting’s popularity only seems to increase, as new generations keep discovering his timeless music.
Annie Lennox (Eurythmics)
Annie Lennox first proved herself a force to be reckoned with as the powerful vocalist propelling the Eurythmics. But that soon proved just the beginning. In 1992, she went solo. One of the Scottish singer-songwriter’s first solo smash hits was “Walking on Broken Glass.” The unforgettable video was helmed by prolific director Sophie Muller.
Her debut solo album, Diva, produced many major hits, won Lennox countless awards, and universal acclaim. Flash forward to 2002, the iconic singer received the Billboard Century Award for her solo work, which is their highest accolade.
Dr. Dre (NWA)
After NWA disbanded in 1991, Dr. Dre rose to mega fame as a solo artist and founded his hip-hop empire, Death Row Records. His solo debut, The Chronic, is forever revered as a hip-hop playlist essential.
Those who have followed Dr. Dre’s career since the beginning will tell you; he’s not just better off solo, his solo career changed rap forever, for the better.
Eric Clapton (The Yardbirds, Cream)
Before Eric Clapton became a solo legend, he was an essential member of 10 different bands. Some are legendary and some are lesser-known, but none brought Clapton as much critical acclaim as his solo projects.
The three-time Rock-n-Roll Hall of Famer set out to prove he was much more than just “a guitar God” in 1970. Kicking off his solo career with cult classics like “Layla,” he did just that.
To this day, Clapton’s considered one of the most successful musicians on the planet.
Michael Jackson (The Jackson 5)
Michael Jackson’s legacy as “the king of pop” is forever tainted by the legal battles and revelatory documentaries like Leaving Neverland that exposed the once-beloved artist as a potential criminal. Still, he was undoubtedly the most successful star to break out of the Jackson 5, and one of the most iconic artists to ever moonwalk the earth.
After branching out as a solo star in the 80s, Jackson soon became the first artist to win eight Grammys. To this day, his debut record, Thriller, remains the best-selling album in the world.
Neil Young (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Neil Young is undoubtedly a music legend. And like some of the other legends on this list, he played a smaller part in a number of bands before truly hitting it big, with Neil Young & Crazy Horse and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young being the biggest.
He’s now one of the most celebrated solo artists to have ever graced a stage, churning out countless number ones and timeless classics like “Old Man,” “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” “Rockin’ in the Free World,” and “Heart of Gold,” to name a few.
Justin Timberlake (N’Sync)
N’SYNC was undeniably successful, iconic even. But as their popularity quietly started to fizzle, Justin Timberlake’s solo career began to sizzle.
Out of all the members of the beloved boyband to go solo, Timberlake quickly proved himself a solo star when his debut album, Justified, dropped. It earned a Grammy and the number two spot on the US Billboard 200. Today, nobody has forgotten where JT got his start, but he’s a household name on his own.
Van Morrison (Them)
Van Morrison always knew what he wanted to do. In 1957, the twelve-year-old formed a band with his friends called The Sputniks, but it would be a few more years before his career took off.
In the 60s, he first found marginal fame as a teen with the group Them. The garage rocker had a few popular singles, but their level of success was nowhere near the magnitude and influence Morrison’s looming solo career.
Diana Ross (The Supremes)
When the Queen of Motown decided to go solo, she still reigned supreme. In the blink of an eye, she went from the lead vocalist of one of the biggest groups ever to a solo superstar adored all over the globe.
Today, the late and great Ms. Ross has two stars on The Hollywood Walk of Fame, one with The Supremes and one on her own.
George Michael (Wham!)
Wham! was huge for a hot minute in the 80s, but George Michael soon proved himself a solo star with staying power.
Before his untimely death, the global pop star released hit record after record for decades. Ranked 40th on Billboard’s “Greatest Hot 100 Artists of All Time,” he’s now a Rock-n-Roll Hall-of-Famer, fondly and forever remembered for his accomplishments as a solo artist.
Normani & Camila Cabello (Fifth Harmony)
After six years with Fifth Harmony, Camila Cabello announced she was leaving to pursue her solo career in 2016. Rumors about conflict within the group were already flying. Two years later, she landed the cover of Rolling Stone and revealed the real reason she decided to leave when she did.
I don’t think there was ever a point where I was like, ‘I want to leave because I’m the breakout star. We were just really young. If we were in the same situation now, it would probably be fine for everyone to make their own music while being in the group, because I think everyone understands now that you can’t limit people. That’s why people break free.Rolling Stone
Much like her grammy-winning group-mate, Normani is no longer “held back” by Fifth Harmony. Following the girl group’s mainstream success, Normani dropped solo hits like “Motivation” and “Dancing With a Stranger,” her sad-pop smash with Sam Smith. Still, fans say those popular tracks are just the beginning of what Normani can really do. And now that she’s officially doing her own thing, we’ll find out soon enough.