The music industry is a fickle, unforgiving, coldhearted beast. While one minute it will welcome you with open arms, as soon as you’re not the flavor of the week, you’re forgotten. Of course, that’s somewhat of an exaggeration; after all, some musicians have managed to forge careers decades-long, but it’s not as easy as it used to be. It takes more than a tour, a few t-shirts with your name on them and a video on MTV to make it big and stay in the spotlight.
These days, musicians need to brand themselves. They need to wear many hats, often getting involved in side projects, directing, acting, and marketing their own products when they’re not making music. It’s the only way to stay relevant and to make money. If you go more than a year or two without anyone hearing a peep out of you, people are going to forget about you entirely. (Unless you’re Adele.) But for everyone else, you’re going to be forgotten about except by your most diehard fans.
Just take a look at these former stars. Once, they were at the pinnacle of popular music. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing their songs on the radio or turn on a TV without seeing their faces. They clung to their onetime status as huge star and hoped to ascend to the same lofty place that time had forced them to abandon. As you’re about to read, it’s definitely not that easy to reclaim a lost throne, and these musicians all fell short.
How you remember her: Probably best-known for being part of the all-women supergroup (of sorts) that re-recorded “Lady Marmalade” in the early aughts, Mya has also been plugging away at her own career since her 1998 self-titled debut. As a Grammy award winner and the singer of such major singles as “Case of the Ex” and “It’s All About Me,” Mya has released seven albums, acted, done philanthropic work, and even appeared on Dancing with the Stars.
How you don’t want to remember her: In February 2016, she will release Smoove Jones, an album whose production she self-funded. That tells you a lot already. It was also recorded on her own label, which tells you that much more. There are limited physical copies available.
How you remember her: Ciara, after breaking apart from her band Hearsay, had a hot streak with her 2004 debut Goodies and her 2006 follow-up Ciara: The Evolution. Both albums were full of singles, like “Goodies”, “1, 2 Step”, “Oh,”, “Like A Boy”, “Get Up.” Gradually, in the mid-2010s, she started gravitating towards acting. Then she met Future and seemed to become a family woman by 2014, when she gave birth to her son Future Zahir Wilburn.
How you don’t want to remember her: Motherhood is great and all, but clearly Ciara felt the call of showbiz once more, so she decided to release an album in 2015 called Jackie. Even though the album was inspired by the birth of her child, which she claims changed her life, and expands on the balance she found on her previous album, “urban pop-slash-R&B-hip-hop record”, it sold badly — only about 20,000 copies.
8. Stone Temple Pilots
How you remember them: Although often accused of ripping off the popular grunge acts of the day, especially Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots don’t even hail from Seattle. Instead, the recently-deceased Scott Weiland and company are from San Diego. The band managed to stand out though, penning major hits like “Plush,” “Sex Type Thing,” “Tripping on a Hole in a Paper Heart,” and “Wicked Garden.” Weiland later moved on to Velvet Revolver with the former members of Guns N’ Roses.
How you don’t want to remember them: Weiland had a lot of drug problems, which ultimately led to his unfortunate death. The rest of the band decided to get back together without him, while he was still alive, choosing Chester Bennington of Linkin Park to fill the singer’s shoes. The group released one EP in 2013 called High Rise. Bennington was too drastic of a change from Weiland though, and people had some pretty strong opinions on this “reunion.”
7. Limp Bizkit
How you remember them: Although nu-metal was at its height in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Limp Bizkit’s existence predates that, as the band formed in 1994. Still, they didn’t hit it big until 1999’s Significant Other, which featured the mega hit “Nookie.” So far, people have snatched up more than 40 million Limp Bizkit records across the planet. The 2000 follow-up, Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water, sold quite well, but by this time Limp Bizkit’s star had already begun to fall.
How you don’t want to remember them: Although people cared less and less, Fred Durst and company kept churning out albums, including 2003’s Results May Vary, 2005’s The Unquestionable Truth (Part I), and 2011’s Gold Cobra, which did decently at best. It only ever hit the 16th spot on the Billboard 200, and you have a feeling that the album had to scratch and claw its way to get there. Still, despite that everyone but Fred Durst understands that Limp Bizkit’s heyday has come and gone, the band is releasing another album called Stampede of the Disco Elephants sooner rather than later.
6. Ja Rule
How you remember him: Heating up the rap scene in 1999, Ja Rule has a laundry list of singles. He also worked with several talented singers, like R. Kelly (“Wonderful”), Ashanti (“Mesmerize” and “Always on Time”), Jennifer Lopez (“Ain’t It Funny), and Christina Milian (“Between Me & You”). By 2005, after the record label he was signed to (Murder Inc.) got in trouble for potential drug-dealing, Ja Rule ducked out and took a break. He returned in 2009, also dabbling in acting.
How you don’t want to remember him: After 2012, when Ja Rule released Pain Is Love 2, we kind of thought that was it. Now it appears that he’ll be back this year with Genius Loves Company. Although there’s little known about the album, Pain Is Love 2 sold a meager 3,200 copies its first week, so we doubt this one will do better.
5. Lil Mama
How you remember her: You probably recall Lil Mama for that insanely catchy single “Lip Gloss,” which was on her 2008 album VYP (Voice of the Young People). Although that song itself went gold and is still beloved today, Mama didn’t follow up on the fame. In 2009 at the MTV VMAs, she crashed the stage as Alicia Keys and Jay-Z were performing, hanging around even though she was uninvited. Less embarrassing, she was Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez in CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, the VH1 movie about the group.
How you don’t want to remember her: Lil Mama is back…with a mixtape! Although it spawned yet another huge single called “Sausage,” instead of releasing a proper album, she’s taken other people’s songs and added her own touches to them. You can only stream the mixtape, which is called, appropriately enough, Take Me Back.
4. Mazzy Star
How you remember them: This shoegaze band, formed in 1989, was led by Hope Sandoval. Her dreamy voice is a perfect accompaniment to the band’s early material. The group’s biggest song is the romantic “Fade into You” from 1993’s So Tonight That I May See.
How you don’t want to remember them: Mazzy Star only has four albums total. The group followed up So Tonight That I May See with 1996’s Among My Swan, which did pretty well. Then Sandoval and company disappeared. Well, until 2013, when they came back out of nowhere and gave us the color-by-numbers Seasons of Your Day. Shoegaze definitely had its time, and it’s not now.
3. Brandy and Monica
How you remember them: Unless you were living under a rock in the late 1990s, then surely you heard the Brandy and Monica song “The Boy Is Mine,” where the two R&B crooners fight over a man that they both want for themselves. Although Brandy Norwood was already a household name at that point, Monica was not, and since the song was released on her album, also called The Boy Is Mine, she was catapulted into mainstream success. The album went triple platinum.
How you don’t want to remember them: To this day, Norwood has stayed relevant, releasing albums and acting in Broadway shows. Monica? She still produces music, but she’s not really that memorable anymore. What better way to get people interested again than with a new duet? “It All Belongs to Me,” on Monica’s 2012 album New Life, was called overhyped, and since it only ever reached number 23 on the charts (not even Hot 100, “Hot R&B/ Hip-Hop”), the critics were right.
2. Avril Lavigne
How you remember her: It was tough to forget the day that Avril Lavigne came into our lives with her super thick eyeliner and catchy songs about punk rock and skat8r bois. However, she was only 17 when she released Let Go, her very first album, so we can excuse the blatant lack of maturity. Other singles like “Don’t Tell Me” and “My Happy Ending” showed more depth, but not much. She married Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley in what ultimately wasn’t pop-punk matrimony, and, in a cringe-worthy moment of all cringe-worthy moments, was Nickelback leader Chad Kroeger’s wife for a while.
How you don’t want to remember her: That was around the same time that she gave us her self-titled album, which couldn’t even be saved with names like Marilyn Manson and Kroeger as contributors. Selling more poorly than any of Lavigne’s other body of work, she also caught some flak for the song “Hello Kitty,” which would have fit much better musically and lyrically on her first album. Oh yeah, and she got a few charges of racism thrown her way too. Fun.
1. Britney Spears
How you remember her: We all fondly recall the early days of Britney Spears’ career when she wore a short skirt and pigtails in the “Baby One More Time” video. So much has changed since 1999 though, and while Brit-Brit has released albums consistently, she’s made horrible dating decisions, had a mental breakdown in 2007, had to have her father or manager (sometims boyfriend) look after her money, and then tried to resurface at the 2007 VMAs only to be unfairly ridiculed for her figure and her performance (okay, that part may have been warranted).
How you don’t want to remember her: For all intents and purposes, Spears is doing a lot better these days, with a successful residency in Las Vegas. Musically though, the “Oops I Did It Again” singer continues to tank. After splitting with JIVE Records, Britney Jean hit store shelves in 2013, and it sold only 107,000 copies in the United States in its first week. That’s Spears’ worst to date, and it didn’t do much better internationally.