Being a singer isn’t as glamorous as it may sound. Sure, you get to be famous, do worldwide tours and get rich and have fans following you. But the music industry is a fickle business. You can be a mega-star selling out stadiums and a few years later, you’re doing shows at county fairs. It takes special talents to maintain their excellence and fame over years or decades and still be mega-stars. Of course, even they aren’t infallible and their live shows can go wrong quite often. In 2015, Madonna famously fell off the stage at an awards show but kept on going and others are able to avoid some bad falls. But in other cases, live performances take a major twist that can shake things up. Sometimes, they’re planned to go wrong such as Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl. But others are far more disastrous and definitely unintentional.
The most likely incidence is lip-synching fails as fans will take it the wrong way to realize their star isn’t singing live. Sometimes they can get away with it but other times it can be a major blow to their standing. Other occasions have them just doing a terrible performance, bad singing, bad dancing and other nuances that turn a performance into a mess. Some musicians have actually seen their entire careers collapse because of these bad performances. From awards shows to TV appearances, these are times some famous stars ruined live performances and turned themselves into jokes. Here are the 15 biggest cases of when a star’s live musical performance went horribly wrong and became memorable for the wrong reasons.
15. Christina Aguilera
There’s a separate list to be made of bad performances of the National Anthem (Roseanne Barr comes to mind here). Still, it’s something when an experienced and fantastic performer manages to mess up a song every American should know by heart. By 2011, Christina Aguilera had left her “dirty” phase in the dust, becoming known once more for her fantastic voice and great presence and thus being selected to sing the Anthem for the 2011 Super Bowl made total sense. Aguilera herself stated she’d sung it numerous times before and to do it at the Super Bowl was a dream come true.
It turned out to be a nightmare. Her vocals should have been great but didn’t seem quite able to handle the high notes needed for the song. But far worse was when Aguilera made the unforgivable error of messing up the lyrics. Instead of “O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming” she improvised “What so proudly we watched at the twilight’s last reaming.” She managed to correct it to finish on a high note that came a bit too screeching. Her performance became more notable than the game itself with Aguilera apologizing for messing it up. She’s done well since but screwing up on a stage like this is pretty bad.
14. Iggy Azalea
The Australian rapper has gotten big stateside with her great style and fun songs. Using Youtube to achieve further fame and social media to enhance her status, Iggy is a fun artist to watch and has gotten plenty of airtime on various shows. Dancing With the Stars has always enjoyed using live acts to enhance the dancing and figured Iggy Azalea was a good choice. Performing her song “Fancy,” Azalea started okay but then seemed to stumble and rapping in synch with some ad libbing. She then completely stopped to say “there’s something wrong with my ear” but the backup dancers continued to do their routine. They finally did stop to start over with Azalea apologizing online about her earpiece messing things up. It hasn’t hurt her career totally but still an embarrassing bit that showed Azalea needs to learn how to manage a performance better to avoid such mess-ups in the future.
13. Cheryl Cole
The English singer got her start in the girl band Girls Aloud that was a success in the early 2000s. Breaking away, Cole began to enjoy a successful solo career with five straight solo number one hits in the UK. She also began work as a judge on the hit The X Factor program to enjoy further success. However, her relationship was rough with accusations of fixing acts and a falling out leading to her exiting.
An incident that didn’t help was in 2012 when Cole appeared on the annual Stand Up to Cancer event for the UK to sing her song “Call My Name.” It was soon obvious that the audio was off with Cole miming words but her voice not playing despite the background track going on. Cole clearly had no idea what was happening, continuing to “sing” without realizing the voice wasn’t on and dancing and later defended herself saying it was simply technical problems. It didn’t do too much to hurt her popularity as she’s continued with hits but still a clear indication that she’s more a “manufactured” artist than she claims to be.
12. Whitney Houston
It’s hard to speak ill of the dead, especially one as amazingly talented as Whitney Houston was. In her late ’80s and early ‘90s prime, the Grammy winner singer was hailed for her breathtaking voice behind hits like “I Will Always Love You” and “Saving All My Love For You” among others. She was even starring in movies like The Bodyguard and had it all. Which was why her performance at a 2001 concert for Michael Jackson was shocking as Houston looked so thin that the TV airing of the concert digitally added more muscle to her. The next several years had Houston getting bad press for drug use, her marriage to Bobby Brown, as well as her rough and diva behavior.
In 2010, she tried to come back with her “Nothing But Love” tour with a stop in Brisbane, Australia. As soon as it ended, reports filled the Internet that Houston had not just flopped but many seriously worried about her health. She appeared disoriented, her voice flat and not able to reach any of her usual high notes, coughing fits and out of breath. Thousands of fans walked out in the middle of the show with demands of refunds and it haunted the rest of her tour. Houston would pass on just two years later and while most prefer to remember her in her prime, this concert showed how rough her last years were.
Nirvana helped introduce “grunge rock” and indeed the entire grunge style when they burst on the scene in 1991. Led by Kurt Cobain, the band found a massive fanbase with hits like “Nevermind” and scoring with their lyrics for troubled youths. While they were a hit on MTV, the band had a rough relationship with the network, worried about being seen as “selling out” as Cobain considered himself a true artist. Despite that, Nirvana was huge business so MTV wanted them to perform at the 1992 Video Music Awards. Clashes happened right off as Cobain wanted to play a controversial song but the network insisted on “Lithium.” So there came a performance where Cobain stumbled around, tripping on wires and climbing up the speakers, Dave Grohl got on the mic to call out Axl Rose, and Krist Novoselic threw his guitar into the air only to have it land on his head so hard he needed stitches. It was a messy performance yet only added to the band’s aura of playing by their own rules. Of course, Cobain’s inner demons would push him to suicide two years later and thus this performance could be a warning sign to his sad end.
When you put a dollar sign in your name, it’s only natural you’re a little quirky in your performances. Ke$ha has proven that with her wild style, mixing up classic pop stuff with more experimental styles to stand out with a great clothing style of her own. However, putting that in more mainstream shows can backfire and her 2010 performance on Saturday Night Live showed that. Her singing of “Tik Tok” had her dancing in a caped outfit that resembled a metallic American flag while slamming on drums. It was bizarre even before she stopped to suddenly say “did anyone ever stop to think that maybe we’re the aliens?” That was followed by a performance with her in day-glow paint that was ripped off from Sia. Her vocals were tired and not into the energy of her club performances. While her singing can be fun, these performances made her look like a bargain bin Lady Gaga and how relying on a wild style could work against her.
9. Sinead O’Connor
Technically, her performance was perfectly okay. It was what came afterward that turned it into a debacle. With her bald head and fantastic voice, O’Connor rose quickly in 1990 thanks to her smash hit “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Outspoken on various issues like religion, O’Connor balanced her fire with her singing to be a major star and looked to rise further. In 1992, she appeared on Saturday Night Live with her second song being the anthem “War.” It was a powerful piece delivered simply and had it ended there, it would have been perfectly okay. But then, as it ended, O’Connor held up a photo of Pope John Paul II, declared “fight the real enemy” and tore it in half. The NBC switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree and O’Connor should be grateful Twitter didn’t exist back then to rake her over the coals. She defended herself on making a stand about the abuses of the Catholic Church but it was received very poorly to say the least. Her career never fully recovered and while it shows the passion that ignited her music, this performance also helped ruin O’Connor’s standing forever.
8. Axl Rose
Once, Guns N’ Roses was the hottest band on the planet. They drove a new sound in L.A. with their brutal lyrics and hard rocking tunes before exploding onto the mainstream in 1988. Led by Axl Rose, the band smashed album records and sold out major concerts. But Rose soon got in trouble for his massive ego, once causing a literal riot when he decided to walk out after a half hour in a concert. The band split amid rumors of various returns that never came to be. In 2002, the VMAs announced a special surprise guest to close out the show. When host Jimmy Fallon yelled it was Guns N’ Roses, the place went wild. However, what they got was an Axl Rose who sounded hoarse and possibly hung over, barely able to hit the right notes on classics “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City.” Worse was that the band didn’t include the original members with Slash replaced by a guitarist with a plastic mask over his face. You could see the looks of dismay among the crowd as it continued and Conan O’Brien summed it up by joking the band would be known as “Tubby McGee and the guys who aren’t Slash.” While the real Guns have reunited since, this ranks as a bad case of bait and switch not helped by Rose’s bad singing.
7. Lana Del Rey
The alluring former model has been hailed for her almost cinematic taste in music, her lush vocals turning her albums into hits. She has a good presence in person and after her “Video Games” became a viral hit, she was soon getting major offers. In 2012, she appeared on Saturday Night Live to perform “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans” and it was soon one of the most ripped-on performances in the history of the show. Critics tore into her poor singing and stilted lyrics, feeling stiff and unemotional and seemingly not ready for the televised performance. Celebrities from Brian Williams to Juliette Lewis chimed in on Twitter to also trash the performance. Even SNL itself chimed in with Kristin Wiig as Del Rey talking about how “I must have clubbed a baby seal while singing the Taliban national anthem.” Del Rey has had a good career since but this performance threw a shade on her not being as effective in person as she was online that has followed her since.
6. Britney Spears
In 2000, you’d be hard-pressed to find a star as incredibly hot and huge as Britney Spears. With hits like “…Baby One More Time” and others, Spears was a great singer. But more famous were her looks, her sultry sexuality on full display and selling out magazines. However, Spears hit a very rough patch with a bad marriage to Kevin Federline, some arrests and the famous bit of shaving her head bald and attacking a car with an umbrella. So expectations were high when she was announced as the opening act for the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards with hopes of it being a huge comeback. Her performance of “Gimme More” was ripped to shreds by critics with poor dancing and Spears looking dazed and out of it. She was also criticized for a bad look with weight and rough dance moves and accusations of lip-synching to boot. It was a massive debacle despite some defenders with Spears’ career suffering a hit for it. She’s bounced back since but this performance ranks as a sad example of a hot talent in a cold patch.
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Peppers have always had a wild and fun style that leads to great energy for their live performances. However, a 1992 performance on Saturday Night Live had that energy in the wrong direction. Fans expected the band to rock hard for their hit “Under the Bridge” that thrust the band into a limelight. What fans didn’t know was that guitarist John Frusciante was never comfortable with that fame, leading to clashes with his bandmates. So for this appearance on national TV, Frusciante decided that instead of going wild on the guitar chords, he would play “Under the Bridge” in completely the wrong key and slow as hell. It’s obvious the rest of the band hated it, Anthony Kedis doing his best to sing in the same key but he and the others in the band are clearly throwing angry looks at Frusciante through it all. Kedis would later write that he felt “stabbed in the back and hung out to dry” by the move. Amazingly, the performance did nothing to hurt the band; in fact, their album sales increased after the show although Frusciante would leave the band at the end of that year. But it shows what happens when in-band tensions erupt on live TV.
4. Mariah Carey
The most recent entry on this list although Mariah Carey has long had a career of rough live performances. There was her famous appearance on TRL Live in 2001 where she nearly did a striptease and acted drunk. Other live performances have been marked by some bad singing and dancing. But nothing can top the absolutely ludicrous performance Carey made on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rocking Eve 2016. From the start, it seemed off with Carey not speaking but her voice clearly heard on speakers. She talked about how she “couldn’t hear” and talking to the audience while also directing her dancers. The fact her vocals could be heard singing just made it incredibly bizarre. Even worse was when Carey tried to sing one of her best-known songs “We Belong Together” and seemed to forget the words with half the audience trying to sing along and the other half laughing. Carey’s reps blame ABC for bad technical issues while ABC blames them for bungling the performance. In either case, it ended up being a performance that seemed the perfect capper for 2016 in all the wrong ways.
3. Lindsay Lohan
It’s almost too easy to pick on Lindsay Lohan. In 2004, she exploded onto the scene as a great talent with Mean Girls and other movies that showed her rising stardom. She also took off as an incredibly sexy beauty with magazine spreads and seemed ready to take off to the A-list. But then came the fall with movie flops mixed with reports of Lohan having a diva attitude. Before all that, Lohan tried to add music to her accolades and showed up on Good Morning America to perform “Over” from her album Speak. It quickly became obvious her lips weren’t matching the lyrics blasting over speakers and while Lohan would deny she was lip-synching, the evidence is pretty clear. She didn’t seem that into the performance at all, rough to watch and led to some bad press. Since then, Lohan has become more famous as a tabloid joke thanks to drug use and arrests. Thus, this bad performance really shows the first step to her long hard road downward.
2. Milli Vanilli
Milli Vanilli could only have worked in 1989. German producer Frank Farian had put out some singles like “Girl You Know It’s True.” When they became surprise hits, Farian decided the real singers weren’t attractive enough and so managed to get Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, a pair of Munich dancers, to be the “singers” for a video. Before long, a full album became a worldwide smash and the duo were among the biggest music acts of the time, even winning a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Today, it would take someone ten seconds on Youtube to figure out there was no way these two men, who barely spoke English, could be singing these songs. Somehow, they managed to keep it going but at a July concert in 1990 for MTV, the audio track for “Girl” went off and began repeating itself while Rob and Fab continued to dance and “sing”. Had Twitter existed then, it would have been all over the place but as it was, the story did spread a bit. It made Farian realize the scam was coming undone and so a few months later, revealed it all to the public. Milli Vanilli instantly became the go-to answer for grand fraud, poor Morvan and Pilatus slammed by the public with the latter later dying of a drug overdose. The scam would have been undone in the end but this performance was key to collapsing the entire act.
1. Ashlee Simpson
Few times can you pinpoint the exact moment a promising career goes down in flames. At first known as Jessica Simpson’s younger sister, Ashlee was starting to become famous in 2004 with her own reality show. An actress, she was moving into music with a successful album, looking authentic with her dark hair and sharp humor. In a case of tempting fate, in late October of that year, VH1 declared Ashlee was having “The Best Week Ever” on their weekly show of the same name. That weekend, Simpson was the musical guest for Saturday Night Live and her first number went over great. She then went to her second one, “Autobiography” only for the speakers to start blasting the performance of “Pieces of Me” she had just done. The band started to play it as Simpson did a bizarre “jig” on stage as the show quickly cut to commercial. Simpson showed up in the nightly goodbyes to claim “they played the wrong song so I tried to do a hoedown.” She defended herself on having acid reflux and told not to sing live but the backlash was massive. Simpson’s career never recovered and she has admitted it was a total debacle that crushed her career fast.