Marketing can be a funny thing in the music business. Look at Garth Brooks, who tried a dozen different gimmicks before becoming the world's most famous country singer. Even the Beatles were shaped and forged into the lads we know after an early career dressing like hooligans and nailing condoms to walls during performances.
Image is just too big a part of the game to ignore. So it's probably not surprising that many of the female artists we know and love did not step out of a clamshell, fully realized, into the forms we are most familiar with.
Probably the most famous example on this list, the woman that defined the '90s with her deep lyrics and daring music started out much more Debbie Gibson-ized with a full backing band that included, no joke, Guns N' Roses' Matt Sorum. The whole thing was a ridiculous plan by Atlantic records and thankfully died an early death, which allowed her to try again with the album Little Earthquakes.
Lady Gaga remains one of the most popular artists in the world, and as far as I know is the best-selling female rock star of all time to bathe in a blood fountain onstage. She's known for everything from rumored hermaphroditism to wearing meat.
In the beginning, Gaga fronted the Stefani Germanotta Band and released two EPs, Words and Red and Blue. For a woman who would make mind-trippy videos like "Bad Romance" her trademark, the cover for Red and Blue is tamer than some of the contemporary Christian albums in the world. Hey, speaking of which...
Before she shot things out her breast guns at Snoop, Katy Perry was little Katy Hudson, devout Christian artist. Her first album was recorded at the age of 16 by a record label that soon went broke. Honestly, it's a pretty good record. "Last Call" in particular has a sort of desperate sincerity that tops anything she's put out as Katy Perry.
Believe it or not, you're looking at the first appearance of Pink in recorded music. She spent three years with an R&B group called Choice that was initially very promising.
Even though she, Chrissy Conway, and Sharon Flanagan were flown to Atlanta on the strength of their demo "Key to My Heart" their finished first album was abandoned by LaFace records and never released. The group disbanded, and the song was used in one of the more embarrassing moments of Shaquille O'Neal's career.
Unlike the rest of this list, Alanis Morrisette actually made a name for herself with this unfortunate teen-pop release from 1991. It went platinum, and when she became the Jagged Little Pill we all know and love her original Canadian audience sort of gave her the stink eye and the skeptical finger.
Morrisette herself doesn't shy away from the work, and even considered including songs on her compilations before rejecting them as incongruent with her later catalog.
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Now, I am the first one to admit that the cover of Bjork's first release actually looks as Bjork-like as anything she's ever done. It's that strange combination of the uncanny, the exotic and the beautiful that is her trademark. What's bizarre about it is that she's 11 years old in that shot, and she looks more or less the same now. She could release an album tomorrow with this exact cover and no one would bat an eyelash, despite its being 35 years older.
And that's because Bjork is one of the fae, and now that I think about it the signs she does have of aging really look more like poorly applied age make up to hide the fact that she is really a magic creature that is likely immortal.