Once in a while, everybody needs a change of pace. Whether it’s to try something new without commitment, or to get closer to the person you believe to be deep down, sometimes reinventions are just the natural step forward. This not only applies to everyday life, but also to music.
I’d say there are two common categories of reinventions. The first would be the soulful kind, where an artist seems to be shedding their old skin to reveal a musical style they genuinely enjoy and believe they were meant to create. And then there’s the conceptual reinvention, which takes place when an artist is trying to emulate a conceptual aesthetic. So, without further ado, here's a non-exhaustive list of artists who have undergone some version of a reinvention in their career.
Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love!” is both conceptually and literally, the perfect example of soulful reinvention. Following the release of Because The Internet and Kauai, his fans got used to his cleverly wistful style, so it is fair to say that the 2016 project felt like the sharpest and unexpected left turn for most of his fans and critics. Unbeknownst to most of his fans, Awaken, My Love! was the project Gambino was guaranteed to make at some point in his career.
As he’s mentioned in the past, he was introduced to Funkadelic at a young age and describes the experience as sexual and scary. So really, it was only a matter of time before he made a funk project of his own. From the album cover to the similarities between “Can You Get To That” and “Have Some Love” the album is clearly an ode to Maggot Brain, and a well-rounded modern classic.
Although it is a bit early to tell if this one will stick, one thing is for sure; Clairo underwent a musical reinvention between Immunity and Sling. From dominating the world of bedroom pop with projects like Dairy 001 and Immunity, the singer turned towards a more traditional singer-songwriter style in her most recent project. Leaving behind her usual sound, she collaborated with famed producer and musician Jack Antonoff, creating an album rooted in topics surrounding domesticity, heavily influenced by legendary 70s singer-songwriters. Grand and lush in sound, Sling is Clairo’s most ambitious and, dare I say, best project yet.
I feel like Miley Cyrus is one of those artists that never releases two albums alike. With a discography filled with contrasting genres and reinventions – some better than others – I guess 2010 Miley said it best; she can’t be tamed. Three years after her homecoming project, Younger Now, the singer came back with a new musical identity with her 2020 project Plastic Hearts. Trading her leather nudie suit for leather gloves and Chrome Hearts, she entered what would now be considered her rock era. Unlike the reinventions mentioned previously, this one was expected from both the singer and her fan base. As she’d made it a habit of covering iconic rock songs, it was only a matter of time before she made her own contribution to the genre.
I promise to put this topic to rest after this article, but we can’t talk about conceptual reinventions without mentioning AM’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. A left turn almost as sharp as Gambino’s when he released his funk masterpiece, this project took everybody by surprise, and for good reason. Having gained a considerable amount of fame following their 2013 album AM, the band toured and lead singer Alex Turner released a collaborative project with his long time friend Miles Kane. But when they broke their 5 years of silence, the band came back with the most interesting yet left field project conceivable. Heavily inspired by science fiction films and literature, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a well-executed conceptual reinvention project, if I've ever heard one.
Last on the list we have what I would call a cumulative reinvention. While most artists experience polarizing changes between two albums, Tyler’s discography has always been on its path to glory. With each album showing his evolving – now signature – production style, as well as his long-lasting love for neo-soul chord progressions, you’d have to listen to his first couple songs to feel a real difference. While the changes aren’t necessarily drastic, the further you go into his discography, the more the rapper seems to unapologetically lean into his early influences, while creating his own distinct sound.