Actors Turned Musicians: The Best of Both Worlds?

by Jessikah Hope Stenson

Many Disney stars have attempted to produce music following acting success by abusing the growth of their young fanbase. The generic audience of thirteen-year-old girls is a powerful one, and when they’re not funding Justin Beiber’s new car, they’re funding the success of many role models who can be found on the Disney Channel. Strangely, it’s often women who tend to veer into music and become brands that sing rather than renowned musicians. The rich and famous are greedily taking up space in the music industry that would otherwise be occupied by bands that are starting out and attempting to make a name for themselves. And you thought Disney faces were sweet.

The nature of Disney is to produce actors that can also sing – plenty of Disney movies are musicals, so it’s not the case that these actors can’t sing at all. Put it this way, they wouldn’t fail an audition on X-Factor. Successful High School Musical star, Vanessa Hudgens, gained a sturdy following but singing for a Disney film is somewhat different to launching a career as a professional musician – shocker.

There are other Disney actresses that have in fact made the move into music smoothly. Just compare the Selena Gomez of today to her character on Wizards Of Waverly Place and you will see that not a single part of her image is the same. Her supposed ex-best-friend Demi Lovato also became a successful pop artist and I’d go as far as saying that neither of them are necessarily associated with Disney any more. Why? Gomez and Lovato have explored genres that don’t target their Disney following and have marketed their music in a way that will appeal to an older generation. This has gained them supporters who weren’t there for their Disney days, unveiling that they do have some musical talent. Gomez’s notorious Come & Get It and Lovato’s track Heart Attack indicate that the ultimate factor that makes or breaks a music career for a Disney star seems to be no different to that of a local band – talent.

The whole point of talent is that it’s not that common. The likes of Emily Osment, Miranda Cosgrove, and Ashley Tisdale have all launched, and crashed, in their music careers suggesting that some actresses should just stay actresses. Dylan Sprouse said it perfectly when he responded to a fan’s tweet: “‘Why do Cole and Dylan do that with their hair?’ Remember, we could have a Disney singing career. So you owe us.” As though putting your fans through a singing career is an act of torture (it is). Also, notice that he wrote “singing career” and not “music career”. Very rarely to Disney stars dream of picking up an instrument – they are often mediocre singers manipulated by their management into a brand that can also sell lunchboxes. It’s like killing two birds with one stone - say hello to a Vanessa Hudgens album and lunchbox bundle! Is it not obvious that the young Disney fanbase of today won’t be around for long? Most Disney actresses who turn to music have short-lived careers because their audience have grown-up and moved on before they reach a second album.

It seems the more distance from Disney, the better in this case. Let’s talk about everyone’s favourite, non-controversial Disney star, Miley Cyrus, otherwise known as Hannah Montana. Although her sound and image is completely different these days, she has always been an actress and a musician because her role of Hannah Montana required it. Nowadays, Cyrus can be found swinging on a wrecking ball, and because of this has a completely new group of followers. Even her sound has changed – from acoustic country to gritty pop. This reinvention has led to her controversy – but also her independence as a musician.

Cyrus is a rare case but she is not the only one to have successfully built a music career following an upbringing with Disney. Who remembers Aly & AJ? They are a prime example of Disney actresses who picked up instruments and formed a band, and they’re still making music now. Did you know Ariana Grande began as a Disney Actress? Grande has made the shift from acting to music smoothly and is continually broadening her fan-base by not advertising herself as a face of Disney.

Alas, you do not have to be a Disney actress to become a musician. Hayden Panetteire attempted a music career and received a startlingly negative backlash, despite her popularity. Disclaimer: Panetteire’s singing career only began after she recorded a song for A Bug’s Life with Disney. So perhaps, Disney does have a way to infect the minds of their actors and push them to sing…

It’s as simple as this: all Disney musicians began as actors, in most cases because they couldn’t become musicians without the audience they established through their acting. It’s not that these women have no musical talent, it’s that their talent lies best in the career they were already pursuing.

Outside the world of Disney, it’s not just actresses that have taken a shot at music. Paris Hilton’s music career was a whole one album in length. The credits list for her only album, Paris, are abnormally long – with eighteen performers, most of which are vocal ones. It truly makes you wonder how large Hilton’s contribution to the album really was. Perhaps the gossip that Paris Hilton had recorded some songs was the extent of her contribution. Needless to say, the album wasn’t popular amongst critics. The only country in which Paris reached number one was Turkey… Go figure.

Likewise, TV Personality Kim Kardashian seems to have attempted every possible career from television to modelling to launching clothing collections, fragrances, and endorsing food products. So when Kardashian put forth a music career, it was expected and laughable. Even better, Kanye West cameoed in the music video to Kardashian’s song Jam (Turn It Up), I expect in an attempt to boost the view count. By incorporating a real musician, Kardashian poses as an artist herself. Yet, The Daily News described the song as “a dead-brained piece of generic dance music, without a single distinguishing feature” and labelled Kardashian the “worst singer in the reality TV universe”. You would think that these celebrities would learn from the mistakes of their peers and save themselves the embarrassment.

In some ways the sheer volume of celebrities who have pursued music is a tragedy for the industry. Not only because plenty of the music produced lacks anything special, but because in the meantime small-town bands are struggling to get off the ground, sharing their latest demo over Facebook in the hope that their family and friends will like it and spread their sound. Famous figures are in a much stronger position to put their music in front of audience while often lacking the skills required to produce a high quality release.

To put it bluntly – there’s nothing wrong with experimenting with music while already a renowned figure. However, I have much more respect for those who distance themselves from their roots, like Gomez and Lovato, who display real talent, creativity, independence and flair. They took the long road into music by distancing themselves from their roots and rebuilding the brand behind their name, which shows their genuine desire to be musicians, and to be themselves.

Although some people enjoy the music made by these actors-gone-artists, I beg the question – did they admire the person behind the music, before the music? I suppose when Kim Kardashian took a crack at music, it really showed how many celebrities perceive music to be an easy career to pursue. These celebrities learn the hard way that it takes more than just fans from your previous work to sustain a successful career in music. It takes talent, hard-work, commitment and so much more.