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Top 10 Musicians Who Destroyed Their Careers on Stage

Top 10 Musicians Who Destroyed Their Careers on Stage
VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Jack Paisley
These musical artists were their own worst enemies. For this list, we'll be looking at artists who sabotaged their careers on stage with bad performances, controversial statements, live meltdowns, and so on. Our countdown includes Ashlee Simpson, Eric Clapton, Janet Jackson, and more!


Script Written by Jack Paisley

Musicians Who Destroyed Their Careers on Stage


These artists are their own worst enemies. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Musicians Who Destroyed Their Careers on Stage

For this list, we’ll be looking at artists who sabotaged their careers on stage with bad performances, controversial statements, live meltdowns, and so on. We’re including artists who eventually made a comeback, as long as their careers faced significant setbacks.

#10: Robin Thicke

Following the release of his 2015 single, “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke's career took off, crashed, and burned all within a short span of time. The song itself was part of Thicke’s problem, with many critics arguing that the lyrics are misogynistic and trivialize consent. However, it was Thicke’s live performances in the months that followed that truly sank his career. Thicke performed an outrageously vulgar and unanimously loathed live rendition of “Blurred Lines'' at the VMAs with Miley Cyrus. Soon after, Thicke’s wife, Paula Patton, left him; in response, he begged her to take him back in subsequent live performances and even released an album called “Paula”. This only turned even more people off the falling star. Pretty cringe Robin!

#9: Eric Clapton

One of the most prolific rock musicians of all time, Eric Clapton is famous for his role in bringing the blues to Britain. Still, you’d expect that someone with such fondness for blues music would have a better grasp of its history. In 1976, during a concert in Birmingham, Clapton launched into a crass and hateful rant involving various racial slurs, said that all foreigners should leave England, encouraged people to vote for a far-right politician, and used the slogan “keep Britain white.” This concert immediately sparked outrage throughout England, with many artists denouncing Clapton, and inspiring the “Rock Against Racism” movement.

#8: Sly Stone

Vocalist Sly Stone was the frontman of one of the most well-regarded funk acts of the 60s. However, the careers of Sly and his band, The Family Stone, imploded quickly in the mid 70s. The group became notorious for ruining live performances with members no-showing, refusing to play, or passing out from drug abuse. While this already added a bittersweet taste to Sly’s legacy, the vocalist dealt his career a death-blow while performing solo at Coachella in 2010. Sporting a strange blonde wig, and clearly not in any mental state to perform, Sly performed a feeble and cheerless set filled with sub-par vocal work and incoherent ranting. Regrettable, considering that this performance was intended to mark Sly’s comeback.

#7: Janet Jackson

This one is just unfortunate. At the 2004 Super Bowl, musical guests Janet Jackson experienced what was later described as a “wardrobe malfunction”. At the end of their performance together, Justin Timberlake tore off Jackson’s rubber bustier, briefly exposing her breast to millions of stunned audiences. While this finale was planned, Jackson’s representative claimed it was supposed to expose her red lacy bra, not her breast. Dubbed “Nipplegate,” the incident prompted a proposed $550,000 fine by the Federal Communications Commission, had MTV banned from producing future halftime shows, and caused Jackson’s music and videos to be blacklisted by television and radio stations.

#6: Michelle Shocked

Michelle Shocked was never a huge star by any stretch, but the alt-folk singer had a decently sized following up until an infamous 2013 concert in San Francisco. True to her name, concert-goers were shocked when the singer made clear her feelings towards “Proposition 8,” the banning of same-sex marriage in California. Shocked expressed her belief that marriage is only legitimate between a man and a woman, and though she maintained that she was not homophobic, many were unconvinced. Shocked’s career quickly fizzled out following these comments. Why Shocked thought that this would fly in San Francisco of all places is anyone’s guess.

#5: The Everly Brothers

Ah, brotherly love. Country-Pop legends The Everly Brothers were fundamental to the history of American music, with dozens of hits throughout the 50s and 60s. Sadly, the years were not kind to brothers Don and Phil, whose careers slowly declined up until one fateful night in 1973. When Don showed up to play the duos’ set at Buena Park, California, Phil was furious to find out that his brother was completely drunk. After a booking agent had to stop the show due to Don’s condition, Phil smashed his guitar and stormed off stage while Don proclaimed “I’m through with being an Everly Brother.” They wouldn’t reunite for another ten years.

#4: The Dixie Chicks

During a 2003 concert in England, Dixie Chicks vocalist Natalie Maines denounced the US’s invasion of Iraq and lamented that President Bush was from their home-state of Texas. This went over fine in England, but triggered a major controversy in the US, where many felt that these comments were anti-American. Celebrities and fellow musicians slammed the group, people burned their records, and some radios and television stations boycotted their music. For years this controversy was a major obstacle for the Dixie Chicks’ careers, though now it seems that the group have begun to make a well-deserved comeback.

#3: Sinead O’Connor

Clarity is key when you’re making a point. Just ask late-80s icon Sinead O’Connor. At the end of her infamous 1992 performance on Saturday Night Live, O'Connor ripped up a photo of Pope Jean Paul II and declared “Fight the real enemy” in protest of the Catholic church. While the act was O’Connor’s response to various stories that had just come to light about corruption and misconduct within the institution, many viewers misinterpreted her call to action. It was instead seen as an anti-catholic sentiment and the backlash was brutal, with O’Connors’s record sales in the US suffering considerably. O'Connor continued to make music and perform, but her career has never fully recovered.

#2: Ashlee Simpson

Another SNL mishap, though infamous for very different reasons. In 2004 Ashlee Simspon was making a name for herself with a couple of big hits on the radio, until it all came crashing down during one calamitous performance. During Simpson’s second song of the night, it was revealed that the singer had lip-synced her previous performance when the incorrect vocal track was played over the monitors without Simpson mouthing along. Unsure of how to react, a visibly shaken Simpson attempted to cut the tension by awkwardly dancing around until the show cut to commercial. While it’s doubtful that Simpson’s career would have set the world ablaze, this incident certainly removed all doubt moving forward, with media outlets mercilessly vilifying and mocking the young artist.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honourable, or in this case, dishonourable mentions.

Lindsay Lohan
Caught Lip Syncing to a Vocal Track on “Good Morning America” in 2004.

Green Day
Singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s Meltdown at an iHeartRadio Music Festival in 2012

Guns N’ Roses
Terrible Live Performances Dating Back to 1991

#1: Milli Vanilli

Perhaps the most notable lip-syncing scandal of all time, German-French R&B duo Milli Vanilli shocked the world when the recording of their vocal tracks skipped during a 1989 MTV live performance. Already a bad look for the duo, things only got worse for them as this incident led to the revelation that all of the vocals for all of their live shows and albums were performed by other people. The group were subsequently torn to pieces by the media and former fans, compelling Milli Vanilli to return the Grammy that they’d won that same year. About the live performance, singer Rob Pilatus would later state: “ I knew right then and there, it was the beginning of the end for Milli Vanilli.”
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