Pop stars grow and change regularly; if they didn’t, they’d all be one-hit wonders and we’d all be bored by any given artist’s second album. But 2015 was about more than just change — it was about transformation.
This year, we saw different kinds of growth in the pop realm. There were comebacks from some of the greats, like Gwen Stefani, Janet Jackson and Missy Elliott. We also witnessed several bands take the reigns on their own legacies, like One Direction, who proved losing a member can’t drag them down, and 5 Seconds of Summer, who beat the sophomore album slump by scoring a No. 1 record.
But the most fascinating transformations to witness were the ones from the reigning young princes and princesses of the genre. Nick Jonas, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber were the five most prominent examples of artists carving out individual identities and asserting themselves as powerhouse pop contenders. Let’s take a look at how each of these stars revived their image, built their confidence, and found their purpose.
Nick JonasGetty Images
Nick’s transformation actually started to take root in late 2014, when he released his self-titled debut album and posed for his now-infamous, nearly-naked Flaunt magazine shoot. But while last year was mostly about Nick showing off his, uh, physical growth (we get it, the purity ring is long gone), this year was when he started to carve out his identity in more artistic ways.
Musically, Nick basically took all the adult lust that’s been suppressing him and turned it into a mature, throwback R&B album. Fans got to see his transformation in the flesh when he toured in support of the record, but there was still more to come. His re-release, Nick Jonas X2, featured three new tracks and four remixes, including the sexy and slick “Levels.”
It would’ve been easy for Nick to coast on the burgeoning buzz around his solo career, but he continued to prove himself a multi-talented chameleon by beefing up his acting resume with a second season of the MMA drama “Kingdom” and a short-lived but memorable turn in the dark comedy series “Scream Queens.”
With Nick’s older bro Joe also carving out his own niche in the music world, the Jonas Brothers’ heyday has never seemed so distant. Sure, the trio could reunite one fine day, but Nick’s made it clear he’s a formidable force on his own, and hopefully we’ll get to see the full extent of that in the coming years. 2016 is already shaping up to be a big year for him as well: he and Demi Lovato are co-founding their own artist-centric record label and are hitting the road together for a joint tour. Which brings us to Miss D herself…
Demi LovatoGetty Images
If Justin Bieber’s Purpose was the album he had to make, then Demi’s Confident was the album she was born to make. The 23-year-old has long been an inspirational figure in the pop sphere, publicly sharing her experiences with mental illness, substance abuse and eating disorders — and subsequently breaking down the stigmas around each one. Her fifth album continued to show fans how her painful past has made her who she is, a theme she’d explored on her last couple albums. But Confident was more, well, confident, proving her mastery as both a take-no-sh-t fighter (“Old Ways,” “Waitin For You”) and a vulnerable power balladeer (“Stone Cold,” “Father”).
Ultimately, Confident sounded like the natural materialization for the woman we’d begun to see during the past year. Demi was noticeably growing up and becoming more fearless in her own skin. She started posting weekly makeup-less selfies on Instagram, she posed for a revealing, completely unedited photoshoot, and she continued spewing out confidence boosters that made fans awed and proud about how far she’s come.
Selena GomezGetty Images
Selena’s always had this unblemished quality to her: She’s the cool girl who doesn’t care much for shock value and who only seemed to stir up conversation because of her high-profile relationship with Justin Bieber. But things started to change this year when she publicly dealt with body-shaming and when she revealed her scary lupus diagnosis, for which she had to undergo chemotherapy.
Fans started to see a different, more intimate, and ultimately more revealing side of Sel in her personal life, but never more so than on her fifth album, the appropriately-titled Revival. This was Selena in full seduction mode, proving she’s capital-G Grown with songs about sexuality, spirituality and everything in between. Selena’s never been a powerhouse singer like Demi, but this record allowed her to play to her strengths with sultry, glossily-produced pop that ultimately has the same calming power that Selena herself seems to embody.
Releasing an album called Revival is a somewhat bold move for someone as young as her, but it’s also important for an artist who’s still fighting to move past her childhood stardom and plant herself into the sea of Serious Artists. And Selena definitely managed to do that this year.
Miley CyrusGetty Images
We’ve already explained in detail why 2015 was the year that Miley matured and showed her true colors, but just to reiterate: The girl was in full DGAF mode this year by being unapologetically herself. Miley’s metamorphosis was less noticeable than the other artists on this list, probably because it was less a transformation into someone else, and more a total embracement of the person she’d already become.
Miley brought her vast range of talents to late-night TV and to charitable causes this year, but her true artistic vision was ultimately realized in Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, an album she released free of charge, free of label support and free of inhibition. And the batsh-t bonkers live show in support of her album took things one step further by inviting everyone to experience her transformation come alive on stage — with gallons of confetti in tow.
Justin BieberGetty Images
It’s funny that there’s a song on Justin Bieber’s latest album called “No Pressure,” because 2015 has been anything but a pressure-free year for him. The 21-year-old learned this year that apologies aren’t fun but they are necessary. So, following a nightmarish 2014 that would make any PR pro cringe, Justin kicked off his apology tour with a humble and repentant attitude. First he subjected himself to a brutal (and hilarious) Comedy Central Roast, before getting back to his true purpose: making music.
A lot was riding on Purpose, Justin’s first studio album in three years (not counting the oft-overlooked Journals). And though it’s sometimes bogged down by cheesiness and a “woe is me” attitude, the album ultimately helped rekindle his relationship with his fans and with the public. Thanks to his sincerity and fresh perspective — not to mention, some dope beats courtesy of Skrillex and Diplo — his music became more palatable to more people, and ended up smashing records and topping the charts.
2015 was the year Justin defied everyone’s expectations by transforming into a new man. Here’s hoping JB 2.0 is here to stay for 2016 and beyond.