Pop stars in the movies
Dunkirk star Harry Styles isn’t the only musician-turned-actor with a well-received performance in a recent movie. From Christina Aguilera and Rihanna to Lady Gaga and Kylie Minogue, here are 17 singers who also hit a high note on the big screen.
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
Bradley Cooper — director of the fourth major production of the classic Hollywood tale A Star Is Born — cast pop icon Lady Gaga to carry the torch lit by the legends who came before her, including Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, and Barbra Streisand. Cooper himself also will appear in the 2018 production (the first trailer for which dropped on June 6) as a fading music industry figure who takes an up-and-coming singer, Ally (Gaga), under his wing despite suffering personal demons that could derail his own career in the process. Filming on the picture wrapped in June of 2017, with Oscar-nominated sound mixer Steve Morrow recording tunes (written and composed by Gaga herself) live on set — a tactic that already earned him Academy attention for La La Land earlier this year.
Christina Aguilera (Zoe and Life of the Party)
Already a master of hitting powerhouse high notes, Christina Aguilera extends her reign of fabulosity into the realm of tiny hats in Drake Doremus’ sci-fi romance Zoe, in which she plays a wildly costumed robotic prostitute named Jewels. The film marks her first live-action big screen role since she fronted Burlesque all the way back in 2010, but 2018 was a big year for Xtina in Hollywood: she also played a vital part (as herself) in Melissa McCarthy’s latest comedy vehicle Life of the Party earlier this summer.
Rihanna (Ocean's 8)
Rihanna has long peppered her musical endeavors with small roles in major motion pictures (including as a shape-shifting alien in 2017’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), but perhaps her most prominent role to date is in Gary Ross’ all-female Ocean’s 8 reboot, in which she plays a scheming thief helping Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock lift a string of jewels from the Met Gala as part of a dazzling ensemble.
Kylie Minogue (San Andreas)
She’s had bigger parts in better movies, both with exclaimation points in their titles (Moulin Rouge!, Holy Motors!), but Aussie queen Kylie Minogue’s glorified cameo as a snobby elitist in the big-budget disaster epic San Andreas is perhaps her most absurdly memorable turn in a major motion picture to date, even though (spoiler alert) it ends shortly after it begins, with the pop superstar’s character plummeting to her death via a decimated emergency exit in a scene that could have been guest-penned by ex-L.A. Law staff writers.
Common (The Tale)
Yes, Laura Dern’s lead performance and director Jennifer Fox’s harrowing recollection of her own sexual trauma take center stage in HBO’s moving drama The Tale, but Common — as Dern’s supportive significant other in the film — provides several standout moments in the latest entry of his ever-expanding filmography.
Kesha (A Ghost Story)
Credited only as “Spirit Girl,” Kesha’s involvement in David Lowery’s critically lauded drama A Ghost Story doesn’t end with her brief onscreen appearance. “I just love Kesha! That’s really where it came from. I wanted to have one of her songs in the party. That turned into, ‘I wonder if she’d write an original song for the party,’ which then turned into her just coming to Texas and hanging out on set for a day and showing up in the movie,” Lowery told The Hollywood Reporter. “She did in fact collaborate on the song that plays in that sequence, which is a dream come true. Her music makes me feel alive in a way that other music doesn’t, and I love her spirit and what she represents. Even though it’s a small part, and some folks don’t even realize it’s her, I love knowing that she’s there. It adds something very meaningful to me.”
Janelle Monaé (Hidden Figures, Moonlight)
It’s rare for an actor to appear in two Best Picture nominees in an entire career, let alone in a single year, but Janelle Monaé did just that as she transitioned her up-and-coming status as a talented vocalist into a heavy-hitting performer in Hollywood, earning solid reviews for her work in both Hidden Figures and Moonlight — the latter of which took home the Academy’s top award in February.
Paloma Faith (Youth)
She’s yet to make a major splash on the American music scene, but U.K. singer-songwriter Paloma Faith made an explosive appearance on the 2015 international festival circuit in Paolo Sorrentino’s prestige drama Youth. She plays a devilish version of herself, stealing the lover of Rachel Weisz’s character and later manifesting herself in the lovelorn woman’s dreams, which are soundtracked, of course, by Faith’s Pharrell Williams-assisted banger “Can’t Rely On You.”
Sky Ferreira (Baby Driver)
Purveyor of sad-pop jams like “Everything Is Embarrassing” and “You’re Not the One,” Ferreira (also of recent Twin Peaks fame) has leveraged her underground music career into a successful actingrun in major movies. Her latest, the pop culture sensation otherwise known as Baby Driver, sees the 25-year-old playing the titular character’s mother in a series of flashbacks.
Mary J. Blige (Mudbound)
She’s performed in films like Prison Song and Rock of Ages before, but Grammy-winning R&B icon Mary J. Blige added a slew of film-centric nominations (including best supporting actress at the Oscars) to her awards mantle, as the 46-year-old earned some of the best reviews of her career for her work in Dee Rees’ period Sundance drama Mudbound. Distributor Netflix made history as it notched several above-te-line nominations from the Academy, namely for Blige, who appears among the film’s cast alongside Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, and Jason Mitchell in a tale of racism, war, and familial drama set amid the backdrop of WWII-era Mississippi.
Harry Styles (Dunkirk)
One Direction heartthrob Harry Styles literally explodes onto the Hollywood scene in Christopher Nolan’s WWII-set drama Dunkirk, in which he plays an Allied soldier under fire as forces attempt to retreat from an enemy offensive. “I was new to Harry. I mean, I’ve heard his name from my kids, but I wasn’t really familiar with him,” Nolan told Entertainment Tonight of casting Styles, likening his instinctual casting to that of Heath Ledger as The Joker in his 2008 film The Dark Knight. “What I was seeing [when he auditioned] was a very charismatic guy who clearly had a truthfulness and a subtlety in his ability to perform as a film actor.”
Iggy Azalea (Furious 7)
Though her recent performance on the U.S. charts suggests she’s not the rap sensation she once was, Iggy Azalea successfully traveled from music star to on-camera talent, appearing as a judge on the Australian version of The X-Factor, signing a television development deal with NBCUniversal Cable, and landing a cameo as a driver in the tentpole sequel Furious 7, which grossed $1.5 billion worldwide in 2015.
Emma Bunton (Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie)
How do you make one of the most beloved British TV shows of all time even more British? You cast a Spice Girl in a supporting role, of course. Emma Bunton (otherwise known as Baby Spice) reprises her role as a dramatized version of herself in the cinematic continuation of Jennifer Saunders’ wildly popular TV series, which first saw Bunton appear in several episodes as a friend of PR maven Edina Monsoon’s (Saunders) daughter, Saffy. The 2016 film additionally features appearances by a wide range of entertainment figures, including La Roux’s Elly Jackson, Chris Colfer, Jon Hamm, Joan Collins, Dame Edna, Gwendoline Christie, Stella McCartney, Graham Norton, and Kate Moss.
Christina Aguilera (The Emoji Movie)
She hasn’t released an album in five years, but Christina Aguilera is still putting her pipes to good use. The singer-songwriter lends her voice to the character of Akiko Glitter in the upcoming animated flick The Emoji Movie, which scrolls into theaters July 28.
Carly Rae Jepsen (Leap!)
Carly Rae Jepsen isn’t just slaying the pop music game with Leap!, the animated family film for which she recorded the soaring banger “Cut to the Feeling”; she’s also proving her chops as an actress, voicing the character of Odette alongside fellow cast members Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, and Maddie Ziegler.
Demi Lovato (Smurfs: The Lost Village)
Demi Lovato has recorded her fair share of empowerment anthems over the years, and she injects the same feminist flair into the character of Smurfette with her performance in Smurfs: The Lost Village, which follows the lone female as she challenges the patriarchy in a village ruled by men.
Paul McCartney (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales)
Even the worst-reviewed movies can still feature some of music’s top-tier talent. Paul McCartney continued the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise’s affinity for casting well-known industry veterans in smaller roles, as the former Beatles band member joined the likes of Keith Richards, who acted in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 2011.