Most of these precocious kids spent their childhoods on tour, instead of in the classroom! Hitting the top of the charts before you’re old enough to drink is a remarkable accomplishment, but it can also be a heartbreaking setup for future disappointment. Some of these artists have since established themselves as reliable industry heavyweights, while others achieved the bulk of their success before they were old enough to appreciate it.
Ciara was fresh out of high school when she signed to LaFace Records, and was barely 19 when her lead single “Goodies” topped the charts in the summer of 2004. Since then, she’s switched labels, picked up a hot rapper boyfriend (Future), become a muse to designer Riccardo Tisci, and feuded with Rihanna.
Brandy had already scored three top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 (all recorded when she was only 15) before she finally reached the top in the summer of 1998 with fellow teen Monica and “The Boy Is Mine.” She later revealed that she struggled with an eating disorder during her years in the spotlight, calling herself “the unhappiest teenager in the world.”
Christina Aguilera: 18
The biggest summer song of 1999 was Christina Aguilera’s debut single “Genie in a Bottle,” which had moms everywhere clutching their pearls over its sexual innuendos. Little did they know this was the same tiny blonde who’d one day slip into a pair of assless chaps to perform “Dirrty.”
“SOS,” the lead single off Rihanna’s sophomore album A Girl Like Me, was released just a few days before the singer’s 18th birthday. She’s since revisited the top spot 11 times, and is the second best-selling female singles, trailing just behind the Queen of Pop. It helps that she and her team of songwriters whip albums up in a matter of months.
Baltimore native Mario was discovered at age 11 after he impressed a producer with his not particularly age-appropriate performance of “I’ll Make Love to You” at a talent show. By 14, he had a major record deal, a hit single by 16, and his first (and only) number one at 18 with “Let Me Love You.” Unfortunately, he’s had a hard time on the charts since then.
Beyoncé Knowles and Kelly Rowland: 18 (Destiny’s Child)
Destiny’s Child singers Beyoncé Knowles and Kelly Rowland were both 18 when their song “Bills, Bills, Bills” hit the top of the charts in the summer of 1999. Both had already been performing for so long, however, that they were probably much more mature than your average teenager.
B2K: 17 & 18
All of the members of B2K except for lead singer Omarion were 17 when their song “Bump, Bump, Bump” became a huge hit in early 2003. They managed to film You Got Served before they broke up that year over “internal disagreements.”
Britney Spears: 17
Britney Spears was barely 17 when “…Baby One More Time” became an international mega-hit, which is why her sexy schoolgirl look in the music video was such a big deal. The entirety of her debut album was recorded when she was just 16 — it’s remarkable that she still sounds basically the same.
Chris Brown: 16
Chris Brown dropped out of school when he was 15, having already been signed to Jive Records. It was probably a smart move in the end, as his debut single “Run It” reached the top of the charts within a few months of its release. Despite a horrific incident with singer Rihanna in a rented Lamborghini, Brown still has a pretty solid career.
Michael Jackson: 11 (Jackson 5)
When the Jackson 5 released their first single “I Want You Back” in 1969, their label’s marketing team tried to pass lead singer Michael off as two years younger than he actually was. Even so, he remains the youngest artist ever to chart a number 1 single on the Hot 100. Too bad it was at the expense of his childhood.
Monica was just 11 when she was discovered by producer Dallas Austin at an Atlanta talent show, so she’d been in the music industry for a couple of years before scoring her first No. 1 with “The Boy Is Mine” at the ripe age of 17. She followed with two more chart-toppers: “The First Night” and “Angel of Mine.
Sean Kingston: 17
Sean Kingston was discovered through MySpace in the mid-aughts, and released his first single, “Beautiful Girls,” before he was old enough to vote. According to producer J.R. Totem, Kingston was originally a rapper, but was put through a “development process to get him more melodic.”
Stevie Wonder: 13
Stevie Wonder performed under the stage name Little Stevie Wonder in 1962, when his song “Fingertips” became his first number one hit single. It was featured on the modestly titled album Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius.
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