The Many Paths To A Successful Music Comeback

Mama-said-knock-you-outBy David Bakula @davebakula of Nielsen Entertainment.

"Don’t call it a comeback

I’ve been here for years"

 – LL Cool J 'Mama Said Knock You Out'

Comebacks are no simple feat in the music industry. Fans of artists are always clamoring for more content and when an extended amount of time passes between releases, it can prove difficult to re-engage those fans.

Predicting success of comebacks has never been easy either. Artists that enjoyed great success in the past can often find that their fan-base has changed, or moved on to different types of music. But, some artists have found the secret to staying relevant during long gaps between releases. Either by re-inventing their sound, or by sticking to the proven methods that made them successful in the past, here are some artists that have turned back the clock and replicated past successes in the current environment.


Eleven years after Justin Timberlake’s first solo debut, the former frontman (front boy?) of ‘N Sync made a spectacular return with The 20/20 Experience, selling 968,000 albums in its first week. His last album, FutureSex/LoveSounds sold 4.5 million units to date and The 20/20 Experience has performed exceptionally well, with 2.1 million sold in its first 19 weeks.

While he was on hiatus, J.T. turned his focus to his acting career, taking roles in The Social Network, Bad Teacher, In Time, and Friends with Benefits. The Social Network, where Justin Timberlake played Napster founder Sean Parker, brought in nearly 1.2 million in DVD and Blu-ray sales and was a major box-office success.

In addition, he chose this time to collaborate on a number of singles, such as Timbaland and Madonna’s “4 Minutes” (3.1 million song sales to date), co-writing a few tracks on Duran Duran’s Red Carpet Massacre album in 2007, T.I.’s “Dead and Gone” (3.2 million track sales) in 2008, and Ciara’s “Love Sex Magic” (863,000 song sales) in 2009. His success in these other projects enabled Justin to stay on fans radar, who were able to grow with him, even when he wasn’t putting out an album every two years.


A number of seasoned artists have chosen to spend some of their time away from recording to take their seats at the judges’ panel for music competitions like American Idol, X-Factor, and The Voice. These can be an excellent opportunity for them to stay in touch with millions of music fans.

Before her role as a panel judge on American Idol (whose Wednesday and Thursday broadcasts were ranked 2 and 3 of Nielsen Top 10 Regularly Scheduled Primetime TV programs of 2012 list her second year judging) starting in 2011, Latin dance and pop singer Jennifer Lopez had not released any new material in four years since her 2007 release Brave. However, while she wasn’t recording, J Lo explored endeavors in fashion, philanthropy, and acting, remaining quite visible.

Jennifer Lopez’s dancefloor single “On The Floor” featuring Pitbull proved to be a powerful re-introduction back to the charts, selling 3.9 million digital downloads and becoming one of the top 10 streamed songs and music videos for 2011. The track went on to become one of the year’s biggest hits. Meanwhile her album titled Love? proceeded to sell over 343,000 units. In the Season 12 finale of American Idol, J. Lo performed her new single “Live it Up” featuring Pitbull. Post-performance, streams jumped 567% over the prior week.


Lastly, one of the best examples of a comeback from a band with decades under their belt is Black Sabbath and original lead singer Ozzy Osbourne. While the band had remained active, replacing Ozzy with the late-great Ronnie James Dio, the band had not released a studio album with Ozzy up front since 1978.

Throughout the long years apart, the band had still been very active, as had Ozzy, carving out a successful solo career and then becoming a reality TV star. Again, this continued exposure for both the band and for Ozzy Osbourne, combined to keep their original fans engaged as well as building a new fan base through Ozzy’s endeavors outside of music. Ozzy’s entire family became a part of our lives and fans were able to get a glimpse into what Ozzy Osbourne, the family-man, was like.

After a few reunion shows and some very exciting lead-up to the new album, 13 debuted at the top of the Billboard charts and sold 155,000 albums in its first week. It is clear that Black Sabbath managed to appeal to a lot of their former fans, who had been waiting 35 years for the lineup to reunite, as well as gather some new fans along the way through their efforts.

There are so many stories of great comebacks, and no two are the same. The path for continued success through long periods of downtime is not an easy one. There doesn’t seem to be a magic formula for how an artist initiates their career comeback, but these artists each seem to have found their way to continue their career through adjacent industries, ultimately continuing to stay in the public eye and build their fanbase.


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