100 iconic moments from music history
100 iconic moments from music history
Think back to the first concert you ever attended. You can probably remember the energy of the crowd yearning for the band to finally take the stage, the reverberation of the first strum of the guitar, the beats of the drum that seemed to thump inside your body. The lights, the charisma of the performers, finally hearing your favorite songs live—as they were meant to be listened to—the experience remains vivid for the rest of your life. You might still have the overpriced T-shirt you bought as a souvenir of the show buried in your closet.
There’s something about music that embeds itself deeply inside memories. But this phenomenon doesn’t just happen at the individual level—music can form a collective cultural memory, as well. If you think back over the past few generations, certain moments in music stand out as markers of time and reflections of a generation. Anyone alive in 1980 can tell you where they were when Beatle John Lennon was killed, while younger music fans have had a similar experience with the death of Michael Jackson. There are also those hopeful, unforgettable shows—like Queen’s renowned performance at Live Aid, Elvis’ hip thrusts on “The Milton Berle Show,” and Kurt Cobain’s moody acoustic concert on “MTV Unplugged.” No matter how you feel about these artists, there’s no doubt that they made an impact on culture and changed music for future generations.
To compile a list of the most iconic moments in music history, Stacker looked at an assortment of sources, including music publications such as Billboard and Rolling Stone, general news outlets like the Guardian and NPR, and Norman Abjorensen’s “Historical Dictionary of Popular Music.” While there were no strict criteria for what was included, a wide range of memorable moments, like record-breaking albums, major music festivals, and headline-making stunts by musicians from a variety of decades and genres are showcased.
Explore this slideshow and reminisce about the history of music—and see if your favorite music memory made the cut.
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American ballad becomes internationally famous for the first time
American-born songwriter John Hill Hewitt wrote “The Minstrel’s Return’d From the War” in 1827. It would become the first ballad from a U.S. songwriter to gain international fame, according to Norman Abjorensen, author of “Historical Dictionary of Popular Music.” The original song sheet is housed at the Library of Congress.
The Battle Hymn of the Republic is published
The Atlantic published abolitionist Julia Ward Howe’s poem “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1861. The now-iconic song would become associated with the Civil War and influence future generations of activists, according to Dominic Tierney of The Atlantic.
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Thomas Edison invents the phonograph
Thomas Edison revealed his latest creation, the phonograph, in 1877. While there had been other devices that could record and play audio, the phonograph was far more reliable, making music accessible to the masses. “It forever transformed the face of music,” wrote Clive Thompson of Smithsonian Magazine.
Billboard magazine hits newsstands
Billboard magazine published its first issue in November 1894. While it was initially focused on the advertising and poster printing industry, it would eventually shift gears into the music industry. In July 1940, it would develop its first Music Popularity Chart, which would go on to become the guide to which songs and albums are most popular every week.
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot establishes the black spiritual in music history
African American a cappella group The Fisk Jubilee recorded “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in 1909. The song would be instrumental in preserving African American spiritual folksongs in American history, according to Norman Abjorensen, author of “Historical Dictionary of Popular Music.” The original song sheet is housed at the Library of Congress.
Bessie Smith records Down Hearted Blues
Jazz and blues singer Bessie Smith saw immediate success after her first recorded song, “Down Hearted Blues,” was released in 1923. She is now considered one of the greatest vocalists of her time and an influence on future generations of blues and jazz singers.
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Duke Ellington gives the Swing Era its name
The jazz composer, musician and orchestra leader wrote the song that would become the namesake to the swing era, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” in 1932. Big band swing music would become the most popular genre of music in the United States for the next 15 years.
Frank Sinatra performs to crazed teen fans in Times Square
America got its first glimpse of teen music fandom when Frank Sinatra performed at New York City’s Paramount Theater on Dec. 30, 1942. Frenzied “bobby soxers” flooded Times Square for the occasion and a riot broke out. The event would drive the music industry to shift its marketing efforts to adolescent fans, rather than 30-to-50-year-olds, according to Samantha Sokol of Untapped New York.
Ike Turner records first rock ’n’ roll song
The first-ever rock ’n’ roll song, “Rocket 88,” was recorded by Ike Turner in 1951 in Memphis, Tennessee. Saxophone player Jackie Brenston sang lead vocals on the track, which was released under his name, according to Christopher John Farley of Time magazine.
[Pictured: Ike Turner's Kings Of Rhythm band.]
First rock ’n’ roll riot occurs at Moondog Coronation Ball
Riots broke out at Ohio’s Cleveland Arena when around 15,000 people were turned away from the Moondog Coronation Ball in 1952. Widely considered the first notable rock ’n’ roll concert, the event was thrown by rock disc jockey Alan J. Freed.
[Pictured: Moondog Coronation Ball Poster.]
Leo Fender introduces the Stratocaster electric guitar
The Stratocaster was unveiled by Leo Fender as a sleeker update to the Fender electric guitar in 1954. The guitar revolutionized the sound of rock, according to Norman Abjorensen, author of “Historical Dictionary of Popular Music.” It would be the instrument of choice for a number of famous musicians, including Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, Eric Clapton, and Buddy Holly.
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Frank Sinatra gives birth to concept albums
“Songs for Young Lovers” was Frank Sinatra's seventh studio album, released in 1954. It is considered one of the first concept albums, according to Alva Yaffe of Musicoholics.
Chuck Berry releases Maybellene
“Maybellene,” a rock version of a Western fiddle tune, was Chuck Berry's first big hit. The song, released in 1955, is widely considered to be one of the world’s first rock ’n’ roll tracks.
Elvis Presley thrusts his hips on TV
His racy hip thrusts sparked controversy during Elvis Presley's performance of “Hound Dog” on “The Milton Berle Show” in June 1956. Fans loved it, but critics blasted the pelvis-shaking dance moves as vulgar, according to PBS.
Harry Belafonte’s Calypso sells more than 1 million copies
The LP album “Calypso,” featuring Harry Belafonte's version of the Jamaican folk song “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” was released in 1956. It would become the first record album to sell more than 1 million copies in a single year.
First Grammy Awards ceremony is held
The ceremony for the first Grammy Awards took place at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California, on May 14, 1959, to recognize the biggest names in music that year. Award winners included Ella Fitzgerald for “Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Irving Berlin Songbook,” Perry Como for “Catch a Falling Star,” and Domenico Modugno for “Nel Blu Di Pinto Di Blu (Volare).”
The day the music died
Rock ’n’ roller Buddy Holly, along with Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson, died in a plane crash in Iowa on Feb. 3, 1959. The tragedy would later be called “the day the music died” in singer Don McLean’s song, “American Pie,” released in 1971.
Phil Spector formulates the Wall of Sound
Record producer Phil Spector invented the Wall of Sound music production formula in 1962. The radical recording technique, which created a soundscape with many layers and more reverb, would add immense dynamism to rock and pop music.
James Brown performs live at the Apollo
James Brown performed in front of 1,500 fans at the Apollo in Harlem on Oct. 24, 1962. The show was recorded and released on record, later becoming “one of the greatest albums of all time,” according to James Maycock of The Guardian.
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Philips introduces compact cassette tapes
Philips introduced the compact cassette in September 1963. The new recording medium offered more portability than records, and would eventually allow countless teenagers to record mix tapes.
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The Beatles perform live on American TV in 1964
Beatlemania hit the United States on Feb. 9, 1964, when the Fab Four—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr—performed live on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Around 700 lucky spectators got to watch the now-legendary show in person, according to Richard Harrington of The Washington Post. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” would climb to the #1 spot on U.S. music charts the following month.
Bob Dylan introduces the Beatles to pot
Bob Dylan met with the Beatles at The Delmonico Hotel in New York on Aug. 28, 1964, and offered them a joint. Some members of the band say it was the first time they got high, according to Rick Cusick of High Times. The experience would go on to influence the Beatles’ future music.
Pete Townshend smashes his guitar on stage
Pete Townshend of The Who smashed his guitar during a performance at the Railway Tavern in 1964. Rolling Stone would call it one of the “50 moments that changed rock ՚n’ roll.” The North London hotel that once housed the venue has since hung up a plaque commemorating the event, according to the Mirror.
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Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone births modern rock
Bob Dylan’s stream-of-consciousness song “Like a Rolling Stone” was released in 1965. The 6-minute song was a change from formulaic pop songs that typically clocked in at under three minutes, and is credited as giving birth to the modern rock song, according to Sean O’Hagan of The Guardian.
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I Got You, Babe becomes top hit
“I Got You, Babe,” the duet by Sonny and Cher, took the top spot on the U.S. charts in 1965. The musical couple would launch “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour” show on CBS six years later.
Bob Dylan plays electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival
Fans were divided on Bob Dylan’s choice to play an electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The event may have ended the Folk Revival movement that he helped lead, and would go on to influence other artists’ preference for electric over acoustic, according to Alva Yaffe of Musicoholics.
The Rolling Stones release “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
The Rolling Stones released “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” as a single in 1965, and it became an instant rock ’n’ roll classic. The Stones performed a censored version of it on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 13, 1966. The lyric “trying to make some girl” was bleeped out of the family show.
The Beach Boys release Pet Sounds
After years in the making, the Beach Boys’ psychedelic album “Pet Sounds” was finally released in 1966. It marked a major shift in studio technique and style for the band, and would go on to inspire the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” “Pet Sounds” would eventually be considered “one of the most influential albums in music history,” according to Norman Abjorensen, author of “Historical Dictionary of Popular Music.”
[Pictured: Al Jardine and Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys recording 'Pet Sounds' at Western Recorders studios in the spring of 1966.]
The Velvet Underground teams up with Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol-produced LP “The Velvet Underground & Nico” was released in a famous banana sleeve in 1967. The album would become one of the most influential rock records in history, according to Sean O’Hagan of The Guardian.
[Pictured: Nico and Sterling Morrison of the Velvet Underground.]
The Beatles release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles continued their journey into psychedelic music with the release of the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 1967. It took the #1 spot on the Billboard Top LPs chart for 15 weeks in the United States.
Woodstock music festival draws nearly a half-million music fans
Some 400,000 rock fans flooded an upstate New York farm for the multi-day Woodstock music festival in mid-August 1969. The hippie gathering would be remembered for countless memorable performances by the most famous musicians of the time, including Jimi Hendrix, who played a rock ’n’ roll version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Johnny Cash records live album at a prison
Johnny Cash, who was an early criminal justice reform advocate, recorded an album at the San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California in 1969. After it hit record stores on Independence Day of that year, the album would be certified gold in just over a month, and eventually achieved triple platinum in 2003.
The Beatles perform one last time
The Beatles set up instruments at the top of their Apple Corps London headquarters for an impromptu 42-minute rooftop performance on Jan. 30, 1969. It would ultimately become the band’s last public performance ever and ended with the song “Get Back.”
Black Sabbath sets metal in motion
Black Sabbath is credited with giving birth to the genre of heavy metal, with its first studio album of the same name released in 1970. It hit the 23rd spot on the Billboard charts.
Elton John releases seven consecutive albums
The release of “Honky Chateau” in May 1972 marked the start of a run of seven #1 albums in a row for Elton John. “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Caribou,” “Elton John’s Greatest Hits,” “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” and “Rock of the Westies” would go on to become extremely popular over the next three years, according to ultimateclassicrock.com.
David Bowie kills off Ziggy Stardust
During a Ziggy and the Spiders concert on July 3, 1973, David Bowie announced that it was their last performance. It soon became apparent that it wouldn’t be Bowie’s last show, but the final appearance of his alter ego Ziggy Stardust, save for a brief resurrection in 1980. He’d soon emerge with a darker glam persona, complete with lightning bolt face paint.
Willie Nelson hosts his first Fourth of July Picnic
Country musician Willie Nelson hosted his first Fourth of July Picnic at Hurlbut Ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas, in 1973 with a crowd of 40,000 fans. The music festival would go on to become a popular annual event for decades.
Dolly Parton releases Jolene
“Jolene” became one of Dolly Parton’s first hit singles after its release in 1973. More than 30 singers have since covered the song, according to Tom Vitale of NPR Music. The country music star would revive the song as a duet with her goddaughter Miley Cyrus at the Grammy Awards in 2019.
Bob Marley and The Wailers release No Woman, No Cry
The release of “No Woman, No Cry” in 1975 would propel Bob Marley into the role of international reggae star. He’s the only reggae musician “to achieve iconic status,” according to Sean O’Hagan of The Guardian.
Saturday Night Fever becomes one of the bestselling soundtracks
John Travolta and the Bee Gees pushed disco into the mainstream with the general release of the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever” in 1977. It would become one of the bestselling movie soundtracks of all time, according to Austin Thompson of Mental Floss.
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John Lennon is murdered
Mark David Chapman fired five shots at former Beatle John Lennon outside his residence at the Dakota apartment building in New York City on Dec. 8, 1980, killing him and shocking the world. Less than five years later, Central Park would open Strawberry Fields as a memorial to the late musician and peace activist.
Rapper’s Delight becomes first hip-hop song to make Top 40
The first hip-hop song to make it on the Billboard Top 40 chart was “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang, in January 1980. The success of the single would help push hip-hop music into the mainstream.
MTV airs its first music video
Just after midnight on Aug. 1, 1981, MTV aired the first music video on the fledgling network, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” by The Buggles. The new 24-hour music channel would help make TV a major driver of music sales in the coming decade, according to Michelle Starr of CNet.
Grandmaster Flash creates single with samples from at least nine artists
The influential single "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel,” released in 1981, was the first to use samples from other songs, according to Sean O’Hagan of The Guardian. It had snippets of music from at least nine other artists, including Blondie, Queen, and the Sugarhill Gang.
Simon & Garfunkel perform in front of 500,000 people at Central Park
Half a million people attended Simon & Garfunkel’s iconic concert at New York City’s Central Park in 1981. The show was recorded and released in 1982 as an album, reaching sixth place on the Billboard 200 chart.
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Michael Jackson releases Thriller
Mega sensation “Thriller” was released in 1982. Michael Jackson's sixth studio album would become a bestseller, with more than 47 million copies purchased around the world, according to Rhian Daly of NME.
[Pictured: Michael Jackson 1983 presented with the first Triple Platimum awards for the multi-platinum 'Thriller" album by Jane Fonda.]
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Compact discs enter music market
Philips Records and Sony Music introduced compact discs to the world in 1982. The medium offered significantly more storage than other recording mediums. CDs would eventually become an extremely popular medium for music in the 1990s and 2000s.
Michael Jackson does the moonwalk
The King of Pop performed the moonwalk for the first time in public in late March 1983, during a live recording of a TV concert special celebrating Motown. The legendary move would become Jackson’s signature showstopper, according to Lauren Effron and Susan Walsh of ABC News.
Cyndi Lauper releases Girls Just Want to Have Fun
“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was Cyndi Lauper’s breakthrough hit in 1983. The girl power anthem has been covered by at least 30 other artists in the past few decades.
Madonna performs Like a Virgin at 1984 Video Music Awards
The singer gave one of her most memorable performances of all time, wearing a wedding dress and a belt with a “Boy Toy” buckle, when she sang “Like a Virgin” at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards. The song became the artist’s first #1 hit single.
Ronald Reagan references Bruce Springsteen in 1984 campaign
After Bruce Springsteen turned down a request to use “Born in the U.S.A” in former President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign, the conservative politician mentioned the musician in a speech, saying helping men like him make dreams come true is the purpose of the president’s job, according to Steven Inskeep of NPR Music. The Boss began criticizing Reagan for not really listening to his music shortly after, and he would soon become known as an outspoken liberal.
Live Aid raises $127 million in aid for Ethiopian famine
In an effort to raise money and increase awareness for the famine in Ethiopia, musicians Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organized the Live Aid superconcert at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium and London’s Wembley Stadium, and broadcast it via satellite around the world. The concert had performances from more than 75 stars, including Queen, Madonna, Mick Jagger, and Elton John, and it would be watched by more than a billion people in 110 countries, according to History.com. Telethons during the event would raise $127 million for famine relief.
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46 famous singers collaborate on We Are the World
Dozens of the most famous singers in the United States teamed up in 1985 to record USA for Africa’s “We Are the World,” a charity single co-written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson. It would sell more than 20 million copies worldwide. Participants included Paul Simon, Dionne Warwick, Ray Charles, Cyndi Lauper, Ray Charles, and more.
Prince tops the Filthy 15 list
After Tipper Gore heard her adolescent daughter listening to “Darling Nikki,” a provocative song by Prince, in 1985, she created the Parents Music Resource Center to lobby for censorship in the record industry. The PMRC developed its “Filthy 15” list of what it deemed were the most offensive songs of the time, featuring two of Prince’s tracks.
[Pictured: Sally Nevius (left) and Tipper Gore (right) of the PMRC appear at a senate hearing at Capitol Hill.]
Aerosmith collaborates with Run-DMC
In 1986, Aerosmith teamed up with Run-DMC to create a new version of its 1970s hit, “Walk This Way.” While the two musical groups were initially reluctant to collaborate, the hip-hop/rock hybrid creation became an international success, according to James Parker of The Atlantic.
Madonna kicks off her first world tour
The singer began the “Who’s That Girl World Tour”—her first global concert series—in July 1987. Despite requests from Pope John Paul II to boycott her concert in Italy, the tour was considered a massive success, according to Joe Lynch of Billboard.
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Aretha Franklin becomes first female Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee
In 1987, a year after the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted its first group of honorees, Aretha Franklin became the first woman to join the prestigious ranks. The “Queen of Soul” was just 25 when she released her legendary cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect.”
N.W.A. releases protest song against racial injustice
California hip-hop group N.W.A. released its controversial song slamming racial injustice and police brutality, “F*** tha Police,” in 1988. Its title would become a pop culture slogan, while the track itself would live on as a protest anthem for decades to come. It would see a nearly 300% increase in streams 32 years later during the Black Lives Matter protests, according to Kory Grow of Rolling Stone.
Rosanne Barr butchers the national anthem
Singing the national anthem was a career-defining moment for musicians like Whitney Houston and Jennifer Hudson. But when Roseanne Barr belted out “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a televised baseball game on July 25, 1990, it would go down as one of the worst renditions in music history. She ended the performance by grabbing her crotch.
Whitney Houston gives iconic performance of The Star-Spangled Banner
Wearing a memorable white jogging suit, Whitney Houston gave an iconic performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1991 Super Bowl. Her rendition of the national anthem garnered unanimous acclaim.
Smells Like Teen Spirit marks the success of grunge
Once an underground genre, grunge became mainstream when Nirvana released its second album, “Nevermind,” in 1991. The lead single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” was an unexpected success and helped the album reach the top of the charts.
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Ropin’ in Wind tops Billboard 200 and country chart
Country musician Garth Brooks released his third studio album, “Ropin’ the Wind,” on Sept. 2, 1991. It was the first album to ever debut at the top spot on both the Top Country Albums chart and the Billboard 200 chart.
Whitney Houston sings I Will Always Love You
The singer covered the Dolly Parton tune “I Will Always Love You” in 1992 for the movie “The Bodyguard.” The standout song would become one of the best love songs in history.
Snoop Dogg makes West Coast hip hop mainstream
The rapper released “Do**ystyle” in 1993. The album, which debuted in the top spot on the Billboard 200, would propel West Coast-style hip hop into a mainstream genre.
Puff Daddy launches Bad Boy Entertainment
Sean Combs, performing then as Puffy or Puff Daddy, started his own record label—Bad Boy Entertainment—in 1993, a few years after getting fired from his role as vice president of Uptown Records. The label would kickstart the careers of huge names in hip hop and R&B, including the Notorious B.I.G., 112, and Craig Mack, according to Billboard.
Nirvana performs on MTV Unplugged
The grunge heroes gave a memorable performance of the acoustic versions of their songs on “MTV Unplugged” in 1993. It was one of frontman Kurt Cobain’s last televised shows before he died in April 1994.
Mariah Carey changes Christmas music forever
The singer released her Christmas song, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” in 1994. The critically-acclaimed song has been a long-standing international success and is one of the few modern holiday songs to become a Christmas standard.
[Pictured: Mariah Carey awarded Guinness World Record for highest-charting holiday song by a solo artist at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.]
Selena is killed by her fan club president
Award-winning Tejano music star Selena was shot dead by her fan club president outside a Days Inn motel in Texas on March 31, 1995. Her death was mourned by fans around the world. Two years later, her life story would play out on the big screen in the 1997 film “Selena,” starring Jennifer Lopez.
Spice Girls debut Wannabe
“Wannabe” was released in 1996. By the end of that year, the Spice Girls debut single would top the charts in 20 countries. After being released in the United States the following January, it hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for four straight weeks.
Tupac Shakur is killed in drive-by shooting
Hip-hop sensation Tupac Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting on Sept. 7, 1996, in Las Vegas, at 25. After years of investigation, the gunman is still unknown.
Notorious B.I.G. is murdered in a drive-by shooting
Like his rival Tupac Shakur, rapper Christopher Wallace, the Notorious B.I.G., was murdered in Los Angeles in a drive-by shooting on March 9, 1997. Wallace’s family alleged that corrupt Los Angeles police officers were to blame for his death, and filed a $400 million lawsuit against the LAPD.
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Elton John performs at Princess Diana’s funeral
The musician captured the mourning of the masses when he performed a reworked version of “Candle in the Wind” at Princess Diana’s funeral. The performance was broadcast to hundreds of millions of viewers around the world, according to Reuters via Al Jazeera.
Britney Spears wears controversial schoolgirl outfit in video
In the music video for her “…Baby One More Time” debut single, 16-year-old pop artist Britney Spears wore a midriff-revealing Catholic schoolgirl uniform, complete with a miniskirt. The ensemble proved controversial among parents, but made pigtails and pom-pom hair ties trendy among teens.
Woodstock ’99 fails miserably
Meant to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original music festival, Woodstock ’99 turned out to be a massive failure. The notorious multi-day event had exorbitant ticket prices, $4 bottles of water, overcrowding, poor performances, multiple sexual assaults, and a number of other serious problems that left the crowds enraged, according to Daniel Kreps of Rolling Stone.
Metallica sues Napster for copyright infringement
The metal band took peer-to-peer file sharing service Napster to court in April 2000 over copyright violations. Napster lost and would go bankrupt soon after. The internet’s disruption of music distribution and record label profits would continue for decades, though.
[Pictured: Lars Ulrich of Metallica, left, Roger McGuinn, founding member of 60s rock group The Byrds, center, and Napster Chief Executive Officer Hank Barry sit before the Senate Judiciary Committee.]
Mariah Carey shows up unannounced on TRL
Wearing a shirt emblazoned with the word “loverboy,” Mariah Carey showed up on MTV’s “Total Request Live” in 2001 with no advance notice. Host Carson Daly was surprised and told the camera that the singer had “lost her mind,” according to Anjelica Oswald and Angélica Acevedo of Insider.
[Pictured: Mariah Carey Arrives at MTV's "TRL" - June 18, 2001.]
Apple launches the first iPod
Apple launched its first iPod on Oct. 23, 2001. It gave music fans the ability to store thousands of songs on a pocket-sized device.
American Idol debuts on TV
Singing competition “American Idol” debuted on Fox in June 2002, giving American viewers the chance to vote for the musician most deserving of a record deal. Some of the show's contestants would go on to achieve major success, including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Jennifer Hudson.
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Dixie Chicks slam President George W. Bush
Dixie Chicks’ lead singer Natalie Maines publicly bashed former President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq at a concert in March 2003. The band received death threats and country music radio stations across the country refused to play their music.
The Eagles release first new material in 28 years
The band dropped “Long Road Out of Eden” in 2007. It contained their first new material in almost three decades, according to Norman Abjorensen, author of “Historical Dictionary of Popular Music.” More than 1 million copies of the album sold within two weeks of its release.
Radiohead experiment sparks debate in the music industry
Without major label representation, Radiohead released its 2007 album “In Rainbows” as a pay-what-you-wish digital download. Believers in the experiment thought of it as a new model for the industry, while critics accused it of undermining the value of music, according to Eric Garland of NPR Music. Despite the album being available for free, it experienced high rates of piracy.
Lady Gaga releases The Fame
The singer released her debut studio album “The Fame” on Aug. 19, 2008. It would top the charts in multiple countries and become one of the bestselling albums the following year.
Kanye West interrupts Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards
Just after Taylor Swift accepted an award for best female video at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Kanye West rushed on stage to proclaim that Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time. West would be met with severe backlash from the public, including President Barack Obama, who called him “a jacka**.”
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Taylor Swift becomes youngest winner of top CMA Award
The singer took home the Country Music Association Award for entertainer of the year in 2009, along with three other awards. Just 19, Swift would be the youngest person in history to take the top honor at the CMA Awards.
Beyoncé wins six Grammy Awards
The singer became the first woman in history to take home six Grammy Awards in one night in 2010. Adele would tie with her two years later after her album “21” surged in popularity.
Michael Jackson gets biggest record deal ever—after his death
Five songs from Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream hit number one
Katy Perry made history when five songs from her 2010 album “Teenage Dream” hit the top of the Hot 100 list in August 2011. She was the second artist in history to do so, after Michael Jackson had five chart-toppers from “Bad’ in the late 1980s, as well as the first female artist to achieve that success, according to Billboard.
Nicki Minaj takes seven spots on Billboard Hot 100
In 2010, Nicki Minaj shattered records when she became the first female soloist to appear on seven singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at the same time, according to MTV News. The songs included Lil Wayne’s “Knockout,” Usher’s “Lil Freak,” and Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad,” among others.
Rebecca Black’s Friday goes viral
At 13, Rebecca Black demonstrated the power of the internet on the music industry when she released the song “Friday” in 2011. The YouTube video received millions of views, despite the track regularly being referred to as “the worst song ever.”
Amy Winehouse dies of alcohol poisoning
Soul musician Amy Winehouse, who often sang about substance abuse issues, died of alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011, at 27. Four years later, British filmmakers would chronicle her life and career in the documentary, “Amy.”
Tupac Shakur is revived in hologram form
In 2012, Coachella hosted a performance from the late hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur in hologram form. It cost between $100,000 and $400,000 to create the special effect, which would become a model for other hologram tours, according to Amy X. Wang of Rolling Stone.
Jimi Hendrix gets commemorative stamp
The U.S. Postal Service paid tribute to Jimi Hendrix with a postage stamp in 2014. The stamp featured a portrait of the late rocker by artist Rudy Gutierrez.
U2 gets blowback after sending its album to iTunes customers
The Irish band partnered with Apple to send its 2014 album “Songs of Innocence” to a half a billion iTunes users for free as part of its release. The unsolicited download was widely viewed as spam and Apple quickly published instructions to help customers delete the songs, according to Amy X. Wang of Rolling Stone.
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Mariah Carey helps James Corden launch Carpool Karaoke
The singer agreed to be the first guest on a new segment of “The Late Late Show With James Corden” called “Carpool Karaoke” in March 2015. It was a smash hit and Apple Music immediately got an “exclusive first-window licensing agreement” for the music-themed series, according to Amy X. Wang of Rolling Stone.
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Taylor Swift gets Apple to pay artists
The singer wrote a letter to Apple Music in 2015 encouraging it to change its policy of not paying musicians whose songs were streamed during a customer’s three-month free trial. The company announced the next day that it would pay artists after all.
Beyoncé’s Lemonade debuts at number one
The singer dropped “Lemonade” with no advance notice as both an HBO film and an album in April 2016. The record sold 485,000 copies in its first week and it debuted at the top of the charts. It would make her the first artist to ever have “six consecutive studio albums debut at #1,” according to Jon Bream of the Star Tribune.
Ed Sheeran has highest-grossing tour of all time
Ed Sheeran’s 2017-2019 “÷ Tour” took him across six continents for 255 shows. It would become the most lucrative tour ever, grossing $776.2 million, and selling nearly 9 million tickets, according to Eli Ellison of Work+Money.
Fyre Festival is exposed as a fraud
Promoted by celebrities and influencers as a luxury music festival in The Bahamas, Fyre Festival did not go as planned in 2017. Musicians bailed at the last minute after finding out the festival was not well-prepared, and fans found themselves with packaged sandwiches for meals and FEMA tents to sleep in. Teams of filmmakers released two documentaries about the festival in 2019, exposing a high degree of fraud.
Kendrick Lamar wins Pulitzer Prize in music
Rapper Kendrick Lamar became the first winner of the Pulitzer Prize in music who wasn’t a classical or jazz musician in 2018. The award was in recognition of his album “Damn.”