Some bands sell out, others change for the better.
Remember when Maroon 5 morphed from a budding funk-rock act into a bunch of lukewarm, autotuned pop ninnies?
It's a special kind of heartbreak when a band sells out. When The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus went from making stimulating post-hardcore music to schmalzy pop-rock on their third album, Lonely Road, fans and critics alike were turned off by the group's new glossed-over sound. Emo fans still feel strong resentment towards Fall Out Boy for mutating into dubstep-whomping robots, and let's not even discuss the descent of Aerosmith.
But on the flip side, bands oftentimes do grow and shift their sound for the better. Bon Iver slowly incorporated more instruments and bandmates into his work and developed a richer, more texturized sound. Lord Huron transformed from a campy folk group to a psych-rock band. MGK went from being a motor-mouthed rapper to a pop-punk revivalist, and Radiohead continues to defy genres due to their ever-changing sound.
There remains a stark difference between a band that grows and a band that sells out, but any sort of creative transition always upsets at least a handful of day one fans. So which bands have changed for the better? Despite what some might think, here are a handful of groups whose best moments came when they stepped outside their box.
5 Seconds of Summer
When 5SOS drastically switched from angsty pop-punk to gleaming power-pop, fans were furious. But the quartet made some of their best music once they embraced pop more directly. "Easier" is an intoxicating swirl of lo-fi bedroom pop and indie rock, and their thematic snot-nosed teenage antics transitioned into more adult themes like heartbreak and growing up. (Not to mention the fact that their harmonies have steadily become even more transfixing).
Day one fans remain relentless in their nay-saying, but 5SOS remains one of a few bands who have adopted pop sounds and maintained their charisma and authenticity.
Bring Me The Horizon
On Count Your Blessings and Suicide Season, Bring Me the Horizon was a hard-hitting metalcore band with a devout following. But on 2015's That's the Spirit, the British metal group tip-toed into a leaner, more pop-heavy sound. By 2019, the band had all but completely ditched their hardcore aesthetic in favor of a sleeker metal and pop hybrid.
Metal-heads were quick to dismiss BMTH as corporate sell-outs as their sound got cleaner, but as of 2019, the band has masterfully balanced their newfound pop sensibilities with their hardcore roots. Amo was one of but a few great rock releases in 2019, and snagged a Grammy nomination as a result. On songs like "MANTRA" and "medicine," the band sounds refreshed and like they're having the time of their lives.
Sing the Sorrow signified a drastic transition for AFI in 2003. While the band's first five releases toyed around with horror punk, AFI's sixth effort experimented with more goth and emo sounds and caught the early-aughts emo wave enough to captivate mainstream audiences with 2006's DECEMBERUNDERGROUND.
But the shift was warmly welcomed by fans and newcomers alike; "Miss Murder" and "Love Like Winter" were anthemic emo tracks that conjured up a legacy of their own. The band has since transitioned into a more sophisticated goth sound and continues to appeal to fans of the "Miss Murder" days, while all but abandoning every pop-punk vibe that came before it.
The Calabasas-based band has undergone an incalculable amount of change in their time together. Their debut EP, Enjoy Incubus, fused funk and pop-rock in Red Hot Chili Peppers fashion, while their follow-up album incorporated nu-metal and rap-rock. From then on out, they slowly cleaned up their sound, while still offering creative outliers like 2001's "Aqueous Transmission," a long atmospheric track that experiments with hip-hop and a Japanese Kokyū.
The band refused to be boxed in, and as the years went on they churned out rock gems like "Anna Molly" and "Agoraphobia." They pissed off a lot of fans with their U2-sounding album If Not Now, When? but then returned in 2017 as if they'd never left with a tight rock record produced by Skrillex. As a result, they remain one of the last great holdover rock bands from the nu-metal era.
Panic! At The Disco
Strangely, as band members slowly trickled out, Panic! At The Disco got better. Originally a carnivalesque emo brigade, Panic! At The Disco defined the emo wave of the early-aughts with their debut, A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, which went triple platinum and is still widely cited as the pinnacle of early 2000s emo music. Then, they ditched the eyeliner and exclamation point and put forth a sophomore record full of baroque pop and psychedelia with Pretty Odd. The album was received well by critics, but undersold drastically compared to their debut.
Over time, the record developed a cult following—and for a good reason. Pretty Odd. has aged well as a record, and was clearly vastly underappreciated in 2008. The exclamation mark has since returned to their name, but Panic! at the Disco has continued to morph away from their emo roots in favor of theatrical pop, a style that fits the band's sole original member Brendon Urie like a tight pair of black jeans.
Paramore captured the attention of pop-punk enthusiasts with their debut All We Know Is Falling before crossing over into mainstream fame with their sophomore follow-up, Riot! The record was a perfect fusion of emo rock with pop melodies, and Hayley Williams was cited as an emo Kelly Clarkson. The band leaned heavily on their pop sensibilities for their 2013 self-titled effort, and the transition was met with a lot of praise.
In 2017, the band ditched the heavy guitars entirely on After Laughter, a collection of bubblegum pop songs that sampled '80s new wave. The record was widely praised and debuted at number six on the Billboard 200. Hayley Williams has since even further changed her sound, and released a solo collection of enigmatic pop songs this year.