rare footage of five cult musicians’ humble beginnings on stage

From teenage Lauryn Hill’s debut at the Apollo to Gwen Stefani’s first TV appearance, we look back at some of our favorite earliest performances from some of today’s biggest musicians.

by Jo Rosenthal
23 February 2017, 9:10pm

This week, earth angel Erykah Badu shared a decades-old clip of her singing "On & On" at an open mic night in Brooklyn in 1995. It was filmed two years before the release of her landmark 1997 debut album Baduizm — a record that would win her two Grammy nominations in 1998 — and her heart-wrenching vocals were already on point. The video joins the ranks of other seminal clips like seven-year-old Beyoncé belting out "Home" and baby Britney Spears's Star Search 1992 appearance. Follow us down a YouTube rabbit hole as we unearth some of our other favorite early performances.

The Smiths, 1983
The Smiths's first TV performance, on the Belgian program Generation 80 in 1983, never ended up airing — which was presumably a huge bummer for a very emotional and very young Steven Patrick Morrissey. But thanks to the internet, the clip recently resurfaced, bringing fans a previously unseen and beautiful early performance of "This Charming Man." Morrissey is 24, at the peak of his billowing barely-buttoned shirt years, and already sporting his signature floppy hair. The band had formed the year before, but its members had met back in 1978 — when Morrissey was introduced to a then 14-year-old Johnny Marr by mutual friends at a Patti Smith gig at Manchester's Apollo Theatre. In 1982, Marr decided that he wanted to establish a band, and subsequently turned up on the doorstep of Morrissey's house, accompanied by Steve Pomfret. The rest is music history.

Lauryn Hill, 1988
Golden-voiced Lauryn Hill has blessed us with iconic songs such as "Doo Wop (That Thing)," "Ex Factor," and her unforgettable rendition of "Killing Me Softly." She got her start at 16 when she scored a recurring role on the television soap opera As the World Turns in 1991. And by the end of 1994 she had already released Blunted on Reality, her first album with the Fugees. (Pras Michel and his cousin Wyclef Jean had approached Hill about starting a band while she was still in high school in New Jersey.) But before all of that, Hill made her musical debut at amateur night at The Apollo. In the footage above, filmed nearly 30 years ago, 13-year-old Hill takes the stage to sing "Who's Lovin' You" by Smokey Robinson, dazzling the audience with her insane talent and million-watt smile.

No Doubt, 1990
No Doubt formed in the late 80s after its members met in a California Dairy Queen. But tomboy icon Gwen Stefani wasn't the group's original lead singer. Stefani stepped in after founding member John Spence committed suicide weeks before the band's first performance at The Roxy Theatre in LA in 1987. The group quickly developed a large following because of its priceless punk sound and over-the-top stage presence. And thanks to Stefani's inimitable style and hits such as "Sunday Morning," "Don't Speak," and "Ex-Girlfriend," No Doubt will always be an iconic band of the 90s. But the group's first TV appearance reveals a slightly less well-tuned operation. This 1990 taping of Australian pop-culture show The Gig shows a young, nervous Stefani — in a beige playsuit and minimal makeup — backed up by band members wearing Hawaiian shirts.

Marilyn Manson, 1991
Take a minute to revisit Marilyn Manson's green legging look in this 1991 acoustic performance of his early song "My Monkey." Filmed in Miami, the clip demonstrates how Manson (then 22) has never really changed his music style or look — he's just intensified his shrieks, pallor, and greasy locks. In the intervening years, both The Catholic League and the Mayor of Minneapolis have led boycotts of Marilyn Manson concerts because of his perceived "dark" views. But Manson was once just Brian Hugh Warner, a journalism student from Canton, Ohio who got his start when Trent Reznor endorsed his demo tape in the early 90s.

Kanye West, 1996
Kanye West's albums are now so flawlessly produced, it's refreshing to hear him freestyle. Especially when he's wearing baggy jeans, a polo shirt, and a tiny smile on his face, as he is in this 1996 video filmed at legendary, since-closed record store Fat Beats in NYC. Originally from Atlanta, West eventually moved to New York in 2001 to pursue his music career, after completing one year of art school at Chicago State University. Once he'd cut his teeth producing tracks for Jay Z, he completed his own debut record, The College Dropout, in 2004 — with his jaw wired shut following a fatal car accident. The heartfelt album ended up selling more than 2.6 million copies and winning Best Rap Album at the 2005 Grammys. Watching a rare video like this, who wouldn't "Miss the Old Kanye"?


Text Jo Rosenthal

kanye west
The Smiths
No Doubt
marilyn manson
lauryn hill