How Musicians Have Expanded Their Brands Through Acting (And Vice Versa)

How Musicians Have Expanded Their Brands Through Acting (And Vice Versa)

By David Bakula, SVP Nielsen Entertainment

At their core, musicians are entertainers. And the creativity they put into making music can often translate into other areas of entertainment. The same can be said for actors and actresses. The underlying creative talents of these individuals can often lend themselves to successful projects outside the realms where they initially claimed their fame.

Here we examine some musicians who’ve tried their hand at acting and a few big-screen stars that have dabbled in music. The benefits of crossing over include gaining exposure, showcasing new talents, staying on top of mind with audiences and connecting with new fans as they broaden their reach into television, music, or film. New projects let celebrities stretch their wings a bit, giving them opportunities to diversify their creativity, showcase different talents and the chance to grow into entertainment powerhouses.


Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake first took on music as part of the wildly successful band ‘N SYNC, but has now established himself as a diverse and skilled solo artist. As a solo artist, his first two albums, Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds debuted at No. 2 and No. 1, respectively. Then, in the mid 2000s, he took on acting, with his breakthrough portrayal of Sean Parker in the 2010 movie The Social Network. Timberlake was nominated for a 2011 Teen Choice Award for his performance, and the film’s cast was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast. Fueled by a strong screenplay, solid acting and the worldwide recognition of Facebook, The Social Network has sold more than 1.2 million DVDs. Additionally, the Collector’s Edition in DVD and Blu-ray were released Jan. 11, 2011 and claimed the No. 1 and No. 2 sales spots, respectively, the first week ending Jan. 16, 2011. Following The Social Network, Timberlake continued to take on the big screen with lead roles in Bad Teacher and Friends with Benefits. Bad Teacher, released to disc on Oct 18, 2011, has sold over 1.2 million DVDs to date, while Friends with Benefits, which Timberlake co-starred in, has sold 1.3 million DVDs to date since its release on Dec. 2, 2011.

Now nearly 20 years after the start of ‘N SYNC, Timberlake’s foray into film and television has elevated his status across the entertainment landscape. Now widely recognized for his talents across many channels of entertainment, Timberlake has built a much larger audience, which helped with the success of his more recent music releases, including FutureSex/LoveSounds, which debuted at No. 1 in 2006 with over 684,000 albums sold in its first week and The 20/20 Experience, which debuted at No. 1 in 2013 with over 968,000 albums sold in its first week.


Rewind to the turn of the century. It was 2001 and Ludacris was dipping his toe into the acting pool by getting on the “Fast & Furious” express. He had just finished scoring two hit singles—“Southern Hospitality” and “What’s Your Fantasy”—both on his major label debut Back for the First Time in 2000, and the music world was starting to take notice. The album reached No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200 and all eyes were on the rapper.

As Tej Parker, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges gained immediate exposure in 2001, as well the opportunity to reprise his role in the following sequels. He then went on to play supporting roles in Crash (2005), Hustle & Flow (2005), No Strings Attached (2011) and New Year’s Eve (2011). In 2004, he was nominated for Best Male Breakthrough Performance at the MTV Movie Awards for his role in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Ludacris and the cast of Crash won Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture awards, and Ludacris was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award in the same category for Hustle and Flow. Crash, which was nominated for six Academy Awards, won in three categories.

Ludacris has never stopped recording, and he continues to split his time as a musician and actor. With eight albums, totaling more than 14 million in sales, and more than 20 movie and TV roles since 2001, he’s excelled in both mediums.

Jennifer Hudson

Although the American Idol contestant came in seventh place in season 3 of the show, Jennifer Hudson’s film debut in Dreamgirls (2006) catapulted her into the spotlight. It also rocketed her to the awards podium, where she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA Award, an NAACP Image Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award. The title continues to sell extremely well and has eclipsed 1.5 million units on DVD, 1.4 million soundtracks and 411,000 downloads of Hudson’s song “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” And her success didn’t end there. Following Dreamgirls, Hudson continued with The Secret Life of Bees in 2008, for which she was nominated for a BET Award, a Black Reel Award and an NAACP Image Award.

Hudson’s foray into acting helped build momentum for her first album, Jennifer Hudson, released in 2008, featuring the hit single “Spotlight.” The release debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard top 200 chart and went on to win Best R&B Album at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Hudson was also crowned Outstanding New Artist and the release was recognized as an Outstanding Album at the NAACP Image Awards, proving that Hudson could reign in both realms.


Some of the biggest acts on the silver screen have turned into some of music’s most impressive acts. They range all genres, from Hugh Laurie, House doctor turned blues musician (who has a new album out this week, and his previous music has sold over 200,000 albums to date), all the way to rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars’ frontman Jared Leto, whose TV and film credits include My So Called Life, American Psycho and Girl, Interrupted. Other actor-musicians include Jennifer Lopez, Childish Gambino and Jack Black, who fronts the band Tenacious D.


Aubrey Drake Graham started his acting career playing Jimmy Brooks in Degrassi: The Next Generation. After the series ended, Drake began his music career with mixtapes. The songs “Best I Ever Had”, and “Successful” did well and were included in his third mixtape called So Far Gone. Thank Me Later, his official debut album, followed shortly thereafter in 2010 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 with over 446,000 albums sold in its first week and 1.7 million units since its release. His 2011 release, Take Care, also opened at No. 1 and has gone on to sell over 2 million units.  Most recently, in September 2012, Drake released Nothing Was the Same, which also went No. 1 in the first week of release and has sold an impressive 947,000 albums in just four weeks. Despite his beginnings as an actor, it seems like Drake has found his voice, as each of his major label albums have landed at No. 1.

Jennifer Lopez

Beginning as backup dancer for New Kids on the Block, Jennifer Lopez found widespread success with her first major film, Selena (1997), which led to follow-up successes with Anaconda (1997), Antz (1998), The Cell (2000), and the Wedding Planner (2001). “If You Had My Love” was Lopez’s debut single in 1999, from the album On The 6. The album sold 2.8 million copies and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, but her next album, J. Lo, was where she really shined, selling 3.8 million albums and taking the top spot in its first week.

Today, Jenny from the Block continues to act and record albums, with 9 studio albums (selling more than 12 million to date) and 28 film credits to her name. She has also released a successful fragrance line, accessories and clothes, not to mention her stint as a judge on American Idol. Her variety of sounds (from pop to dance) and entrepreneurship, have allowed her name to become branded both on the charts and on product franchises.

By showcasing their many talents across different entertainment platforms, these special artists can reach fans in many different ways.  Whether actors want to delve into music, or musicians want to try their hand at acting, entertainers have potential to successfully develop and expand their brand through these opportunities. When these entertainers decide to pursue new avenues, it can broaden their audiences and lead to greater success.