20 Female '80s Pop Stars: What They're Doing Now

Sinead OConnor
Antonio Calanni/AP/Corbis

We know what's up with the biggest '80s female pop stars because they've never stopped selling albums and making headlines: Madonna still stirs up controversy; Janet Jackson is on a top-selling world tour; and Gloria Estefan sang for Pope Francis and has a Broadway musical based on her career (Get On Your Feet). Unfortunately, we also know that Whitney Houston and Donna Summer left us too soon. But what about the decade's other pop sensations?

Many of them are singing, modeling lingerie, and scoring residencies in Las Vegas, thank you very much. Okay, maybe a few are playing casinos in Florida. Here's what happened to 20 of the most beloved ladies of '80s pop.

  • Cyndi Lauper

    1

    Image © Splash News/Splash News/Corbis

    Hands down the quirkiest '80s pop star with punk outfits and candy-colored hair, Cyndi Lauper was also one of the most talented. Not only did she become the first woman to have four top-five hits off a debut album, but she also conquered Broadway, receiving a Best Original Score Tony for Kinky Boots (the first woman to do so), and has two Grammys and an Emmy. Up next for the LGBT activist: a country album.   

  • Kylie Minogue

    2

    Image © Sloggi/Splash News/Corbis

    Yup, that's 47-year-old Kylie Minogue there, modeling lingerie in an ad. But looking ridiculously amazing is just one of her superpowers. The other — though you'd never know it from listening to American radio — is making music that's extremely popular the world over (she's sold more than 70 million records and counting), and raising millions for abused children and breast cancer research (she's a survivor).  

  • Debbie GIbson

    3

    Image © Derek Storm/Splash News/Corbis

    This '80s singing sensation still holds the record for youngest female vocalist to write, produce, and perform a #1 single ("Foolish Beat," 1988). But Gibson went on to score another #1 and 10 top-40 songs as a multiplatinum selling artist. Since then, she's performed on Broadway and starred on Celebrity Apprentice as well as in a TV movie.

  • Belinda Carlisle

    4

    Image © Simon Earl/Splash News

    One of the original '80s bad girls who lived by the "sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll" motto, Belinda Carlisle found success as both the lead singer of the Go-Gos ("Our Lips are Sealed"), and as a solo artist ("Heaven is a Place on Earth"). In 2010, she wrote a bestselling autobiography, Lips Unsealed: A Memoir, and credited her Buddhist faith with helping her quit drugs and alcohol for good. She continues to record and tour smaller venues.

    More from The Stir: 20 Beauty Products From the '80s Every Girl Was Obsessed With (PHOTOS)

  • Tiffany

    5

    Image © Derek Storm/Splash News/Corbis

    She famously built a fan base that catapulted her to fame by touring malls, and scored a hit with "I Think We're Alone Now." She was often pitted against Debbie Gibson in the media, but her career peaked much earlier, partly due to a legal battle with her parents that took a toll on her work. In 2002, Tiffany posed for Playboy in a comeback bid, but though she has continued to record, she has not found mass success again. She lives in Nashville where she own a vintage clothing store.

  • Tina Turner

    6

    Image © Tim Farrell/Star Ledger/Corbis

    She's a music legend whose career started in the 1950s but reached critical mass in the 1980s with such hits as "What's Love Got to do With It" and "We Don't Need Another Hero." She's received 11 Grammys and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In other words, she has nothing left to prove, and occasionally leaves her Switzerland mansion to do a charity concert or a limited tour. Did we mention she's 75 and a grandma? Wow!

  • Sinead O'Connor

    7

    Image © Antonio Calanni/AP/Corbis

    Intense is the best possible word to describe Sinead O'Connor, the Irish ball of wailing fire that broke through with "Nothing Compares 2 U," complete with accompanying video in which she sings and literally sheds a tear. Then she ripped up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live and seemed to go off the deep end. Today she is an ordained priest in the Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church and continues to sing.

  • Taylor Dayne

    8

    Image © Michael Owen Baker/ZUMA Press/Corbis

    A singer with a penchant for ballads, Taylor Dayne had a string of hits in the '80s, including "Tell It to My Heart" and "I"ll Always Love You." But she never parlayed her early success into major success, and like other '80s music stars, she's made the reality TV rounds, appearing on Celebrity Duets and Gone Country, among others.

    More from The Stir:  20 Singers Whose Solo Careers Soared After They Left The Band (PHOTOS)

  • Sheila E.

    9

    Image © Lionel Urman/Splash News/Corbis

    Though she's most famous for her drumming in Prince's band in the '80s, Sheila E. became a successful vocalist in her own right with the hit "The Glamorous Life." But the elite drummer has always excelled most at collaborations as well as headlining jazz and other festivals. In 2012, she played at the Academy Awards.

  • Olivia Newton-John

    10

    Image © Smallpix/Splash News/Corbis

    What is it about Australia and mega music success? Like fellow Aussie Kylie Minogue, Olivia Newton-John has sold a massive number of records — 100 million, to be exact. Though her career took off in the 1970s and she capped the decade with the now-classic Grease, it was during the '80s that she had her biggest album, Physical. After taking a few years off following the birth of her daughter, her mainstream career never recovered. Not to worry: She recently completed a Vegas residency and still tours the world.

  • Chaka Khan

    11

    Image © Faye Sadou/Retna Ltd/Retna Ltd./Corbis

    The lady with the big, brassy voice hit her stride as a solo artist in the '80s, with mega hits "I Feel For You" and "Through the Fire," and continued straight through the '90s. She's since become better known for her collaborations, being featured on tracks by Ray Charles, Mary J. Blige, and Prince. She was also a contestant on Dancing With the Stars, though she was the first to be voted off.  

  • Tracy Chapman

    12

    Image © Kevin Wolf/ /AP/Corbis

    America fell in love with the socially conscious singer with the golden voice when her 1988 paean to hope amid poverty, "Fast Car." Though she became a multiplatinum selling artist with hits such as "Give Me One Reason," the mainstream public moved on and Chapman began playing for a smaller core of fans and singing at charity events. 

    More from The Stir: 15 Crazy Concert Mishaps & Missteps (PHOTOS)

  • Irene Cara

    13

    Image via YouTube

    Being in a hit film (Fame) and winning both an Oscar and an Emmy for the theme song from a major movie ("FlashDance ... What a Feeling," from Flashdance) is no guarantee that you'll have a long-lasting career at the top of the charts. Just ask Irene Cara, who accomplished all of the above yet never produced another hit. Today she leads a band in Florida called Hot Caramel. 

  • Lisa Lisa

    14

    Image © Brock Miller/Splash News/Corbis

    Freestyle queen Lisa Lisa crossed over to pop with hits such as "I Wonder If I Take You Home" and "Can You Feel The Beat," which climbed the pop and R&B charts. That wasn't enough to help Lisa Lisa build a big career. But that doesn't mean she doesn't still have devoted fans who still pack casinos and other small venues to see her perform.

  • Laura Branigan

    15

    Image © Neal Preston/Corbis

    Unlike fellow '80s female stars who passed away, like Whitney Houston and Donna Summer, Laura Branigan's 2004 death attracted relatively little attention. That may have been because the "Gloria" and "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" singer had largely stepped out of the spotlight to be with her husband, who had been diagnosed with cancer. Then on Aug. 26, 2004, she died in her sleep, the victim of an undiagnosed aneurysm. She was just 52. 

  • Deniece Williams

    16

    Image © Cliffe Fraser/Splash News

    Here's a one-hit wonder with no regrets. Deniece Williams scored a number one hit with the playful "Let's Hear It for the Boy," which was placed on the Footloose soundtrack. But it was her only hit. She has since stuck mostly to gospel music.

    More from The Stir: 16 Singers Whose Solo Careers Crashed After Leaving the Group (PHOTOS)

  • Suzanne Vega

    17

    Image © EDV/Splash News/Corbis

    "Luka." A simple, brilliant, and heartbreaking song about a little boy who suffers abuse is still one of the rare gems that reached mainstream success. It also amplified the career of Suzanne Vega, who went from coffeehouse maven to chart-topper. Despite the follow-up success of the charming "Tom's Diner," Vega kept to her folk roots and hasn't spawned chart success since. She also branched out with a book of poems, lyrics, and essays. 

  • Sade

    18

    Image © Ricky Fitchett/ZUMA Press/Corbis

    Her warm, silky-smooth vocals and the chill vibe of her music were unlike anything else on '80s radio, spreading from jazz stations to pop. The singer of "Smooth Operator" and "Diamond Life" clearly knows what she likes and what her audience likes. She's kept to her style for decades without ever feeling cheesy, thanks to her haunting, sexy lyrics. Sade came out with a record and tour in 2011 — her first in 10 years — so don't expect another outing from the artist for a while.

  • Kate Bush

    19

    Image © ADavidson/GoffPhotos.com/Splash News/Corbis

    A fiercely talented and private original, Kate Bush writes and sings haunting music often labeled art or baroque pop (read: too weird for radio). Songs like "Running Up that Hill" and "This Woman's Work," however, managed to break through and make her one of the most beloved and influential '80s artists. Though she turns down big gigs like playing at the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics (and the publicity that comes with them), her sporadic live shows sell out in minutes.

  • Sheena Easton

    20

    Image © Brent Perniac/AdMedia/Corbis

    She has just one number one hit, "Morning Train," but canny career moves have kept Sheena Easton in the collective pop culture memory. Among them is a James Bond theme song, "For Your Eyes Only"; a five-episode guest appearance on then-hot show Miami Vice; and collaborations with Prince ("You Got the Look") and Mexican superstar Luis Miguel, which netted her a Grammy in 1984. These days she's focused on small tours.

    More from The Stir:  17 Exercise Fads From the '80s and '90s You'll Want to Try Again (PHOTOS)

music celeb moms

More Slideshows