Nineties alt-rockers Garbage rocked David Letterman's "Late Show" earlier this week, reigniting our love of recycling, er, nostalgia.
Late night — and TV in general — has been the launching pad for countless singers and bands, and now that we live in an era where no pop cultural is ever thrown away, we decided to dig though the online landfills to find the first TV performances by acts who are now larger than life, from Lady Gaga's reality TV debut, to Justin Timberlake's ignoble one, to Kurt Cobain’s hilariously shocking shout-out to Courtney Love on UK TV.
U2, "The Late Late Show With Gay Byrne (UK)" (1980)
Can you imagine living in a world in which U2 were an unknown band? (Probably, if you were alive before 1980.) This clip of Bono, The Edge and co. rocking out on U.K. late-night TV is awesome in how impossibly young and refreshingly not-famous they are.
Lady Gaga, "So You Think You Can Dance" (2008)
Once upon a time, Mama Monster was just a girl standing in front of a reality show audience asking them to love her. After months of touring small North American towns (and playing to mostly empty rooms in cities like Toronto), she got her big break in July 2008 when she landed live performances on "So You Think You Can Dance" and the Miss Universe Pageant, thus beginning the harrowing journey we’ve all witnessed so far.
Nirvana, "The Word" (1991)
Leave it to the U.K. to give one of rock’s most iconic bands their first taste of international television. And what an appearance it was: from Kurt Cobain’s NSFW declaration of “Love” (get it?) to their IDGAF-brand of energy on "Smells Like Teen Spirit," it was obvious from this very first televised mosh pit that they would soon be legends.
R.E.M., "The Late Show With David Letterman" (1983)
Well, someone had to give R.E.M. their big TV break — and it might as well be David Letterman, who still has a flair for featuring bands on the brink of big-time. Also, there’s arguably nothing like David Letterman reading a band’s name for the first time while using his trademark “sure, why not — good luck, kids” introduction technique.
Elvis Presley, "The Milton Berle Show" (1956)
Change was a-brewing in the buttoned-up ‘50s, and Elvis was the first indication thanks to his Shakira-like affinity for working the hips. Understandably — and historically — quite the backlash ensued after this performance, which obviously meant he became a household name or, more specifically, household royalty.
The Beatles, "The Ed Sullivan Show" (1964)
The screams! The pandemonium! The screams! The hype! The screams! Evidently, The Beatles also played music on their first North American TV appearance, but who could hear it over the reason they became so popular to begin with? (Well, that, and those songs.)
Rihanna, "ET Talk Playlist" (2005)
“Oh, to be young again” is what Jay-Z probably thinks when remembering the time 17-year-old Rihanna gave it her all on the not-quite-late-show circuit. However, the important thing is that Ri-Ri’s songs have gotten phenomenally better since her breakthrough, “Pon De Replay,” and that Jay-Z now makes better fashion choices.
Spice Girls, "Top Of The Pops" (1996)
Much like The Beatles, Rolling Stones and One Direction, the Spice Girls conquered their homeland before crossing the pond to make it big in North America. But even when they were relative unknowns singing “Wannabe,” they defined “girl power” thanks to their individuality, chemistry and actual message.
Britney Spears, "The Howie Mandel Show" (1999)
Technically, Britney Spears' first TV appearance was a "Star Search" competition (she lost) followed by a stint on "The Mickey Mouse Club." But the first time she performed her own songs on TV was in 1999, when she was climbing the charts with “(Hit Me Baby) One More Time” and inspiring high school students to wear kilts and belly tops. (And for that, Mom and Dad, I am so sorry.)
N'Sync, "TRL Live" (1998)
It’s important to remember, when listening to "The 20/20 Experience" and appreciating Justin’s Tom Ford suit, that he used to be in this band. Hair gel was plentiful, tips were frosted, and choreographed dancing trumped lyrical prose — and given 20/20 hindsight, even back then JT was the best of the bunch.