Although being a musician is a very public career, surprisingly many musicians are shy. Often the most outlandish or those with the most bizarre stage personas are actually the most shy; they find it easier to transform themselves into someone other than themselves. Here is a list of shy musicians and how they have dealt with their shyness.
Adele is a grammy-award winning British singer who landed her first record deal right after finishing school. Her first and second albums were named for her ages at the time of recording (19 and 21). Adele has discussed her fears about performing and how she just pushes through:
“I’m scared of audiences,” she confessed. “One show in Amsterdam I was so nervous I escaped out the fire exit. I’ve thrown up a couple of times. Once in Brussels I projectile vomited on someone. I just gotta bear it. But I don’t like touring. I have anxiety attacks a lot.”
2. Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand is an American singer and actress known for her music and popular films such as Hello Dolly!, Yentl and Meet the Fockers. Streisand developed a case of stage fright after forgetting the words to a song during her 1967 performance in Central Park. After the incident she disappeared from the spotlight for almost three decades. The singer has discussed how she recovered from her anxiety and stage fright with the help of therapy and medication.
3. Bob Dylan
Popular folk/rock musician Bob Dylan has been performing for decades and is known for songs such as Mr. Tambourine Man and Like a Rolling Stone. Musicians such as Johnny Cash and Gary Moore have commented on Dylan’s shyness. Johnny Cash said:
“I think Bob Dylan was scared or even a little embarrassed. He’s a very shy person. I can really appreciate that. When we went out to rehearse they had an old shack hanging from wires behind him to try to give it a backwoods look. He came offstage upset. He said, I’m gonna be the laughing stock of the business! My fans are gonna laugh in my face over that thing!”
Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore had the following to say about meeting Bob Dylan:
“I remember Bob had soft, squidgy, little hands and was really shy – he hardly said two words.”
4. Britney Spears
Britney Spears is an American singer who started her career as a Mouseketeer along with other future stars such as Justin Timberlake. Spears’ debut album, “Baby One More Time” was an international success selling 13 million copies. Although most people think of Britney as an outgoing performer, she considers herself shy and nervous in certain situations:
“It’s weird because I think people think because of what I do I’m like, ‘Da-na’, but at heart I’m very shy… When I’m in front of the camera I know what to do, but I get in a room, stuck with four guys, and I’m like the shyest girl in there.”
5. Carly Simon
Carly Simon is an American singer known for hit songs such as You’re So Vain. Carly was known for her stage fright, to the point that during a concert in 1981 she passed out and collapsed. Carly talks about her fears:
“I’m an anxiety prone person and I’m prone to attacks. I can wig out. I can wig out in a department store or in a social situation, at a dinner party, or in a restaurant. The stage isn’t only place I can do it, but that has some adverse conditions, you can’t get off. I’ve only done about 75 concerts.”
6. Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood competed in and won the fourth season of the reality television show American Idol. Carrie went on to become a multi-platinum recording artist and songwriter and has received numerous music awards for her work as a country singer. Despite being a performer, Carrie describes herself as shy, nervous, and socially awkward.
7. Cher Bono
Cher Bono is an American singer and actress who became famous with her husband Sonny during the popularity of their music and variety show The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. Cher suffered with undiagnosed dyslexia during childhood which may have caused some of her feelings of inadequacy; she describes herself as ugly and shy during childhood.
8. David Bowie
David Bowie is a British singer and actor known for his flamboyant onstage presence. Bowie has had numerous successful albums over the course of his career and has also appeared on Broadway and with small parts onscreen. Like many singers and actors, his performing persona was a cover-up for his shyness:
“I’m not particularly a gregarious person. I had an unbearable shyness; it was much easier for me to keep on with the Ziggy thing, off stage as well as on. Who was David Bowie and who was Ziggy Stardust? It was motivated by shyness.”
9. Donny Osmond
Donny Osmond is an American musician and actor. Donny first experienced stage fright when he was a young boy performing with his family. He went on to endure a panic attack while onstage during a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Eventually Donny became afraid to even go out in public. He has discussed openly how he overcame his fears with treatment that included cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication.
10. Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald was a renowned jazz singer known for hits such as “A-tisket a-tasket” and “I found a yellow basket.” During the course of her career she recorded more than 200 albums and 2000 songs and became known as the “First Lady of Jazz.” Ella talks about being shy in real life and how she coped as a performer:
“I’m very shy, and I shy away from people. But the moment I hit the stage, it’s a different feeling. I get nerve from somewhere; maybe it’s because it’s something I love to do.”
She died on June 15th, 1996.
11. Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley was a singer and actor who played a large part in the establishment of early rock and roll music; he was also a teen heart throb and known for his unusual moves onstage. Despite his public image, privately Elvis was shy and remembers how he felt as a teenager:
“I took the guitar, and I watched people, and I learned to play a little bit. But I would never sing in public. I was very shy about it.”
Others have commented that in his younger years Elvis was too shy to perform openly and would sometimes stutter in certain social situations.
12. George Harrison
George Harrison was known as the “Quiet Beatle” for his introspective nature. Despite being overshadowed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, some of the songs that he wrote became the most popular, such as “Here Comes the Sun” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. After the breakup of the Beatles he went on to become a successful solo artist and later a film producer. Harrison died on November 29th, 2001. He is quoted as saying:
“I never asked to be famous, I just wanted to be successful.”
13. Gloria Estefan
Gloria Estefan is a native of Havana, Cuba. She got her start singing in a band with Emilio Estevez during high school; the two later went on to marry and the band “Miami Sound Machine” became wildly successful with it’s blend of cuban rhythms and English lyrics. Gloria suffered a broken back during a car accident mid-way through her solo career but recovered quickly. As a young performer she suffered with shyness; an obstacle that husband Emilio helped her to overcome.
14. Jarvis Cocker
Jarvis Cocker is a singer with the British band Pulp. A shy and gangly kid, Cocker was bullied in school and dreamed of becoming famous. He talks about how he thought fame would help him out of his shyness:
“I found it difficult – I still find it difficult now – to go up and start talking to somebody. I always think I’m imposing on them, getting on their nerves. I thought: if I’m famous, people will come and talk to me; once that’s out of the way, it’ll be OK.”
15. Jessica Simpson
Jessica Simpson grew up as the daughter of a youth minister; her church singing eventually led to a record contract and later stardom as an international performer. She was also the star of the hit reality television show about her (now failed) marriage to actor Nick Lachey. Jessica describes herself as shy:
“I am a very shy person, but I do believe that God has blessed me with a gift that I need to share.”
16. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix was a rock musician known for his genius onstage and problematic drug use. He played with the group “The Experience,” and was a performer at legendary Woodstock. Despite his onstage persona, he was described as shy and retiring offstage. He died at the young age of 27 on September 17th, 1970 due to complications after taking sleeping pills.
17. Jonathan Davis
Jonathan Davis the lead singer for the band Korn; together the group has released multiple studio albums. Davis as been described as nervous, shy and anxious in person. He himself talks about his anxiety attacks:
“When I have these attacks, my heart starts to palpitate and freak out and…. sh*t, I dunno what it is, but I just have to go with it. It feels like I’m going to f*cking die…You can’t think, you don’t know what’s happening.”
18. Jonathan Knight
Jonathan Knight is a member of the band New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) along with his younger brother Jordan. His first problems with anxiety began during childhood, and as a member of NKOTB he dealt with severe performance anxiety as well as fear of other social sitations. He eventually sought professional help for his anxiety after leaving the band and becoming reclusive. Jonathan talks about how he felt during the popularity of NKOTB:
“The whole New Kids thing was crazy. The more it grew, the more I just felt like I was trapped. I just always had this feeling inside me of always being nervous and afraid of situations. The hardest thing for me was doing interviews, doing talk shows, photo sessions, being in the studio, just because you’re with so many different people. You’re shaky, your heart just starts pounding, and you have a dry mouth. The easiest thing for me was to just avoid situations.”
19. Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake got his start in the entertainment world on the Mickey Mouse Club alongside future stars Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. He later went on to become a member of the popular boy band NYSNC and followed up as a solo artist. Justin describes how performing changed him from a shy kid into an attention-getter:
“I was very shy as a kid. But when I found out I could perform and have people’s attention, everything changed. My mom likes to joke that until I was eight or nine I only knew what my sneakers looked like because I constantly walked around with my head down. But all of a sudden, the stage made sense and that’s what brought me out of my shell and a monster was created.”
20. Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain was the lead singer for the band Nirvana, known for several popular albums including “Nevermind.” Kurt had difficulty with success and eventually committed suicide; his body was found on April 8th, 1994. He was described as someone with a certain confidence but who was definitely shy around people.
21. Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga is an internationally-successful singer and songwriter whose love of music began at an early age; she learned to play the piano at age 4. She was also granted early admission at the age of 17 to New York Unviersity’s Tisch School of the Arts; an honor bestowed on very few students. Lady Gaga is known for her outlandish stage costumes and performances which are in direct contrast to her offstage personality. She talks about her own struggles with shyness:
“I don’t really meet that many other artists because I’m actually kinda shy. I might not be shy with people that I know but with people that I don’t know I am very shy. I generally really keep to myself and I am focused on my music. But when I do meet people that I have lots in common with it goes really well. I always feel shy in the Hollywood scene. I feel a bit like I did in high school, like I don’t really fit in.”
22. Margo Timmins
Margo Timmins is the lead singer of the Canadian band “Cowboy Junkies.” The band is composed of three family members: Margo and her two brothers. When Margo began singing she would only sing with her back to the audience because of stage fright. Margo discusses her fears:
“In those early days, I wouldn’t turn around to face the audience. But nobody forced me and I slowly turned around and I slowly opened my eyes and I slowly began to say hello. And now they can’t shut me up!”
She also talks about her pre-performance rituals:
“I do two things. One is, I iron my dress and I post the set list on the wall and stare at it to get a sense of the flow of the songs. After that, I arrange my flowers. I always have flowers on stage. Once they’re arranged, I hand them to my crew guy to put on stage and that’s the cue that we’re about to start.
Arranging my flowers is my meditation. I focus on the flowers and think about nothing. I have no problems being on the stage nowadays. But it’s still difficult for me to get from the side of the stage to the microphone. Just that initial walking out is hard. I have my tea. I always bring my tea out with me because I think it’s an anchor, it’s something to carry, something to do with my hands. I stand on the side of the stage drinking my tea before I go out. That’s my nervous time.
I go out, I say hi, and we go into a song. Within that song, I calm down, catch my breath and relax. Then it’s like, Yeah, I like it up here. I forgot how much I like it up here.”
23. Marilyn Manson
Marilyn Manson (whose real name is Brian Warner) is a controversial musician due to the anti-Christian message of his songs. Although Manson is known for outlandish onstage behavior, like other musicians with extreme stage personas, he claims that he is actually shy:
“I’m kind of shy, and I think that I take that out by performing in front of a lot of people. That’s how I get out my shyness.”
24. Martha Argerich
Martha Argerich is a famous pianist who began playing the piano at an early age. A native of Buenos Aires, Argerich is best known for her recordings of the Piano Concerto No. 1 of Tchikovsky, Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen, and the third concertos of Prokofiev and Rachmaninov. Martha talks about her shyness and stage fright growing up:
“I was extremely shy and didn’t enjoy performing. I hated coming out for bows and would rather have just run off the stage.”
25. Paul Potts
Paul Potts won the 2007 edition of the reality television show “Britain’s Got Talent”. Potts is an operatic tenor whose album “One Chance” was released after his television victory. He describes himself as a nervous performer and admits that he was shaking while auditioning for Simon Cowell.
26. Rivers Cuomo
Rivers Cuomo is the guitarist and lead singer for the band “Weezer”. Known for being shy, Rivers talks about the hardships of his childhood that may have caused his shyness:
“We got the crap beaten out of us. I think it made me very shy.”
27. Trent Reznor
Trent Reznor is the lead singer for the band “Nine Inch Nails.” He talks about how his shyness is misunderstood:
“I become irritated when I am being written off as aloof or stand-offish when I’m shy and don’t know what to say.”