Severina's style can be described as pop with various folk and cabaret influences. As a child, she took smaller parts in theatre and opera productions in her native Split. During the 1980s, having won numerous awards at local festivals, she launched her professional career at an early age, which ultimately resulted in her moving to Zagreb in 1989 to expand her career further. In the same year, she recorded her first studio album titled Severina. During the 1990s, she established herself as a national pop icon with chart-topping hits such as Dalmatinka (1993), Paloma nera (1993), Trava zelena (1995), Od rođendana do rođendana (1996), Djevojka sa sela (1998), Prijateljice (1998), Ja samo pjevam (1999), Ante (1999) and others.
Following the huge success of her 2001 album Pogled ispod obrva, Severina's 2002 concert tour Virujen u te further confirmed her status of one of the most popular Croatian music artists. After a couple years' break, she released her 8th studio album Severgreen in 2004. In 2006, she won the Dora 2006 festival with the song Moja štikla and represented Croatia at the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest in Athens, Greece, on May 20, 2006, finishing 13th with 56 points. The song caused controversy in Croatia, as many journalists, musicologists as well as ordinary people claimed it resembled Serbian music. Although the most prominent Croatian ethno-musicians such as Dunja Knebl and Lidija Bajuk disagree, both the composer Boris Novković and Severina claim that the song includes Croatian folk music influences from the Dalmatian Zagora (Inner Dalmatia) such as ganga and rere singing and lijerica instrumentation.
Severina's long-anticipated 9th studio album Zdravo Marijo (Hail Mary), mostly composed by Goran Bregović, was released in May 2008. After the first single from the album Gas, gas hit the stations, accusations followed once again that particularly due to the brass elements and mischievous, prankish lyrics, the song closely resembled Serbian turbo-folk. Additionally, after having made several public appearances wearing clothes depicting religious imagery, many people protested that Severina, Catholic herself, abused religious elements in her work and thus offended them.
In 2003, Severina landed her first theatre role in HNK Rijeka. She played the title role in the rock opera Karolina Riječka along with Galliano Pahor. Two years later, she produced and acted in the monodrama Čekajući svog čovika in Kerempuh, Zagreb.
The decision to cast Severina as baroness Castelli in HNK Rijeka's musical play Gospoda Glembajevi (based upon Miroslav Krleža's drama of the same title) caused numerous disputes and debates in the media over whether an "entertainer" like her with no serious theatrical background or education was appropriate to portray one of the most complex characters in Croatian literature. Despite the majority of the general public strongly opposing this, all performances were sold out in a couple of days. The play also gained much controversy due to a scene alluding to the death of Ena Begović, one of the most celebrated Croatian actresses of all time, who died in a car accident on the island of Brač in 2000 and was the last to play baroness Castelli before Severina.
Severina played one of the main roles in 2006 Bosnian film Duhovi Sarajeva, set in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. One year later, she made a 5-minute cameo appearance in the Slovenian film Petelinji zajtrk, one of the most successful films of the year in Slovenia.
In 2004 she became part of a sex scandal reported worldwide after a personal sex tape featuring her and Herzegovinian Croat businessman Milan Lučić leaked on the internet. The very sexually graphic nature of the video and the fact that Lučić was married when the tape was filmed shocked the Croatian and other ex-Yugoslav nations among which she is widely popular and severely damaged her public image because she promoted abstinence in many of her public appearances and was known as devout Catholic. With this image in shreds and her hypocrisy exposed, Severina decided to sue the website that released the tape for damages, claiming that the video was stolen from her and that it was her intellectual property. The case was dismissed by the District Court of Zagreb. With time it became apparent that this incident actually boosted Severina's career, especially internationally as the news story and sex video quickly went around the world and millions who had never heard of Severina now knew of her. This career boost is similar to what fellow celebrity sex tape stars (such as Paris Hilton) have experienced. She now embraces a more sexy image, which has so far been successful for her.