One-Hit Wonders in the New Decade
As long as era-defining superstars have been consistently pumping out the pop songs that have become eponymous with the decades they represent, artists slapped with the stigma “one-hit wonders” have been attempting to disrupt that dominance.
Fortunately for these one-hit wonders, their realm of infamy is more direct than their pop star counterparts. For a notable example, let’s take a look at the mid-1980s. Between 1984 and 1989, Madonna racked up 17 consecutive Top 10 singles, as well as seven chart-toppers. While this is an astounding achievement , it makes it difficult to pinpoint her hits with specific years. It is far more easy to associate a-ha’s legendary “Take On Me” with 1985 than Madonna’s “Crazy For You,” isn’t it?
Such is the benefit of being a one-hit wonder. For every Mariah Carey, there are three “Macarena”s, “I’m Too Sexy”s, and “Baby Got Back”s. Looking at this still-youthful new decade, it is easy to address this notion with a fair amount of skepticism. Thus far, the 2010s have seemed to be dominated by familiar faces more so than its predecessors. Of the 56 songs that have topped the Billboard Hot 100 this decade, only 11 of those were by unique artists scoring their first (and thus far only) #1 single. Two of those “unique artists” are superstars Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift, making this sparse statistic even more poignant.
The other nine artists are Taio Cruz, B.o.B., Far East Movement, Wiz Khalifa, Fun., Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen, Baauer and Robin Thicke. With the exception of Gotye and Baauer, all of the others have at least one other Top 20 hit to their credit, elevating them to greater status in the pop history annals. While these stats suggest a decline in contemporary one-hit wonders, there is no doubt that plenty of artists will be remembered in future decades for their memorable, if brief, contributions to popular culture. Here are a few early candidates who have the dual distinctions of earning one massive hit and lacking the potential to follow up that success.
Breakout Hit: Somebody That I Used To Know (2012, 8 weeks at #1)
Other Chart Appearances: Eyes Wide Open (2012, #96)
Why Will They Be A One-Hit Wonder? If the Belgian-Australian singer (née Wally De Backer) goes down in history as a one-hit wonder, he will undoubtedly be one of the most famous. No song was bigger in 2012 than “Somebody That I Used To Know,” reigning for two months atop the Hot 100, and spending over a full calendar year on the chart. However, two years after his global smash hit, Gotye has been unable to approach a similar level of success. His only other charting effort, “Eyes Wide Open” was an earlier single re-released in 2012. He still hasn’t begun work on a follow-up album to Making Mirrors, so he is in danger of losing his window of opportunity to garner another hit.
Breakout Hit: Harlem Shake (2013, 5 weeks at #1)
Other Chart Appearances: None
Why Will They Be A One-Hit Wonder? 2013’s first huge internet craze was brought to us by a literal firestorm of YouTube videos featuring the Philadelphia DJ’s repetitive song. The timing of this viral trend synced perfectly with Billboard’s 2013 change in chart data collection. Starting last February, YouTube views began to count towards a song’s popularity in the eyes of the Hot 100. Boosted entirely by this facet, “Harlem Shake” debuted at #1 and remained there for five consecutive weeks. It’s not impossible for an artist like this to replicate success (after all, PSY has two Top 5 singles to his credit), but viral songs can rarely be synthetically created. I feel it’s safe to say that “Harlem Shake” will go down as a reminder of life in the YouTube era.
Artist: Foster The People
Breakout Hit: Pumped Up Kicks (2011, #3 peak, 40 weeks on Hot 100)
Other Chart Appearances: Don’t Stop (Color On The Wall) (2011, #86)
Why Will They Be A One-Hit Wonder? As you may guess, the Los Angeles band is a bit over-qualified for the title. Both 2011’s Torches and their recently-released Supermodel have been received well in the rock community, and albums appear to be their primary focus. The surprise radio success of “Pumped Up Kicks” brought them mainstream popularity, but failed to change their creative philosophy. Thus, the “one-hit wonder” distinction is perhaps a bit unfair, but in the pure sense of the term, it is fitting for a band more concerned with creating a full worthwhile album.
Artist: La Roux
Breakout Hit: Bulletproof (2010, #8 peak, 29 weeks on Hot 100)
Other Chart Appearances: None
Why Will They Be A One-Hit Wonder? For the British synthpop duo, success in their homeland came much quicker than popularity stateside. They registered two Top 2 singles on the UK chart in 2009 (“In For The Kill” and “Bulletproof”), but only the latter made its way over to America. Taking nearly a year to gain its foothold, “Bulletproof” became the biggest sleeper hit of 2010 on the Hot 100, finally eclipsing the Top 10 in June of that year. Like Gotye, the group has not released an album since their breakout, so it’s safe to say that their memorable moment in the sun is bound to be their only.
A few other candidates who could be remembered in similar veins include Capital Cities (2013’s “Safe And Sound”) and Alex Clare (2012’s “Too Close”). The combination of Capital Cities’ extremely recent brush with fame and Clare’s youth make me cautious to slap the one-hit wonder label on them just yet. Time will tell how their greater reputations take shape.
As mentioned earlier, less than five years is definitely not enough time to close the book on any of these artists. After all, Rick Astley had two #1 singles and had Top 40 hits as late as 1993. Nonetheless, the four acts above display all the early signs necessary for lasting reputations as one-hit wonders. Although this might sound like a demeaning appellation for these artists, remember that it is they who give us reprieve from the continued domination of pop music’s royalty. Instead of fading into ignominy like their contemporaries who produced strings of middling hits (as I’m sure will be the fate of acts like New Boyz, Trey Songz, et al.), the one-hit wonders are assured of their respective legacies.
Is that not an admirable and even envious fate?
What do you think? Leave a comment.