The One-Hit Wonders Of The 2010s
What constitutes a one-hit wonder? It seems like it should be cut and dry, but the designation can be pretty arbitrary, with gut feelings often trumping objective data. The “one-hit wonder” label can sometimes befall an artist with a robust catalog, whose fans will inevitably insist their fave does not deserve to be categorized as such despite most of the public only identifying them with a singular smash.
Consider: Psy’s “Gangnam Style” follow-up “Gentleman” made it all the way to #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Statistically speaking, he has two hits. But nobody thinks to themselves, “Oh yeah, Psy, the guy who made ‘Gentleman.'” I doubt many people even remember he released another song after “Gangnam Style.” I declare him a one-hit wonder. Foster The People have been all over alternative radio this decade and even had a song climb to #42 on the Hot 100 last year, and yet somehow the only reasonable conclusion is that “Pumped Up Kicks” is their only song. I suspect something similar will happen with Lil Nas X, where no one remembers “Panini” despite its considerable tenure in the top 10, but only time will tell whether Mr. “Old Town Road” has more hits in him.
On the other hand, although most people identify Fetty Wap with “Trap Queen,” the song’s success made him quite a presence in pop music for a moment there; his own top 10 hits “My Way” and “679” were only two of the many tracks his voice anointed in 2015 and 2016. “Trap Queen” is merely Fetty’s signature song. Maybe he’s a one-album wonder, but not a one-hit wonder. Furthermore, what to make of Lorde and Fun., both of whom are basically two-hit wonders despite their deep discographies? What about Meghan Trainor and Hozier and Iggy Azalea and even Mark Ronson, all of whom are mostly associated with a particular song? Mostly, we’re going to avoid them here, even if “All About That Bass” and “Take Me To Church” and “Fancy” and “Uptown Funk” tower over the rest of their discographies.
As you can see, deciding who qualifies as a one-hit wonder is complicated business — the kind of business that seems like it can get your Twitter mentions flooded with profoundly tedious hairsplitting from the “actually” brigade and death threats from various touchy (and probably very small) fan armies. Nevertheless, no retrospective on a decade in music is complete without rounding up those artists who scored one freak hit and announcing, “Remember them?” So here, start remembering, and do not under any circumstances @ me.
La Roux – “Bulletproof”
Hot 100 peak: #8 on 6/12/10
Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid’s synth-pop smash sounds like “Tainted Love” updated for 2009 music blogs, but it became a global smash and went to #1 in their native UK. La Roux scored other hits around the world, including sending follow-up single “In For The Kill” all the way to #2 back home, but here in the US “Bulletproof” remains their only Hot 100 hit.
Cali Swag District – “Teach Me How To Dougie”
Hot 100 peak: #28 on 9/4/10
Big Wy was a former member of Death Row Records signees and Bloods & Crips affiliates Young Soldierz. He co-founded a group called Cali Swag District with Dairold Potts in 2009, and by the following year the crew had given rise to one of the fledgling decade’s signature novelty dance hits. Sadly, they’d never chart again, and members M-Bone and JayAre have since died from a drive-by shooting and sickle cell anemia, respectively.
Foster The People – “Pumped Up Kicks”
Hot 100 peak: #3 on 9/10/11
Objectively, this spawn of MGMT and Peter Bjorn & John is not Foster The People’s only hit. And yet no list of 2010s one-hit wonders would feel complete without it. I don’t know what to say to Mark Foster besides, uh, sorry? Pretty good song you’ve got there?
Gotye – “Somebody That I Used To Know” (Feat. Kimbra)
Hot 100 peak: #1 on 4/28/12
With shades of Sting and Peter Gabriel, Gotye translated the bad vibes of a painful breakup into pop bliss. He then retreated into international cult stardom, moved to Brooklyn, had a summit in the Australian wilderness with legendary didgeridoo player Djalu Gurruwiwi, made another album with his band the Basics, and turned down millions in royalties by opting against pre-roll ads on his YouTube channel.
Psy – “Gangnam Style”
Hot 100 peak: #2 on 10/6/12
Like I said, Psy is a one-hit wonder in spirit, if not in practice. You can’t make a list of 2010s one-hit wonders without “Gangnam Style,” even if Psy’s name appears on three other Hot 100 singles, even if “Gentleman” was literally the most-watched music video on YouTube in 2013. That’s just the way it is. I’d like to say I don’t make the rules, but I do make them.
Alex Clare – “Too Close”
Hot 100 peak: #7 on 10/27/12
AKA the hearty rock song with the dubstep drops from that one Microsoft Internet Explorer commercial that aired constantly during the 2012 Olympics.
Trinidad James – “All Gold Everything”
Hot 100 peak: #36 on 2/16/13
Shout out to them freshmen, on Instagram straight flexin’! What a time to be alive. I hope Trinidad is still enjoying his “Uptown Funk” royalties, fractional though they may be.
Baauer – “Harlem Shake”
Hot 100 peak: #1 on 3/3/13
A truly historic landmark: “Harlem Shake,” a passable trap-rave instrumental from the Mad Decent producer Baauer, shot all the way to #1 on the strength of user-made videos centered on a recurring meme in which a roomful of people would stand still during the buildup and then go nuts at the drop. It wouldn’t have scaled such heights in the official record if Billboard hadn’t sensed the changing landscape and adjusted its rules accordingly. This particular form of virality has been completely normalized, but at the time it was a radical phenomenon.
Icona Pop – “I Don’t Care” (Feat. Charli XCX)
Hot 100 peak: #7 on 5/18/13
This synth-surging tidal wave wouldn’t qualify for one-hit wonder status if Charli XCX had kept it for herself, but because Icona Pop are on the left side of the hyphen, here we are. It continues to raise questions, such as: Which birthdates qualify you as a ’90s bitch? How do you crash your car into a bridge? Especially how do you do so when you’re up in space, in defiance of your haters who want you down on Earth? I don’t care; I love it. Notably, Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo have continued to make a go of it, including one very pleasing recent turn into vintage house music.
Zedd – “Clarity” (Feat. Foxes)
Hot 100 peak: #8 on 8/17/13
Obviously Zedd has racked up a bunch of hits this decade, but what ever became of Foxes, the British singer whose powerful voice lends the EDM anthem “Clarity” so much oomph? After collecting a Grammy for this song, she tallied several more hits of various magnitudes back home, including “Youth,” “Let Go For Tonight,” “Holding Onto Heaven,” and “Body Talk.” Here in the States, though, her every attempt to follow this track has been a false start. It’s too bad; girl can really wail.
Capital Cities – “Safe And Sound”
Hot 100 peak: #8 on 9/7/13
This insidious jock jam is what we got when LA duo Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian pushed the Passion Pit formula to craven corporate extremes. Fortunately they’ve since disappeared back into the small font of festival posters everywhere.
Ylvis – “The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)”
Hot 100 peak: #6 on 10/19/13
Back in Norway, brothers Vegard and Bård Ylvisåker have their own talk show called I Kveld Med Ylvis (Tonight With Ylvis). That’s how long they’ve been able to ride out the fame that resulted from “The Fox” blowing up on YouTube six years ago. Even in their home country, where the inane novelty track went all the way to #1, they’ve only charted one other time, with something called “Trucker’s Hitch” that I am afraid to listen to.
Passenger – “Let Her Go”
Hot 100 peak: #5 on 2/22/14
English singer-songwriter Mike Rosenberg’s folk-rock ballad (sadly, not a Mac DeMarco cover) was the “Truth Hurts” of its day, climbing to the Hot 100 top 10 two years after its initial release. The video has been viewed 2.5 billion times. Unlike Lizzo, Passenger never sniffed the American charts again even though his catalog is extensive and his international hits are myriad.
Nico & Vinz – “Am I Wrong”
Hot 100 peak: #4 on 7/5/14
This duo grabbed the baton from Gotye in the 2010s marathon of Sting-reminiscent one-hit wonders, and the other baton from Ylvis in the marathon of Norwegian one-hit wonders. Nico & Vinz allegedly got “Am I Wrong” follow-up “In Your Arms” to #72 in the US, but I most certainly do not remember it. I do, however, remember their failed 2015 Kid Ink/Bebe Rexha collab “That’s How You Know,” which was a lot of fun and deserved to be a hit.
Magic! – “Rude”
Hot 100 peak: #1 on 7/26/14
Fronted by a guy who cowrote “Don’t Judge Me” for Chris Brown, this Canadian reggae band hit #1 on their very first try and were blessedly never heard from again here in the States, despite releasing three albums and collecting five lesser hits in their native land.
Bobby Shmurda – “Hot N***a”
Hot 100 peak: #6 on 11/22/14
Bobby Shmurda’s story is deeply sad, but it was so fun before everything came crashing down. I have no doubt that the social media swirl around this song and video would push it all the way to #1 today.
T-Wayne – “Nasty Freestyle”
Hot 100 peak: #9 on 5/16/15
Houston-based Gucci Mane affiliate T-Wayne went viral via Instagram and Vine clips and then vanished from the face of the Earth.
Silentó – “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”
Hot 100 peak: #3 on 7/18/15
Novelty dance hits do not get much better than this; the teen phenom Silentó definitely did not get any bigger.
OMI – “Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn Remix)”
Hot 100 peak: #1 on 7/25/15
Jamaican singer OMI worked on this song for six years before arriving at the Felix Jaehn remix that took the world by storm. Six years! On a song that felt like an afterthought when it hit #1 across planet Earth and was immediately forgotten by everyone by the time the leaves started to turn. Good for OMI, I guess. Though “Hula Hoop” got some spins in foreign countries, he’s mostly struggled to make hits ever since, even when he re-teamed with Jaehn on 2018’s misnomered “Masterpiece.”
Rachel Platten – “Fight Song”
Hot 100 peak: #6 on 8/29/15
In 2015, Rachel Platten distilled the essence of the straight-to-Lifetime romantic comedy into 3.5 minutes of wine-drunk glory. It went on to soundtrack Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and is therefore now accursed forever. Follow-up single “Stand By You” went to #37, though good luck finding anyone who doesn’t stan Rachel Platten to sing it for you.
Jidenna – “Classic Man” (Feat. Roman GianArthur)
Hot 100 peak: #22 on 9/5/15
This Atlanta dandy from Janelle Monáe’s crew rode the moment’s reigning Mustardwave sound to a classic, man — a song so fun it transcends Jidenna’s repeated utterance of the cursed phrase “mummafucker.” His new album 85 To Africa came and went with nary a peep.
Elle King – “Ex’s & Oh’s”
Hot 100 peak: #10 on 11/28/15
Rob Schneider’s daughter hit the top 10 with a bluesy, rootsy roadhouse rocker 16 years after Deuce Bigalow: American Gigolo. Stranger things have happened! King was later spotted duetting with Dierks Bentley on the country hit “Different For Girls,” but where pop stardom is concerned, scoring a hit on country radio is a bit like a tree falling in the forest.
Desiigner – “Panda”
Hot 100 peak: #1 on 5/7/16
Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo will be remembered for three things: (1) reviving his Taylor Swift feud, (2) introducing the concept of editing an album after it drops, and (3) accidentally launching a #1 hit for a different rapper entirely, an NYC-based Future impersonator who’s allegedly got broads in Atlanta. Desiigner later had some success with “Timmy Turner,” his entry into the canon of singles that only became “hits” by drafting off the popularity of actual hits, and the following year he turned up on the BTS single “MIC Drop.” I look forward to his Number Ones entry.
Young M.A – “OOOUUU”
Hot 100 peak: #19 on 11/19/16
With this grimy slab of NYC concrete, Young M.A delivered one of the absolute best rap songs of the decade. Nothing she’s done since has registered a fraction of the impact, though I’ve seen positive buzz about her recent debut album Herstory In The Making.
Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee – “Despacito”
Hot 100 peak: #1 on 5/27/17
Daddy Yankee has plenty of mainstream hits. “Gasolina” forever, etc. etc. As for Luis Fonsi, if you’re only going to cross over to an English-speaking audience once, you might as well tie the record for most weeks at #1.
Portugal. The Man – “Feel It Still”
Hot 100 peak: #4 on 11/4/17
In which a veteran jam-prog-indie band momentarily takes over the world by transforming a ’60s soul classic into crisp modern ad fodder, only to be
Selena Gomez scores her first career #1 on the Hot 100 this week with “Lose You To Love Me.” The breakup power ballad is Gomez’s eighth top 10 hit overall following “It Ain’t Me,” “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” “Hands To Myself,” “The Heart Wants What It Wants,” “Come & Get It,” and the two songs that topped out at her previous #5 chart peak, “Good For You” and “Same Old Love.” “Lose You To Love Me” is only the 36th song to debut at #1, though it’s also the second in four weeks; Travis Scott’s “Highest In The Room” entered the chart on top just three weeks ago. Gomez’s other new track, “Look At Her Now,” debuts at #27.
Last week’s #1, Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved,” is down to #2. Post Malone’s “Circles,” which has been lingering around the upper reaches of the Hot 100 for a couple months, hits a new #3 peak. Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello’s “Señorita” falls to #4, followed by Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” at #5. Another Lizzo song, “Good As Hell,” climbs to a new #6 peak, becoming her second top-10 hit. Debuting at #7 is “Follow God,” which, according to Billboard, is Kanye West’s 18th career top-10 single. And rounding out the top 10 are Chris Brown & Drake’s “No Guidance,” Lil Nas X’s “Panini,” and Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy.”
Kanye West’s Jesus Is King rules the Billboard 200 albums chart this week. By entering on top with an impressive 264,000 equivalent album units and 109,000 in sales, Kanye ties Eminem’s record for most consecutive #1 debuts at nine, a streak that dates back to Late Registration in 2005. According to Billboard, that figure ties Em and Ye (and Garth Brooks, Drake, Madonna, and the Rolling Stones) at sixth on the list of most #1 albums, a list led by Jay-Z with 14. Kanye also ties Future and Justin Bieber for second most #1 albums in the 2010s with six; only Drake, with nine, has more 2010s chart-toppers. Jesus Is King’s 196.9 million on-demand track streams represent Kanye’s best streaming week ever, as well as the fifth-best streaming week of 2019.
After Post Malone at #2 comes a #3 debut for Rex Orange County. Pony, his major-label debut, tallied 70,000 units to become his first top-10 album. Next up are YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Summer Walker, DaBaby, Taylor Swift, and Billie Eilish. Old Dominion lands a #9 debut with 31,000 units/19,000 sales for its self-titled set, and Young Thug rounds out the top 10.
Dua Lipa – “Don’t Start Now”
Who is making better dance-pop songs than Dua Lipa right now? “One Kiss” and especially “Electricity” already established her as a disco and house diva par excellence, but “Don’t Start Now” is just pure bliss. Bring on LP2.
Sam Smith – “I Feel Love”
Sam Smith making dancefloor jams again — nay, covering one of history’s definitive dancefloor jams? Insert the famous Jack Nicholson GIF right here.
Sigrid – “Home To You”
Sucker Punch remains my favorite pop album this year. This Greatest Showman-esque movie-soundtrack piano ballad doesn’t come close to communicating Sigrid’s appeal, but it at least gives her unmistakable soprano ample opportunity to broadcast bright, clear melodies.
Ariana Grande, Normani, & Nicki Minaj – “Bad To You”
Ariana Grande was really on a roll there for a moment, but these Charlie’s Angels songs are not it. This one sounds like she and Minaj attempting and failing to recapture the magic of “Side To Side.”
Panic! At The Disco – “Into The Unknown”
I knew Frozen 2 was going to be dark, but not “Panic! At The Disco on the soundtrack” dark.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Harry Styles’ new album Fine Line is out 12/13. [Rolling Stone]
- Las Vegas nightclub KAOS is going out of business in the wake of an ill-conceived $60M deal with Marshmello. [Rolling Stone]
- Billie Eilish says two new songs, and a video for “xanny,” are coming soon. [The Fader]
- Eilish, Lizzo, Camila Cabello, and Dua Lipa will be among the performers at the American Music Awards. [People]
- Speaking of Dua Lipa, she sang “Don’t Start Now” at the MTV EMAs. [YouTube]
- Demi Lovato reflected on the year since her hospitalization at the Teen Vogue Summit in LA. [Teen Vogue]
- Jonas Brothers’ “Like It’s Christmas” is out tomorrow. [Instagram]
- The BRIT Awards are getting rid of some categories like Best British Video and Best International Group. [BBC]
- Meghan Trainor’s new album Treat Myself is out in January. [Instagram]
- Harley-Davidson is very happy about Katy Perry’s free marketing with “Harleys in Hawaii,” which the company says it didn’t know about until after it was recorded. [NYT]