People should never give up ‘one-hit wonders’


Graphic by Christiana Vucea

One-hit wonders describe artists who rise to fame from a song’s immense popularity but fail to keep their momentum going.

Ellie Noh and Michaela Boeder

The music industry is notoriously double-sided, filled with money, fame and glory along with overwhelming pressure and criticism. One-hit wonders, a prime example of the more difficult aspects of the industry, are a phenomenon in which an artist generates one song that attains widespread popularity but fails to gain recognition as an overall musician. There is an abundance of explanations for this occurrence including poor timing, the release of a song associated with the public’s latest infatuation or even pure luck.

From The Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child” in the 1970s to the 1990 “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, one-hit wonders have circulated through the media for decades now. “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol and “Beautiful Girls” by Sean Kingston are considered two of the most recognizable one-hit wonders of the 2000s, thus raising the question: will artists who currently hold songs on the Billboard Top 100 evolve into future esteemed artists, or are they merely our generation’s one-hit wonders? 

Students reference singer-songwriter Grace Vanderwaal as a present-day one-hit-wonder artist. Vanderwaal rose to fame through her participation in the eleventh season of NBC’s hit show, America’s Got Talent, ending as the season’s winner. She was widely recognized for her distinctive-sounding voice that accompanied her ukelele, and original song, “I Don’t Know My Name” released in 2017. This widely-cherished song examined her individuality as a teenager and has reached 45 million views on Vanderwaal’s YouTube. While she seems to have established herself in both the music and film industries, some students are unaware of these accomplishments. “A lot of people initially found her voice intriguing during AGT, but I completely forgot she existed ever since,” junior Devin Cammack said.

“Somebody That I Used To Know,” a best-selling song of 2012 and number one on the Billboard Hot 100, was a substantial success for breakout artist Gotye. In 2013, the hit song won a Grammy, but a year later Gotye announced he would not release additional music under his stage name. Prior to this announcement, he released other songs including “Eyes Wide Open,” “Hearts a Mess” and “Bronte,” none of which reached the popular heights of his hit song. Gotye’s lyrics of the hit song, “You didn’t have to cut me off,” serve as a tuneful analogy of what occurs when fans obsess over overplayed songs on the radio without investing in the voice behind them.

The whole concept of one-hit wonders is not only devastating to the artists that believe their hits lead to widespread platform growth but detrimental to the music industry as a whole. Mainstream artists with massive, rowdy fanbases—Swifties, Beliebers and ARMYs (BTS fandom)—serve as primary contributors to this catastrophe. “Large fan bases affect metadata that streaming and recording companies use to quantify the success of a musician. Lots of clicks equals lots of cash,” instrumental music director Dr. Peter Perry said. “Streaming royalties especially are bad about these, giving most money to the most listened tracks. This is why these same individuals can translate to selling perfume and clothing lines so easily.”

A seemingly conventional task of solely listening to the radio or “Today’s Top Hits” also contributes to one-hit wonders. Radio music consists of the same high-rotation songs and artists strategically selected to be recognizable to listeners. This limits exposure to diverse genres and artists in the music industry. “Smaller artists definitely get drowned out by larger ones [on the radio],” junior Naomi Peter said. 

Dr. Perry has additional advice to expand one’s exposure to the music industry. “Explore the large streaming platforms. There are thousands of musicians who are not only more creative and talented than some of the major names [like] Taylor Swift,” he said. “[They] need to be listened to and [could even] have a better relevance and connection to you.”

Likewise, the overall success of an artist has become increasingly dependent on the current digital world, which is built on trends and viewership. “TikTok has taken over the music industry. Melodies often break into TikTok fame, but there is no lasting effect,” freshman Ava Norris said. One exceedingly common occurrence is when one verse of a song circulates on TikTok’s “For You” page for a few weeks and then promptly fades out of the algorithm when the trend dies.

The dominance of a few artists’ on the whole music industry is an issue for more than just the development of one-hit wonders; it is an issue of inclusivity, diversity and the well-being of the artist as an individual rather than as a commodity. “[The music industry] has trouble with seeing artists as more than just money and profits,” Norris said. This mindset meets smaller-scale and contemporary artists with immense difficulty in establishing a name for themselves.

The music industry depicts a capitalistic situation through the disregard of smaller-scale artists to gain cash through marketing. Promoting artists that are already popular allows the same artists to dominate the industry for extended periods of time. 

Despite the elements of luck or chance that can play a role in the emergence of a one-hit wonder, artists can take certain measures to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim. “[Artists] should not try to chase after a trend or what is blowing up. [They] should try to set trends rather than follow them,” Norris said. 

Moreover, our generation can take steps to ensure talented artists remain in the spotlight after one hit by diversifying music tastes. Peters recommends listening to the rock band known as Sleeping With Sirens. “They’re a group that’s not as mainstream but deserve the popularity. They have meaningful lyrics, follow an interesting genre and the members of the band are great,” she said.

Norris recommends additional artists she believes deserve a larger listening audience. “The Crane Wives are starting to get more popular, but they’re mostly in niche internet spaces,” she said. “Black Polish is a good one too.”

Students should explore and make the effort to explore artists, especially from marginalized communities with the least endorsement by the industry. Perhaps a current artist that might become a one-hit wonder could develop into our generation’s Michael Jackson if we stopped solely relying on the radio. Billboard Charts shouldn’t tell our generation what music to listen to; instead, listeners should explore the vast world of music for themselves.