Being a "one-hit wonder" in the music world is kind of like having a scarlet letter branded on your chest. It's considered a career failure — they had one hit and they blew it. But there's more to it than that. Sure, there are several artists who got famous on gimmicky songs that couldn't sustain people's attention once the novelty wore off, but many other talented artists were merely victims of bad publicity, shady record labels, and just bad timing.
It's time we let go of the notion that "one-hit wonders" are untalented failures. Below, a few artists that don't deserve that label. (Note: I'm using the word "one-hit wonder" loosely here. Basically, any artist who's only known for one hit song is fair game in my book.)
Although it might sound cruel to describe JoJo as a one-hit wonder, it's technically true. Her debut single "Leave (Get Out)" was her only No. 1 hit, and although she had moderate success with "Too Little, Too Late," it never reached the top of the charts. In fact, JoJo was all set to be the next Britney Spears, but thanks to a 7-year long dispute with her label that kept her from releasing new music, she quickly vanished into obscurity.
Her former label, Blackground Records, wouldn't let her release her third album, and because she signed a seven-album deal, she couldn't be released from her contract. She was pretty much a prisoner at her own label. It wasn't until 2014 that she was finally freed from her contract and able to release her highly anticipated third album, but by then, many people had forgotten about her.
Today, many people just know her as "that girl that sang 'Leave' that one time." It's all criminally unfair, especially when you listen to recent singles like "Mad Love" or "FAB." If anyone deserves Ariana Grande-levels of fame, it's JoJo.
On paper, Tinashe's career looks no different than Vanilla Ice's. She had one hit with 2014's "2 On," struggled to match that success, and now she's doing pirouettes on Dancing With the Stars. But comparing her to some gimmicky rapper hardly seems fair. After all, much of Tinashe's career failings have been because of her label, RCA, which refused to release her sophomore album Joyride in 2015. Instead, Tinashe was forced to record songs she didn't like, release sporadic singles that made no sense, and even cancel a whole tour. She finally released Joyride in 2018, but although it was critically well-received, most fans had already made up their minds that Tinashe was just some washed-up has-been.
"I get called a flop all the time," she told Vulture earlier this year. "It becomes a mental game at that point. You can’t let people break you or let those titles and peoples’ misconceptions about you get you down."
Although there's still nothing in her library that rivals "2 On," her music is still underrated and deserves a listen. She could easily have Rihanna-levels of success if people would just give her a second shot.
3. James Blunt
Now, hear me out first before you roll your eyes. Yes, James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" is absolutely awful, and yes, it drove us all crazy back in 2014 when we all heard it played everywhere. Even James himself admitted the song was "force-fed down people's throats" and that he was sorry for it.
"The marketing also painted me out as an insanely serious person, an earnest person and, as all my friends know, I'm anything but," he told Hello! magazine. "I have a couple of over-emotional miserable songs that I’m known for, but I think it’s turned that corner now. People can see I don’t take myself that seriously."
Maybe not overseas where he's still reasonably successful, but over here in the states, most people cringe if you even say his name, which is unfortunate because his music isn't that bad. His 2017 album The Afterlove even goes into a poppy/dance route that rivals Maroon5. And hey, if Adam "Douchebag" Levine can have a career, why not James?
4. The Cardigans
You might remember them from their only hit, "Lovefool," a song that's probably on every '90s playlist. But the Swedish band felt pigeonholed by their massively successful single as they weren't actually a pop band and no other tracks in their library even sounded similar to "Lovefool."
"It took over our whole existence, and it wasn't something we totally identified with," lead singer Nina Persson told Billboard. "It wasn't necessarily our character; it felt like a bit of a freak on the record — which, objectively, it still is."
The song is actually quite dark when you listen to the lyrics, and the original U.K. version of the video is equally bleak. However, a cutesy video of the band floating in a boat was made specially for the U.S., and unfortunately, that's still the image people think of when they think of The Cardigans.
But after "Lovefool," the band released 1998's Gran Turismo, an album that wasn't successful in the States but proved that they were talented and deserved to not be dismissed as one-hit wonders. Although the band hasn't released any new music since 2005, it's never too late to discover their non-"Lovefool" music. You can start with "Erase/Rewind."
5. Nina Sky
Remember them? The twin sisters were only 19 when "Move Ya Body" became a runaway success in 2004. Although they were featured on other tracks, like Sean Paul's "Connection" or N.O.R.E's "Oye Mi Canto," it took them six years before they could release a proper follow-up album to their debut.
The sisters were at odds with their record label, which wanted the sisters to adopt a look and and sound that wasn't authentically them. The dispute with their label got so bad, the twins demanded to be released from their contract. “For MONTHS we’ve had a complete album, ready for release,” they wrote in a series of tweets. “After months of no movement we asked to be released + still nothing. No [acknowledgment] from the President of our label Bryan Leach… Bottom Line, we want to be released.” It took two more years before they could finally release 2012's Nicole and Natalie.
Today, they're completely independent and have zero interest in being mainstream, but judging by songs like "Champion Lover," they're totally deserving of another hit.
6. Carly Rae Jepsen
OK, so I'm pretty much cheating here. Carly Rae Jepsen has had a few hits, like "Good Time" and "I Really Like You," but none of her singles have been as successful as "Call Me Maybe," an obnoxious song that still lingers over her career like a bad shadow. It's unfortunate too, because her last album Emotion was considered one of the best pop albums of 2015, with many critics calling her an "underrated genius." And unlike the other artists in this list, Carly wasn't the victim of shady labels screwing her over either. But nevertheless, Emotion was a commercial flop, and Carly's been struggling to snag another hit ever since, despite the fact that her current '80s-inspired music is light-years better than "Call Me Maybe." Later this year, she's releasing a new album, so now's the perfect time to give her a second chance.
Earlier this year when Billboard called Tweet a one-hit wonder, she was none too pleased. "Thank you @billboard for acknowledging my ONE HIT…Keyword HIT!!!" she wrote on Twitter. "But let me say this …just because I haven’t satisfied your thirst or definition of success doesn’t mean I’m not valuable."
And she's right. Although her 2000 track "Oops (Oh My)" is her only hit, she's still making decent music. Like the other artists in this list, Tweet was a victim of bad management from her label. After the success of her debut album, label changes delayed her follow-up record. By the time she released it, nearly three years later, the album suffered from lack of promotion from the label. She then spent the next 11 years swapping managers and moving from one label to the other. Her third album, which was supposed to drop in 2008, didn't get released until 2016.
Even though she's been on a long hiatus, which she partially blames on herself, she points out that labels are just as much to blame for one-hit wonders as artists. "And when will the record companies and management be held accountable for dropping the ball???" she tweeted. "WHERE’S THAT LIST????!!!!"
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