Gone But Not Forgotten: The Biggest One-Hit Wonders Of The Decade
Please come back Kreayshawn.
When it comes to defining the music of a bygone era in academic terms, it is often the songs that happen to capture the pulse of the times that are referenced.
Think the jukebox rockers and gelled-back crooners of the ‘50s; the heady blend of psychedelic excursions, sun-soaked pop, and protest tunes in the ‘60s; the twin powers of disco and punk of the ‘70s; the synthesised futurism of the ‘80s; the commercialisation of grunge and hip hop during the ‘90s.
But often the actual songs that send your brain screeching back to a certain period in your life are the one-hit wonders, the big-swinging novelty songs that enter abruptly, dance aggressively with your partner, double dip their chips, then leave as quickly as they came. The types of songs that are everywhere for a few months, then are never heard again – until they suddenly are, and it all comes flooding back.
These are the songs that are included on this list, and while a true one-hit wonder will often have a follow up single that is pulled briefly onto the charts via the slipstream, these follow up attempts disappear rapidly and always fail to capture the same lightning in a bottle.
We’ve selected the biggest one-hit wonder of each year of the past decade, with a runner-up just to stir debate.
2010: ‘We No Speak Americano’ — Yolanda Be Cool feat. DCUP
It’s quite a curious thing that two of the biggest international singles released by Australians during this past decade — Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ and Yolanda Be Cool’s ‘We No Speak Americano’ — are built upon samples from a Brazilian song from 1967, and an Italian song released in 1957, respectively.
‘We No Speak Americano’ was as unlikely a hit as possible, released on an indie dance label in Australia, built upon a high-pitched siren of a riff and a vocal hook sung in Neapolitan, and from a band named after an obscure Pulp Fiction quote. It sold five million copies, back in the final days when people had to pay to purchase music, with a million downloads in America alone.
A U.S. gymnast even won the gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics with a routine set to this song, and anamorphic chipmunks even released a cover of it on the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. Despite topping the charts in 21 different countries around the world, the song ‘only’ reached #4 in Australia — but was nevertheless blasted out of every single lowered car doing mainies around the Newcastle foreshore. Every single one of them.
Runner up: ‘Whip My Hair’ — Willow Smith
Still hands down the finest avant garde single ever released by a nine-year-old with famous parents.
2011: ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ — Foster The People
In 2011, an American band could release a spritely, summery single written from the point of view of a disgruntled student planning to shoot up a school, and instead of inflaming widespread outrage, they would instead score a sync deal with a beer company, sell 3.8 million singles in a single year, perform at every festival under the sun, and have the song featured on franchises as PG as Guitar Hero and Top Gear.
A perfectly genreless song, with a beach ball bassline, verse vocals that sound like they are being blasted through the PA system at the local pool, a whistling solo reminiscent of the hook in ‘Young Folks’ (another great one-hit wonder), and a chorus that seems to be more about Reebok Pumps than pump action weaponry; it’s not surprising that most fans of ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ either missed the violent imagery or decided to ignore it and simply shimmy along.
Foster The People looked set to have an MGMT/Phoenix style career, but this song proved to be the main event, although the residue run-off saw follow-up single ‘Call It What You Want’ land at #14 in the triple j Hottest 100. Alas, us Aussies were the only country in the world that seemed to care at all about Foster The People after the initial shots rang out.
Runner up: ‘Gucci Gucci’ — Kreayshawn
The internet moves quickly. This brand-bashing track got 67 million views hits on YouTube, but by the time her debut album came out a year later, nobody cared, and it peaked at #112 on the charts. Kreayshawn later shared a royalty statement from the album that showed she earned exactly $0.01 for her efforts.
2012: ‘Gangnam Style’ — PSY
Since 2012, the zany, impenetrable video to ‘Gangnam Style’ has been viewed 3.46 billion times. To put that in perspective, there are currently 2.4 billion active Facebook accounts.
Now, I’m aware this is pure speculation, but I would argue that less than 0.0001 percent of those who enjoyed ‘Gangnam Style’ bothered to check out the EP from which that song was featured, and even less have delved into his seven other studio albums. Although the song itself is a parody of a hipper-than-thou lifestyle synonymous with the Gangnam District of Seoul, most of us just reacted to the funny dance moves and the sugary EDM novelty of it all.
PSY made the most of his newfound success, meeting with the UN Secretary General, giving guest lectures at Harvard and Oxford, becoming South Korean’s official tourism ambassador (despite his success being due to a song that criticises a large section of the culture) and ringing in the New Year in front of a million of his closest friends at Times Square.
He also partied hard, telling the Sunday Times: “If I’m happy, I’m drinking, if I’m sad, I’m drinking. If it’s raining, I’m drinking, if it’s sunny, I’m drinking. If it’s hot, I’m drinking, if it’s cold, I’m drinking.” The only time he doesn’t drink? When he is hungover.
Runner Up: ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ — Gotye feat. Kimbra
Of course, we in Australia know better, but internationally, Gotye will always be remembered as the mosaic-painted architect behind one of the biggest singles of the 2010s.
2013: ‘Blurred Lines’ — Robin Thicke feat. Pharrell Williams and T.I.
Sure, Pharrell has had more hit singles than he has terrible hats, and T.I. has been pumping out music for two decades (but will forever be marked by some recent gross comments) but it was Robin Thicke whose name led the credits on one of the most divisive singles of all time, and it’s Thicke whose career will forever be tied to the song — for better or worse.
It sold 15 million copies, went to number one in 25 countries, sparked a piracy lawsuit that forever changed the parameters for what constitutes songwriting in a legal sense, and received a massive backlash for its lyrics, which many claim glorifies date rape.
Robin Thicke copped all the blowback, despite Pharrell having entirely written the song — as was explained in court proceedings where Thicke admitted he was so bombed on drugs at the time, he barely remembers recording the damn thing. ‘Blurred Lines’ is officially one of the biggest-selling singles of all time, but Thicke’s career was irreversibly damaged by the lyrics he didn’t write.
The song spent eight weeks at the top of the ARIA charts in 2013; the following year, his album Paula sold a measly 54 copies in Australia during its first week.
Runner up: ‘Harlem Shake’ — Baauer
Does anyone still do the Harlem Shake? It’s doubtful, but at the time of release, this song’s massive success scared PSY, who admitted this latest dance craze took some of his shine — as if it was the ‘50s or something.
2014: ‘Rude’ — Magic!
Every few years a reggae song comes out of nowhere, hits number one, and then the artist disappears quickly and without any fuss. Even Shaggy adopts this pattern, having a massive novelty hit every few years, disappearing, then returning on the exact day your friend messages you a link to ‘Boombastic’ and asks, “Hey, what happened to Shaggy?”
In a lot of cases, these reggae songs aren’t actually performed by a Jamaican singer. Like rapper Snow, who ruled 1993 with the gibberish-sounding ‘Informer’, the guys from Magic! are actually Canadians. In fact, the lead singer got his break writing paint-by-numbers songs for Justin Bieber before he was infused with the spirit of Jah and decided to front his own diet-reggae band.
At first glance, this song appears to be the story of a lovelorn man asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage, but his sharply defiant stance of “I’m gonna marry her anyway” kinda salts his own game a bit, as does the decidedly unromantic phrasing of “Can I have your daughter for the rest of my life?” and the cocky “she will go anywhere I go.” This song was a massive worldwide hit, reaching #1 in the UK and US, and hitting #2 here.
In America, it knocked ‘Fancy’ by Iggy Azalea off number one, during what had to be the very height of inappropriate appropriation. In the years since, Magic! have performed a very convincing disappearing trick.
Runner up: ‘Fancy’ — Iggy Azalea feat. Charlie XCX.
A rare hit from the sixth borough of NYC: Mullumbimby.
2015: ‘Cheerleader’ — OMI
As if to market correct for the domination of ‘Rude’ in the previous year, 2015 saw a bona fide Jamaican hit the top spot with the irrepressible ‘Cheerleader’ — although it was actually a remix from German producer Felix Jaehn that saw this breezy beach tune become the second highest-selling single of 2015 in Australia, bested only by the undeniable ‘Uptown Funk’.
The entire song is wrapped in feel good vibes, with a wind-whipped trumpet part, bongos and computer beats expertly interspersed, and OMI’s filtered vocals all screaming summer at you through the waterproof speakers.
The best part is about two-and-a-half minutes in when the trumpeter takes centre stage and gets way too overzealous, like an excitable guitarist who shreds aimlessly over the rest of his band. It sounds entirely improvised, as if he instantly thought, “now’s my chance” and started to wail indiscriminately. It’s wonderful.
Runner up: ‘Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)’ — Silento
An underrated subsection of music is when the entire purpose of a song is to introduce a dance move and then instruct the listener on how to do said dance.
2016: ‘Panda’ — Desiigner
For a man who is often criticised for being the centre of his own universe, Kanye West is remarkably generous when it comes to ceding the limelight in order to let someone else shine.
He got his start as the largely anonymous producer who shaped Jay-Z’s most successful albums, gave Jamie Foxx the vocal hook on ‘Gold Digger’, which directly inspired his casting in Ray — a film that he won all five major awards for. He launched Nicki Minaj’s career by making way for her world-beating verse on ‘Monster’, gave Chance The Rapper the opening gambit on ‘The Life Of Pablo’, and a few songs later introduced the world to 19-year-old New York rapper Desiigner.
Kanye signed Desiigner to his label, heavily sampled his lead single ‘Panda’ on February’s The Life Of Pablo, which resulted in the song knocking Rihanna and Drake’s ‘Work’ from the #1 spot in America. ‘Panda’ is perhaps the weirdest number one of the decade — with large sections of near-silence, Desiigner mumbling ‘Panda’ aimlessly, before spitting quickfire albeit indistinguishable raps while a hyperactive hypeman jackrabbits mouth trills in the background.
Desiigner got into legal trouble shortly after this song came out, which halted his rise, and a rumoured 15-minute ‘Panda’ remix from Kanye West featuring verses from every artist on his label failed to materialise. Shaquille O’Neal walked out to the song at Wrestlemania, too — which isn’t the only time Shaq will get a mention in this list.
Runner up: ‘Ooouuu’ — Young M.A
This song was remixed by 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj, Meek Mill, The Game, and sampled by Eminem – but the original is still the best
2017: ‘Man’s Not Hot’ — Big Shaq
The best parody songs cut so close to the source material that it’s not initially apparent that the song isn’t meant to be taken seriously. ‘Tribute’ by Tenacious D, ‘I’m On A Boat’ by The Lonely Island, and ‘Eat It’ by Weird Al ( almost, maybe not that last one) could function as fully-formed hits in their genre, if not for one minor element that renders the entire thing ridiculous.
In the past two years, 342 million people watched a British rapper who called himself Big Shaq boast about his ability to wear heavy jackets without getting hot. It’s brilliantly absurd, and had people wondering how seriously to take it all. The jig was soon up, as some internet sleuthing quickly revealed Big Shaq to be British comedian Michael Dapaah – which made the song all the better.
Shaquille O’Neal even responded with his own diss track, insulting the rapper for daring to claim himself as Big Shaq. He later saw the funny side, performing the song on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
Runner up: ‘Feel It Still’ — Portugal. The Man
All it took for a psychedelic band seven albums deep to have a hit single was to steal ‘Please, Mr. Postman’ and split the royalties between eleven different songwriters.
2018: ‘Freaky Friday’ — Lil Dicky feat. Chris Brown
For some reason, last year millions of people thought it was okay to laugh along with loveable, huggable Chris Brown, a man who violently beat his girlfriend with one hand while driving a car with the other; a recidivist who is still marketed to teenagers by a global corporation. If he was an NBA player, he would have been kicked out of the league, but all is fair in pop music, it seems.
The premise of this song is written into the name: Lil Dicky woke up in Chris Brown’s body and vice versa. The entire song is one not-so-humble brag, with Brown boasting about his dick size, his dancing and singing, the “hoes” in his DMs (sigh), and even his dubious ability to dunk a basketball.
Just when you think it can’t get any worse, Kendall Jenner shows up in the song’s dying moments to talk about her vagina. Lil Dicky followed this abomination up earlier this year with the somehow-more-terrible charity song ‘Earth’, which features thirty guest vocalists — Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, even Leonardo DiCaprio — and is so bad, I’m convinced it is somehow responsible for the rapid climate change we are currently experiencing.
Runner up: ‘Mine’ — Bazzi
Opening a love song with “You’re so fucking precious when you smile” is a master move.
2019: ‘Old Town Road’ — Lil Nas X
Now, it might seem a bit pre-emptive to call Lil Nas X a one-hit wonder this early into his career, but considering this song officially holds the title for longest-running number one in the history of the U.S. charts, spending an astonishing 19 weeks in pole position, this dude could win a Nobel Peace Prize for single-handedly brokering peace between Russia and the US, and people would still know him as the “horses in the back” guy.
‘Old Town Road’ was the perfect storm, kinda a hip hop song, kinda a country song, and one hundred percent an unabashed novelty song. It first gained fame as the subject of a meme, then found mainstream success as fellow one-hit wonder Billy Ray Cyrus jumped onto a remix.
Little kids love it (listen to the unbridled joy when Lil Nas X visits a primary school), adults that wanna feel down with the kids can appreciate its catchy silliness, and a black, gay teenager mocking country music over a trap beat he bought for $30 containing a Nine Inch Nails banjo sample he didn’t bother to legally clear until the song was a hit — well, it pissed off the old guard in the country music world real good.
The song’s inclusion in the country charts was controversial — you see, it’s not proper country music unless the lyrics are about chugging moonshine on a porch while missing your baby. The best thing about Lil Nas X is that his real name is Montero Hill, which is a much cooler stage name than Lil Nas X.
Runner up: ‘Truth Hurts’ — Lizzo
Not strictly a one-hit wonder, but also kinda, right?