Curiosity killed the one-hit-wonder

When Thrift Shop came out of the gate a success, the song itself had the makings of a novelty hit. Many novelty songs end up making their creators one-hit-wonders so it looked like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis would become just that, despite having an album of legitimate songs and content. Thanks to their new single, Can’t Hold Us, it looks like they have avoided the one-hit-wonder status as it sits at #2 on the Hot 100 (where Thrift Shop is #3).

The one-hit-wonder has become somewhat of an interesting concept over the years. Music television networks like VH1 and MuchMoreMusic have had specials dedicated to one-hit-wonders before and we all associate our youths with certain one-hit-wonders that captured our attention for specific periods of time with songs that we’ll never forget, even if we’ve forgotten the consistent hitmakers of the time. Who might you remember more of? Chumbawamba or Hootie & The Blowfish? I Love You Always Forever or anything by Amy Grant? One-hit-wonders have become a constant in pop music and pop culture for any given period. Where you have your award sweepers, singers who have hit after hit after hit from one album and bands making a comeback, you also have your one-hit-wonders.

Last year, one of the most obvious candidates for the one-hit-wonder club was Korean pop sensation Psy, whose own Gangnam Style ended up one of the biggest novelty hits of 2012. Despite his popularity in his native South Korea, he was most likely already labeled a one-hit-wonder in North America. Like others before him, including Los Del Rio (who made Macarena a hit), Psy became synonymous with the song that made him recognizable but whenever someone comes along with something vastly different from the norm in pop music, it’s rare they are able to repeat that success again. Yet this week, Psy’s newest single Gentleman is #5 on the Hot 100.

Several months ago, Billboard changed the criteria for what defines a hit single when they included streams from YouTube into the mix. The difference has been minimal outside of Harlem Shake but there are typically several musical viral sensations that command the attention of millions of people and gain popularity through this means rather than the traditional outlets of radio airplay and sales. That means the definition of what makes a hit has changed as well, all because of the most recognizable and respected music chart source. Had Billboard not included YouTube into the mix of what determines popularity, Psy likely wouldn’t be on the Hot 100 this week thus keeping his status as “one-hit-wonder” in tact, even if absolutely nothing else had changed.

As I mentioned in a blog post a month ago, had Billboard allowed streaming from YouTube (and other sites) into the mix before, Justin Bieber would likely have started having bigger hits sooner than he did. For a while, Baby was the most watched YouTube video of all time yet the song is seen as being only a modest hit in comparison to his more recent singles. Likewise, Rebecca Black‘s Friday would have been seen as being a legitimate hit rather than a minuscule flash-in-the-pan.

It might seem that the artists who typically become one-hit-wonders are those we become infatuated with for the short-term. But it’s just short term and once the interest dies, they are never able to achieve success with another song. Yet now with the game being played slightly differently, now curiosity plays a bigger role. So acts like Psy who would unlikely ever get the sales or radio airplay to get another hit can do so through video channels like YouTube because even if people have moved on from Gangnam Style, the curiosity is there to see what else he has done. And it has worked with Gentleman. So maybe the new criteria could further limit who can be considered one-hit-wonders. Maybe they’ll become a rarity?


  • Taylor Swiftly

    Okay but I don’t like Gentleman, but he won me over with “Passionate Goodbye”

  • Taylor Swiftly

    Psy and K-pop <3

  • I think with Psy , he was only known through youtube, then people were obsessed with the dance. Same with everything else , Youtube influences what is being played on the radio . I don’t think I ever heard Rebecca Black on the radio.

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