Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Take Five: One-Hit Wonders Behaving Badly

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 27, 2010

Pop music is all about knowing your place. Legacy can most easily be defined as intentions divided by results, with the return being better the closer the two quantities are. If you foisted just one song on the general public over the course of your career, and you didn’t try particularly hard after that, chances are you will be looked favorably upon in history–assuming the song was at least half-decent and didn’t stick around too long past its sell by date. But try to stretch that one hit into four or five lesser numbers, refusing to go quietly into that good night, and the image starts to corrode, as we begin to wonder why we ever even let you hang around in the first place. Not everyone gets to be Madonna or Michael Jackson, and frankly, if you ask me, it’s a lot easier and not particularly less noble to shoot for Stacey Q or Rockwell instead. Learn it, live with it.

This could have been one of the great eras for one-hit wonders in popular music. The last three or four years have featured an impressive stream of quirky pop hits by largely disposable pop artists–as most chart-watchers will tell you, this is a good thing, a trend that should be both celebrated and protected. Yet a couple troublemakers in this class of up-and-comers-and-then-goers simply refuse to be team players, attempting to stretch their fifteen minutes into half-hours and longer with lesser follow-ups and uninspired reinventions. They pollute our airwaves and cause irreperable damage to their lingering memory. Of these recent fugitives from pop justice, here are the five most wanted subjects.

Sean Kingston

“Beautiful Girls” was a respectable summer #1, a fun, “Stand By Me”-sampling throwback in which Kingston sang about his nine-year-old self falling in love in between watching movies and going to prison. It was very catchy and slightly awful, and it drifted away before causing too much damage. Follow-up “Me Love” was similarly sweet and ultimately irritating, but it peaked just at #14, and seemed to be following the appropriate career trajectory. But he kept coming back–“Take You There” off the same album, then “Fire Burning” a couple years later, and most recently “Eenie Meenie,” a duet with the dreaded Bieb. What was cute at 17 isn’t quite so adorable at 20,  Sean, and at some point you’d really do well to have to demonstrate some kind of practical usefulness.

Jason DeRulo

You can generally tell when a pop star has only one hit’s worth of usefulness when you’ve seen their videos dozens of times but still have absolutely no memory of what they look like. (If I had to guess with Jason, I would’ve said a cross between Chris Brown and Rockets guard Kevin Martin–not far off, but not particularly close either.) JaSon’s “What’cha Say” rode a particularly inspired Imogen Heap sample to a surprise #1 hit late last year, about 5% of the success of which can actually be tied to Mr. DeRulo’s contributions. Highly acceptable and occasionally preferable for a one-off, but the powers that be deemed him worthy of a second top ten hit with the stupefyingly mediocre “In My Head” (Sample lyric: “I’ll be your teacher / I’ll show you the ropes”), an assessment which I respectfully disagree with. Nothing but further opportunity for me to be infuriated by his pronunciation of his first name as “Jay-Sahn” at the beginning of every listen.


I still hadn’t decided whether or not I liked 3OH!3’s “Don’t Trust Me” by the time it faded from the top 40, and I was fine with that–in fact, I looked forward to a more careful and objective re-evaluation of the obnoxious Colorado DJ duo some five to ten years down the line. It honestly never even occurred to me that they’d give me the chance again before that–the duo’s success, fluky and somewhat ridiculous to begin with, seemed the definition of transience, and when follow-up “Starstrukk” peaked at #66, it seemed the world was in order on this one. But then an extra-insufferable appearance on Ke$ha’s already sickening “Blah Blah Blah” (“I don’t care who you are in this bar / It only matters who I is”), and now something called “My First Kiss,” a return-the-favor Ke$ha duet that unexpectedly crash-landed in the top ten last week. Observe at your own peril, and drop your jaw in amazement that nobody’s called in the tab on these two brochachos just yet.

Kevin Rudolf

Begrudging credit must go to Rudolf here for at least understanding the source of his original success well enough to almost be able to repeat it. “Let it Rock” was primarily a hit because it sounded fantastic underneath montages of basketball highlights advertising upcoming NBA on TNT games of the week, catchy and adrenalizing and easily digestible in a thirty-second chunk. (The Lil’ Wayne verse was fantastic too, of course.) Such successes do not tend to be repeated, but Rudolf was savy enough to draw from the well a second time with “I Made It,” a song whose optimistic and self-affirming tone was more readily applicable to college games and drafts and the like, but which got almost as much total play over the course of the last year as “Let it Rock” did during its reign of terror. I would’ve bet my Zune on Rudolf never charting a second top 40 hit, and would have had a lot of very quiet subway trips in the future as a result. Double or nothing on a third, anyone?

Travie McCoy

Cheating a litle bit here, admittedly, as Travie’s first hit was not as a solo artist, but rather as a member of Gym Class Heroes, they behind Intensities’ #38-rated song of the last decade, “Cupid’s Chokehold.” Much as I liked that song, I depsised just about every other GCH song I ever heard, and was consistently relieved when one after another failed to cross over. Turns out the rest of the dudes were just holding him back, apparently, as McCoy ditched the backing band, joined up with the silver-throated Bruno Mars (who along with his appearance on B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ on You” now seems  to be 2010’s greatest pop good-luck charm), and recently broke into the top 20 with the execrable “Billionaire,” as in, “I wanna be [one] so freakin’ bad.” I could sit here all day quoting lyrics to prove just how unnecessary this song’s success is, but I think I’ll settle on “You can call me Travie Claus / Without the ho ho/ Ahhha, get it?” Stick to the Supertramp, kid.

And because they’re not all bad apples, five recent one-hit wonders who actually followed the script–so far, anyway:

Future overly-referential rappers and self-important alt-metalheads, take note. You could learn a thing or two from this bunch.

4 Responses to “Take Five: One-Hit Wonders Behaving Badly”

  1. Before I scrolled down further I assumed the picture of 3OH!3 was MGMT instead. I was fine with that.

  2. MBI said

    Gotta say, I disagree with several of your points.

    1) Sean Kingston is a perfectly fine and enjoyable presence on the radio, and “Take You There” and “Fire Burning” were both excellent songs. No excuse for the Bieber duet though.

    2) Jason DeRulo’s “Whatcha Say” was one of the worst songs of 2009. I think you discount how awful his singing is, and what a beyond-stupid asshole the lyrics make him sound like. “In My Head” is an improvement in nearly every single way, although, no, it’s not great.

    3) “Cupid’s Chokehold” was a plodding, sour, atrocious song that doesn’t for a second sound sincere. Both “Clothes Off” and the new solo single are vast improvements.

  3. MBI said

    Agree full-on with your analysis of 3Oh!3 though. I don’t know why but I had gotten the idea that their superbro attitudes were a put-on, like early Beastie Boys. “BlahBlahBlah” firmly disabused me of this notion.

  4. Erick said

    Fire Burning is truly awful, but I like to imagine the video features a dance floor with self-immolating women melting down to their skeletons or something. Not going to watch it and risk ruining the dream.

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