Does anyone remember that show Hit Me Baby One More Time? They would trot out one hit wonder groups or artists from across the past 30 years or so, have them play their one well-known tune, play a cover of some current radio smash, and send them on their way. It was a novel enough idea, though really belittling in practice, and it got me wondering, why do so many people look down on an act for only having that one true banger of a tune?
Let’s start off by addressing just how hard it is to make a hit song. Do you have any idea just how much music is released into the world each day? Because it’s a lot. A WHOLE LOT. I’m talking an average of about 40,000 songs every single fucking day. And if, by some measure, you’re able to make your song stick out amongst those thousands of others, you deserve a goddamn parade.
“Oh, but are they really a talented artist if they can’t repeat their success?” Get with the times, whiny voice in my head. The attention span of music listeners is growing shorter and shorter and it’s clear that musicians and artists are taking notice. Shorter albums or EPs are becoming more common with a lot of younger artists sticking exclusively to releasing singles. And why not? Short video apps like TikTok or other unconventional means of music discovery have broken a tonne of new artists based on just a fraction of a song. If you can get someone to sit down and listen to an entire song, even just that one, more power to you.
“Oh, but I need only like hour-long, conceptual prog-rock odysseys. Bobby Shmurda doesn’t have a hip hopera!! Tommy Tutone never released an earth-shattering LP that altered my sense of being!! Thank you, other, equally whiny voice in my head. Nobody is taking album artists from you. The Roots aren’t going away any time soon and neither are Between the Buried and Me. And, if you dig into some of these one hit wonder acts, you might even learn that they’ve been putting out solid, although not nearly as commercially successful, tunes for years following their breakout. By all accounts, DEVO should be considered a one hit wonder for “Whip It,” but they’ve influenced a huge number of alternative rock acts over the decades. Just because an artist only has one wide-reaching tune, does not mean that their song-writing and musicianship should be written off.
I’m not going to try and argue that every one hit wonder has some untapped reservoir of meaningful music inside of them. I am, however, going to argue that any artist who can create a song that resonates with millions of people, even if it’s just one time, has to be recognized for accomplishing something that 99% of bands and artists can only dream of. So, to the Lil Teccas, the Wheatuses, and the Dexys Midnight Runners of the world, hold your heads up high and make sure you invested your money wisely.
Written by Justin Bruce
*edited by Danielle Kenedy