Finding the mastery in one-and-done songs

My husband and I recently took a weekend trip to the beautiful city of Atlanta…the weather was unbelievable, the roads were clear, and the road trip music was blaring the whole drive down. I mean, what road trip is complete without diving deep into the library of the nineties one-hit-wonders?

Barely Breathing by Duncan Sheik started blasting through the speakers…a textbook one-hit-wonder. I put in a quick search on Spotify and found that he has put out 13 (yes, 13!) albums since 1996 and is still touring. My husband and I looked at each other in absolute shock. Why had the rest of his career been cast to the side of the mainstream so quickly? And where does this small pocket of fans exist?

The playlist rambled on, as did my train of thought about these incredibly famous one-hit-wonders. After each song, I found myself wondering what happened to those artists? Why did they find success with just one song? Were they okay with just a moment of success or did it leave them wanting more?

Finding a chart-topping spot is hard enough, but maintaining it for a long period of time is even more difficult. It takes time and effort, but above all else…it takes a massive dose of luck.

There are elements of science that contribute to a good hit; researchers have found that varying factors contribute to a successful song. While these factors tend to fluctuate between generations, many of the underlying factors remain the same: the loudness, rhythms, and music complexities. Outside of the music itself, there are other influences to consider: the marketing budget, the popularity of the artist, the timing. Even with these factors, it is impossible to predict when and what a hit will look like for future generations.

One-hit-wonders are the mythical creatures of the music world.

Imagine you are walking through the forest and see Big Foot. You can describe him, find his footprints, and maybe even get some footage of the creature. But you cannot capture or replicate him. Big Foot’s place is left in the forest, waiting to resurface again at an undisclosed time and place.

Most artists from these one-hit-wonders have found another place in the world. Some of them remain, pushing through the trenches of the music industry (Duncan Sheik, Hanson); some have tried to find success in the reality television world (Vanilla Ice), but it seems as though most go about their daily lives as though nothing happened. If you are really curious, there are a slew of articles on “where are they now” and an entire VH1 series on one-hit-wonders that ran a few years ago.

So, science doesn’t always have the answers. Maybe these one-hit-wonders just need to be left to the mysteries of the music industry. In the meantime, I am going to be floating down memory lane with a few of my favorite one-hit-wonders from the nineties.

Check out Spotify’s One Hit Wonders playlist!


Khan, Amina. “The Science Behind What Makes a Hit Single.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 03 Feb. 2012. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.

Carey, Bjorn. “The Science of Hit Songs.” Live Science, 09 Feb. 2006. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.