In The Billboard Book Of One-Hit Wonders, journalist Wayne Jancik defined a one-hit-wonder as "an act that has won a position on Billboard's national, pop, Top 40 just once".
Though for many of us, songs like Whip It by Devo, Funkytown by Lipps Inc, Tainted Love by Soft Cell and Jump Around by House Of Pain are much more than fleeting hits. They capture a specific time in music history, one where sales represented the purchase of physical records, CDs and even tapes. One-hit-wonders would entertain the world for weeks and fizzle out just as quickly as they had appeared.
The proliferation of the internet changed everything about music as we knew it. And as apt as Jancik's definition for a one-hit-wonder is, it is also outdated. 20 years ago, artists may have been able to be famous one minute and plunge into anonymity the next, but it just isn't that simple anymore.
Technically speaking, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gotye and Kimbra, La Roux and Estelle are all one-hit wonders, but the internet hasn't let these artists fall out of the collective consciousness that easily. Whether it's a viral video, a TikTok meme or music journalism's penchant for retrospectives, we continue to reignite old memories whether for nostalgia, comedy, or enjoyment.
Once, we played records and CDs without surging sales, but today streaming a song does, directly feeding into the Billboard charts. Friday, Who Let The Dogs Out and All The Things She Said are now more like tangible memories with the power to affect the world around us with a mere click.
So what do we call a one-hit-wonder like Call Me Maybe that spurred a thousand memes and years of jokes but also birthed an underground cult figure like Jepsen?
It's hard to say. These songs are nebulous, each taking on a life of their own.
For Rebecca Black, Friday is an infinite source of pain that she'll likely carry around with her forever. In 2011, at just 13 years old Black achieved viral notoriety for a song that was the butt of every joke on the internet for years. Today the song has 140 million views. "Obviously Friday was not a deep song or anything, but people really assumed that it was all I was about," she told Insider this year. "Everybody kept saying, 'Well, stay strong, get through it, make sure you laugh with them, make sure you have a sense of humour because now you've got to look good and prove yourself.'" Demons overran her success; battles with her mental health, her record label and the rest of the world overwhelmed the singer for years.
If Black released Friday during the '80s, we probably wouldn't be talking about her and the song would be tucked away in a retro playlist on Spotify. There would be no Instagram post, no Insider interview. But as a generation empowered by our access to information, one-hit-wonders never really fade into obscurity.
Some find second lives as Instagram influencers. Sophia Grace, who rose to fame on Ellen at just 13 years old with her glossy pop hit Best Friends, now directs her energy into a clothing brand. LoLo London sells printed shirts, hoodies and caps all emblazoned with the brand's name. Others like Estelle have moved on to television. The American Boy singer voices Garnet, the charming leader of the Crystal Gems on Cartoon Network's Steven Universe.
But most have realised that the zeitgeist has allowed for one-hit-wonders to live eternally through streaming services and YouTube but most of all, because of our unprecedented access to music. It's an exciting time, especially for artists hoping for another shot. Before the internet, artists were disposable but as surprising as it may be, this pattern is more forgiving. One artist that comes to mind is La Roux. In 2009, she captured the world with frothy electro-pop and a fiery orange quiff with songs like Bulletproof, In For The Kill and I'm Not Your Toy. Her anticipated 2014 sophomore effort, Trouble In Paradise, left fans disappointed. Interviews with the star kept the internet intrigued for years. This year, she found her voice again on her third record, Supervision.
As sales become less relevant as a metric of success, notoriety reigns supreme. The internet's attention span may be short, moving on from jokes quicker than you can type 'lol' but more than anything it's a platform for rediscovery. Artists still have one-hit-wonder moments - just look at Lil Nas X - but they can push their way back into the conversation with funny tweets, posting thirst traps on Instagram or broadcasting their political views. The internet hasn't just democratised fame, but also evened out the playing field. These days, if an artist wants to be famous forever, all it takes is one hit.