100 & Single: Three Rules To Define The Term "One-Hit Wonder" In 2012

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You could hear the sigh of relief among pop fans a couple of weeks ago, when Carly Rae Jepsen's single with Owl City, "Good Time," broke into the Top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100.

In his weekly chart roundup, veteran columnist Paul Grein remarked, "'Good Time' is an appropriately positive title for a song that guarantees that neither act can (fairly) be referred to as a one-hit wonder." (Emphasis mine.)

Hang on a sec: The week before it leapt to No. 9 on the big chart, "Good Time" was sitting at No. 13. What if it had gone no higher than that? Would it have been fair to call Jepsen, famed for the 2012 Song Of The Summer "Call Me Maybe," or Adam "Owl City" Young, owner of the 2009 bedroom-pop megahit "Fireflies," one-hit wonders? Didn't the rise of "Good Time" into the Top 20 already preclude that ignominy for both of them? Heck, didn't the one-hit wonder tag go away the minute the song appeared on the Hot 100 two months ago?

I know what some of you are thinking, though: C'mon... of course she's a one-hit wonder. She's always gonna be Ms. "Call Me Maybe."

I get it: Jepsen could score three more Top 10 hits, but that nine-week No. 1 megasmash so overshadows anything else she's likely to record that, culturally, it will define her. A decade from now, if you're in a bar doing pub trivia, they play a snippet of "Call Me Maybe" and ask you to name the "one-hit wonder" behind it, you're probably going to just scribble the answer, not stand up to defend Jepsen's honor. (As for Adam Young, any bets on whether Owl City makes the cut for 2022 pub trivia at all?)

Only a handful of pop-chart-related phrases have entered the universal lexicon. "Number one with a bullet" has infiltrated the brains of people who don't even know who Casey Kasem is, or what "bullets" in Billboard are (briefly: little circles around numbers on the chart that show a record is gaining points). And of course, "Top 40" is universally understood, not just as a list of hit songs, but also a radio format and an entire strain of hegemonic pop.

But no chart-related phrase seems to have struck the general public's fancy like "one-hit wonder." It's catchy—not unlike the songs it denotes—and it's adaptable. We've seen it applied to politics and business.

But when "one-hit wonder" is meant to describe, y'know, music, it gets a little too adaptable. Sure, there are undeniable, undisputed OHWs like Los Del Rio, the suited, middle-aged Spaniards behind "Macarena" who dominated the Hot 100 in 1996 and never graced an American chart again after 1997. But the term has also been used to describe a slew of acts who generated at least a pair of hits—or more.

Redoubtable pop critic Ann Powers recently got herself in about an hour's worth of hot (well... lukewarm) water with Rick Springfield fans. She used the phrase "one-hit wonder" to describe Springfield in a passing reference at the start of an edition of her NPR Music column "The Record." His fans—they are nothing if not devoted—descended upon Powers in the comment section, pointing out Rick's career list of hits: 21 Hot 100 hits, including 17 that made the Top 40. Five of those hits made the Top 10, including "Don't Talk to Strangers" (No. 2), "Love Somebody" (No. 5), "I've Done Everything for You" (No. 8) and "Affair of the Heart" (No. 9). These songs are all more than decent (I particularly like "I've Done Everything for You").

But the song that undoubtedly stood out in Ann's mind, the one that will make the opening paragraph of Springfield's obituary someday, is his only No. 1 hit: 1981's immortal "Jessie's Girl."


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