Some 47.5% of all recording artists who hit the Billboard charts for the first time between 1955 and 2005 never charted again, according to a University of Colorado Denver analysis. That means that the performers of about half of all hit songs during that half century could be considered one-hit wonders.
The 1990s had its fair share of those one-time-only musical stars. With an unusually diverse array of musical genres including grunge, modern country, and hip-hop going mainstream, many hopeful new acts hit the radio with popular songs only to vanish as their next singles failed to top the charts.
To determine the biggest one-hit wonders of the 1990s, 24/7 Tempo reviewed performance data for the top 40 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts. Songs that reached No. 1 or No. 2 between the years 1990 and 1999 were ranked based on an inverse score wherein a week at No. 1 is worth 40 points, a week at No. 2 worth 39 points, and so on, up to a week at No. 40 worth one point. To be considered, artists must have had no more than three Top 40 hits, either as individual artists or as featured artists, and must have sold no more than five million albums in the United States throughout their careers. Chart data is current through April 8, 2023.
Much pop music of the ‘90s was characterized by danceable beats. Hip hop, R&B, and electronic dance music began to dominate the airwaves in the 90’s, and most of the one hit wonders fall into one of these categories. Songs like Tag Team’s “Whoomp (There It Is)” and Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” reached No. 1 back then and remain instantly recognizable to millennials despite the fact that the artists failed to produce comparable subsequent hits. (You might be surprised at the identities of some of the most famous musicians who never topped the Billboard Hot 100.)
Some soft rock efforts also became huge hits in the era. Extreme’s acoustic ballad “More Than Words,” and Mr. Big’s power pop “To Be With You” were surprise chart-toppers for these glam metal bands that typically played much harder rock. Some female singer songwriters also saw their fifteen minutes of fame, including Meredith Brooks and Lisa Loeb. Her song “Stay (I Missed You)” was featured on the “Reality Bites” movie soundtrack. (To see how musical tastes can change from decade to decade, see this list of the biggest one-hit wonders of the 1980s.)
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