Most Popular Artists That Never Had a No. 1 Hit

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At one time, music to a musician’s ears was the phrase “Number one with a bullet.” That was the music industry lexicon for a fast-moving song that reached the pinnacle of the Billboard Hot 100 and was still selling quickly. (The bullet was a mark next to the song title.)

A performer doesn’t need to have had a song to summit the Billboard Hot 100 as an imprimatur of stardom or success. Even so, it is always surprising to discover that some of music’s greatest artists have not reached the peak of the Billboard Hot 100.

To determine the most popular artists that never had a No. 1 hit, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on chart performance from the Billboard Hot 100. Artists were ranked based on an inverse score wherein a week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (if they had had one) would be worth 100 points, while a week at No. 2 is worth 99 points, and so on, up to a week at No. 100 worth one point.

Only artists who’ve never had a song reach No. 1, either as solo performer or featured artist, were considered. Highest-charting entries include only songs on which the performer in question is listed as the primary artist (not a featured act). Chart data is current through November 19, 2022.

Contemporary pop stars such as Demi Lovato and Dua Lipa have enjoyed great success and reached the top 10 without making No. 1. In the case of Lipa, she has fallen just short twice. Rap stars such as Big Sean, Lil Baby, Khalid, and Busta Rhymes have raced up the Billboard rap and hip-hop charts, but have not crested the Hot 100 either. (These are the biggest hits that were never No. 1.)

Country stars Florida Georgia Line and Rascal Flatts have been all over the radio, and Blake Shelton has had extended exposure as a judge on the television-music show “The Voice.” Yet none of them has reached the apex. (But click here to see the best-selling country music albums of all time.)

Icons James Brown and Sam Cooke changed soul music forever yet none of their contributions to American music culture was rewarded with a No. 1, either. Present-day rockers Imagine Dragons have not reached the top, and neither have older-generation rock legends Bruce Springsteen and Electric Light Orchestra.

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