What makes a one hit wonder? Most of the time, whether for better or for worse, it’s novelty. A song comes out that’s some combination of catchy, ridiculous, gimmicky, and/or actually good and lodges itself within pop culture. Some of the artists here used up all they had in one good song. Others are hidden gems with under-appreciated bangers. But they all got their moment in the sun.
When I first dove into writing this article, it wasn’t going to be an ordered list. Nor did I even think I was going to be able to come up with 17 one hit wonders that I still enjoyed from well over a decade ago. But I underestimated the power (and the nostalgia) of a bunch of these songs. They hit in a way that doesn’t really make logical sense. You’d probably never say any of these songs are among your favorites of all time, but when you dust them off and replay them, they bring a real joy. Sure, they’re silly and most haven’t aged well, but they feel evocative of a very specific time. So find your old iPhone 3G and dig out the Silly Bandz that are still at the back of your closet, because we’re going back in time. Here are the top 17 One Hit Wonders of the 2000’s.
Because I’m a hopeless completest, and a nerd, it felt awkward to base a list off a prime number. I found around 45ish one hit wonders that were worth talking about, but most didn’t make the cut for various reasons. Some weren’t true one hit wonders (Shaggy, KT Tunstall, Five for Fighting) and some didn’t really make sense in this context (The Strokes have only one song, “Juicebox”, that has ever made the Billboard Hot 100, but I don’t think anyone would call them “one hit wonders”). Just to make it a nice round number, here are the three songs that would have made the top 20 but just missed out on this list:
#20: “Ocean Avenue” – Yellowcard (2004)
An entire separate list could have been filled with pop punk songs. The 2000’s were littered with bands that wanted to sound like Blink-182. At least Yellowcard got a good song out of it. They were one of the few.
#19: “Handlebars” – Flobots (2008)
White boy rap is another unfortunate byproduct of late 90s when Eminem stormed into the mainstream. “Handlebars” doesn’t feel like it was a real song, but rather a strange fever dream.
#18: “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” – The Darkness (2002)
2002: the year cock rock almost made a comeback. One part AC/DC, two parts Twisted Sister, and fully Spinal Tap, The Darkness at least seemed like they were fun enough to be in on the joke. That falsetto is absolutely legendary.
#17: “Because I Got High” – Afroman (2001)
God bless you, Afroman. You were the stoner everyman that should have defined the decade, with your stark drum machine, doo-wop backing vocals, and simple lyrical ode to smoking the devil’s lettuce. Unfortunately, you can’t have a song like “Because I Got High” and possibly be defined by anything else. Afroman leaned fully into the persona, even featuring pre-9/11 pothead heroes Jay and Silent Bob in the song’s video, and somehow got a Top 20 hit out of a one-joke premise. Debatably, this is the only true novelty song on this list, but it’s also probably the easiest to like. Why take anything seriously when you can just get high?
#16: “1985” – Bowling for Soup (2004)
Nostalgia sells. Hell, that’s why this list exists in the first place. 1985 (the year) was almost two decades old by the time Bowling for Soup decided to cover SR-71’s ode to a midlife crisis, but it might as well have been a whole lifetime ago, with lyrics referencing everything from Gary Cherone’s brief time in Van Halen to Ozzy Osbourne’s reality TV afterlife. Now we’re almost as far away from “1985” as Bowling for Soup was from the titular year when thy recorded it in 2004, and the layers of nostalgia for the 2000s get piled on top of the already-reminiscent song. But don’t feel bad for the BFS guys: those Phineas and Ferb royalties are keeping the lights on.
#15: “1234” – Feist (2007)
Did you ever have an iPod Nano? I know I did. A strange time when technology was advancing at a rapid pace, all of a sudden, you didn’t have to have a giant bulky iPod falling out of your pocket all the time. It seems antiquated now, but the pace that personal technologies were advancing at was a fantastically futuristic while it was happening. But how do you sell the future? With some brilliant indie pop, of course. “1234” actually talks about how money can’t buy love, and now it seems kind of quaint that a TV advertisement could spin off a big chart hit with an anti-capitalist message. Pre-streaming, “1234” was released to the iTunes instead of as a physical single. Today, it has over 124 million streams on Spotify. Technology moves forward, but timeless songs stay where they are.
#14: “I Try” – Macy Gray (2000)
With a silky smooth backing track and a voice unlike any other, Macy Gray was the raspy queen of Neo soul in the early 2000s. Sure, it might be cheating because “I Try” was technically released in late 1999, but anyone who appears in the original Spider-Man movie is going to be inextricably linked to the early 2000s. Soul music didn’t really have much space in the 2000s: artists like Maxwell and D’Angelo were critically adored, but had relatively short commercial shelf lives. “I Try” hit #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was the gold standard before Amy Winehouse and her followers initiated a British Invasion of soul a few years later.
#13: “Shake It” – Metro Station (2008)
We collectively had to wade through a lot of music in the 2000s, and the bottom rung is reserved for awful scene bands that decided to have a go at mainstream success. Some were benevolent, like Pierce the Vail, and some we’re truly harmful, like Blood on the Dancefloor, but there’s only room for one of those songs on this list, so let’s go with “Shake It”. Made by *checks notes* the brother’s of Mitchell Musso and Miley Cyrus? Really? Damn, the Mouse House must have been working overtime to get these guys a hit. Now that you mention it, it does sound like the theme song for a Disney Channel Original Movie. And that’s absolutely meant as a compliment.
#12: “American Boy” – Estelle (2008)
Written by John Legend, produced by will.i.am, and featuring Kanye West, Estelle is unfortunately not the star in the crowded songwriting credits of “American Boy”. But she is the star of the track, where soul and pop mix into a frothy, delectable concoction filled with disco strings and hooky melodies. In a crowded field of white British should singers who raided the states in the late 2000s, it feels appropriate that Estelle brought some black girl power to the table, peaking higher than Lily Allen and Paloma Faith ever did on the Hot 100.
#11: “Graduation (Friends Forever)” – Vitamin C (2000)
If you ever got emotional at your high school graduation, there’s a decent chance that it was soundtracked by “Graduation”, Vitamin C’s eternal ode to carving out your own path and parting with your old friends on the way. College might be a little early to feel nostalgic about your past, but we’ve all had moments where we think about the people who were once a huge part of our lives and wishing they still were. It might be cheesy, but “Graduation” does a fantastic job of distilling those bittersweet feelings into pure pop. It would later be interpolated by benny blanco and Juice WRLD, where Juice WRLD gets to rip on the other side of the coin: how shitty high school can be.
#10: “That’s Not My Name” – The Ting Tings (2009)
It took almost two years for anyone to care about The Ting Tings. “That’s Not My Name” was released in mid-2007 to almost no fanfare, and the song floated around for awhile before catching fire due its prevalence in ads and movie trailers. Well, that and it’s incredibly catchy nature. The song is one long crescendo, adding in instruments, melodies, and hooks as the tension keeps building and explodes with every subsequent chorus. Less a desperate plea and more a demand, “That’s Not My Name” represents its own slow burn well: it took time, but the “quiet girl” became a riot in no time, with one hell of an earworm.
#9: “Hey There Delilah” – Plain White T’s (2006)
Weepy white guys with acoustic guitars are a tradition in pop music. Ed Sheeran’s made a career out of it, and Justin Bieber has way too many songs in this vein. But leave it to a rock band to create the one song you were guaranteed to hear some sensitive guy belt out circa ’06-’07. Cliched and sincere to a fault, it’s almost a misnomer to even include the band’s name, considering its mostly just singer Tom Higgenson and his guitar singing to a girl he met exactly once. Even still, it holds a pretty strong distinction: it’s one of only two songs on this list that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
#8: “My Neck, My Back (Lick It)” – Khia (2002)
God help you if this song accidentally came on while any of your relatives were around. Or teachers. Or anyone who wasn’t your dumbass friends listening to what was most assuredly the dirtiest song you had ever heard before you hit puberty. “My Neck, My Back” is not a complicated song. It’s not poetry. It’s better. It’s completely uninhibited, raw, and absurdly over the top. And it slaps, too. Could you imagine “WAP” debuting at the top of the Hot 100 without the trailblazing path that Khia forged? Put some respect on her name. Khia did it before anybody.
#7: “Replay” – Iyaz (2009)
A song tailor made for teenagers of the 2000s, “Replay” references things that will never happen again: hanging out at malls, using iPods, face to face meetings. Ah, the simpler times. The melody in Iyaz’s head can’t be catchier than the one in “Replay”, which lodges itself in your head its such ease that it should be considered a bioweapon. The fact that it’s basically the TikTok equivalent of Rickrolling feels completely appropriate: a one hit wonder with enough silliness and catchiness to propel it to anywhere the internet takes it.
#6: “Tipsy” – J-Kwon (2004)
“Teen drinking is very bad! Yo, but I got a fake ID though!” If anyone thought that the watchdogs had gotten to J-Kwon over his dedication to underage drinking, the point was made crystal clear at the start of “Tipsy”. Impressionistic and impossibly young at the time of the song’s success, J-Kwon was the prime example of resting on your laurels. By 2010, his record label had to check just to see if he was alive. Maybe “Tipsy” was just too good to be followed up. “One, here comes the three to the four/Everybody drunk out on the dance floor” should be taught to kids learning how to count. J-Kwon can give them a talk about underage drinking while he’s at it if he likes.
#5: “Stacy’s Mom” – Fountain’s of Wayne (2003)
Subject matter is incredibly important in songwriting. You could be the greatest lyric writer in the world, but if you write a song about wanting to bang your friend’s mom, be prepared to have it follow you to the grave. Unfortunately that’s what happened to Adam Schlesinger, the fantastic power pop musician who wrote Emmy and Grammy award-winning music. He also co-wrote “Stacy’s Mom”. If you were confused as to why so many people were paying tribute to the guy who wrote “since your dad walked out/your mom could use a guy like me”, check out That Thing You Do! or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or any other Fountain’s of Wayne song. Or you could just listen to how catchy “Stacy’s Mom” is. For all it’s goofy horniness, it really does show that Schlesinger was a master of hooks and earworms.
#4: “A Thousand Miles” – Vanessa Carlton (2002)
We’ve had nearly two decades to process “A Thousand Miles”. Almost 20 years of memes and White Chicks references. But that piano riff can still get your adrenaline pumping. It’s almost Pavlovian: the second it kicks in, everybody in the immediate 20 yard radius knows what’s about to happen. I don’t think there’s been a more effective use of piano anywhere in the 2000’s, and in terms of riffs, it’s probably only matched by The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” in terms of recognition and guttural power. Not bad for a coffeehouse pop song. If that audio sheen sounds familiar, that’s because producer Ron Fair used the same techniques to make Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” and Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry”. But “A Thousand Miles” sounds unique and singular. If Vanessa Carlton really is a one hit wonder, she’d still have a pretty great legacy.
#3: “Milkshake” – Kelis (2003)
It feels weird to call someone as successful as Kelis a one hit wonder, but at least in America, it’s the truth. With production duties handled by pop guru Pharrell, “Milkshake” is anything but subtle: a sledgehammer of euphemisms, buzzy synth bass, and perfectly poppy choruses. It all works to perfection though, as the track wastes no time bringing you into its orbit, creating almost instant parodies in its wake. Kelis’ next few singles after “Milkshake” weren’t released in the U.S. due to her label, Arista, folding after it’s success. That loss of momentum cost Kelis a stateside following, but not a career. She’s huge in the U.K. and around the world, but to us, she’ll always be known for “Milkshake”. As if that’s a bad thing.
#2: “Fireflies” – Owl City
I don’t care what Billboard or Wikipedia says: Owl City is a one hit wonder. Sorry to any Owl City stans (I’m sure you exist somewhere) who still listen to Ocean Eyes or any of his subsequent albums. Name me another Owl City song. “Good Time”? C’mon, that’s basically a Carly Rae Jepsen song. “Hello Seattle”? Damn, you really did buy Ocean Eyes, didn’t you? “Shooting Star”? I can’t tell if you made that up or not. Over here in reality, we’ll be listening to “Fireflies” for the billionth time. Why? Because it might be one of the catchiest songs ever written, all synth bleep bloops and softly cooing vocals to lull you into happy place. “Fireflies” might have sounded like the future at one point, but now it’s pure, uncut nostalgia. It hits your brain and its effects are immediate. That’s how great pop music should be.
#1: “Crazy” – Gnarles Barkley (2006)
Gnarles Barkley were the perfect flash in the pan: a weird name, exactly two years of mainstream recognition, and one monster song. What Danger Mouse and CeeLo Green couldn’t have imagined was just how far their one-off lark was going to go.
“Crazy” sounds completely devoid of context or cultural landscape. It doesn’t sound like it was influenced by anything. It has no genre. It doesn’t sound like anything else. It just is. Some crazy hip hop beats, perfectly dramatic strings, gospel level vocal acrobatics, and one of the biggest melodic hooks of the past 20 years? Yes please. Is this space music? Music of the future? Music from the past? It’s impossible to tell. It has no parents. It has no descendants. How could you possibly rip off “Crazy”?
I find it hilarious that the guys in Gnarles Barkley took the song out of music store shelves because they thought that it was getting too popular. As if that was going to stop it. The truth was that “Crazy” was now in the digital world, a world we all practically live in. Trying to stop it is a fruitless endeavor. It lives on, now and forever. It hits the same today as when you first heard it.