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The Surprising Fates of Ten One-Hit Wonders from the 1990s
The 1990s brought us some of the greatest one-hit wonders in all of popular music. Of course, the 1980s can say the same thing, with hair metal bands and synthesizers all the rage. But by the early ’90s, all that was on its way out, and grunge, punk, and retro rock were back in style. There was flannel (so, so much flannel), and there were guitar riffs, and there were moody lyrics about ill-fated relationships.
Big-time bands rose to the top throughout the decade. Pearl Jam dominated the airwaves for years and still holds a special place in the heart of many ’90s kids. Hootie and the Blowfish rode one incredible album to worldwide acclaim. Many other high-end artists earned endless radio play, performed for sold-out shows, and walked away with big bucks to match.
But what about those that just barely graced the slightest feelings of fame? There were plenty of one-hit wonders who flamed out across the decade. Their singles rose quickly up the charts only to ride the wave for a few weeks before fading once again. Sadly, these artists never found fame with follow-up hits. It was an unforgiving time in the music business, and without a strong second act, many rock stars fell off the proverbial cliff after their white-hot debut singles.
In this list, you’ll learn what really happened to ten one-hit wonders from the 1990s. You may not have thought about these artists and their catchy tunes for years. But this ought to bring back plenty of good memories—and shed new light on life after fame.
10 Natalie Imbruglia
It was hard to ignore Natalie Imbruglia in the late ’90s. Especially if you had just gone through a breakup! In 1998, her single “Torn” was everywhere on the radio, speaking to love-sick fans who had just lost their relationships. The Australian actress who lent her sweet voice to the track was mesmerizing on camera for the music video too. At just 22 years old herself at the time, Imbruglia could deliver the melodrama required for the heartbroken lyrics while also offering just a hint of angst to make it stick.
After its release, “Torn” climbed up the Billboard ladder and landed on top of its Adult Pop Airplay chart for more than three months. A great debut run, to be sure. And a great set-up for future hits from the new singer on the scene, right? Well, unfortunately, that’s not exactly what happened for Natalie.
As “Torn” sank back down the charts after 14 weeks, record company executives pushed Imbruglia for another hit. She very much felt the pressure that was dialing up around her too. The singer was no wilting violet, but the realities of the “next-up” music business were difficult for her. Imbruglia released several more albums through the early 2000s and even still pushed music into the 2010s. But no other single ever came close to having the same effect on the public as “Torn” in ’98.
Through all that time, Imbruglia’s feel for catchy songwriting began to lag. Soon, she was struggling with a brutal bout of writer’s block. She took time away from it all in the 2010s to become a mother and re-focus her energy. By 2021, she was back with her sixth studio album, Firebird. Today, she’s still performing and constantly working on music. She has come to terms with her one-time shot at fame, though, and recognizes it will almost certainly never happen again.
Semisonic stormed onto the scene in 1998 with the catchy single “Closing Time.” Ostensibly about leaving a bar at the end of the night, it’s actually about something far different. The group’s lead singer and public face, Dan Wilson, was getting ready to have a baby when the song came out. The bar metaphor really was his way of honoring his coming child with his excitement and anticipation. Listeners mostly missed the mark on that meaning, but they loved the song anyway. Plus, the music video was creatively shot, with two unbreaking shots showing a missed connection slapped side-by-side.
By the middle of ’98, Semisonic was on top of the music world. “Closing Time” hit number one on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart and stayed there for more than a month. And the band’s album Feeling Strangely Fine was received well by critics. But for whatever reason, follow-up success eluded them. And seemingly, as soon as they got on the scene, Semisonic flamed out.
By the early 2000s, the band had stopped playing music together. It wasn’t a bad breakup or anything—they had just all moved on to other pursuits. The group’s drummer—a Harvard graduate—left their native Minneapolis, wrote a book about the music biz, and taught music at a college on the East Coast. But it was Dan Wilson who had the best future of them all. The rocker transitioned away from his public role and started writing songs for other artists.
Through the 2000s and 2010s, he composed a number of hits for acts like The Chicks, Taylor Swift, and Adele. Not too shabby for a one-hit wonder! But by the 2020s, it was time to get the band back together. Semisonic released a new EP in 2020. Then, they started playing small shows around Minnesota to promote it for the next few years. In January 2023, they played a series of sold-out shows in Minneapolis.
And in June 2023, they are scheduled to hit the road for a short tour with ’90s mainstay Barenaked Ladies. Looks like the bar is back open, and “Closing Time” will ride once more!
8 Lou Bega
Lou Bega took over music during the fall of 1999 when he released “Mambo No. 5.” The German-born singer delivered a Latin-inspired summer anthem deep in the heart of winter when that single came out. It rose as high as number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November—and that was after worldwide airplay had made it one of the globe’s most famous and catchy songs for months before.
With Monica, Tina, Erica, and a million other women named in the single, fans flocked to hear the fun and sexy sound. For Bega, the worldwide attention was beyond what even most artists on this list experienced. And it should have been an easy-made transition into a future of even greater music success. But it wasn’t meant to be! Lou Bega never again enjoyed anywhere close to the success he had with “Mambo No. 5.”
That’s not to say he didn’t try. The crooner released albums in 2001, 2006, and 2010 in an attempt to follow up on 1999’s smashing success. It wasn’t meant to be, though. Nothing charted from his future work quite like what happened with “Mambo No. 5” just before the millennium ended. And yet when life hands you lemons, why not make lemonade? That’s the theory Bega has lived by, at least.
The singer still tours with his band, still makes new music, and still delights crowds with his charismatic stage presence. Plus, he’s not bitter about his one brush with fame! By 2019, Lou had come to terms with his one-hit-wonder status, and he was very grateful for the meteoric rise. After all, it set him on a wonderful path of world travel, music recording, and more. Not bad for a guy who only topped the charts one time!
You couldn’t get through the late ’90s without hearing Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” on the radio. The hard-driving rock song first hit the airwaves in 1997. Its repetitive and catchy lyrics made for the perfect earworm. Soon, it was all over the place. While Chumbawamba had come out of seeming obscurity, the self-referential track catapulted them to fame and acclaim.
By the end of 1997, “Tubthumping” had spent weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, settling as high as sixth. For good measure, it reached the number one spot on the Pop Songs chart and stayed there for more than two months. The band had been playing music together since way back in 1982, so after a 15-year run of obscurity, seeing some chart-topping success felt really, really good. Sadly, it wasn’t in the cards for the crew to experience that again. Despite their memorable band name and unique sound, Chumbawamba never had another hit.
Things didn’t necessarily turn out bad for the band after their one-hit brush with rock royalty, though. In fact, mostly nothing has happened to the band since then. In the 15 years after releasing “Tubthumping,” they kept making music together. But they could never find the recipe to replicate their commercial success. Then, in 2012—thirty years after coming together and 15 years after their sensational single—Chumbawamba parted ways.
However, there was no bad blood involved in the decision. The musicians simply felt that it was time to move on to other ventures. Now, at least one of those other ventures might be a film. According to reports, former Chumbawamba lead singer Dunstan Bruce has been working on a documentary about the group and its singular chart success. No word yet on when that movie will make it to market, but nostalgic ’90s kids would no doubt love to see it released.
6 House of Pain
House of Pain rode a party anthem all the way to the top of the American charts way back in 1992. Their single “Jump Around” brought with it feelings of good times and raging affairs. High school and college kids alike adored the bounce-worthy song so much that it settled in as high as the third spot on the American singles charts.
The Irish flare brought by the group made it an Irish-American anthem. Hooligans and sports fans the world over took to the track’s positive (but intense) message. Even today, “Jump Around” is a mainstay at sports bars and sporting events all across the globe. But sadly for House of Pain, it was meant to be their only successful single.
The group’s three members all forked off into interesting futures after success. For a while, they kept trying to replicate the sounds of their hit single. But new albums in both 1994 and 1996 flopped. Neither critics nor fans were paying much attention to the crew anymore. So, DJ Lethal, Danny Boy, and Everlast all parted ways by the late 1990s. For Everlast, going solo proved to be a wise move. He released several of his own singles in the late 1990s and early 2000s that got a decent amount of radio airplay.
And DJ Lethal found life after one-hit status as well—by joining up with a band called Limp Bizkit and riding its wave all the way to the top alongside Fred Durst. Sadly, Danny Boy had far less success in the music realm. He battled drug addiction for more than a decade after House of Pain’s short-lived music success. Thankfully, he finally got clean in 2005, but most of his musical hopes and dreams were washed out by then.
The trio has reunited at various points throughout the years, playing shows and giving fans that warm, nostalgic feeling. All three members even dove in to be part of the hip-hop supergroup La Coka Nostra for a time. But nothing has ever compared to the sweet success “Jump Around” brought them during the halcyon days of the early ’90s.
5 Tal Bachman
By the very end of the 1990s, grunge was out, and a more optimistic pop-rock sound was coming in. The new millennium was right around the corner, and musical acts were hopeful. Canadian-born singer Tal Bachman nailed that vibe in September 1999 when he released “She’s So High.” That catchy tune hit number one on Billboard’s Adult Pop Airplay that fall and stayed there for weeks.
On the big Billboard Hot 100 chart, Bachman’s jam reached as high as number 14. He proved he could cross over from the adult contemporary market into pop with the fast-moving, easygoing track. And it didn’t hurt that Bachman’s music video choices were memorable and fun too. But somewhere along the way, Tal’s career caught a hiccup. He was never again able to replicate the success of “She’s So High.”
It didn’t help that Bachman’s follow-up effort took years to make. He didn’t release his next studio album until 2004—five years after “She’s So High” first charted. By then, many fans had moved on to other even pop-friendlier acts that had long since taken hold by the early 2000s. Thus, it came as no surprise—even to Bachman himself—that his future musical output didn’t reach critical acclaim or sales success. And yet two decades later, Tal made a bit of a viral comeback anyway!
In 2019, the bike brand Peloton released a very memorable holiday ad. The advertisement was meme’d the internet over for its memorable shot of a young mom using one of the brand’s stationary bikes. And it brought Bachman back into the public eye because it sampled his 20-year-old song! The singer took viral infamy in stride. He even reportedly was in talks with Netflix about producing some kind of series for the streaming giant. So perhaps—more than twenty years after “She’s So High” established him on the music scene—there’s a future for him after all.
4 Marcy Playground
Who doesn’t remember “Sex and Candy” here? Even if you weren’t a ’90s kid, Marcy Playground’s sultry, deep-throated track was suggestive, sexy, and completely unforgettable. It helped that the 1998 single’s lyrics were so peculiar too. Having someone “smell sex and candy” is suggestive enough, and adding things like “disco lemonade” on top of it made listeners want to know more. And for much of late 1997 and early 1998, that’s exactly what music fans did!
Marcy Playground found itself on the top spot of the Billboard Alternative Airplay chart by the end of 1997. Then, after the New Year turned over, they got as high as number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the first few months of 1998. A one-hit wonder that spanned parts of two years—not bad! The band parlayed their hit into a nice touring gig as part of the post-grunge scene. They went on the road for a few years with other big acts like Fastball, Everclear, and Toad the Wet Sprocket.
But sadly, there was no viable follow-up to “Sex and Candy.” As crazy as fans had been about the initial hit, they were equally tepid about the group’s attempts at piggy-backing off early success. Singles like “Sherry Fraser” and “Saint Joe on the School Bus” struggled to get radio airplay. It didn’t help that the band was burned out by their sole success.
Lead singer John Wozniak recalled how the public’s demands regarding the group’s single simply overshadowed whatever fun the band was having together. “It just got to the point where it was too overwhelming,” he reminisced in an interview more than a decade after they first topped the charts.
To their credit, Marcy Playground has proven to be remarkably resilient. They have released four full-length studio albums since their late ’90s debut. Plus, the band continues to tour the country. They aren’t playing the same venues they used to headline, but the gigs are still good, and people still pay to hear them rock out. Not a bad life—if you can get it.
3 New Radicals
The New Radicals struck “poptimism” gold in 1998 when they released the alt-pop single “You Get What You Give.” The song was unlike much of what had come before it in that pop-adjacent space. It was anti-commercial and anti-corporate and seemed to take no quarter with how it treated other ’90s stars. Just ask Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson—who the New Radicals specifically called out during the driving, catchy tune.
In fact, the delightful song was so fun to bop along with that major musicians like Joni Mitchell and U2’s The Edge openly praised the band. It didn’t hurt that frontman Gregg Alexander stole the show in the memorable music video, either. At a time when MTV was fully on the rotation of every teen and tween in America, the New Radicals burst onto the scene and appeared like they were going to stick around for a while. Secondary songs off their debut album didn’t chart as well as their hit single, but fans and critics alike praised them too.
But as soon as success really took hold for the group, it was all over. In July 1999—less than a year after “You Get What You Give” rocketed to the top of the airwaves—Alexander abruptly decided to break up the group. At the time, he told media outlets that he’d become disenchanted with the corporate side of the music biz. Plus, he hated the celebrity life and felt it to be empty and soulless. Neither one of those things was necessarily wrong. But for early fans of the blossoming group, having it all end so suddenly was a shock to the system.
But there is something of a meaningful ending to this story. In 2021, Alexander and the New Radicals reunited after 22 years apart to play “You Get What You Give” once more. The occasion, believe it or not, was for U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration. And the moment was particularly poignant: Biden’s late son Beau had loved playing “You Get What You Give” to rally himself and his family while sick with glioblastoma. So Alexander honored Beau’s memory and his father’s political achievement with a moving rendition of the track.
2 Sixpence None the Richer
While most of the mentions on this list have been rock or hip-hop singles and thus generally more appealing to all listeners, Sixpence None the Richer is a good example of a far different one-hit wonder. In late 1998, the girl-led group released a folk-rock single called “Kiss Me.” For the next year or two, it got played at every high school dance and prom across America. And for years after that, it was a mainstay in television shows that captured teen angst and high school romantic drama. And don’t forget all those kiss cams at sporting events.
The group’s sweet single wasn’t only adored by love-lorn teenagers, though. In fact, Billboard Magazine named it one of the very best songs of 1999. And it slid way up the charts throughout that year, reaching as high as number two on the Billboard Hot 100. Plus, the catchy romantic tune brought Sixpence None the Richer something none of the previous eight artists can claim: a Grammy nomination! They didn’t win the award, but merely being nominated meant the group had surely made it. Right?
Well, maybe not. While Sixpence None the Richer’s sweet sound combined with their gorgeous lead singer Leigh Nash should have been a recipe for success, it simply wasn’t. The group released covers of “There She Goes” and “Don’t Dream It’s Over” as follow-up singles. Fans liked the sound, but there was nothing original about those trips down memory lane.
When it came time for an original follow-up, there was nothing to be had. To the crew’s credit, they did move quickly on a second album, releasing it in 2001. But critics didn’t take much notice, and a few years later, the group disbanded. For a while, Nash and the boys focused on solo projects and other career moves. But nostalgia called, and they regrouped in the late 2000s.
However, hit singles weren’t in the cards that time around, either. Even though Sixpence released albums in both 2008 and 2012, they never found commercial success again. Oh, well. “Kiss Me” will forever stand as one of the sweetest songs of the ’90s.
1 The Verve
Let’s save the best for last, shall we? The Verve may go down as one of the most interesting one-hit wonders of the 1990s. The group—which should not be confused with the Verve Pipe, another flash in the pan from that era—first got big in 1998. They achieved supercharged success that year with the memorable violin-laden track “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” And it was successful on two continents too.
First, the United Kingdom went crazy for hunky lead singer Richard Ashcroft and his band. Then, the Americans got in on the act. Like Sixpence None the Richer, The Verve got a Grammy nod for the catchy single. Plus, Ashcroft’s notoriously bad sidewalk behavior during the group’s music video proved to be one of the more memorable music-related images of the entire decade. The global hit and its unique video turned into a bit of a meme long before the internet would take hold of trends.
But all the success The Verve experienced was truly “bittersweet,” as it were. Ashcroft broke the group up in 1999—which was actually the second split of their time together. Then, they got back together in 2007 before breaking up once more two years after that. The disjointed relationships meant no coherent follow-up singles could hit the charts. Soon, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” became clearly destined for the one-hit wonder bin. But that doesn’t mean its story ended there!
The Rolling Stones actually brought a copyright lawsuit against the group for sampling their music in the single. For a while, Ashcroft and the band even lost out on their royalties and publishing rights. But more recently, in 2019, the Stones let go of their suit, and Ashcroft got back ownership rights to the song. Still, that doesn’t mean a Verve reunion is coming any time soon. Today, some of the broken-up band members don’t even speak to each other anymore.