10 Songs That Rocketed Artists to Stardom

A career is a funny thing. To get known can take years or decades. But it can also happen in an instant. Or, more precisely, in a song. Sometimes those songs can lead to careers that last lifetimes.

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Here are 10 songs that made artists into stars. Songs that rocketed them from unknown or lesser-known entities into household names and Grammy Award winners.

1. “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!),” Beastie Boys

The birth of “frat rap” was also the coming out party for the Brooklyn-born rap trio, the Beastie Boys. Despite being the fourth single out from their debut LP, “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” made them stars and continues to live in infamy. Built on the trio’s nimble lyricism and the song’s hard, buzzy guitar chords and hip-hop percussion from producer Rick Rubin, the 1986 track has become an anthem for beer pong and bong rips. Though, according to the Beastie Boys (comprised of Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D), it was originally a “goof” on those stereotypes.

Nevertheless, the song became their best-known for years, before the trio released more cerebral albums like Check Your Head in 1992. “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” hit No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 upon its release and helped License to Ill become the best-selling rap record of for decades.

2. “My Name Is,” Eminem

If you ask a group of people who grew up in the mid-90s, many will likely be able to tell you when they first became aware of Eminem. It was the premiere of a new video and a new song from someone no one had ever heard of. A white rapper from Detroit—huh? But wait: he’s backed by Dr. Dre, the icon. And then Carson Daly played the video for “My Name Is” from Em and the world was never the same. His putty-like voice, stretchy and sticky became the pinnacle of pop culture all from this song from his debut LP, the Slim Shady LP.

Stop the tape!
This kid needs to be locked away!
Dr. Dre, don’t just stand there, operate!
I’m not ready to leave, it’s too scary to die
I’ll have to be carried inside the cemetery and buried alive

Released in 1999, “My Name Is” got Eminem his first Grammy Award for Best Solo Rap Performance. It also led to a career of biting lyrics about anything from pills to matricide. We all learned his name and it stuck.

3. “Loser,” Beck

Not unlike how it happened with Eminem in 1999, Beck landing on radios and MTV in 1993 was a moment. The song, “Loser,” from his album, Mellow Gold, caused firework of questions. Where did that slide acoustic guitar come from? Is this a rap song? Who is this person?

Well, it turned out to be the Los Angeles-born Beck and his hit single that would usher in a decades-long career with plenty more hits. But something about “Loser” remains unique. The song, which hit No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, propelled Beck to much more, thanks to lyrics like, And my time is a piece of wax falling on a termite / That’s choking on the splinters.

4. “Wannabe,” the Spice Girls

A song with a genius title and an equally genius hook, this summer of 1996 debut single from the Spice Girls, was co-written by members and released on their record, Spice. For a debut single from a five-piece all-gal group, the track was the perfect entrée. Here was this new force of musical nature and they were united in their message and in each other. After receiving several mixes, the song hit radio waves and would go on to top charts in 37 countries, including the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart.

The indelible chorus goes:

If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends
Make it last forever, friendship never ends
If you wanna be my lover, you have got to give
Taking is too easy, but that’s the way it is

5. “…Baby One More Time,” Britney Spears

Staying with ’90s pop singers, this 1998 song from pop icon Britney Spears’ debut album topped the charts in more than 20 countries and announced to anyone with ears: Britney Spears is a force to be reckoned with. Today, “…Baby One More Time” is one of the best-selling singles of all time. The song, sung by a teenage Spears, was a bubblegum pop hit.

My loneliness is killing me (and I)
I must confess I still believe (still believe)
When I’m not with you I lose my mind
Give me a sign
Hit me baby one more time
Hit me baby one more time

The song lit the fuse for Spears’ giant career, one that included a many-years-long conservatorship that only recently ended after a lengthy legal battle with her father. But no matter where her career goes next, this hit single was there when it all began.

6. “I Kissed A Girl,” Katy Perry

The song that made everyone who heard it go, “Wait, what did she just sing?” But that was the point of course. And it worked, creating suddenly millions of people wondering, “Who sang that song?” And wanting to know her name. I kissed a girl / and I liked it / the taste of her cherry chapstick.

The debut single from Perry, “I Kissed a Girl” dropped in the spring of 2008 from her second studio album, One of the Boys (another title that made people curious). The song topped the Billboard 100 for seven weeks. Looks like Perry knew what she was doing! Not to mention, the track is a pop banger. And the music video is sultry and charming.

7. “Bad Guy,” Billie Eilish

The fifth single from her debut album in 2019, “Bad Guy” rocketed Billie Eilish to stardom. Like the song above by Perry, it included a dramatic gender flip that made listeners’ ears perk and eyebrows pop.

So you’re a tough guy
Like it really rough guy
Just can’t get enough guy
Chest always so puffed guy
I’m that bad type
Make your mama sad type
Make your girlfriend mad tight
Might seduce your dad type
I’m the bad guy, duh

Today, Eilish is a household name, along with her brother FINNEAS, a songwriter, performer and producer, himself. The two, in fact, recently won an Oscar award for their 007 song, “No Time To Die.” But it was “Bad Guy” about an anti-hero that kicked it all off for the siblings.

8. “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X

When Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” first topped the chart, the song it knocked off was perhaps the most surprising chart-topper of all time: “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, which had stood atop the Billboard Hot 100 for 19 weeks in a row. Yes, the country-rap crossover from the otherwise unknown rapper and social media maven Lil Nas X changed music as well as his life. The song, which features Billy Ray Cyrus, became the longest-running No. 1 track since the Billboard Hot 100 chart debuted in 1958. Now, Lil Nas X is a fashion and music star all thanks to the guts it took to make the crossover smash single.

I got the horses in the back
Horse tack is attached
Hat is matte black
Got the boots that’s black to match
Riding on a horse, ha
You can whip your Porsche
I been in the valley
You ain’t been up off the porch, now

Can’t nobody tell me nothing
You can’t tell me nothing
Can’t nobody tell me nothing
You can’t tell me nothing

9. “Thrift Shop,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Like Lil Nas X in 2018, Seattle hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis came out of nowhere in 2012 with a song that would earn billions of streams and many awards. That song was “Thrift Shop,” the tune all about spending less on clothes and hitting spots like Value Village and Goodwill for your gear. That track, along with the duo’s “Can’t Hold Us” propelled Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to Grammy awards and stardom via their debut studio LP, The Heist. It even hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I’m, I’m, I’m huntin’, lookin’ for a come up
This is fucking awesome
I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I’m, I’m, I’m huntin’, lookin’ for a come up
This is fucking awesome

10. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nirvana

Staying in Seattle, some 20 years prior to Macklemore, another fair-haired frontman was making waves. Led by the handsome Kurt Cobain, Nirvana became bigger than Earth with their sophomore album, Nevermind, which dropped in 1991. The fame and fortune became too much for Cobain, whose life ended three years later in 1994. But the grunge legend still lives on and fans continue to flock to Cobain memorial sites in Seattle, where Nirvana got its first big breaks. Named after a quip from a friend (and Bikini Kill founder Kathleen Hanna), “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2017.

Photo by Scott Gries/ImageDirect

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