5 Pop Stars Who Never Had a No. 1 Hit

An artist can reach a certain level of stardom, another stratosphere of success, where they become bigger than pop music itself. They become a part of the fabric of culture. Depending on the era, they can be described as “icon,” “diva,” or “meme.” 

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When an artist reaches this higher space, it’s assumed that their hits are No. 1 songs. But the timing of a record release has just as much to do with its success—if not more—as the quality of the music. Big-name records can compete against each other, cancelling out the other on the way to the top of the charts. 

The five artists below never had a No. 1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart—the industry standard chart for popular songs in the United States. 

1. MC Hammer

Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart for 21 weeks, but the single that drove it all, “U Can’t Touch This,” barely cracked the Top 10. If you watched MTV or listened to the radio in 1990, you couldn’t escape the song. “U Can’t Touch This” and Hammer’s baggy pants were memes long before the word “meme” was in regular use (outside, perhaps, The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins).

MC Hammer had eight singles on the Hot 100 chart, but not one reached the top spot. He came close with his song “Pray,” but Mariah Carey’s “Love Takes Time” wouldn’t let Hammer touch No. 1; she remained there for two weeks, peaking at just the right time to block him. 

My, my, my, my music hits me so hard
Makes me say, “Oh, my Lord, thank you for blessing me
With a mind to rhyme and two hyped feet.”
If feels good when you know you’re down
A super dope homeboy from the Oaktown
And I’m known as such
And this is a beat, uh, you can’t touch

[RELATED: MC Hammer’s Net Worth: from “U Can’t Touch This” to ‘The Addams Family’]

2. Backstreet Boys

Backstreet Boys had six songs that went Top 10 on the Hot 100 chart. In the pre-streaming age, Billboard combined sales and airplay to determine popularity. “I Want It That Way” did reach No. 1 on Billboard‘s Radio Airplay chart but didn’t have the sales to hit No. 1 on the Hot 100. The group did reach No. 2 with “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” from their 1996 self-titled début. Yet surprisingly, the best-selling boy band of all time has never had a No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart. 

You are my fire
The one desire
Believe when I say
I want it that way
But we are two worlds apart
Can’t reach to your heart
When you say
That I want it that way

3. One Direction

Though they gave us Harry Styles, One Direction hasn’t been rewarded with a No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100. The best that “Best Song Ever” could do was second place. One Direction had several songs in the Top 10, and they are certainly right up there in terms of being one of the best-selling boy bands in history. The project indeed deserves our gratitude for bringing us Styles, but alas, the top spot on the charts proved stubbornly out of reach.

I said, “Can you give it back to me?”
She said, “Never in your wildest dreams”
And we danced all night to the best song ever
We knew every line now I can’t remember
How it goes but I know that I can’t forget her
Cause we danced all night to the best song ever

4. Babyface

Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds has produced and written No. 1 songs for Madonna, Whitney Houston, and Boyz II Men—he wrote and produced “End of the Road” and “I’ll Make Love to You” for the latter, and both those songs set records for the most time spent at the top of the Hot 100 chart. As an artist, though, his own songs have spent time in the Top 10, but “When Can I See You,” his highest-charter as an artist, peaked at No. 4. For Babyface, flirting in and around the Top 10 is, for now, at least, the highest he’s climbed. 

When can I see you again?
When can my heart beat again?
When can I see you again?
When can I breathe once again?
And when can I see you?

5. En Vogue

En Vogue reached No. 1 multiple times on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, but the top spot on the Hot 100 chart alluded the Oakland group. Three singles—“Don’t Let Go (Love),” “Hold On,” and “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”—climbed to No. 2 and then all hit a brick wall. Consolation prize: Billboard placed En Vogue at No. 9 on their list of Top 10 Girl Groups of All Time.

I live in misery when you’re not around
And I won’t be satisfied till we’re taking those vows
There’ll be some love making, heart breaking, soul shaking, oh
Love making, heart breaking, soul shaking
What’s it gonna be
Cause I can’t pretend
Don’t you wanna be
More than friends
Then hold me tight and don’t let go
Don’t let go
You have the right to lose control
Don’t let go

Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

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