There are several metrics to measure whether or not a song is a hit: Radio play, streaming numbers, high-profile syncs, and social media engagement can all be factors. While any combination of these categories could point to a track’s success, the true barometer by industry standards is its chart performance on the Billboard Hot 100.
But chart success isn’t necessarily an indicator that an artist is a bonafide hitmaker. Take Nicki Minaj, for example: She was a radio fixture for an entire decade before taking the coveted Hot 100 crown with the 6ix9ine-assisted “Trollz” in 2020. And then there are artists like reggae band Magic!, who topped the chart with their breakout hit “Rude” in 2014. The track held the No. 1 spot for six consecutive weeks, but the band’s follow-up singles failed to chart and they quickly faded into obscurity.
More often than not, it’s difficult to earn the title of “hitmaker” without notching a No. 1. In fact, undisputed superstars like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Lil Nas X topped the Hot 100 on their first try. But not everyone is so lucky: here are ten A-listers who have yet to top the charts as a primary artist.
Biggest Hits So Far: Two tracks from her 2020 album, Future Nostalgia, “Don’t Start Now” and “Levitating” (featuring DaBaby) hit No. 2.
Oliva. Billie. Doja. Lizzo. Almost all of the latest wave of pop women have taken the top spot on the charts – with the glaring exception of Dua Lipa. Had there not been worldwide lockdowns during her made-for-the-club disco album’s release cycle, it’s possible she may have hustled her way to No. 1. Luckily, she’s still in the early stages of her career and it’s not so much a question of “if,” but “when.” And that “when” could be soon: her team-up with Elton John for “Cold Heart” (Pnau remix) has been buzzing around the top ten, with a peak of No. 7. (Fun fact: if the track were to hit No. 1, it will be Elton’s tenth trip to the top of the Hot 100 and his first since 1997’s “Candle In The Wind.”) Plus, she just released a collaboration with Megan Thee Stallion that has true chart potential.
Biggest Hit So Far: As part of the DJ trio Major Lazer, Diplo hit No. 2 with “Cold Water,” which featured Justin Bieber and MØ.
Diplo is easily one of the biggest and busiest names in dance music. Not only has he teamed up for several side projects (Major Lazer, Jack Ü, LSD, and Silk City), but his resume includes production credits for the likes of Beyoncé, Lil Wayne, The Weeknd, and Madonna. Still, the Hot 100 has not been Diplo’s friend: he’s only reached the top ten a handful of times since breaking out over a decade ago.
Biggest Hit So Far: J.Cole’s 2021 team-up with 21 Savage and Morray, “My Life,” clocked in at No. 2.
It’s impossible to have a conversation about modern hip-hop without mentioning J. Cole; in fact, he was included alongside Drake, Nicki Minaj and Kendrick Lamar for Spotify’s RapCaviar mural series that depicted the foursome as the Mount Rushmore of 2010s Rap. With his 2018 album KOD, Cole tied with The Beatles in simultaneously charting six tracks inside the Top 20, a record that the rock band had previously held for 54 years – but his No. 1 hit still remains elusive.
Machine Gun Kelly
Biggest Hit So Far: His Fastball-sampling collab with Camila Cabello, “Bad Things,” hit No. 4 in 2016.
MGK has never been much of a Hot 100 juggernaut: “Bad Things” is his sole trip to the top ten. These days, it seems that MGK is more interested in making provocative headlines with his fiancé than cranking out hits (see: “Machine Gun Kelly Gave Megan Fox A Thorny, Intentionally Painful Engagement Ring”). His latest album, Tickets To My Downfall, only spawned two Hot 100 entries: “My Ex’s Best Friend” (No. 20) and “Bloody Valentine” (No. 50).
Biggest Hit So Far: The rockers hit No. 3 with “Radioactive” in 2012.
Between a Glee cover, an abundance of commercial syncs (for brands like Jeep, Nintendo, and Microsoft), and a chokehold on multiple radio formats, Imagine Dragons have been one of the most inescapable bands of the past decade. Though they’ve cracked the upper echelon of the chart multiple times (“Believer” and “Thunder” both hit No. 4 and “Demons” hit No. 6), the band has yet to rack up a No. 1.
Biggest Hit So Far: He’s a featured artist alongside Cardi B on G-Eazy’s No. 4 hit “No Limit” from 2017 and his feature on Selena Gomez’s “Good For You” peaked at No. 5 in 2015.
Since his 2011 debut, Rocky has only notched one top ten hit as a lead artist: 2012’s “F*ckin’ Problems” (featuring Drake, 2 Chains, and Kendrick Lamar), which hit No. 8. The stat is a sharp contrast to his partner: Rihanna has had 14 chart-toppers and only sits behind The Beatles, Mariah Carey, and Elvis Presley as the artists with the most No. 1 singles ever.
Biggest Hit So Far: The boy band hit No. 2 with “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” in 1996.
Despite their presence in pop culture, boy bands were rarely reaching the Hot 100’s pinnacle in the Y2K era; the No. 1 slot was often occupied by ladies like Destiny’s Child, Janet Jackson, Monica, and Brandy. In fact, BSB’s biggest rival, NSYNC, only hit No. 1 once, with 2000’s “It’s Gonna Be Me.” Still, the Backstreet Boys managed to collect a total of six top 10s.
Lana Del Rey
Biggest Hit So Far: A 2013 remix of her melancholy “Summertime Sadness” earned Del Ray a No. 6 slot.
Despite her A-list status, Lana has remained comfortably in her lane as a critical darling rather than an artist who chases hits. Her only top ten, the aforementioned “Summertime Sadness,” landed there with a serotonin-boost courtesy of remixer Cedric Gervais. And on her second-highest charting track, “Don’t Call Me Angel” (which hit No. 13), Del Rey makes a drowsy cameo on the bridge, while her pop star collaborators Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus take the more substantial chunks of the 2019 Charlie’s Angels soundtrack single.
Biggest Hit So Far: Gunna’s 2018 breakout single “Drop Too Hard” with Lil Baby shot to No. 4.
If the success of his latest album, DS4Ever, is any indicator, Gunna won’t be without a No. 1 hit for much longer. Earlier this month, the rapper edged out The Weeknd’s Dawn FM for the top spot on the Billboard 200 albums chart. He’s just one high-profile collab away from taking the Hot 100 glory.
Biggest Hit So Far: The former Disney star hit No. 6 with the brassy “Sorry Not Sorry” in 2017.
When it comes to their lack of No. 1s, you can’t say Demi hasn’t tried. Their hotly anticipated 2021 collab with Ariana Grande fizzled in at No. 61 while other recent high-profile team-ups with Christina Aguilera and G-Eazy failed to chart at all. But hope isn’t lost: Lovato recently teased a punk-pop rebrand on social media and given the current emo revival, they may just be onto something.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.