5 Debut Pop Singles That Seriously Missed Their Mark
Some debut pop songs have all the makings of a no-brainer hit: A-list producers and writers, big-budget music video treatments, and label cash to burn on promotional campaigns and endorsements. Unfortunately, not every emerging pop star's planned breakout goes quite according to, well, plan.
Even when all the ingredients are present, the recipe for a surefire smash pop introduction can sometimes come out of the oven a little half-baked, whether radio trends have already shifted onto a new sound, or listeners just didn't connect with a track the way the artist—and label—had hoped.
Below, check out five should-have-been-huge label-backed pop debuts that showed promise, but ultimately fell a little short.
"Free," Natalia Kills (2011)
Following Lady Gaga's big breakout in 2008, the music landscape was primed for edgy, eccentric women dance-pop artists to storm the airwaves. Backed by Black Eyes Peas star will.i.am, English singer-songwriter Natalia Kills (who now goes by the name Teddy Sinclair) tossed her hat into the ring, releasing her debut dark-pop album, Perfectionist, in 2011.
The record's second/third single (depending on the country), "Free," had all the makings of a big radio smash and was meant to be her big radio break. "Free" featured top-tier collaborators: writers included Kid Cudi and Jay-Z/Kanye West collaborator No I.D., while Jeff Bhasker (Katy Perry, Buno Mars) produced the pulsating, club-friendly track. Even will.i.am lent his star power, contributing a verse and appearaning in the song's glossy music video.
Unfortunately, the self-proclaimed perfectionist may have tried too hard on this bid for radio success. "With its urban club beats, Euro-friendly synths and impressive guest feature, it certainly ticks many a box on the modern pop song checklist," DigitalSpy wrote in a review of the song, calling it a "calculated attempt for chart glory."
"Free" song only hit No. 118 on the U.K. Singles Chart (though it did climb to No. 4 in Austria) and failed to make a dent in the U.S.
"American Girl," Bonnie McKee (2013)
Songwriter Bonnie McKee is the woman behind dozens of radio smashes—from Katy Perry's "California Gurls" to Britney Spears' "Hold It Against Me"—so it's a crying shame that this princess of catchy pop hooks failed to achieve the same level of chart success with what was meant to be her big breakout moment, 2013's candy-coated ode to Americana, "American Girl."
Written by McKee, Jon Asher (The Chainsmokers), Josh Abraham (Pink, Carly Rae Jepsen) and more, the punchy, sunny electro-pop bop had the clear sonic makings of a hit akin to Perry's "Teenage Dream." It was also heavily star-powered, thanks to a promotional viral video that featured celebrities like Perry, Kesha, Macklemore, Kathy Griffin and more lip-syncing to the tune.
Unfortunately, the similarities between "Teenage Dream" and "American Girl" may have been too close for comfort for some listeners—and too little, too late in the grand sphere of the music industry. (By 2013, the pop landscape had shifted from brighter pop tracks to EDM bangers like Spears' "Work B---h," R&B-pop fusions and indie-pop tracks like Lorde's "Royals.")
"American Girl" made a blip on the Billboard charts (it hit No. 24 on the U.S. Mainstream Top 40, and No. 87 on the Hot 100), but ultimately failed to leave a lasting impression.
"F U Betta," Neon Hitch (2012)
Released in 2012, "F U Betta" was slated as the lead single off the debut album of then-Warner Bros. Records signee Neon Hitch, who previously gained traction on the pop blogs thanks to electro-pop buzz tracks like "Get Over U," co-written by Sia," and "Poisoned With Love," produced by Greg Kurstin.
Produced by Benny Blanco (Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez), the throbbing "F U Betta" was primed to storm the radio. Even the track's slick, pseudo-NSFW music video, which premiered on MTV, had all the right ingredients for a sexually-charged pop banger: it was directed by Chris Applebaum, who conceived the treatment for Rihanna's iconic "Umbrella" video.
And while the song wasn't necessarily a flop—it actually hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play and even made its way onto the Billboard Pop Songs chart—it certainly didn't position Neon as the surefire pop star Warner Bros. and mentor Kara DioGuardi were pushing her as.
Her planned debut album, Beg, Borrow and Steal, was eventually shelved, and "F U Betta" has largely been relegated as a remnant of the early 2010s dance-pop blog era.
"Obsession," Sky Ferreira (2010)
Big, glittery electro-pop marked the sound of 2010, and that 's exactly what Sky Ferreira—who, at the time, was being marketed as an irreverent, Kesha-esque wild child—delivered on "Obsession," a pulsating pop track that was meant to introduce the Los Angeles singer to the mainstream.
Produced by DJ Frank E (Justin Bieber, Madonna) and OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder, "Obsession" was released as the lead single off Sky's planned debut album through Capitol Records. The song received a huge promotional push, getting featured in the soundtrack for TV shows like The Vampire Diaries and appearing on the Now That's What I Call Music! 35 compilation. Its tongue-in-cheek music video, which debuted on mtvU, even featured a celebrity cameo from Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs).
Despite the single's radio-friendly sound, "Obsession" became lost in the shuffle, peaking only at No. 27 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs chart and quickly fading into the background, overshadowed by similar-sounding, less-contrived output from Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and the aforementioned Kesha.
As it turns out, Sky's heart wasn't really in it anyway: She later revealed to The Guardian that she didn't even want to release the song to begin with, explaining, "[The label] were like, 'If you do ['Obsession'] then you can do whatever you want later,' which wasn't true."
"I Can't Stop Drinking About You," Bebe Rexha (2014)
For the first half of the 2010s, Bebe Rexha staked her claim as one of pop's rising songwriters and featured vocalists, helping pen Eminem and Rihanna's 2013 smash "The Monster" and singing on Cash Cash's EDM hit, "Take Me Home," the same year. Newly signed to Warner Bros. Records, Bebe seemed ready for solo superstardom in 2014 when she dropped her debut single, "I Can't Stop Drinking About You."
An emotionally-charged, devastating breakup anthem, "I Can't Stop Drinking About You" had all the makings of a big pop song: raw, heartfelt vocals and lyrics; a cinematic music video; and swirling electronic production courtesy of Grammy-winning production duo The Monsters & Strangerz.
Despite garnering positive critical reviews (Bustle wrote that the track had the "potential to be as big as 'The Monster'"), the song failed to enter the Billboard Hot 100 and only made a moderate dent on the radio. Bebe has since found her footing on the radio as an in-demand vocal collaborator—her and G-Eazy's 2015 single "Me, Myself & I" hit No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100—as well as a solo rising pop star: her 2017 country-hued electronic-pop single, "Meant to Be" featuring Florida Georgia Line, was a bona fide hit, peaking at No. 2.
Her debut single, however, still remains slept on.