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No-Hit Wonder

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"We are not Smash Mouth; we do not have a radio hit. We're not a One-Hit Wonder, we're a ten-year failure."
Chris Demakes of Less Than Jake

The music business can be quite fickle. For every One-Hit Wonder, there's a fraction of acts who managed a streak of hits that lasts for decades, or at least a handful of big hits.

Then there's the No-Hit Wonder, an artist who proves commercially successful or at least manages to have a long career, without having a hit at all. While there are other ways an artist can achieve success besides having hits (such as album sales and concert attendance), it's considered rare since album sales are generally driven by the popularity of individual songs, and artists with no hits tend not to develop enough of a fanbase to make their concerts well-attended. In many cases, a No-Hit Wonder will have had singles that never went anywhere on the charts, but which are still well-known and well-loved by a large number of people. See also Hitless Hit Album.

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Examples:

  • Bob Marley, despite his historical significance, had one song in the US charts that peaked at #51: "Roots Rock Reggae" from Rastaman Vibration. He had more success worldwide –- e.g. 7 Top Ten hits in the UK.
  • Ryan Adams has had only two charting singles stateside (yes, one of them is his near-hit "New York, New York"), but both peaked so low they might as well have not charted. Internationally, he's had more luck, with six hits in the UK.
  • Rush never made it higher on the Billboard 200 than "New World Man", which made it to #21 and was their only Top 40 hit (ironically, it was a throwaway song written and recorded quickly to even out the two sides of the cassette). They remained so popular and influential over 40 years of work that their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 was considered at least a decade overdue.
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  • Famed Canadian roots-rock group The Band was one of the most influential groups of the late '60s and early '70s but never had a song reach the Top 20 in the USA. (They did have two albums go gold and reach the top ten).
  • Slayer is one of the "big four" of Thrash Metal. Despite selling over 5 million albums in their native United States, they haven't even bubbled under or charted on mainstream rock.
  • Comedian Tim Wilson recorded from 1993 to 2014, mixing live stand-up comedy with comedic songs, done either live or in studio. Despite his lack of chart success, Wilson was a regular fixture on The Bob And Tom Show and had album sales in the millions.
  • Rodney Carrington, even after getting an ABC sitcom that lasted two full seasons. He finally managed to crack the Top 40 in late 2009 with a dead-serious Christmas song that got to #31.
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  • Black Sabbath invented Heavy Metal and is one of the most popular and influential bands of all time. Their highest-charting hit on the US Hot 100 was "Iron Man", which only hit #51, though their debut single Paranoid hit #4 in their native UK in 1970. As a soloist, Ozzy Osbourne actually averts this, having two Top 40 hits (albeit, they are not in his normal style).
  • Led Zeppelin's only entries on the UK singles chart were issued to promote compilations long after they split up, because they never released singles in their home country while they were still going. They didn't have to: every studio album they released went to #1 without needing a hit single to promote it. A side effect of this is that despite their huge popularity, you'll rarely hear them played on UK radio outside of specialist rock shows. They did have plenty of charting singles overseas; "Whole Lotta Love" hit the top five in nine countries.
  • Limp Bizkit has sold over 40 million records worldwide, but they never had a Top 40 hit on the US Hot 100. Their best performance was "Rollin'", which peaked at #65 — though it reached #1 in the UK, amid a perfect streak of 7 Top 20 singles and 4 Top 10s.
  • Generally this will happen to peddlers of Album Oriented Rock — the word "album" should clue you in that they don't tend to have hit singles.
  • Also common in Texas; countless country/Americana/red dirt acts will build enormous fanbases through clubs and sell hundreds of thousands of albums but never break through into the mainstream. Examples include Cross Canadian Ragweed and Randy Rogers Band.
  • Doctor Steel has a large and growing fanbase, but only released five albums (three of those via digital download) and never charted.
  • Phish. They were one of the most successful live acts of the 1990s, but unlike their jam band peers the Dave Matthews Band, Phish never had a mainstream pop hit. 2000's "Heavy Things" was a very minor hit on adult contemporary radio, and that was pretty much it for them as a pop act. They weren't particularly successful on Billboard's two main rock charts either, with almost all of their radio support coming from the adult alternative format.
  • Jeff Buckley never hit the Billboard Hot 100, and his only album (Grace) didn't even hit the top 100 of the albums chart (it peaked at #149).
    • Though Buckley would have had a hit if not for Billboard's rules regarding recurrents (which have since changed) because his cover of "Hallelujah" topped iTunes after being performed on American Idol, but it was deemed ineligible. It also bubbled under after its original artist, Leonard Cohen (himself an example of this trope), passed away in 2016.
  • Buckethead is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time and has released over 300 albums, in addition to prolific work with such artists as GunsNRoses and SerjTankian and recording songs for a number of popular horror and action films, but his music is virtually unheard of on the radio and has never once charted on the Billboard 200. At least part of this is likely due to his notorious shyness that led to the creation of the Buckethead persona in the first place, as well as his odd behavior that can make working with him difficult for less odd people.
  • Whereas the other big third wave ska groups in The '90s (No Doubt, Sublime, Reel Big Fish, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones) managed at least one hit single at the peak of the ska revival, Less Than Jake continues to be the only one that hasn't charted very highly but remains popular as a live act.
  • Country-rapper Colt Ford has had impressive grassroots levels of album sales despite having singles that got no higher than #40.
  • The Ramones. One of the most influential bands of all time. Highest charting single? "Rockaway Beach" from Rocket to Russia, which only made #66 on the US Pop chart in 1978.
  • The Velvet Underground, who barely scraped the lowest part of the Billboard chart with their first two albums The Velvet Underground & Nico and White Light/White Heat. Nevertheless, the band was so influential on later acts that it has been joked that everyone who bought their first album started a band.
  • Judas Priest is one of the most well-known and influential metal bands of all time. Their biggest hit was "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", which peaked at #67.
  • Cledus T. Judd, a country music parodist, has been constantly recording since 1995. He didn't even chart until 2000, and his best chart entry is #48 country. Yet he's recorded over a dozen albums and even had one go gold without a charting single.
  • Kacey Musgraves's top single, "Follow Your Arrow", peaked at #60 overall/ #10 country on Billboard. She has only had two others chart overall at all. Despite her lack of single successes, all three of her main albums have sold and streamed incredibly well and have all been in the top 5 overall. This is likely due to her very large Periphery Demographic and more or less being blacklisted by country radio stations.
  • Wire. Did well on the Independent Music charts, but for the most part, have remained just under the radar since their formation. Almost had hits with "Outdoor Miner" and "Kidney Bingos".
  • Folk-rock and children's music duo Trout Fishing In America has been recording regularly since 1992, but despite a couple of Grammy nominations, they've never had a single hit.
  • Tom Waits has been steadily releasing music for almost four decades and has yet to have a hit single, even though his highest-charting album, Bad As Me peaked at #6 on the Billboard charts. He seems to be a popular cover choice though, as Rod Stewart took a cover of Waits' "Downtown Train" to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (and yet, in a stunning aversion of Covered Up, Waits' version still remains the more famous version).
  • Yo La Tengo has never had a hit single, yet they're darlings of the indie world and have had a long, successful career.
  • Dropkick Murphys have never charted on any singles chart (nope, not even the Billboard Modern Rock Chart) despite steady album sales and massive regional popularity in the New England area of the United States. In fact, their song "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" is one of few songs to ever sell over 1,000,000 digital copies in the United States without ever charting on the Billboard Hot 100.
  • Welsh Psychedelic folk band Gorky's Zygotic Mynci is probably one of the more unfortunate examples of this trope. Despite decent album sales, critical acclaim on both sides of the pond, a cult following and the endorsement of beloved BBC DJ and indie tastemaker John Peel, the band failed to have any of their singles make the Top 40 in the UK. In fact, they had singles that charted at #41, #42, #43, #47 and #49. The fact that they sounded nothing like the other contemporary young British guitar bands at the time probably only further hindered their chart success.
    • "Indie" tastemaker being the key - although Peel was much respected, his influence on the mainstream was minimal, and a great many of the acts he championed suffered the same fate, from comedy song specialists Half Man Half Biscuit to British reggae group Misty In Roots. The band most associated with his patronage, The Fall, did actually avert the trope but did so with Covered Up versions of Kinks and R. Dean Taylor songs rather than their more idiosyncratic original material.
  • Primus (and their many, many splinter acts) only managed to land a #62 single (#12 on the Alternative Charts) with "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver", and Top 10 albums with Pork Soda and Tales From The Punchbowl in 1993 and 1995 respectively, but have kept a loyal following since their formation in 1984.
  • King Crimson has been around since the sixties, has had multiple band members, many of whom have worked with some of the biggest names in rock music, and has inspired most prog-rock bands of the last few decades, yet they are mostly unknown by the mainstream.
  • Country music duo Corbin/Hanner is an interesting example. Despite several charting singles between 1979 and 1993, they never entered Top 40 on the country charts. However, many stations play their "Work Song" on Monday mornings.
  • Pavement is one of the most acclaimed indie bands of all time and its first two albums are both considered classics, but the only mainstream singles chart the band ever appeared on was the UK chart, with several singles charting, but none higher than #27 and only two in the top 40.
  • While Josh Groban has only been around for just over a decade, he has managed five platinum albums (including the Christmas one) and was ranked the number one biggest selling artist in 2007. His biggest Billboard hit is his duet of "The Prayer" with Céline Dion, which peaked at #70. He's had somewhat better chart success in Canada, but even there his biggest hit charted at #25.
  • Country Music singer Katie Armiger has been recording since 2007. She's amassed seven albums and put out 13 singles, but her best showing yet is #42.
  • Billy Joe Shaver is considered one of the pioneers of the "outlaw country" genre of the 1970s, but he has almost no chart action whatsoever to speak of despite his popularity.
  • They Might Be Giants is a US example, never hitting the Billboard Hot 100 but getting to Number 3 in the UK charts for "Birdhouse in Your Soul" (and 23 for "Boss of Me").
  • Dream Theater has been successful for over 20 years, but they've only had one hit, "Pull Me Under." They mocked this with their Greatest Hits compilation "Dream Theater's Greatest Hit (and 21 Other Really Cool Songs)".
  • Insane Clown Posse have one of the most dedicated fanbases in music, and have been well-known for over 20 years. And yet, though many of their albums have reached the top 20, they've never had a hit song - their highest-charting was "Santa's a Fat Bitch", which peaked at #67 in 1998, though "Hokus Pokus" did reach #53 in the UK.
  • How about the classics? Look no further than Constantino Dall'Argine (1842-1877), who hailed from Parma and was never heard of again after his version of The Barber of Seville failed in Bologna in 1868 — and it was set to the same libretto used by the person to whom it was dedicated, Gioachino Rossini, who died just two days after its premiere.
  • Bob Rivers is the second most well-known parody artist ever (way behind "Weird Al" Yankovic), but unlike Al has never had a hit song. His most well-known song, "The Twelve Pains of Christmas", only gets sparse radio airplay every holiday season.
  • Canadian country singer Lisa Brokop, at least in the US. Among her first three American albums (two for Capitol Records, one for Columbia Records), she had nothing chart higher than #52 on the country charts, and no chart action whatsoever from any subsequent releases. However, she has been fairly popular in Canada both before and after said albums.
  • Despite being very influential in launching all-female bands and originating Underwear of Power for female artists, The Runaways never had a hit song. They were, however, very popular in Japan.
  • Modern English might be considered a One-Hit Wonder by some people. Unfortunately, said "hit," "I Melt With You," peaked only at #76.
  • The Clash were famous among chart nerds for a time as the band to have released the most UK singles without ever hitting the Top Ten — until the uncharacteristic "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" hit Number One in 1991 (long after their dissolution) thanks to it being used in an advert.
  • Arctic Monkeys are one of the biggest indie acts of the 21st century; however, their only song to chart on the US Billboard Hot 100 is "Do I Wanna Know?", which peaked at #70. They are more successful on the charts in their native UK, where their first two singles both hit #1.
  • Nickel Creek, despite being one of the most famous "newgrass" (modern bluegrass) acts, never once hit Top 40 on the country charts. This is par for the course for bluegrass acts, however.
  • Canadian electropop artist Lights, who has two gold albums and no hits outside her native country, and only a few in it.
  • Banks didn't have any of her songs reach the Hot 100, with only "Beggin For Thread" hitting #16 in the Bubbling Under charts, though it has seen some alternative radio airplay.
  • Captain Beefheart: one of the most influential Avant Garde Music artists of all time, never scored one hit in his career.
  • Michael Bublé has six platinum albums. His biggest single is "Haven't Met You Yet", which peaked at #25 in the US.
  • Country Music singer Junior Brown is one of the more famous guitarists in the genre, due in part to his "guit-steel", a hybrid of electric guitar and lap steel. His songs "Highway Patrol" (a Red Simpson cover) and "My Wife Thinks You're Dead") are also well known, but they only got to #73 and #68 on the country charts and are his only chart entries.
  • The Mavericks were one of the more popular alternative-country bands of The '90s, with several Grammy wins and multi-platinum album sales. However, their chart showings were sparse: only six of their singles even hit Top 40 on the country charts, with their best showing ("All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down") only reaching #13. East of the Atlantic, they had an enduring Top 5 hit with Dance The Night Away.
  • British indie rock band The Heavy doesn't see any airplay of their music in the U.S., and their only song to get any sort of regular airplay in their native UK was "What Makes A Good Man?". Furthermore, their only album to chart on the U.S. Billboard 200 was The Glorious Dead, which only peaked at #191. This might come as a surprise for some people, considering that their songs are all over advertisements, movie credits, and video game soundtracks, you could be forgiven for thinking they would be more commercially successful.
  • Australian singer Natale Imbruglia is often thought of as a one-hit wonder in the U.S., however, her one hit "Torn" (which was Covered Up from the band Ednaswap) fell short of the Top 40 peaking at #42. This is a little understandable, however, as it was all over the airwaves upon release and spent a whopping 14 weeks atop the AC charts. It also was subject to a chart quirk that prevented songs that weren't released as singles from being let onto the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
  • British-Jamaican rapper Slick Rick had a Gold-certified single with "The Show" in 1985, dominated the hip hop and R&B charts between 1988 and 2001,note  and all but one of his albums (Behind Bars, which peaked at #51) peaked in the top 40 of the Billboard 200. Despite this, he only has one top 100 single: the title track of Behind Bars, which only peaked at #87 before dropping off the chart.
  • Tech N9ne has sold over two million albums, garnered legions of loyal fans known as "Techn9cians", and has become one of the most respected figures in hip-hop. Only one song has entered the Hot 100, 2015's "Hood Go Crazy" (featuring 2 Chainz and B.o.B.), which peaked at #90.
  • Björk is well known to the public for her behavior, outrageous costumes, and nationality. However, few people can actually name any of her songs. That said, she's managed to get two songs into the US Hot 100 — "Big Time Sensuality" in 1993 (peaking at #88) and "Earth Intruders" in 2007 (peaking at #84).
  • New Wave of British Heavy Metal band Iron Maiden are one of the biggest, most respected Heavy Metal bands of all time and a mainstay of rock radio stations worldwide. Naturally, they haven't had one single enter the American Hot 100. (In their native Britain they took a stranger path: only 1982's classic "Run To The Hills" was a Top 10 hit in their first decade or so, but from the late '80s they gained an unexpected second wind in chart terms when they became one of the most successful examples of mobilising a dedicated fanbase time and again. They ended up with an extraordinary seventeen Top 10s, including a Number One in 1991 with "Bring Your Daughter... To The Slaughter".)
  • Rage Against the Machine was one of the most popular rock acts of the '90s and helped popularize Rap Metal, which led to the Nu Metal explosion that happened later in the decade. Highest charting single? "Bulls On Parade", which peaked at #62. This is averted in the UK, where "Killing in the Name" actually topped the charts at Christmas 2009... 17 years after its release.
  • The video game EarthBound Beginnings had a full soundtrack released in Japan, with English vocals, mainly done with British unknowns. The most noteworthy was Catherine Warwick, who was 14 when she recorded "Pollyanna', "Bein' Friends" and "Wisdom Of The World". These songs are well-known now thanks to the EarthBound franchise gaining a worldwide following. However, her solo career after that tanked. Her first and only single release in the UK was the mediocre "Marine Boy" with b-side "Taxi Driver" which charted quite low and killed a solo career. She would show up a few years later as part of the girl duo Those 2 Girls, with this... with a b-side of this..... that also failed to chart and the group went nowhere. She vanished shortly after that and hasn't had a music career since nor has the EarthBound fan community even been able to locate her, and is now really only known for the EarthBound songs, and even those didn't become a worldwide hit until well over a decade after they came out in Japan. One could likely blame this on the fact she had talent, but her solo career wasted it on attempted pop hits that didn't showcase that talent.
  • The Strokes helped popularize the garage rock revival movement and were one of the biggest indie rock bands of the early-2000s. They only had one song chart on the Hot 100 in their native US: "Juicebox", which only peaked at #98. (In the UK, in contrast, it was one of 5 Top 20 hits, peaking at #5.)
  • Jane's Addiction was one of the most influential bands in Alternative Metal. Their only chart entry? 2003's "Just Because", which only peaked at #72.
  • Alice in Chains is widely regarded as the heaviest grunge band of all. Naturally, they're the only one of the Big Four (the others being Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden) to have never hit the Top 40, their highest charter "No Excuses" falling just short at #48.
  • Scatman John only got to #60 in his native US with his most famous song, "Scatman (Ski-ba-bop-ba-dop-bop)" and never charted Stateside again. However, he was more successful internationally.
  • Pentatonix are a huge phenomenon, with That's Christmas to Me becoming the best-selling Christmas album since Michael Buble's Christmas. They've charted two Christmas songs in the top 40 through digital sales, but not much else.
  • Sum 41 was one of the biggest Pop Punk bands in the world during early-'00s. Their only charter in the US? "Fat Lip", which only reached #66.
  • Three Days Grace has been recording since 2003, but their biggest hit is "Pain" which peaked at #44. Though like Jeff Buckley and Natalie Imbruglia, they were screwed out of a hit by chart rules since their song "Never Too Late" was a big crossover hit, but due to the time it spent in the bottom half of the charts during its run on rock radio, it was deemed ineligible to re-enter due to recurrent rules (which has since changed) by the time it was sent to pop radio and was stuck at its #71 peak.
  • LCD Soundsystem have a dedicated fanbase and pioneered the Dance-Punk movement. Their third album, This Is Happening, debuted in the top ten of the Billboard 200, and they were big enough to headline Coachella upon their reformation in 2016. Not only have they never appeared on the Hot 100, but they haven't even had a charting entry on alternative radio.
  • Deftones are one of the most acclaimed Alternative Metal bands of all time and a major Ensemble Dark Horse of Nu Metal. However, they never appeared on the Hot 100. The closest they got was their signature "Change (In the House of Flies), which fell five spaces short.
  • Little Mix are massive in their native UK, have 3 certified platinum albums, and are arguably the most famous Girl Group of today rivaled only by their American counterpart Fifth Harmony, yet only 3 of their songs have entered the Hot 100 charts, namely, "Wings", "Black Magic", and "Shout Out to My Ex". None of them came close to the top 40.
  • The Warren Brothers recorded four albums and charted several minor entries on the country charts, but none got any higher than #17. They gave up singing in favor of songwriting in the mid-2000s, and have been far more fruitful there, with Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Dierks Bentley, Martina McBride, Toby Keith, and many others having hits from their pen.
  • The Flying Burrito Brothers was one of the pioneering country-rock bands of The '70s, and had former members of The Byrds in its lineup at various points. However, they never hit the Hot 100, and their highest-charting country hit only got to #16.
  • Haim is a female-fronted rock band that's garnered a massive fanbase. Despite their debut album going Top 10, they haven't even bubbled under the Hot 100, and their only entry on the alternative charts was "Forever", which only peaked at #40. This is averted in the UK and Australia, where they've had multiple Top 40 hits in those countries.
  • All Time Low is one of the biggest Pop Punk bands of the late-'00s/'10s (long after pop-punk peaked in the mainstream), but their only chart entry was "Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don't)", which only hit #67. Furthermore, they've never even had a song chart on rock radio, perhaps due to their style not "fitting in" with either format (largely because their style isn't really fitting of the music that gets played on the radio). They do however have a loyal fanbase, and most of their success comes from their touring.
  • Joey + Rory was a very popular bluegrass-country duo who managed to escape the stigma of being singing competition contestants (they competed on Can You Duet), probably helped in part by Rory Lee Feek's existing success as a songwriter and producer. They netted many hit albums and a couple of award nominations despite not having a major single on the country charts (their debut "Cheater, Cheater" only got to #30 when the country charts tabulated only airplay, and "When I'm Gone" got to #21 due entirely to downloads). Their final album was also certified gold, due in part to the publicity that the other half of the duo, Joey Martin Feek (Rory's wife), got due to cancer that ultimately took her life in 2016.
  • Par for the course with Alternative Country artists. Hank Williams III has only had one charted single which got to #50 on Hot Country Songs but is a very popular artist regardless.
  • Clinton Gregory has been recording consistently since 1990, and has put out over a dozen albums, but none of his songs ever ranked higher than #25 on the country charts.
  • Melanie Martinez has become massively popular on the internet since appearing on The Voice for her style of disturbing electropop. Her only charting entries on the Hot 100 were from 2012, which were a couple of covers that aren't even among her best-known songs (and certainly far less known than the original versions), and only scraped the bottom of the chart.
  • The Civil Wars were one of the best known Americana/folk groups of the first decade of the 21st century, racking up tons of awards and hit albums, but most of their singles did not chart at all. Even "Barton Hollow" only "Bubbled under" the Hot 100.
  • Sturgill Simpson: one of the most revered alt-country artists of The New '10s and a two-time Grammy nominee, has put out three albums but has no hits to show for it. He finally escaped this with Sing Along, which took the internet by storm due to its unique blending of the sounds of country, hip-hop, electronic coupled with the gorgeous animation of the music video by Kamikaze Douga of all studios. The accompanying album and Netflix short movie meant to tie into it helped.
  • Brand New have consistently been one of the most well-known and critically acclaimed acts of the 2000s era of emo, yet their singles never even got a whiff of chart success in the US. "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows" could be considered a minor hit in Britain, breaking into the top 40, but only barely, reaching #39.
  • The Manic Street Preachers have always been a big deal in the UK since the early '90s, with 15 Top 10s and two #1 singles (and 13 Top 10 albums and one #1) to their name, and to a lesser extent in other European countries, but have consistently been unable to break into the American market. None of their 40+ singles have charted in the US, though they still have a somewhat dedicated following there.
  • NRBQ has been around since The '60s and has recorded over two dozen albums, but has never charted once. Former guitarist Al Anderson is also famous as a Country Music songwriter.
  • Da Yoopers have been around since 1975. Although they had regional hits with "Second Week of Deer Camp" and "Rusty Chevrolet" and gained international fame primarily through rotation on Dr. Demento, they never had a charted hit or album.
  • The Late Lil Peep, was known for being one of the most well known Soundcloud rappers, as well as one of the few musicians known for the post-emo revival style of hip hop. However, his only charting song was "Awful Things", which peaked at #79. Due to his death, it is extremely unlikely he'll get a hit song.
  • The rock band Clutch has been a mainstay on the indie touring scene for nearly 30 years, with over a dozen albums to their credit. In that time they've only had 3 singles on any chart, with the best peaking at #24 on the Mainstream Rock chart.
  • Tejano and country singer Emilio Navaira was one of the biggest names in Tejano music, but the charts never showed it: he never had a big hit on the Latin charts, and his biggest country hit, "It's Not the End of the World", only got to #27.
  • Cupcak Ke is one of the most well known female rappers of the 2010s, and popular in the LGBT community. However, she hasn't even managed to score a song in the bubbling under hot 100, almost certainly because of how incredibly explicit her signature sound is.
  • Matt Nathanson is a folk/rock singer active since 1993, and still regularly gets radio play. Regardless his best selling single "Run" (with Sugarland) only made it at Number 53 on the Billboard charts.
  • There is also JoJo Siwa, who has no charting songs as of this typing, despite debut single "Boomerang" getting platinum certification from the RIAA for selling over 1,000,000 downloads. Additionally, the music video for "Boomerang" is one of the most all-time viewed on YouTube and still gets consistent views in 2019, three years after its release. She will also be headlining a concert tour in 2019 with around half of the dates taking place in 18,000-20,000 seat arenas, and many of the planned dates sold out in just 1 or 2 days.

Non-Musical Examples:

  • Marcelo Rios became the No. 1 tennis player in the world after finishing runner up in the 1998 Australian Open. Aside from that final, he never got further than the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam tournament. He is, as of 2017, the only Men's No. 1 in the Open (Professional) Era never to have won any of the four majors.
  • This phenomenon has been more common in women's tennis, where as of December 2019 three players have been ranked No. 1 by the Women's Tennis Association without having ever won a Grand Slam title, though two are still active. Dinara Safina is the most extreme example: she topped the rankings in 2009, in the midst of reaching 3 (losing) finals from 5 consecutive Slams, but was a spent force by 2011 and retired in 2014 — she is so far the only former No. 1 to have completed a career without winning a major. Jelena Jankovic however is highly likely to join her: she ranked No. 1 in 2008, i.e. before Safina, but although she has long outlasted the Russian as a professional she is now in the twilight of her career over a decade later.
    • Caroline Wozniacki, who long held a place among this unlucky few, first topped the rankings in late 2010 and spent all but one week of 2011 as world No. 1. Wozniacki did not even reach a Grand Slam final in 2011, let alone win one, and looked set to join Safina in the permanent members' club when injuries blighted her subsequently. However, she finally left behind her "No-Hit Wonder" status for good after a remarkable comeback to win the 2018 Australian Open, which also raised her back to the top of the rankings after seven years away.
  • The 1950-56 Hungarian national football team, sometimes called the 'Golden Team', is widely considered one of the greatest sides of all time, and was credited with revolutionising the sport. Until 2014 (when the record was broken by the German 2014 World Cup-winning team) they held the record for the highest Elo rating ever held by a national team (set in 1954). In that phenomenal six-year period they played 50 matches, winning 42, drawing seven, and losing just one. That one, however, was the 1954 final of The World Cup against West Germany (on a lesser level, they did get the gold medal at the Olympic Games). By the time of the next World Cup in 1958, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution had torn the team apart, and Hungarian football never recovered.
  • Since FIFA began ranking national teams in 1992, eight countries have been ranked at No. 1. Seven of those countries have reached at least one World Cup final since rankings began. The eighth, Belgium, hadn't even got past the quarter-finals at any major tournament since 1986, until they finished in third place at the 2018 World Cup after losing in the semifinals. They're also the only one of the eight never to have won a major international trophy.
  • The Netherlands hold the unfortunate record of being the only nation to have reached the World Cup final three times (1974, 1978, 2010) without ever winning it — despite their golden '70s side having led the 1974 one before opponents West Germany had even touched the ball. Their second great team of the late '80s did triumph in the European Championships of 1988, at least.
  • Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, various pundits bemoaned the dominance of English football by the "Big Four" of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United. From 1996 to 2010, these four clubs won 15/15 Premier League titles, 14/15 FA Cups, and accounted for 8/8 appearances by English teams in Champions League Finals. They also invariably monopolised the top four league positions (including four consecutive years from 2006-2009) which qualified a team for the next season's Champions League. But while Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United all won multiple Premier League titles during this period, Liverpool never managed it, and as of 2017 still haven't as their highest position finish in the current league has been in second place three times (2001-02, 2008-09 and 2013-14).
  • The Brazilian footballer Sócrates was considered one of the best players in the world during the 1980s, playing 60 times for Brazil, scoring 22 goals, and captaining the team at the 1982 World Cup. That side, which included numerous Brazilian greats like Zico, Falcão and Éder, is generally considered the best Brazilian side not to have won a World Cup. In 2004, he was named by FIFA as one of the top 100 players of all time. Astonishingly, despite all this, Sócrates never won a major tournament, either at international or club level.
  • For a long time, Leonardo DiCaprio's Oscar record was famous for this. His first nomination came in 1994. It took 22 years and five more nominations for him to finally win one.
    • Peter O'Toole received 8 Oscar nominations in his career without ever winning one. He did get an Honorary Award in 2002 though.
    • Glenn Close is the living actor with the most Oscar nominations without a win, with 7. The same year Close lost for the seventh time, Amy Adams completed six shutouts,note  making people compare her to Di Caprio, above.
    • Greg P. Russell has received 16 nominations for Best Sound since 1989. He has yet to win one. Kevin O'Connell, with whom he had shared many of those, had it even worse before winning one in his twentieth nom.
    • Much like Di Caprio, Susan Lucci was long remembered for her streak of nominations for Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the Daytime Emmy Awards without winning one. She went from 1981 to 1998 with nominations each year until she finally won one in 1999.
    • Deborah Kerr was the original actress to go her whole career without an Oscar win. She was one of the most critically acclaimed actresses of her generation - starring in hits like Black Narcissus, From Here to Eternity, An Affair to Remember, The King and I and critically acclaimed films like Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, The Innocents and The Sundowners. She had six nominations and no wins until a special one was awarded to her in the 90s.
    • Marilyn Monroe was the blonde bombshell and has gone down as a pop culture icon. Yet the only major award she won in her career was a Golden Globe for Some Like It Hot. Part of this is down to Short-Lived Big Impact - she was only famous from 1953 until her death in 1962 - and people just assuming she was as ditzy as her characters and therefore not actually acting.
    • Montgomery Clift was considered one of the pioneers of method acting in the 1950s - alongside James Dean and Marlon Brando. Pretty much every film he did was either a financial hit or critically acclaimed - and his Pretty Boy good looks solidified his stardom. Four Oscar nominations in iconic films such as From Here to Eternity and Judgment at Nuremberg, but no wins.
    • Anna May Wong was the first ever Chinese-American movie star and a fashion icon in the 1920s. Her lack of awards came from poor timing - her biggest hit Shanghai Express was made before there was a Best Supporting Actress category - and studio racism preventing her from being a leading lady and limiting the amount of parts she could play.
  • Despite running for 12 years and counting and gathering a healthy amount of critical acclaim, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has never won an Emmy or a Golden Globe. They got nominated for "Best Stunt Co-Ordination" but that's about it. The only awards the show has won are a satellite award and People's Choice Award. The show lampshaded this in "The Gang Desperately Tries To Win An Award"
  • The Wire was highly praised upon release and it's considered one of the best shows ever, yet its five seasons never won any major television awards, at most one from the Writer's Guild. The Emmys downright ignored the show aside from two Screenplay nods.
  • Torrie Wilson was one of WWE's most popular Divas during the Ruthless Aggression Era - promoted as the top face of the Smackdown brand (except for 2006 when she was on Raw and a heel) - and memorable as both a Ms. Fanservice and a Diva that worked hard to become a better wrestler. As she was on Smackdown for most of her career - where the women were used more in eye candy roles - she never held the Women's Championship once. She also retired before the second female title belt - the Divas' Championship - was introduced (and rumors abound that it was created with her in mind). This sparked a debate when she was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, as her defenders argued that her popularity and visibility within the company justified an induction.
  • Speaking of wrestling, Stacy Keibler is considered one of the most recognizable and popular WWE Divas whose popularity dates back to her days with WCW. She has also never won any of the Woman's Championship belts (albeit was in a match or two for the title), didn't have the training of the likes of women who were actual athletes but had far less airtime than her like Ivory and Molly Holly and was seen as arguably setting off a trend of female wrestlers being Hired for Their Looks instead of possessing any discernable talent. More upsetting, unlike the aforementioned Torrie Wilson, Keibler eventually admitted that she never cared for the business and used it as a stepping stone to get into Hollywood, making the time and attention lavished onto her all the more undeserved.
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