To become a huge pop star you must have the looks, style, attitude, talent and above all – tracks that your fans will never get tired of listening to. A bit too much to ask? Have no fear because no respectable star would be able to make it without their management team bringing the very best tracks to the table; these are the experts of the industry and they know exactly which singles will sell – or do they?
Nobody can say they have never made a mistake or decided on something which they later regret. However, when it’s your job to recognise a big hit from an embarrassing flop – you would think you have the skills to not let anything slip below the radar. There are platinum selling singles on this list that executives passed on because they believed it ‘just didn’t sound right’.
Some huge names you will never see mentioned in an article like this as they have the real skills required to put pen to paper and write a killer hit; Sia, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift just to name a few. Then there are others who wouldn’t be able to sing a word if they didn’t have all the lyrics thought out for them.
Some songwriters create a track with a specific artist in mind but they have to be tough because on occasion they will get fed back just an outright ‘no’. If this is the case they can always pitch the demo to another star and hope they pick it up; which then makes for very entertaining pop trivia as now we can have a look at the artists who gave up on some of the biggest hits of our generation…
Umbrella won a Grammy award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, the Billboard Music Award for Song of the Year and the Monster Single of the Year at the MTV Music Awards in 2007; leaving Britney Spears devastated that her management had rejected this song as her album Blackout had ‘enough content’. Huge mistake.
Rihanna and Jay-Z took this single to the top of the charts worldwide and it became a record breaking hit. In the United Kingdom it was one of the most played songs of the 2000s and it kept at number one for ten consecutive weeks – sorry Britney, we’re just rubbing it in now.
Britney, what the hell are you doing?! Firstly, she rejected Umbrella and then in 2010 she turned her back on this huge hit too. The song was written for her Circus album but she was against the idea. Lady Gaga said of the rejection from Ms Spears; “I wrote it for her a long time ago and she just didn’t use it for her album. It’s fine because I love the song and I get to perform it now”.
The guest vocals were still going to be handed to Britney but instead Lady Gaga had Beyoncé step in and the pair turned it into a number one hit worldwide. You can still hear Britney’s version of the song as it was leaked online.
13. What’s Love Got To Do With It
What’s Love Got to Do With It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2012; this was Tina Turner‘s third Grammy Hall of Fame Award and it won her an 11th Grammy Award. The single was from her fifth album and it was the biggest hit she had ever released, which is incredible considering the song went on a long journey before it got to her.
The song was originally written for Cliff Richard but he rejected the idea. It was then swiftly passed on to Donna Summer; it took two years for Summer to reject the song as she was “sitting on it” before making a decision to not record the hit. Pop group Bucks Fizz were next in line, lead singer Jay Aston was to record her version of the song but was told by record producers it was “not suitable for a female vocalist”.
Finally, despite all the rejections, Turner took it to the studio where she worked her magic and the song is now known worldwide as one of the greatest pop hits of all time.
12. Since U Been Gone
Kelly Clarkson owes huge thanks to Pink and Hilary Duff for rejecting her 2004 single Since U Been Gone; as it went on to be one of her most popular hits and she won a Grammy award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Clarkson finally took over the song as the other pop divas were struggling too much to hit the high notes the track required; thankfully her lungs were up for the job.
It went to number two in the US Billboard chart and became a top ten hit in the UK. The TV show Glee (2009 – 2015) and movie Pitch Perfect (2012) both featured covers of the song which revived the pop-rock anthem once more and it goes down in history as the bitter break-up song everyone can’t help but love.
11. Rock Your Body
Justin Timberlake wrote and produced the track Rock Your Body with the help of Pharrell Williams; they intended for the track and several others to be used on Michael Jackson‘s fifth album Invincible (2001) but the King of Pop rejected the track. Timberlake then used the song on his debut solo album Justified and released it as his third solo single. The hit peaked at number one in the US and Australia, helping to launch Timberlake into an incredibly successful solo career that’s still going strong to date.
He performed the song live during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show alongside Janet Jackson; there was huge controversy when he ripped off part of Jackson’s costume and exposed her right breast live to millions of viewers worldwide. Although his career came out unscathed, Jackson faced brutal criticism and was accused of choreographing the “wardrobe malfunction” for publicity.
10. Don’t Cha
Don’t Cha was a huge pop hit that was produced by Cee Lo Green during a time when he was still relatively unknown to the world. The song was written for Tori Alamaze who was set to launch her solo career after leaving as backing vocalist for OutKast. She joined Universal Records but then soon left the label after saying she had “got caught up in the middle of egos and favours”.
Her version of the song had already been released but managed to get to just number 53 in the Billboard charts; she agreed when she ended her contract that she would also give up the rights to the song.
Universal Records then asked Cee Lo Green to record the track Record with a different artist; he tried to work with the Sugababes and Paris Hilton but neither were feeling the song. He was then advised to try a new girl group named The Pussycat Dolls who were working on their own debut album. Green was hesitant at first as he had never heard of them before, but when they finally got in the studio together they struck gold.
9. Don’t You Forget About Me
Both Billy Idol and Bryan Ferry turned down the chance to record everyone’s favourite Breakfast Club (1985) classic – Don’t You Forget About Me. The song was then presented to Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders but she suggested it to her husband, Jim Kerr, who was the lead singer of the Scottish rock band Simple Minds.
When they took the track to the studio they managed to rearrange the lyrics and music into a super hit. The single was a top ten hit in the UK, Australia, Germany, Ireland, Italy and New Zealand. It also went straight to number one in Canada and the US.
8. I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing
When Armageddon (1998) was in production the movie executives wanted a big power-ballad for the soundtrack and after the success of My Heart Will Go On in 1997; they were after the talented diva Celine Dion to take on the track. Song writer Diane Warren penned the lyrics and everything was set for another cinematic hit.
Then Liv Tyler was cast as one of the leads in the movie and her father, Steve Tyler from Aerosmith, demanded that he record the track with his band. The song which was set to be a female solo with a piano arrangement was rearranged into a rock anthem. They recorded a demo, presented it to the studio executives and all was agreed it would make the soundtrack. The song now is well-known as one that doesn’t leave many dry eyes in the room.
7. Let’s Get Loud
Gloria Estefan originally wrote Let’s Get Loud in 1999 for herself but then she thought the track sounded too familiar to her other material so soon passed it on Jennifer Lopez to record. It is now considered the song that launched Lopez’s career worldwide and perhaps Estefan got a small bout of jealously as she then re-recorded a new version in 2011 as a bonus track on her album Miss Little Havana.
Since Lopez released Let’s Get Loud it has been received with critical and commercial success worldwide. The video for the track is well-known too as she shows off her energetic dancing skills and an enviable figure in a small silver dress at the Women’s World Cup 1999.
6. We Can’t Stop
We Can’t Stop was originally written for Rihanna but after the success of her hit Diamonds in 2012 she decided against the idea in favour of following a more edgier, hip-hop sound. The producers of the track all agreed that they should look for a pop star who wanted a successful first single. Miley Cyrus was not recording music at the time as she was more interested in becoming a movie star.
After Cyrus was presented with the track she warmed up to the idea of becoming a music artist once more; she commented that when she heard the track, “it really just turned out to be perfect and exactly what I wanted, and exactly what I wanted my first sound to be, and my first look to be”. She then put her acting career on hold and returned to the studio.
The cover art for We Can’t Stop featuring Cyrus was revealed in Times Square and her fan-base went crazy over the idea of new music from the pop princess. The track helped her recreate a new image but the music video caused controversy over her new sexualised image. This was before the release of Wrecking Ball so fans hadn’t seen just how far she was willing to go in her aim to shake off the old child-star image.
Irreplaceable was written by singer-songwriter Ne-Yo. He intended for the song to be a country classic and pitched the idea to Shania Twain and Faith Hill but neither were interested in recording the track. He took the track back to the studio and added some more drums giving it an edgier, R&B feel. A few record labels were then interested in taking the track on and it fell into the hands of Beyoncé.
Beyoncé was looking for material to go alongside the release of her new album B’Day and the demo of Irreplaceable pleased her. She was working with producer Swizz Beatz at the time and he told her that it would be madness to pass on the track; Beyoncé agreed but changes would have to be made to the notes so they could be on a higher note. Ne-Yo said in an interview that the track played to her emotions as she had “some stuff that she wanted to get off her chest.”
There was controversy surrounding the release of the song when Ne-Yo heard Beyoncé had claimed she wrote the song herself. He said in an interview:
“Apparently Beyoncé was at a show somewhere and right before the song came on she said, ‘I wrote this for all my ladies’ and then the song came on … The song is a co-write. I wrote the lyrics, I wrote all the lyrics. Beyoncé helped me with the melodies and the harmonies and the vocal arrangement and that makes it a co-write. Meaning my contribution and her contribution made that song what it is.”
The disrespect got back to the Queen of Pop and she wasn’t too happy, prompting him to quickly apologise for the outburst via Twitter.
After Holiday was rejected by Mary Wilson, from The Supremes, it then made its way over to Madonna who was recording her debut album with Warner Bros. Records in 1983. They were stuck on deadlines to get the first album out on time but lacked material; as a last minute grab they took to Holiday. They re-arranged the percussion to make it more commercial-friendly and a star was born thanks to this huge pop hit.
Madonna gave an interview in 2005 with CBS News stating that Holiday was her favourite release. In the UK the song was released three times; in 1984 it reached number six, then it was re-released in 1985 where it peaked at number 2 (it could have made it to number one if it wasn’t for her own single Into the Groove sitting at the top spot) and finally re-released (again) in 1991 to promote her greatest hits album: The Immaculate Collection.
3. How Will I Know
How Will I Know was pitched to Janet Jackson first, but was rejected by her management as they thought the song wasn’t strong enough for her and couldn’t see the potential hit-factor behind it. The writers were left devastated as they wrote the song with Jackson in mind and thought her people would jump at the chance to record it.
The song was taken to Arista Records who were working on a debut album for an unknown Whitney Houston at the time. They believed the song matched the sound they wanted for their new artist perfectly and it was added to her album. Even decades on it is still known as one of Houston’s biggest hits, Rolling Stone magazine reviewed it as: “irresistibly danceable”.
Happy was not just a huge hit for Pharrell Williams, but it also became a worldwide phenomenon after many people created viral videos dancing along to the catchy beats.
Williams was not releasing new material at the time, but instead offering guest vocals on tracks such as 2013’s Get Lucky and Lose Yourself To Dance by Daft Punk. After the success of these hits with the French duo he was then offered a chance to record his own album with Columbia Records and Williams said he was “overwhelmed that someone wanted to know what’s in my heart”.
When he was putting together his new studio album he remembered Happy; a track he originally wrote for Cee Lo Green. He told the music executives that Green’s vocals were better suited for the track. After discussion Green thought the track would work better if Williams did the vocals, and he’s probably been kicking himself ever since.
Happy went to number one in over 25 different countries in the world and there were also many huge companies climbing over themselves to offer lucrative sponsorship deals. The official video has more than 630 million views on YouTube which makes it the 24th most viewed YouTube video of all time.
1. Baby One More Time
Nobody could imagine Baby One More Time being performed by any other star than Britney Spears; it is, after all, the single that launched her straight onto the world stage. The track was shown to her management after it had been rejected by both the Backstreet Boys and TLC. Spears has said in interviews that the moment she heard the song she knew that she was going to be a star.
Spears recorded the song in 1998 but on the first day in the studio she was so nervous with first day nerves that they couldn’t get the track nailed down. On the second day she managed to record her first hit.
At just sixteen years old her pop-career was launched and with the help of wearing a suggestive school uniform, Britney Spears became a household name. Baby One More Time went platinum and peaked at number one in the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Ireland.
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