It may be surprising that some musicians reject a song that then goes on to be a smash hit – but it’s more common that you’d think. The last few decades is full of examples of sometimes record-breaking songs that were originally intended for (or offered to) another singer.
All it would've taken is a quick decision in the other direction and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” could’ve been sung by Celine Dion rather than Aerosmith, or Janet Jackson could’ve been on stage singing Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U”. British singer Leona Lewis could have snapped up “Halo” which ended up with Beyonce. Kayne West’s “Gold Digger” was originally meant for Shawnna and the famous song “Call Me” by Blondie was meant for Stevie Nicks. The hit song “Bad” by Michael Jackson was meant to be a duet between him and Prince initially but ended up being a very successful solo track. Those are just a small selection of the many mind-blowing examples of songs that were originally meant for other singers.
So, how does it happen? Production companies and writers often write songs with a specific singer in mind, but then if that singer turns it down afterwards they shop around and see who else might do it justice. Sometimes a song is turned down by a singer’s management team before they even hear a demo track or sometimes singers have a listen and don’t like what they hear so pass it up.
Here are 10 smash hits that were first offered to other famous singers. Read on to see who missed out on money and success.
10 Rock Your Body – Turned Down by Michael Jackson
“Rock Your Body” hit the charts as part of Justin Timberlake’s debut album in 2002, Justified. It was originally meant to be part of the king of pop, Michael Jackson’s, 2001 album Invincible but he rejected this track (and many others which also ended up in the hands of JT). Interestingly, it was this song that JT performed live with Michael Jackson’s sister, Janet, at Super Bowl XXXVIII. JT famously ripped off part of her costume onstage, exposing her breast on live TV. Michael Jackson passed away in 2009 due to cardiac arrest.
9 Whataya Want From Me – Turned Down by Pink
A song that ended up as one of Adam Lambert's biggest hit songs could’ve easily gone to Pink instead. She actually helped write the track along with writers Max Martin and Shellback and she even recorded it with the intention of being in her album Funhouse. However, it didn't make the final cut so it was given to Lambert, who was an American Idol runner up in season eight. He received a Grammy nomination for his performance of the song. In 2010 Pink actually released her own version of the song, which was very similar to Lambert’s version – so perhaps she regretted giving it away.
8 Don’t Cha – Turned Down by Paris Hilton
The Pussycat Dolls released the pop song “Don’t Cha” in their self-titled 2005 album. The energetic song hit the charts, peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. However, it turns out that The Pussycat Dolls weren’t the number one choice to record the song. It was first offered to both the Sugababes and also to solo artist Paris Hilton, who both said no to it. In 2006 Hilton stated that she thinks she heard the song, but not in the final format that ended up being such a success. She thinks she would’ve “jumped at the chance” to record it if she’d known how good it would end up being.
7 Umbrella – Meant For Britney Spears or Mary J. Blige
The song “Umbrella” was written with Britney Spears in mind, who was working on her Blackout album at the time. However, it was rejected by Spears’ label because she had too much work on at the time and too many songs to record. It was then sent to Rihanna – and also promised to Mary J. Blige – but after some high-level business decisions it was decided that Barbadian singer Rihanna was the one to record the song. Released in 2007, the song, which featured a verse from rapper Jay-Z, rose to fame and won numerous accolades including a Grammy.
6 Since U Been Gone – Turned Down by Pink and Hilary Duff
Pop rock singer Kelly Clarkson (of American Idol fame) released the hit song “Since U Been Gone” in 2004, after it was turned down by both Pink and Hilary Duff. Duff’s managers reportedly said no because the singer was unable to reach some of the high notes in the song, while Pink simply didn't want it. The song’s writers (Max Martin and Dr. Luke) were initially hesitant to pass it over to Clarkson, but she ended up recording it as part of her 2004 album Breakaway. The song went as high as number two on the Billboard Top 100 and it was certified platinum.
5 Disturbia – Meant For Chris Brown
Chris Brown and his team originally wrote this song as part of his 2007 album, Exclusive, but after finishing it, he decided it wouldn't make the cut and that it was actually better suited for a female artist. Right he was, because this song ended up in the hands of Rihanna thanks to him and it went on to be hugely successful. She won a Grammy for the song, as well as widespread commercial success including topping the Billboard Top 100 for two weeks in a row. Chris Brown and Rihanna ended up dating for some time, and received widespread attention when Brown reportedly assaulted her. The pair went to court and Brown was given five years’ probation. They got together again briefly in 2013 but now Rihanna is dating Drake.
4 Toxic – Turned Down by Kylie Minogue
The hit tune “Toxic” ended up getting Britney Spears a Grammy award despite not having been originally intended for her. It was written by the same writers as Minogue’s song “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” so they also offered her “Toxic”. However, Minogue turned it down and it ended up in the hands of Spears. She later was reported as saying she didn't feel any anger over the success of Britney’s version of this song, saying that “it’s like the fish that got away, you just have to accept it”. Rolling Stone magazine and other publications have named this song among one of the best song of the 2000 to 2010 decade.
3 We Can’t Stop – Meant For Rihanna
Released by Miley Cyrus in 2013, “We Can’t Stop” was originally written with singer Rihanna in mind. However, it ended up with Cyrus because Rihanna was already having a lot of success with her Diamonds album at the time and the song’s writers felt it could be suited as someone’s first single for a new album. So, Cyrus got the gig and has been reported as saying it was “exactly” what she wanted for her fourth album. The video clip of this single got over 10 million views in its first 24 hours online – a record which was broken by “Wrecking Ball” later in the year.
2 We Found Love – Turned Down by Nicole Scherzinger
Former Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger reportedly turned down the opportunity to record “We Found Love” with Scottish DJ/producer Calvin Harris. Instead, Rihanna grabbed the opportunity to be part of the song, which ended up in her 2011 album, Talk That Talk. It ended up being one of the best-selling singles of all time and Harris has told media that it “changed absolutely everything” for his career. In 2013, Scherzinger said she has the demo of the song but was busy at the time and wasn’t keen on another dance track, so she passed on the opportunity.
1 Telephone – Turned Down By Britney Spears
The hit pop song “Telephone” was written by Lady Gaga for Britney Spears’ album Circus. However, after reportedly recording a demo version of the song, Spears rejected it. Lady Gaga instead kept the song, which she says was inspired by her fear of suffocation because she rarely had the time to just have fun and let loose. Spears was also going to be the “guest” vocalist for this song, but Gaga ended up choosing Beyonce instead. The 2009 song went on to be a hit, getting nominated for a Grammy in 2011 and selling over seven million digital copies in 2010. It was one of Lady Gaga’s best-selling singles.