The term “flop” in a musical context usually refers to an unsuccessful album. Although singles constantly perform above or below expectations, a song will rarely get a reputation as a flop unless there’s a lot riding on it, such as a pre-release single from a big-name album. In 2011, Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” and Lady Gaga’s “Judas” failed to launch and became notorious stumbling blocks for two women who had up to that point experienced one success after another.
In 2012, no singles have fallen short of expectations in such a high-profile way, but hundreds of songs are constantly being lobbed at radio, and some great tracks get lost in the shuffle. Last year, I critiqued the singles campaigns of recent albums, suggesting how different tracks could have been released in a different order. But right now, I feel compelled to highlight some singles that simply deserved better, because by December, these songs will be long forgotten in lists that boil the year in pop down to “Somebody That I Used to Know” and “Call Me Maybe.”
Jennifer Hudson feat. Ne-Yo and Rick Ross, “Think Like a Man”
Jennifer Hudson’s two albums contained some good songs that were sizable hits on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, but it has always felt like her recorded output has been overshadowed by her Oscar, her personal tragedies, and her Weight Watchers commercials. When she released the star-studded title song for a romantic comedy that topped the box office in April—a track that was better than any song based on a movie based on a book by Steve Harvey had a right to be—it seemed like a slam dunk. Instead, it only reached No. 33 on the R&B chart, while the vastly inferior “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)” by John Legend and Ludacris ended up as the Think Like a Man soundtrack’s biggest hit.
Nicki Minaj, “Stupid Hoe”
“Starships” has nearly equaled the crossover success of “Super Bass,” and Nicki Minaj’s star is still rising, but it’s clear that Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded hasn’t had the urban radio support of its predecessor. “Beez in the Trap,” the album’s biggest urban hit, peaked at No. 7 on the R&B chart, lower than all five of Pink Friday‘s hits. Meanwhile, Roman Reloaded‘s first buzz single, the divisive “Stupid Hoe,” racked up huge “dislike” numbers on YouTube and peaked at No. 53. But the frenetic clapper, which hilariously compares Lil’ Kim to Baby Bop, remains for me far and away the highlight of the project.
Foxy Shazam, “Holy Touch”
Earlier in the year, Foxy Shazam scored a rock-radio breakthrough with the ass-themed hit “I Like It.” On the follow-up, the Darkness tour mates make their Queen influences even more overt, but the anthemic “Holy Touch” only grazed the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart at No. 39. I wish I’d heard it on the radio more, if for no other reason than for the false-ending gag (not included in the video, unfortunately).
Coldplay feat. Rihanna, “Princess of China”
Rihanna’s collaboration with Maroon 5 a few years ago tanked, and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin’s work with Jay-Z and Kanye West didn’t really set the world on fire, either. But Coldplay and Rihanna each have wider appeal than almost any pop acts in the world, so nobody is going to stop them from reaching across genres. I personally think “Princess of China” is pretty good, but the rest of the world shrugged. iTunes sales pushed the song up to No. 20 on the Hot 100 when Coldplay’s album was released last year. But when it was officially released as a single in 2012, it stiffed, getting to only No. 24 on the Pop Songs chart and nowhere on the rock and R&B formats the artists often dominate.
Haley Reinhart, “Free”
Haley Reinhart placed third on American Idol last year, but given the show’s declining influence, that’s no guarantee for success. In fact, she’s probably lucky that Interscope decided to release her album at all, given that the lead single “Free” only hit No. 26 on the Adult Pop Songs chart. But the piano-driven mid-tempo track really did deserve a bit more love, as did Season 3 finalist Leah LaBelle’s Pharrell-produced “Sexify.”
Ashanti feat. Busta Rhymes, “The Woman You Love”
A decade ago, she was briefly the biggest female star in R&B, but her career came off the rails in tandem with that of her Murder Inc. label mate Ja Rule. I didn’t care much for Ashanti back then, but I’ve often felt like her music has actually gotten better as her profile has diminished. So it’s especially bittersweet that one of her best singles ever, featuring a bombastic sample of Cream’s “White Room” and a Busta Rhymes verse, notched a lousy No. 59 on the R&B chart. The harmonies on the chorus are gorgeous in a way I really never thought she was capable of.
Young Jeezy feat. Future, “Way Too Gone”
Young Jeezy’s album sales and overall popularity have steadily declined over the course of his career, but Thug Motivation 103 has actually been his most successful album on urban radio to date; his previous LPs each only scored one Top 10 R&B hit, whereas TM103 now has three. One of the album’s standout cuts, “Way Too Gone” (produced by ascendant beat maker Mike Will Made It), got lost in the shuffle earlier this year between the bigger hits, only reaching No. 87. But the buzz Mike Will has been racking up with hits like “No Lie” by 2 Chainz and “Turn on the Lights” by Future might have helped; “Way Too Gone” re-entered the chart for the first time in months this week.
Foo Fighters, “Bridge Burning”
Last year, one of my big singles-campaign gripes was that the Foo Fighters promoted one of their best, heaviest albums, Wasting Light, largely with slower tracks like “Walk” and “These Days.” By the time they finally released the hard-rocking fourth single “Bridge Burning”—a year after the album’s release—the project had so little momentum left that it hit only No. 14 on the Mainstream Rock chart. That made “Bridge” the first Foo Fighters single to miss the Top 10 on that or the Alternative chart in nearly a decade.
Miguel, “Girls Like You”
Miguel’s 2010 debut, All I Want Is You, has spun off three Top 10 R&B hits over the space of a year. But again, the fourth single is usually the point at which a campaign starts to lose steam, and even though “Girls Like You” is one of the album’s best tracks, it stalled at No. 43. Fortunately, its release was quickly followed by a series of digital EPs that included the also-great “Adorn,” which has rocketed to No. 3. Some songs still do achieve the success they deserve.