30 Most Successful One-Hit Wonders of All Time

By Jamie GreysonLast Updated Jul 23, 2020 7:37:08 PM ET
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One catchy song can launch musicians’ careers and create a lasting cultural impact. But sometimes a musical act just can’t replicate the success of that lone, chart-topping ditty. Though no one tries to be "just another one-hit wonder," one popular tune it all it takes to cement a musician’s legacy.

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In addition to sales figures and Billboard positions, we’ve looked at streams, downloads, views, and media appearances to determine which songs are the most successful one-hit wonders of all time. Read on to find out if your favorite ‘90s jam or a yesteryear ballad snags the top spot. 

‘Tainted Love’ by Soft Cell, 1982

"Tainted Love" debuted at #90 on charts in the US, and then fell. But it couldn’t get away—at least, not for long. After 19 weeks, it came back to crack the Top 40, eventually peaking at #8.

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The song was originally written and recorded by legendary vocalist and songwriter Gloria Jones in the ‘60s, but it didn’t see much success. Even Jones’s 1976 re-release didn’t chart.

But the song just needed the influence of the ‘80s to make a splash. All in all, the Soft Cell hit spent a record-breaking 43 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100. In six other countries, the song climbed to #1.

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Peak Chart Position: #8 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Baby Got Back’ by Sir Mix-a-Lot, 1992

Though "Baby Got Back" debuted at #75, it went on to clinch Billboard’s top spot after 12 weeks. The song held on for an impressive five weeks and, almost ten years later, is placed #30 on Billboard’s Decade-End Hot 100.

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Initially banned on MTV for its objectionable lyrics, "Baby Got Back" rebounded with a 1993 Grammy win for Sir Mix-a-Lot.

Since then, the song has appeared in Charlie’s Angels (2000), Pitch Perfect 2 (2015), and the TV series Friends. Famously, singer and rapper Nicki Minaj heavily samples this one-hit wonder in her hit song "Anaconda."

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Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Ice Ice Baby’ by Vanilla Ice, 1990

Believe it or not, "Ice Ice Baby" clinching the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 marks the first time a hip-hop single did so. It also climbed to #1 in six other countries, including the UK and Australia.

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With three Platinum certifications, it outsold its A-side, Vanilla’s Ice’s cover of "Play That Funky Music." But things turned a little yikes, yikes, baby when Queen and David Bowie caught wind of the song’s hook, which heavily samples their hit "Under Pressure."

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And, of course, Queen and Bowie would want a piece of those royalties: the song went Platinum in three countries.

Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Eye of the Tiger’ by Survivor, 1982

After Queen denied Sylvester Stallone’s request to use "Another One Bites the Dust" in Rocky III (1982), the film’s star and director landed on "Eye of the Tiger." Now, this one-hit wonder can’t be separated from film’s favorite boxer.

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After mass exposure thanks to the film and MTV, the song remained #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for six consecutive weeks. It went 2x Platinum and nabbed Survivor a Grammy for "Best Rock Performance."

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Since the advent of the digital age, "Eye of the Tiger" has gone 8x Platinum for digital downloads alone. A clear example of "risin' up, straight to the top" if we ever saw one.

Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘I’m Too Sexy’ by Right Said Fred, 1991

Right Said Fred’s hit topped the charts in six countries, including Australia and the US. It went Platinum in both of those markets, too. VH1 went on to dub it one of the "100 Greatest Songs of the ‘90s" and awarded it #2 on its "40 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the ‘90s" list.

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Still, it’s the perfect example of a decidedly divisive song. The earworm placed on Blender’s "50 Worst Songs Ever! Watch, Listen and Cringe!" But…pop sensation Taylor Swift sampled the song in her 2017 rebrand "Look What You Made Me Do."

So, what does all this mean? Like it or not, "I’m Too Sexy" is an undeniable part of pop culture.

Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘What’s Up?’ by 4 Non Blondes, 1993

We pray—oh my god, do we pray—every single listicle that "What’s Up?" will make the cut. Just like its karaoke potential, the song’s success is undeniable. The 4 Non Blondes’ second single snagged the top spot in 11 countries as well as #2 in Australia and the UK.

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In 2005, a YouTube video re-popularized the song under the unofficial title "HEYYEYAAEYAAAEYAEYAA." The music video-turned-meme features the cartoon character He-Man singing a rendition of "What’s Up?" And this has spawned hundreds of imitations and remixes.

Thanks to the parody video, the song has been listened to over 154 million times. Not to mention it’s certified 2x Platinum in five countries.

Peak Chart Position: #14 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba, 1997

Try saying "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba five times fast. Or try being a disc jockey in the UK announcing the Top 10 songs—for 11 consecutive weeks. That’s right, anarchist punk band Chumbawamba had a massively successful pop song on its hands.

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Though it has sold over 880,000 copies in the UK alone, the popular tune also topped the charts in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Italy, and New Zealand. Though it only charted as high as #6 in the US, it spent a whopping 31 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 list.

After its initial success, the song was nominated for a Brit Award for "Best British Single." It also became the anthem of EA and FIFA’s World Cup 98 video game.

Peak Chart Position: #6 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Mambo No. 5’ by Lou Bega, 1999

"Mambo No. 5" was originally composed as a mambo and jazz dance song by Cuban musician Damaso Perez Prado. He recorded it in 1949 and it became successful. Though arguably not as successful as the 1999 Lou Bega cover.

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Bega’s version held the #1 spot in Australia for eight weeks and topped almost every chart in continental Europe. It also set a record in France by staying #1 for 20 weeks. Needless to say, the tune went 4x Platinum in Australia and holds various Platinum certifications in five additional countries.

The only downside to success? A seven-year legal dispute cropped up between Bega and Prado’s estate.

Peak Chart Position: #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Take On Me’ by A-ha, 1985

Originally conceived in 1984, "Take On Me" went through several variations and was released three times before it finally charted in the UK in 1985. And though it took A-ha several tries to get the song right, the music video was an instant success.

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The video famously blended live-action clips with pencil-sketched, animated sequences, leading MTV to play the innovative short constantly. In 1986, MTV recognized the video’s impact by awarding it with six trophies at the VMAs. And all of that visual success led to an impressive 27 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 in the US.

Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Bad Day’ by Daniel Powter, 2005

Though "Bad Day" snagged many impressive spots on various international music charts, its most impressive run may have been on Billboard’s Adult Top 40. It remained #1 on that listing for 19 weeks, finally giving Phil Collins a run for his money.

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Speaking of money, the song went 3x Platinum in the US. And "Bad Day" became the first song in the US to sell 2 million digital copies.

Though Powter’s tune originally appeared in a French Coca-Cola ad in 2004, much of its success can be credited to American Idol. After all, who doesn’t want their hopes and dreams to come crashing down in a montage set to this peppy single?

Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘La Bamba’ by Los Lobos, 1987

Many bands have recorded "La Bamba," but the Los Lobos version is the most successful rendition. It reached #1 in 10 countries, including both the US and the UK, and is certified 2x Platinum in the US.

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Based on a Mexican folk song, "La Bamba" initially appeared in the Top 40 when Ritchie Valens recorded a version in 1958.

The Los Lobos version definitely had a leg up, thanks to the popularity of Valens’s hit. After it was released as the title track of the 1987 film La Bamba, the song’s rise was meteoric.

Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Spirit in the Sky’ by Norman Greenbaum, 1969

Norman Greenbaum’s psychedelic rock anthem didn’t reach "the place that’s the best," but it did peak at #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100. And it didn’t budge for 15 weeks. In five other countries, including the UK and Australia, it did snag the #1 spot.

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From 1969 to 1970, the song sold 2 million copies, making it certified Gold. In the 1980s, Doctor and the Medics covered the tune, making it a #1 hit internationally yet again.

"Spirit in the Sky" has since appeared in everything from the Rock Band video game franchise to a 2019 Budweiser commercial.

Peak Chart Position: #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘99 Luftballoons’ by Nena, 1984

Inspired by the red balloons that rained down at a Rolling Stones concert, this next hit made it to #1 in 12 countries. While American and Australian audiences preferred the German version, the UK, Canada, and Ireland opted for the English version. Despite the divide, Nena had a hit with both.

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The English version snagged one Platinum and one Gold certification, whereas the German version has four Gold certifications to its name. (Or "Name," if we’re getting in Deutsche.)

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Apart from raking in sales cash, the song also raised $200,000 for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts when VH1 played it for an hour straight as part of a campaign. The song crops up in many TV shows and films as well, including 2017’s Atomic Blonde.

Peak Chart Position: #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 (German version)

‘Harlem Shake’ by Baauer, 2013

Brooklyn-based music producer Baauer released his debut single "Harlem Shake" in May of 2012. But it didn’t really catch on until February of 2013 when a dance video set to the song turned it into an Internet crowd-pleaser.

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Hailed by Billboard as "the biggest viral sensation since PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style,’" the "Harlem Shake" claimed the #1 spot in the US for five consecutive weeks and went 2x Platinum in two countries.

The song’s run even made Billboard reevaluate how it determined a song’s success: For the first time, video streams became part of the equation.

Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ by Baha Men, 2000

Is "Who Let the Dogs Out?" the feminist anthem we need? According to the song’s writer, Anslem Douglas, yes. The song intends to criticize men who cat-call women. But when the Baha Men initially covered the song back in 2000, the most apparent thing about it was that it was extremely catchy.

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Not only did it become part of the promotion for Rugrats in Paris: The Movie (1998), but sports teams grabbed at every chance to make it their "Sweet Caroline."

Most notably, this Platinum hit became the New York Mets’ anthem in their 2000 World Series bid against the New York Yankees. The Baha Men even recorded a variant of their chart-topper, entitled "Who Let the Mets Out?"

Peak Chart Position: #21 on Billboard’s Top 40

‘Torn’ by Natalie Imbruglia, 1997

In 2017, ‘90s kids lit Twitter ablaze upon learning that Natalie Imbruglia’s decade-defining debut single "Torn" was a cover song. With this revelation, we were all out of faith, too. But not when it comes to this Grammy-nominated song’s success.

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"Torn" reached #1 in half a dozen countries when it launched. Today, its 188 million streams help Imbruglia rank amongst the most-streamed female musicians, alongside Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.

It’s most impressive record? In Imbruglia’s native Australia, it holds the title of most-played song on the radio, clocking in at well over 300,500 plays. According to the Australian Performing Rights Association that’s like 75 perfect skies, torn—every day.

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Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40

‘Lately’ by Divine, 1998

Divine, an American R&B girl group, released only one album in 1998 before disbanding in 2000. But singers Kia Thornton, Nikki Bratcher, and Tonia Tash made a mark in that short time thanks to their hit single "Lately."

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The single went on to sell 1.1 million copies, making it certified Platinum in the US. And it placed #84 on Billboard’s Decade-End Hot 100 list. Lately, the group members haven’t recorded anything together. However, Thornton tried her luck on the sixth season of hit TV show American Idol.

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Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Come On Eileen’ by Dexys Midnight Runners, 1982

Though "Come On Eileen" marked the band’s second #1 song in the UK, it was their first #1 hit in the US and half a dozen other countries. To the UK, this song means everything.

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Not only did it go 2x Platinum, but it has sold over 1.33 million copies in the UK and was awarded "Best British Single" at the Brit Awards. And VH1 agrees: "Come On Eileen" placed #3 on its "100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of All Time" list.

Used in films like Tommy Boy (1995) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), this tune also prevented Michael Jackson from having back-to-back #1 hits in the US.

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Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Rico Suave’ by Gerardo, 1990

When it debuted, "Rico Suave" hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles chart in the US. Since then, it has placed on VH1’s "100 Greatest Songs of the 90s" and grabbed spot #37 on Blender’s "50 Worst Songs Ever."

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Despite these mixed reviews, there’s no doubt that Ecuadorian rapper and singer Gerardo created a Casanova for a new generation. "Rico Suave" has truly seeped into the cultural consciousness thanks to parodies by artists like Weird Al and sketches on Saturday Night Live.

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Peak Chart Position: #7 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Gangnam Style’ by PSY, 2012

If there’s any one-hit wonder that truly changed the game, it’s PSY’s "Gangnam Style." Soon after its release, the music video was garnering 5 million views a day on YouTube. And this led to a huge moment for music and viral phenomena: It became the first YouTube video to reach 1 billion views.

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#1 in over 30 countries, "Gangnam Style" went 10x Platinum in Australia and 5x Platinum in the US. With over 3.3 billion views, the song also holds the record for "most liked" video on YouTube with 16 million thumbs up.

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Due to its international success, "Gangnam Style" also had a huge hand in helping the entire K-Pop genre gain popularity in the US.

Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Pass the Dutchie’ by Musical Youth, 1982

This reggae-style song from UK-based Musical Youth hit #1 in the UK and five additional countries. In the US, "Pass the Dutchie" only peaked at #10, but the single still went on to sell over 5 million copies worldwide.

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The song’s lasting power can be measured in other ways, too. It has been sampled and reused in various songs by music giants such as Missy Elliot, A Tribe Called Quest, and The Black Eyed Peas.

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"Pass the Dutchie" has also appeared in a wide-range of films, from The Wedding Singer (1998) to the live-action Scooby-Doo: The Movie (2002).

Peak Chart Position: #10 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Mickey’ by Toni Basil, 1982

Perhaps better known as "Hey, Mickey," this song was initially not so fine. When it was released in the UK in 1981, it didn’t chart. The 1982 reissue saw it climb to #2 in the UK and eventually #1 in Australia, Canada, and the US.

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The song went on to achieve 2x Platinum status in Canada as well as Platinum certification in the US and Australia. Since this success, it has been sampled from big name artists, such as Run-DMC and Madonna.

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Fun fact: The titular character in the song was originally named "Kitty," until Toni Basil changed her mind.

Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Barbie Girl’ by Aqua, 1997

Although Metro lists Aqua as the most successful Danish band ever with a combined total of 33 million albums and singles sold, the band is best known for the song "Barbie Girl." And, despite a stint writing music for Sliding Doors (1998), that’s probably all most people know them for these days.

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The bubblegum pop "Barbie Girl" claimed the #1 spot in the UK and Australia for three weeks and hit #7 in the US. With a 3x Platinum certification, it is the 13th best-selling single in the UK.

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The song’s success has landed the band both a gig on Eurovision and an in-progress Mattel lawsuit. It’s fantastic.

Peak Chart Position: #7 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Macarena’ by Los Del Rio, 1996

One of our chart-topping picks actually had a surprisingly slow start. Flamenco duo Antonio Romero Monge & Rafael Ruiz Perdigones had a #1 hit with "Macarena" in Spain when the song was first released, but it didn’t make waves elsewhere.

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And then a Florida-based DJ and musical engineer duo remixed the song with English lyrics. This "Bayside Boys Remix" was the key to the song’s success. "Macarena" claimed the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 for a whopping 14 weeks.

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It remained in the Hot 100 for 60 weeks—a record amount of time until Adele’s "Rolling in the Deep" hit in 2010. By 1997, the song had sold 11 million copies worldwide.

Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘My Sharona’ by The Knack, 1979

In addition to holding onto the Hot 100 #1 spot for six weeks, "My Sharona" nabbed #1 on Billboard’s Year-End chart. The Knack’s hit has also been called an "emblem of the new wave era" by The New York Times.

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If all those top spots weren’t impressive enough, the song is certified Gold. And it’s the fastest debut single released by Capitol Records to go Gold since "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles came out in 1964.

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"My Sharona" reappeared in the Hot 100 in 1994 after being featured in Reality Bites.

Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Sugar, Sugar’ by The Archies, 1969

"Sugar, Sugar" was written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, but it was recorded by The Archies, a "virtual band" composed of the Archie Comics characters. That’s right—a cartoon band had the best-selling single in the US in 1969. The song also held the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 for four weeks, and remained on the chart for an impressive 22 weeks.

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Released in May, the song had sold 1 million copies by August, making it certified Gold. (Though, by today’s measure, that would make it Platinum.) Later, "Sugar, Sugar" placed #84 on Billboard’s All-Time Hot 100 countdown.

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Now we just need the cast of Riverdale to pick up where their cartoon counterparts left off.

Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Whoomp! (There It Is)’ by Tag Team, 1993

"Whoomp! (There It Is)," peaked at #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Though the song never hit #1 on the pop charts, it did spend 24 weeks in the top ten. This feat made it the longest-running top ten song of all time until 1997.

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Certified 4x Platinum in the US, the song has sold upwards of 4 million copies. In 1993, the Philadelphia Phillies made "Whoomp!" their anthem during their World Series bid.

The Tag Team hit also makes appearances in films such as Elf (2003), Addams Family Values (1993), and Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008).

Peak Chart Position: #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)’ by Scott McKenzie, 1967

According to NPR, this Psychedelic pop song was written to "smooth things over" with local authorities in Monterey, California. Why? A bunch of hippies were about to descend on the town for the Monterey International Pop Music Festival.

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This counterculture anthem reached #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100, remaining there for four consecutive weeks. Internationally, it hit #1 in eight countries.

During the 1968 Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, young people played it often: the city of San Francisco and its counterculture reputation exemplified the freedoms and liberal values they hoped to attain. Scott McKenzie’s claim to fame can also be heard in many films, including Forrest Gump (1994) and The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019).

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Peak Chart Position: #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ by Gotye featuring Kimbra, 2012

Yes, this is just some song that you used to know. But it’s also one of the best-selling digital singles of all time. With 13 million copies sold worldwide, it went 11x Platinum in Australia and 8x Platinum in the US.

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At the end of 2012, it grabbed Billboard’s #1 spot on the "Song of the Year" list and earned two Grammys, including one for "Record of the Year." As of July 2019, the song’s music video has over 1.2 billion views.

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Peak Chart Position: #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

‘Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)’ by Silentó, 2015

Silentó’s debut single spent six non-consecutive weeks near the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 and secured the top spot on charts in Australia and the UK. A viral YouTube video catapulted the song, and its dance, to unparalleled success.

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Featuring two titular moves—the "Whip" and the "Nae Nae"—and borrowing from "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" and "Stanky Legg," the song reached over 2 million sales in a few short months. Eventually, "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)" went 6x Certified Platinum in the US and 2x Platinum in Australia and Canada.

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Peak Chart Position: #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100