They say every group has its shelf life - and at some point, our favorite bands need to go on a break — or break up for good. At its worst, a split can be heartbreaking. At its best, you get an entire collection of enjoyable albums in contrast to just one.
But of course, not every solo career goes according to plan. And amidst all the chaos and confusion, some genuinely fantastic songs fail to get the spotlight they deserve. So, in an attempt to right those wrongs, here are ten severely underrated solo singles, from the likes of everyone from The Pussycat Dolls' Nicole Scherzinger and Ashley Roberts to *NSYNC's other solo star, JC Chasez.
JC Chasez, "Some Girls (Dance With Women) (feat. Dirt McGirt)"
Somewhere, in an alternate world, JC Chasez was the breakout star of *NSYNC, and is currently on an extensive world tour spanning 33 different countries. Tinashe is his opening act, fresh off promoting her top ten single - no, let’s stay focused now.
JC’s first (and thus far only) album Schizophrenic was a divisive release, and most of his singles proved to be similarly jarring, but "Some Girls (Dance With Women)" was slick and sexy - while still going mercifully light on some of JC’s more flinch-worthy come-ons.
And for all its mixed reviews, the genre-hopping Schizophrenic was a clear display of JC’s hefty talents. It was an exciting, ambitious project, that makes the star’s subsequent withdrawal from the scene all the more disappointing. The flame of hope flickers on though - he’s recently announced that he’s back in the studio working on new material.
Kelly Rowland, "Kisses Down Low"
It’s mildly (see: incredibly) frustrating that Kelly Rowland’s strongest album, Talk A Good Game, was her least discussed work. Current without ever feeling desperate, the album perfectly merged R&B with the electro-pop sounds of her previous LP, with production from the likes of Danja, The Dream, and Mike Will Made It.
In fact, it was the latter who produced "Kisses Down Low," which was the perfect lead to transition her from those dance floor commander days. "Kisses Down Low" was a bass-heavy, midtempo banger, that didn’t bite its tongue on its steamy subject matter. Twinkling synths and a spoken pre-chorus made the track even more dynamic, adding a fun, flirty feel to it, which was further brought out on the song’s pin-up inspired video.
Easily her best output since the impeccable "Motivation," the song (and the era as a whole) was criminally left to languish by her label Republic, with minimal promotion. The era was brought to a halt less than half a year later, and unsurprisingly, Kelly parted ways with Republic soon after.
Nicole Scherzinger, "Whatever U Like (feat. T.I.)"
Quite possibly the most recognizable song on this list, "Whatever U Like" is a fascinating case. Released in 2007, it never cracked the Hot 100 in America, and barely charted elsewhere. However, if you head on over to YouTube, the video has clocked an impressive 50 million views – even besting some of her more commercially successful singles, such as "Poison" and "Wet."
One could reason that – much like Christina Aguilera’s "Not Myself Tonight" – the failure of "Whatever U Like" equipped it with the sort of lasting infamy that made it a popular reference and talking point amongst music fans for years to come. Another reason could be the fact that it’s just an out and out banger. The song bristles with urgency, propelled forward by a looping air horn and a thumping beat.
Its music video is similarly intense – if slightly manic – but the takeaway is that Nicole will in fact do anything for her man, be it walking over hot coals...or caking herself in clay. The treatment certainly works with the song though, and it's hard to take your eyes off her. If any Scherzy single deserved to be a long-reigning number one, it’s this.
Nicola Roberts, "Lucky Day"
Nicola Roberts dropped one of the greatest albums of 2011 when she released Cinderella’s Eyes. It was all thriller, no filler - packed with bangers and ballads that would make you dance and sob, sometimes simultaneously.
It’s hard to pick just one track to highlight from the project, but the album’s second single "Lucky Day" is a glorious, buoyant track that rides on a wave of lush synths and Nicola’s soaring vocals. "Lucky Day" combined Nicola’s daydream-y writing with a more aggressive, assertive attitude - which was reflected throughout her album as well.
While "Beat of My Drum" was a stellar introduction to Nicola Roberts the Solo Act, "Lucky Day" confirmed Nicola as a proper pop force in her own right, more than capable of holding her own both as an artist, as well as an entertainer. And of course, its video treatment gave us that brilliant dress - and some neon-sperm graffiti - so that was a plus too.
Ashley Roberts, "Woman Up"
We’ve got another Pussycat Doll with us on this list: Ashley Roberts. In some aspects, her career trajectory has some striking similarities to Nicole’s - with her finding far more success in the United Kingdom, primarily thanks to her appearance on a big reality show (in Ashley’s case, I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!).
Unlike Nicole however, her popularity didn’t translate too well into her music career - and Ashley’s debut album Butterfly Effect, released in 2014, didn’t light up the charts. But "Woman Up" certainly deserved more; it’s a triumphant, brassy ladies’ anthem, with a flashy, choreo-heavy video.
And we’re not the only ones who think so, for Miss Meghan Trainor certainly took to it too - she borrowed elements of its chorus for her own "Woman Up," which was included on her sophomore album Thank You just two years later.
Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, "The Block Party"
“I do what I wanna do / right foot, left shoe,” raps Lisa Lopes on "The Block Party" - her first, and sadly, only single. In 2017, "The Block Party" would probably be a runaway success - or at least a very popular meme. Lisa brought the club and the playground together, in a song that colored outside the lines and straight off the page.
At the time though, the single failed to stick - except in the United Kingdom, where it managed a top twenty peak. The era crumbled to a halt afterwards, with a subsequent single being cancelled, along with the album’s U.S. release.
Still, "The Block Party" is an absolutely brilliant track. Its goofy, sing-song hook is irresistible, and the single works in a genius sample of Earth Wind and Fire’s
"Drum Song" layered alongside its own infectious percussive beat. Co-written and co-produced by Lisa herself, "The Block Party" is one of many examples of what an indisputable talent she was.
Duncan James was maybe the most popular bet for who’d go furthest with his post-Blue career, but it was Simon Webbe who ended up being the surprise star - and his string of singles show us why. Webbe combined soulful melodies with heartwarming lyrics for easy-listening music, that equipped him with the sort of wide-reaching appeal that his bandmates didn’t quite pull off in their solo endeavours.
Of course, his time as a solo act was limited too, and his sophomore album Grace failed to replicate the heights of his first. But at least he went out strong! The LP’s title track was released at the final single of the era, and it was Simon doing what he did best - a hopeful, straightforward ballad, that spiced up its acoustic-pop production with a funky backing beat and a catchy vocal loop.
After Grace ran its course, Simon started prepping for a third album - but a Blue reunion put that on indefinite hold. He’s since teased some new tunes on and off, but nothing proper has materialized yet. To make a very niche reference: our souls plead for you, Simon.
Emma Bunton, "We're Not Gonna Sleep Tonight"
A key part of the charm of "We’re Not Gonna Sleep Tonight" is that the glitzy disco tune sounds like it could have just as easily been a Spice Girls single. It’s unapologetic pop with plenty of flair, and one of Emma’s career highlights.
Even its lyrics scream “Spice!”, being about a girls’ night out on the town - doing exactly as they please, and making the boys blush. In fact, it could very well be a celebration of her bandmates themselves, with Emma dedicating the song “to all my girls” in A Girl Like Me’s album booklet.
Nick Lachey, "All In My Head"
The best thing to come out of Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson’s divorce was "A Public Affair." That’s not something that’s up for debate.
However, the next best thing was the brief second wind it knocked into Nick’s solo career. His sophomore album, What’s Left Of Me, and its title track, both performed well on the charts. Unfortunately for him, the singles that followed floundered, and by the time Nick launched "All In My Head" as the lead single off his third album, the public had completely moved on.
That’s a shame, because "All In My Head" was Nick’s best output. It was a much-needed break from his adult contemporary, ballad-heavy past, in favour of a polished synth-pop gem. The song’s subject matter is mildly confusing - is Nick daydreaming of a proposal? Has this girl already shot him down? Does she even know he exists? - but hey, they do say some of the best songs are those open to interpretation.
Michelle Williams, "We Break the Dawn"
It’s hard to miss Michelle Williams the popstar (emphasis on pop), when she’s converted us all with gospel bangers such as "Say Yes," but if any song was to make us look back with misty eyes, it’d be the lead single off her debut album.
Co-written by none other than Solange Knowles - alongside its producers Andrew Frampton and Wayne Wilkins - "We Break The Dawn" was slinky, shimmering electro-pop. The diva-tastic “yes!”s that punctuate each line in the second pre-chorus was quintessential Michelle, and its video served looks, drama, and some world-class strutting. What more could you ask for?
Sadly, the song didn’t get much of a push in America, and received next to no promotion in Europe, where it may have fared better. #PoorUs, the hashtag should go.