23 of the most iconic record-breaking songs in pop music history

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Gabbi Shaw
·12 min read
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hsmtmts drivers license drama explained
Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett. Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images
  • These songs couldn't be more different but have one thing in common: They're record breakers.

  • Each of these songs has carved a space in history, such as being the best-selling song of all time.

  • Olivia Rodrigo's "Drivers License" is a bona fide phenomenon.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

There's an infinite number of records to break out there, from the most expensive pair of sneakers sold at auction ($560,000) to the heaviest cabbage (138.25 pounds). But the records on this list all have to do with the varied, ever-changing world of pop music.

Ever wondered what the best-selling song of all time is? Or who the oldest person to top the Hot 100 was? Look no further - here are 23 iconic songs that have broken records throughout musical history.

Olivia Rodrigo's smash hit "Drivers License" has broken numerous records.

olivia rodrigo
Olivia Rodrigo. Jason Mendez/Getty Images

Rodrigo's debut single "Drivers License" captivated the world in the beginning of 2021, and broke multiple records. Most notably, it broke Spotify's record for most single-day streams for a non-holiday song (and then broke its own record the next day), had the biggest first week ever on Spotify and Amazon Music, and made Rodrigo the first artist born in the 21st century to debut atop the Billboard Hot 100.

As Spotify told Billboard, "We've never seen anything like this."

Listen to "Drivers License" here.

In 2020, the music video for "Dynamite" by K-pop icons BTS broke the record for most YouTube views in 24 hours.

BTS Dynamite
BTS members dance in the music video "Dynamite" Big Hit Labels/YouTube

In August 2020, BTS — K-pop superstars and "the world's biggest boyband," according to Forbes — released their first English-only song, "Dynamite." The music video amassed a staggering 101.1 million views in just 24 hours of its release, breaking their own record over a year after they set it with their song, "Boy With Luv," featuring Halsey.

In November 2020, the band received a Grammy nod for "Dynamite" for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

Listen to "Dynamite" here.

With "All I Want for Christmas Is You," Mariah Carey became the first person to have No. 1 songs in four different decades.

mariah carey
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

The Elusive Chanteuse herself has had No. 1 songs in the '90s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s. Her hit Christmas song, "All I Want for Christmas Is You," topped the charts in the first week of 2020, as well as 2019.

Over her career, she's had 19 songs top the charts.

Listen to "All I Want for Christmas Is You" here.

The Nicki Minaj remix of "Say So" gave the rapper her first No. 1 hit, earning her the record for the longest wait for a first Hot 100 No. 1. It was her 109th song to chart on the Hot 100.

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Nicki Minaj. Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

It's been 10 years since the rapper notched her first entry on the Billboard Hot 100. Over the last decade, she's become one of the most prolific rappers of our time, but it took a full decade and 109 total entries for Minaj to top the the charts. She finally earned the top spot due to her appearance on a remixed version of Doja Cat's "Say So," giving her the longest wait from first Hot 100 entry to No. 1 song.

Listen to "Say So" here.

"Old Town Road" became the longest-running No. 1 song of all time when it topped the charts for 19 consecutive weeks last summer.

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Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X. Columbia Records

The song had a slow burn — it was originally released in December 2018. But once the remix was released with Billy Ray Cyrus in April 2019, and once it became a meme on TikTok, there was no stopping Lil Nas X and the power of "Old Town Road."

It first reached the top of the Hot 100 in April and remained there for a record-shattering 19 weeks until August, making it the longest-running No. 1 song of all time.

Listen to "Old Town Road" here.

Before "Old Town Road," the longest-running No. 1 song was "One Sweet Day" by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. It topped the charts for 16 weeks.

mariah carey boyz ii men
Mariah Carey with Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men. Eric Draper/AP

"One Sweet Day" was released in 1995 as the second single from Carey's album "Daydream." Both Carey and Boyz II Men were at the peak of their power in the mid-'90s, and each holds records of their own so, of course, their collaboration was a sure success.

The song reached the top spot on December 2, 1995 and remained there for 16 weeks until March 16, 1996. It held the record for longest-running No. 1 for 23 years until it was surpassed by "Old Town Road."

Listen to "One Sweet Day" here.

"WAP," the collaboration between Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, broke many records. For one, it became the first female rap collaboration to debut at No. 1.

Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion in "WAP." YouTube/Atlantic

With "WAP," Cardi B became the first female rapper to have No. 1 songs in two different decades ("Bodak Yellow," "I Like It," and "Girls Like You" all topped the charts in the 2010s). She also extended her record as the female rapper with the most No. 1 hits (four), and, as stated, the song became the first female rap collab to debut atop the charts, as both the Nicki Minaj remix of "Say So" and the Beyoncé remix of "Savage" also hit the top of the charts this year.

Also, according to Billboard, with 93 million streams, "WAP" has the "greatest ever [numbers] for a song in its first week of release."

Listen to "WAP" here.

The very first song to ever take the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 was Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool" in August 1958.

ricky nelson
Ricky Nelson in September 1958. AP

The Billboard Hot 100 didn't exist until 1958, though it has since become a part of any music fan's life. The very first song to earn the distinction of Hot 100 chart-topper was "Poor Little Fool" by teen idol and star of "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," Ricky Nelson.

Listen to "Poor Little Fool" here.

The song with the longest journey to No. 1 is none other than "Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)" by Los Del Rio, which took 33 weeks to reach the top of the charts.

los del rio macarena
Los Del Rio members Rafael Ruiz, left, and Antonio Romero Monge. Lionel Cironneau/AP Photo

The song was originally released in 1995 to little fanfare, but once the Bayside Boys stepped in, the song became a megahit, topping the charts in August 1996, 33 weeks, or seven and a half months, after it debuted. It stayed at the top for 14 weeks.

Listen to "Macarena (Bayside Boys)" here.

"Jingle Bell Rock" helped Bobby Helms set the record for a musician with the longest gap between their first Hot 100 song and a place within the top 10.

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Country singer Bobby Helms poses for a portrait holding an acoustic guitar circa 1957. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Helms first had a song on the Hot 100 in 1958 when "Borrowed Dreams" peaked at 60. The next year, "The Fool and the Angel" hit No. 75.

Over the next six decades, Helms failed to chart another song, until January 2019 when his iconic Christmas jam "Jingle Bell Rock" made it to No. 8 — 62 years after it was written. In 2020, it rose to a new peak, reaching No. 3.

It means Helms holds the record for the longest gap between a musician's first appearance on the Hot 100 and their first top 10 hit.

Listen to "Jingle Bell Rock" here.

"Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons holds the record for the longest time on the Hot 100, remaining on the chart for 87 weeks, or almost two years.

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Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons performs in 2018. John Salangsang/Invision/AP

"Radioactive" remained on the Hot 100 from August 2012 to May 2014, roughly a year and eight months. Its debut spot was No. 96 and its peak was No. 3. Its 87-week journey made it the longest run on the Hot 100 of all time.

Listen to "Radioactive" here.

But The Weeknd's "Blinding Lights" spent 50 weeks in the top 10 - and 41 in the top five - the most time any song has spent there.

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"Blinding Lights." The Weeknd/YouTube

"Blinding Lights" debuted in November 2019, and ever since it's been in the Hot 100 — it has spent a record-breaking 50 weeks in the top 10 (it's still there), and 41 weeks in the top five. It was also at the top spot for four weeks.

It was so successful that it was even named the top song of 2020 overall by Billboard.

Listen to "Blinding Lights" here.

The shortest song to ever hit No. 1 is Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs' "Stay," which is just a minute and 38 seconds long.

Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs. GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images

No, "Old Town Road" isn't the shortest song to top the US charts — though it was the shortest song in 54 years. But "Stay" earned the title of shortest song to ever hit No. 1, with a length of just 98 seconds.

Listen to "Stay" here.

Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" holds the Guinness World Record for the best-selling single of all time.

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Bing Crosby in 1944. AP Images

According to Guinness, this iconic Christmas tune is the best-selling single of all time, with an estimated 50 million copies sold around the world. "White Christmas" earned this honor in 2012, 70 years after its release.

Listen to "White Christmas" here.

Both "Work It" by Missy Elliott and "Waiting for a Girl Like You" by Foreigner are the longest-running No. 2s that never hit No. 1. They each sat at the second spot for 10 weeks.

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Missy Elliott and Foreigner. Jeff Lombardo, Robert E. Klein/AP

At first, Foreigner's 1981 hit held the record solo when "Waiting for a Girl Like You" sat at the almost-top spot for 10 weeks. But in 2002, "Work It" came along and matched their record.

Listen to "Waiting for a Girl Like You" here and listen to "Work It" here.

Michael Jackson made history when his single "You Are Not Alone" debuted at the top of the Hot 100.

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Michael Jackson in 1984. Doug Pizac/AP Images

In 1995, the Hot 100 was just 37 years old, and a song had never debuted on the chart at No. 1. The King of Pop set that record when "You Are Not Alone," the second single from his ninth album, made its Hot 100 debut at the top spot. As of August 2020, only 42 songs since have repeated the feat.

Listen to "You Are Not Alone" here.

"Shape of You" by Ed Sheeran is the most streamed song ever on Spotify. It has garnered over 2.5 billion streams.

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Ed Sheeran. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Spotify announced in December 2017 that the most streamed song of all time was "Shape of You," the most popular single from Sheeran's mega-hit album "Divide." At the time, it had been streamed over 1.6 billion times. Now, it holds that title with 2.5 billion streams total.

Listen to "Shape of You" here.

"My Life Would Suck Without You" holds the record for largest jump to No. 1. It rocketed to the top from No. 97.

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Kelly Clarkson. Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

This Kelly Clarkson power-pop song made it to No. 1 in its second week. It debuted at 97, before jumping a record 96 spots in a single week.

Listen to "My Life Would Suck Without You" here.

"Can't Buy Me Love" made The Beatles the only act in history to replace themselves twice for three consecutive No. 1s.

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The Beatles perform in November 1963. Getty Images

A fair few artists have replaced themselves at No. 1, including Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, and Outkast. But The Beatles remain the only musicians to replace themselves at the top spot not once, but twice. First up, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" hit No. 1 in February 1964, where it remained for seven weeks. It was then replaced by "She Loves You," which stayed at No. 1 for two weeks.

But they set the record with "Can't Buy Me Love," which marked their third consecutive No. 1, and it made them the only act before or since to replace themselves twice.

Listen to "Can't Buy Me Love" here.

When "Hello, Dolly!" reached No. 1, it did two things: It made Louis Armstrong the oldest person to have a No. 1 song, and it ended The Beatles' three-song reign.

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Louis Armstrong in 1971. Eddie Adams/AP

Armstrong was 62 years old when "Hello, Dolly!" peaked at the top of the charts in 1964 for a week, making him the oldest musician to achieve this feat. The song later went on to win the Grammy for Best Vocal Performance Male, and it was Armstrong's biggest hit.

Listen to "Hello, Dolly!" here.

And "Dur dur d'être bébé! (It's Tough to Be a Baby)" made 4-year-old Jordy Lemoine, known as Jordy, the youngest musician to top the charts.

French singer Jordy and his parents Claude Lemoine and Patricia Clerget in 1993. Alain BUU/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Jordy is the youngest person to ever have a No. 1 song when his song "Dur dur d'être bébé! (It's Tough to Be a Baby)," topped the charts in 1992. However, his music was banned in his home country of France due to concerns that his parents were exploiting him.

Listen to "Dur dur d'être bébé! (It's Tough to Be a Baby)" here.

When "Believe" hit No.1 in 1999, it was Cher's first chart-topper since her 1974 hit, "Dark Lady." That 25-year gap is still the biggest between two No. 1s.

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Cher in 1971. AP

It had also been 34 years since her first No.1 hit "I Got You Babe," also a record. "Believe" proved that even three decades in, Cher remained the Goddess of Pop.

Listen to "Believe" here.

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