There are some songs that are so iconic that you can’t imagine that they could be sung by anyone else. Like Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” Can you imagine Taylor Swift singing that? Or The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” being done by Nirvana? We didn’t think so. These songs just wouldn’t be right if the artist that originally recorded them had never sung them.
But the universe is also a strange place, and some of the most iconic and popular songs of the last two decades were originally intended for other people. In fact, songs shuffling through a few artists before landing with the person who would help it skyrocket to fame is not a rare occurrence in the music business at all. Think every Beyoncé track was tailor-made for Queen B? Not so much. In fact, a song originally intended for Rihanna was ultimately recorded by Ed Sheeran. Keep reading to see which popular songs could’ve been made famous by another star!
18. “The Middle” by Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey
“The Middle” was one of the first breakout pop hits of 2018. Produced by Russian-German producer Zedd and written alongside some of his frequent collaborators Sarah Aarons and musical duo Grey, it was ultimately sung by Maren Morris. But during the writing process of the song, Zedd and Grey had a different artist in mind. Or, more specifically, 11 different artists in mind. Demi Lovato, Camila Cabello, Anne-Marie, Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo, Bishop Briggs, Bebe Rexha, Lauren Jauregui, Daya, Charlie XCX and Elle King all recorded versions of the song before Maren got her shot. While we love the final product, and can’t imagine it any other way, we’d love to hear some of those discarded versions!
17. “…Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears
Back in our middle school days, Britney Spears knocked our socks off with her best ever song “…Baby One More Time.” Chances are you had it on CD and played it over and over and over again because it was just that good. Everyone thought so. Well, everyone but TLC. The early ‘00s pop anthem was actually written for the girl group, who revealed in an interview for their biopic that they turned it down because they all felt that it “didn’t represent the band appropriately.” They explained that as more mature artists they felt that they knew what they really believed in and really wanted to sing, and belting out “Hit me, baby, one more time” wasn’t it.
16. “Irreplaceable” by Beyoncé
To date, Beyoncé has had 5 chart-topping studio albums, dozens of number one singles and a plethora of highly viewed music videos. Even still, “Irreplaceable,” off of her second album B’Day has remained one of her best-known songs. Which is funny, because when Ne-Yo wrote the song, he originally had a couple of country artists in mind. He envisioned and arranged it in a way that would work for Faith Hill or Shania Twain, with lots of heavy guitar lines and a more laid-back vibe. But when Beyoncé was presented with a demo of the song, she pushed hard to get the chance to sing it and eventually won out over the other artists.
15. “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran
This might be one of the weirdest switch ups on this list. Ed Sheeran’s song “Shape of You” was another one of the biggest pop hits of early 2018 and ended up being one of the lead singles off of his ÷ album. But when he wrote it, Ed originally intended the song for another, very different, artist: Rihanna. In the end, it was the line “putting Van the Man on the jukebox” that convinced Ed to keep the song for himself and to add it to his album last minute. Apparently, he just couldn’t picture RiRi singing that, but also was convinced that the song wouldn’t work without it. Secretly, we’re really glad this one ended up where it did.
14. “Come & Get It” by Selena Gomez
“Come & Get It” was Selena Gomez’s first bona fide hit. It was the single that pushed her from “former Disney star” fame to “chart-topper” fame. And it almost never happened. The song was originally written for Rihanna, who turned it down for unknown reasons. After that failed opportunity, producers offered it to Selena for her first solo studio album, and the rest, as they say, is history. Just imagine: if Rihanna hadn’t turned the song down, we may never have had Selena’s most successful years, and without those, there never would have been any “The Heart Wants What It Wants” or “Wolves.” And what a world that would have been.
13. “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson
Back in the original days of American Idol, it was possible, if you were one of the final contestants, to parlay your success on the show into an actual, legitimate singing career. Kelly Clarkson did it. She won the inaugural season of the singing competition and has managed to build a decently sized and long-lasting place for herself in the music industry. One thing that helped was her massive 2005 hit, “Since U Been Gone.” Unlike a lot of the tracks that Kelly’s recorded since, this one wasn’t actually written for her. Hilary Duff and P!nk were both offered the song before Kelly, and they both turned it down. We wonder if they have any regrets?
12. “Rock Your Body” by Justin Timberlake
This one blows our minds. “Rock Your Body” was included on Justin Timberlake’s 2003 debut solo album Justified. It topped out at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 list and found lots of success internationally as well. But, as much as it fits JT, it wasn’t actually written for him. It was written for Michael Jackson! Timberlake co-wrote the song, with the track’s producers The Neptunes, but it was meant for Michael’s album Invincible. Michael rejected it, along with a handful of other tracks, which is when it found it’s way to JT’s album. But really, we just can’t imagine this song ever being sung by Michael Jackson. It’s just too weird. What’s even weirder is that this is the song Justin was singing during the whole Superbowl Janet Jackson nipplegate controversy.
11. “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus
Rihanna seems to have a history of turning down songs that become huge pop hits for other artists. “Shape of You” and “Come & Get It” aren’t the only ones that have landed in the singer’s “reject” pile — Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” also got the pass from the Fenty beauty. Producer Mike WiLL Made-It told MTV that RiRi was more interested in “Pour It Up,” which left the future MiCy song in the slosh pile and free to be the Hannah Montana star’s comeback track.
10. “S.O.S” by Rihanna
Rihanna may have turned down a lot of hot tracks in her time, but she’s also been the beneficiary of a lot of other artists’ rejected singles. Christina Milian originally recorded a version of “S.O.S.” before making the decision to drop it from her album. The single then found its way to Ri’s recording studio and quickly became her first number one, skyrocketing her to international levels of fame. Meanwhile, Christina hasn’t had a successful track since “Dip It Low,” which makes us wonder how she feels about making the decision to cut this one.
9. “Umbrella” by Rihanna
Another time Rihanna’s gained from someone else’s loss? When she recorded “Umbrella” and added it to her 2007 album Good Girl Gone Bad. The song was originally offered to Britney Spears as a comeback single after her public meltdown earlier that year. BritBrit’s team turned it down, feeling that they already had enough material for the pop star’s next album. Next, it was played for Mary J. Blige, who also turned it down. Then finally it was offered to Rihanna, who added it to her album and won a Grammy for it in 2008. Talk about a lucky break!
8. “Miss Independent” by Kelly Clarkson
“Miss Independent” was Kelly Clarkson’s lead single from her first album Thankful. It was written by a slew of professionals, including Rhett Lawrence, Christina Aguilera, Matt Morris and Kelly herself. It was originally going to be a part of Xtina’s album, Stripped but was never finished and pretty much just left to gather dust. Clarkson picked it up and finished writing it with Rhett Lawrence who also produced it for the American Idol alum’s first album. While the Kelly Clarkson version will always hold a special place in our high school hearts, we do wonder what it would have sounded like coming from Christina’s mouth.
7. “Don’t Cha” by the Pussycat Dolls
Back in the early 2000s, Paris Hilton spent a good chunk of time trying to create a career for herself as a singer. She released approximately one studio album, the self-titled Paris in 2006, and her most notable (probably for all the wrong reasons) was “Stars Are Blind,” which peaked at number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. Apparently though, someone out there thought that she might actually have a shot as a recording artist, and wrote a handful of songs for the heiress, including “Don’t Cha.” We’re not sure why Paris turned down the single — it seems pretty on brand for her – but it ended up going to the Pussycat Dolls instead, and became one of the most well-known songs of the early 00s.
6. “I’m a Slave 4 U” by Britney Spears
For all of the legendary tracks the Jackson family has recorded in the span of their lengthy careers, they seem to have passed up quite a few other popular songs. Michael Jackson’s younger sister Janet Jackson was offered “I’m a Slave 4 U” before it was passed along to Britney Spears. In a weird twist, Janet actually went so far as to record a demo of the song before handing it directly to Britney. It was lauded as one of Britney’s most mature songs and did pretty well on the charts, but it just wasn’t meant for Janet.
5. “Pretty Hurts” by Beyoncé
“Pretty Hurts” was destined to be a good track. It was written by Sia, Beyoncé and Ammo and originally offered to both Katy Perry and then Rihanna. In the end, of course, Beyoncé sang it on her album Beyoncé. It took a long winding road to get there, though. After Sia wrote the first version of the song, she e-mailed it to Katy Perry. Katy Perry never opened the e-mail (big mistake!), so Sia sent it to Rihanna’s people instead. They shelved the song for eight months, and then never paid the fee for it. So Beyoncé saw her shot, swooped in and grabbed the song up before it could slip away once again. Take this as a lesson to always open your e-mails and pay your bills on time. Otherwise, you might watch something as good as “Pretty Hurts” get away from you!
4. “Black Widow” by Iggy Azalea & Rita Ora
Sometimes, when songs don’t get recorded by the artists they were intended for, it’s because the original artist let it go in a gesture of goodwill. That’s at least the case for Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora’s collab “Black Widow.” Katy Perry originally wrote the song for herself and invited Iggy to feature on the track with her. At the time, Katy had just released an album, so Iggy convinced the singer to hand over the rights to the song, by telling Katy that she had an album that was about to drop and wanted the world to hear the song ASAP. Katy agreed – in fact, it might have been a little too similar in tone to Katy’s other song released that year in 2014, “Dark Horse.”
3. “We Found Love” by Rihanna
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, Nicole Sherzinger was still regularly putting out music. She was sent a demo of a dance/pop song called “We Found Love” but decided she needed to pass on it because she didn’t want her songs to be too similar. She told the writers who’d sent her the song, “There’s so much dance, and I want to take a break from it.” The writers also apparently sent the song to Leona Lewis, who passed on it (we’re sure she’s got some regrets about that one). Rihanna loved the track immediately and added it to her Talk That Talk album. And ever since then, Nicole’s been kicking herself. “That was my fault. I slept on it,” she said.
2. “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga
This one is a little more questionable because, by all accounts, it seems pretty true that Lady Gaga wrote “Just Dance” for herself. It ended up being the singer’s debut single, and Gaga frequently tells the story of how she wrote it in ten minutes and how it inspired her to keep pushing through the difficult season of life she had found herself in. But according to Nicole Sherzinger, the song found its way to The Pussycat Dolls back when they were still a group, but they passed on it because the sound didn’t quite work for them. Many fans have agreed that Gaga probably wrote the song for another artist, then took it for herself when she realized the release of The Fame was possible and it would make her a huge star.
1. “Toxic” by Britney Spears
And finally, Britney Spears’s song “Toxic,” which won the first and only (to date) Grammy award on her shelf, wasn’t originally meant to be on In the Zone at all. It was written for Kylie Minogue who flat out rejected it. When asked about it years later, the Aussie singer said that she, “wasn’t angry at all when it worked for [Spears]. It’s like the fish that got away. You just have to accept it.” Very mature of the “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” singer, but still. What a crushing blow. If only she’d recorded it.