A few months ago, the Business Insider published the list of the 50 best-selling artists of all time. Unsurprisingly, you can recognize the usual suspects, the iconic acts like the Beatles, Elvis Presley, or Led Zeppelin, and the less iconic ones such as Garth Brooks, with an insane 2nd position. Astonishingly, Billy Joel is at a higher rank than Michael Jackson – and this was a surprise – while Aerosmith is at a higher position than the Rolling Stones. Some of these artists seem to be a relic of the past – do people still listen to Kenny G or did he sell enough albums in the ‘80s to be still very high on this list in 2020?
But I was curious to see how this ranking had evolved over the years, and I found a similar list published 3 years ago by the Independent. First of all, all the bands on the 2020 list were already present on the 2017 list, with the exception of one artist: pop princess Taylor Swift, who appeared in position 31 this year.
Then 64 % of the artists didn’t increase their sales during these 3 years, making this list of best-selling artists of all time quite stagnant. However, a few of them made a difference and actually increase their ranking. If the difference is not huge for some of them (Dave Matthews Band, Britney Spears, Queen, Def Leppard, Elton John…) some artists saw a significant jump in their sales/stream/download. The top three are the top ones, The Beatles, Garth Brooks, and Elvis Presley, who all increased their sales, probably because all of them are inescapable. However, the Eagles made an incredible jump! Who would have thought that the Eagles were the most relevant artists of these past 3 years? I would not go that far but this raise (an 18.8% increase) looks unexplainable to me.
Also notable, Fleetwood Mac, with a 10% increase (could it be the TikTok effect?), Eminem with a 4,5% increase, AC/DC with a 4% increase, and Michael Jackson with a 3.7% increase.
Of course, the real phenomenon is Taylor Swift who was not even on the list in 2017. With the great achievement of ‘Reputation,’ released in 2017, and the repeated successes of her previous albums, Taylor Swift must have been very close to belonging to this very privileged club 3 years ago, but she was not there yet. However, if we estimate she was already at 33 million units in 2017 (the highest number possible since the 2017 list starts with Dave Matthews Band at 33.5 million units) her number made an incredible jump, a 36% increase in 2020. All the other artists on the list have been in the music business for a much longer time than her, and this undoubtedly made her the queen of these three past years.
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