50 years of the best-selling musical artists

Chart-Toppers: 50 years of the best-selling musical artists

Fame, fortune and adoring fans – it’s often the dream come true for the world’s most popular musical artists.

Thanks to their reliability and creative prowess, these artists not only boasted longevity in their record sales, but they also topped the charts year after year.

Today’s video from Data is Beautiful visualizes the world’s best-selling musical artists over the past 50 years (1969 to 2019) and highlights the length of their reigns.

Do you see your favorite artist or band in the mix?

Best-selling artists, by decade

Of all the artists of the last half-century, two stand out: Michael Jackson and Eminem. michael jackson has the most cumulative years in first place (~12 years), while Eminem holds the longest continuously successful artist streak (8.5 years).

Let’s dive into each decade to discover the watershed moments and key technological advancements that propelled the art of music into exciting new realms.

Enlarge image


This era of music is defined by the emergence of the rock genre, with artists like Eagles and Led Zeppelinthe latter being widely considered an ancestor of hard rock and heavy metal.

The Beatles became known, not just for their music, but for pushing the boundaries of how they recorded their music. They used analog sound editing techniques, using a “bank” of sound effects to record over finished music tracks to add depth and texture. It left a huge mark on the music world and in many ways influenced the way modern music is recorded.

The introduction of 8-tracks and cassettes allowed people to play albums in their vehicles, opening up new possibilities for on-the-go entertainment.


Enter the era of electronic music – synthesizers, theremins, electronic samplers and electronic drum kits have hit the music scene, primarily in the UK and USA. German band Kraftwerk were one of the first to use a synthesizer in their sets.

For example, one of the reasons for michael jackson the success was that the technology of the day allowed much wider distribution at much lower costs. Besides, Polar was one of the first albums recorded on compact discs (CDs), which were introduced in 1982.

The MTV era (launched in 1981) also had a significant impact on album sales, as music now offered both visual and audio experiences and was delivered directly to homes.


A prominent factor in the music scene of the 90s was the explosion of popular music artists tasked with recording the theme songs for hit movies.

The most notable artists and their corresponding blockbuster films of the era include:

  • Elton John ─ The Lion King
  • Celine Dion ─ Titanic
  • Whitney Houston ─ Bodyguard
  • Bryan Adams ─ Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
  • Madonna ─ Evita

While the 1990s marked a decade of wide variety of top-selling artists, it was also the peak of music industry sales, at $21.5 billion in 1999, a figure that has not been repeated since.


Eminem dominated record sales of the 2000s, but the decade also featured brief stints from the street boys in 2000 and Rihanna in 2009.

Eminem helped launch hip hop music into the mainstream. As one of the most controversial artists of all time, he pushed the boundaries of the genre with his technical prowess, mastery of words, and ability to reach a wider audience.

The 21st century has also brought music streaming services such as Spotify to the fore, forever changing the way people listen to their favorite artists and bands.


Only three artists have reached the top-selling artist spot in the current decade: Rihanna, Duckand Luis Fonsi—the Puerto Rican singer best known for his single “Despacito.”

In 2016, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified Drake as the first musical artist to reach the top spot through streaming platform sales and downloads, rather than physical album sales.

According to the RIAA, streaming revenue has grown from nearly half of all music industry sales in 2017 to more than 75% of sales in 2018, with $4.6 billion in total record sales at first. quarter 2018.

The future of music

Musicians are a creative breed, continually experimenting with new instruments, sound effects, and recording styles.

Some artists even go so far as to use only an iPhone to record their work, demonstrating the modern era’s ability to record high fidelity quality and achieve studio-quality results.

With a new decade just around the corner, we could see even more opportunities for technology to revamp how we access our favorite tracks and how artists distribute them to their fan base.

Who could become the next Beatles, Michael Jackson or Drake?