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Chart-Toppers: 50 Years of the Best-Selling Music Artists

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Chart-Toppers: 50 Years of the Best-Selling Music Artists

Fame, fortune, and adoring fans—this is often the dream-turned-reality for the world’s most popular music artists.

Thanks to their relatability and creative prowess, these artists have not only boasted longevity in their record sales, but they’ve also dominated the charts year after year.

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

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

The Best Selling Artists, By Decade

Of all of the artists in the past half-century, two stand out: Michael Jackson and Eminem. Michael Jackson has the highest cumulative number of years in the top spot (~12 years), while Eminem holds the longest continuous best-selling artist slot (8.5 years).

Let’s dive into each decade to uncover defining moments and key technology advancements that pushed the art of music into exciting new areas.

top selling music artists

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1970s

This era of music is defined by the emergence of the rock genre, with artists like The Eagles and Led Zeppelin, the latter of which is widely considered a forefather of hard rock and heavy metal.

The Beatles became known, not just for their music, but for pushing the envelope with how they recorded their music. They used analog sound editing techniques—utilizing a sound effect “bank” to record overtop finished music tracks to add depth and texture. This left a huge mark on the music world, and in many ways influenced how modern music is recorded.

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

1980s

Enter the age of electronic music—synthesizers, theremins, electronic samplers, and electronic drum kits popped up in the music scene, most predominantly in the United Kingdom and the United States. The German-based group Kraftwerk was one of the first to pioneer using a synthesizer in their sets.

For example, one of the reasons for Michael Jackson’s success was that the technology of the time allowed for much wider distribution at much lower costs. In addition, Thriller was one of the first albums recorded on compact discs (CDs), which were introduced in 1982.

The MTV era (launched 1981) also significantly impacted the sales of albums, as music now offered both visual and audio experiences—and broadcast directly into people’s homes.

1990s

A predominant factor of the 90s music scene was the explosion of popular music artists being commissioned to record the theme songs for blockbuster films.

The most notable artists and their corresponding blockbuster movies of the time 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 great variety in top-selling artists, it was also the peak of the music industry’s sales, at a whopping $21.5 billion in 1999—a figure not since repeated.

2000s

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

Eminem helped to launch hip hop music into the mainstream. Being one of the most controversial best-selling artists of all time, he pushed genre boundaries through his technical prowess, wordsmithing, and relatability to wider audiences.

The 21st century also brought music streaming services such as Spotify to the forefront, forever altering how people listen to their favorite artists and bands.

2010s

Only three artists have hit the best-selling artist spot in the current decade: Rihanna, Drake, and Luis Fonsi—the Puerto Rican singer most well known for his hit single “Despacito”.

In 2016, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified that Drake was the first music artist ever to reach #1 through streaming platform sales and downloads, instead of through physical album sales.

According to RIAA, streaming revenues jumped from almost half of all music industry sales in 2017, to over 75% of sales in 2018—with $4.6 billion in total record sales as of Q1 2018.

The Future Of Music

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

Some artists are even going so far as use only an iPhone to record their work—showcasing the modern-era ability to record high-fidelity quality and achieve studio-like results.

With a new decade just around the corner, we may see even more possibilities for technology to revamp how we access our favorite tunes—and how artists distribute them to their fanbase.

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

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Politics

Charted: The Number of Democracies Globally

How many democracies does the world have? This visual shows the change since 1945 and the top nations becoming more (and less) democratic.

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Charted: The Number of Democracies Globally

The end of World War II in 1945 was a turning point for democracies around the world.

Before this critical turning point in geopolitics, democracies made up only a small number of the world’s countries, both legally and in practice. However, over the course of the next six decades, the number of democratic nations would more than quadruple.

Interestingly, studies have found that this trend has recently reversed as of the 2010s, with democracies and non-democracies now in a deadlock.

In this visualization, Staffan Landin uses data from V-DEM’s Electoral Democratic Index (EDI) to highlight the changing face of global politics over the past two decades and the nations that contributed the most to this change.

The Methodology

V-DEM’s EDI attempts to measure democratic development in a comprehensive way, through the contributions of 3,700 experts from countries around the world.

Instead of relying on each nation’s legally recognized system of government, the EDI analyzes the level of electoral democracy in countries on a range of indicators, including:

  • Free and fair elections
  • Rule of law
  • Alternative sources of information and association
  • Freedom of expression

Countries are assigned a score on a scale from 0 to 1, with higher scores indicating a higher level of democracy. Each is also categorized into four types of functional government, from liberal and electoral democracies to electoral and closed autocracies.

Which Countries Have Declined the Most?

The EDI found that numerous countries around the world saw declines in democracy over the past two decades. Here are the 10 countries that saw the steepest decline in EDI score since 2010:

CountryDemocracy Index (2010)Democracy Index (2022)Points Lost
🇭🇺 Hungary0.800.46-34
🇵🇱 Poland0.890.59-30
🇷🇸 Serbia0.610.34-27
🇹🇷 Türkiye0.550.28-27
🇮🇳 India0.710.44-27
🇲🇱 Mali0.510.25-26
🇹🇭 Thailand0.440.20-24
🇦🇫 Afghanistan0.380.16-22
🇧🇷 Brazil0.880.66-22
🇧🇯 Benin0.640.42-22

Central and Eastern Europe was home to three of the countries seeing the largest declines in democracy. Hungary, Poland, and Serbia lead the table, with Hungary and Serbia in particular dropping below scores of 0.5.

Some of the world’s largest countries by population also decreased significantly, including India and Brazil. Across most of the top 10, the “freedom of expression” indicator was hit particularly hard, with notable increases in media censorship to be found in Afghanistan and Brazil.

Countries Becoming More Democratic

Here are the 10 countries that saw the largest increase in EDI score since 2010:

CountryDemocracy Index (2010)Democracy Index (2022)Points Gained
🇦🇲 Armenia0.340.74+40
🇫🇯 Fiji0.140.40+26
🇬🇲 The Gambia0.250.50+25
🇸🇨 Seychelles0.450.67+22
🇲🇬 Madagascar0.280.48+20
🇹🇳 Tunisia0.400.56+16
🇱🇰 Sri Lanka0.420.57+15
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau0.410.56+15
🇲🇩 Moldova0.590.74+15
🇳🇵 Nepal0.460.59+13

Armenia, Fiji, and Seychelles saw significant improvement in the autonomy of their electoral management bodies in the last 10 years. Partially as a result, both Armenia and Seychelles have seen their scores rise above 0.5.

The Gambia also saw great improvement across many election indicators, including the quality of voter registries, vote buying, and election violence. It was one of five African countries to make the top 10 most improved democracies.

With the total number of democracies and non-democracies almost tied over the past four years, it is hard to predict the political atmosphere in the future.

Want to know more about democracy in today’s world? Check out our global breakdown of each country’s democratic score in Mapped: The State of Global Democracy in 2022.
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