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

Mapped: Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface

This detailed map looks at where humans have (and haven’t) modified Earth’s terrestrial environment. See human impact in incredible detail.

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human impact on earths surface

Mapped: Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface

With human population on Earth approaching 8 billion (we’ll likely hit that milestone in 2023), our impact on the planet is becoming harder to ignore with each passing year.

Our cities, infrastructure, agriculture, and pollution are all forms of stress we place on the natural world. This map, by David M. Theobald et al., shows just how much of the planet we’ve now modified. The researchers estimate that 14.6% or 18.5 million km² of land area has been modified – an area greater than Russia.

Defining Human Impact

Human impact on the Earth’s surface can take a number of different forms, and researchers took a nuanced approach to classifying the “modifications” we’ve made. In the end, 10 main stressors were used to create this map:

  1. Built-Up Areas: All of our cities and towns
  2. Agriculture: Areas devoted to crops and pastures
  3. Energy and extractive resources: Primarily locations where oil and gas are extracted
  4. Mines and quarries: Other ground-based natural resource extraction, excluding oil and gas
  5. Power plants: Areas where energy is produced – both renewable and non-renewable
  6. Transportation and service corridors: Primarily roads and railways
  7. Logging: This measures commodity-based forest loss (excludes factors like wildfire and urbanization)
  8. Human intrusion: Typically areas adjacent to population centers and roads that humans access
  9. Natural systems modification: Primarily modifications to water flow, including reservoir creation
  10. Pollution: Phenomenon such as acid rain and fog caused by air pollution

The classification descriptions above are simplified. See the methodology for full descriptions and calculations.

A Closer Look at Human Impact on the Earth’s Surface

To help better understand the level of impact humans can have on the planet, we’ll take a closer look three regions, and see how the situation on the ground relates to these maps.

Land Use Contrasts: Egypt

Almost all of Egypt’s population lives along the Nile and its delta, making it an interesting place to examine land use and human impact.

egypt land use impact zone

The towns and high intensity agricultural land following the river stand out clearly on the human modification map, while the nearby desert shows much less impact.

Intensive Modification: Netherlands

The Netherlands has some of the heavily modified landscapes on Earth, so the way it looks on this map will come as no surprise.

netherlands land use impact zone

The area shown above, Rotterdam’s distinctive port and surround area, renders almost entirely in colors at the top of the human modification scale.

Resource Extraction: West Virginia

It isn’t just cities and towns that show up clearly on this map, it’s also the areas we extract our raw materials from as well. This mountainous region of West Virginia, in the United States, offers a very clear visual example.

west virginia land use impact zone

The mountaintop removal method of mining—which involves blasting mountains in order to retrieve seams of bituminous coal—is common in this region, and mine sites show up clearly in the map.

You can explore the interactive version of this map yourself to view any area on the globe. What surprises you about these patterns of human impact?

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Politics

Interactive Map: Tracking Global Hunger and Food Insecurity

Every day, hunger affects more than 700 million people. This live map from the UN highlights where hunger is hitting hardest around the world.

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The World Hunger Map

Interactive Map: Tracking Global Hunger and Food Insecurity

Hunger is still one the biggest—and most solvable—problems in the world.

Every day, more than 700 million people (8.8% of the world’s population) go to bed on an empty stomach, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

The WFP’s HungerMap LIVE displayed here tracks core indicators of acute hunger like household food consumption, livelihoods, child nutritional status, mortality, and access to clean water in order to rank countries.

The World Hunger Map

After sitting closer to 600 million from 2014 to 2019, the number of people in the world affected by hunger increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, 155 million people (2% of the world’s population) experienced acute hunger, requiring urgent assistance.

The Fight to Feed the World

The problem of global hunger isn’t new, and attempts to solve it have making headlines for decades.

On July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially opened Live Aid, a worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans.

The event was followed by similar concerts at other arenas around the world, globally linked by satellite to more than a billion viewers in 110 nations, raising more than $125 million ($309 million in today’s dollars) in famine relief for Africa.

But 35+ years later, the continent still struggles. According to the UN, from 12 countries with the highest prevalence of insufficient food consumption in the world, nine are in Africa.

Country % Population Affected by HungerPopulation (millions)Region
Afghanistan 🇦🇫93%40.4Asia
Somalia 🇸🇴68%12.3Africa
Burkina Faso 🇧🇫61%19.8Africa
South Sudan 🇸🇸60%11.0Africa
Mali 🇲🇱60%19.1Africa
Sierra Leone 🇸🇱55%8.2Africa
Syria 🇸🇾55%18.0Middle East
Niger 🇳🇪55%22.4Africa
Lesotho 🇱🇸50%2.1Africa
Guinea 🇬🇳48%12.2Africa
Benin 🇧🇯47%11.5Africa
Yemen 🇾🇪44%30.0Middle East

Approximately 30 million people in Africa face the effects of severe food insecurity, including malnutrition, starvation, and poverty.

Wasted Leftovers

Although many of the reasons for the food crisis around the globe involve conflicts or environmental challenges, one of the big contributors is food waste.

According to the United Nations, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons of wasted food per year, worth approximately $1 trillion.

All the food produced but never eaten would be sufficient to feed two billion people. That’s more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe. Consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa each year.

Solving Global Hunger

While many people may not be “hungry” in the sense that they are suffering physical discomfort, they may still be food insecure, lacking regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development.

Estimates of how much money it would take to end world hunger range from $7 billion to $265 billion per year.

But to tackle the problem, investments must be utilized in the right places. Specialists say that governments and organizations need to provide food and humanitarian relief to the most at-risk regions, increase agricultural productivity, and invest in more efficient supply chains.

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