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Chart Watch Extra: Down To The Wire

Posted Wed Dec 16, 2009 7:47pm PST by Paul Grein in Chart Watch

This will be the first year since 2005 that a female artist has had the year's best-selling album. There's just one small matter still to be determined: Which female artist will come out on top? Taylor Swift's Fearless is currently in the lead, but Susan Boyle's I Dreamed A Dream has exploded in the last three weeks. It's already #4 for the year. With three weeks to go before Nielsen/SoundScan closes the books on 2009, there's a reasonably good chance that it will overtake Fearless.

If it does, it will make history. The album was released on Nov. 24, later in the year than any album that has wound up as the year's best-seller in the 18 years that Nielsen/SoundScan has been tracking sales for Billboard. The current record is held by Josh Groban's Noel, which was released on Oct. 9, 2007. Both albums appeal to adult contemporary fans, who remain loyal album buyers.

No matter which woman comes out on top, 2009 is almost certain to be the first year in which female solo artists had both of the year's top two best-sellers since 1996, when Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill and Celine Dion's Falling Into You led the way.

Black Eyed Peas have two of the year's top three songs with the most paid downloads. "Boom Boom Pow" is #1, with sales of 4,514,000. "I Gotta Feeling" is #3, with sales of 3,986,000. No other act has dominated the year-end digital chart to this degree. Timbaland had two of the top five digital tracks of 2007. "Apologize" (featuring OneRepublic) was #4 for the year, "The Way I Are" was #5.

There are still three weeks left in the chart year, so the specific sales tallies in this report will change. Some rankings may even change. But, with 50 weeks already in (this is a rare 53-week chart year), we can get a good sense of what the key trends of 2009 were.

This is the fifth straight year that the year's #1 song sold more digital copies than the #1 hit of the year before. In fact, each of this year's top four digital songs outsold the #1 song of 2008, Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" (which sold 3,420,000 digital copies in that calendar year).

Thanks to Boyle and Swift, this is likely to become the first year since 2004 in which the year's top-selling album has outsold the top-selling album of the previous year. Both I Dreamed A Dream and Fearless are likely to top the sales of last year's leader, Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III, which sold 2,874,000 copies in 2008.

The Peas aren't the only act with two of the year's top 10 digital songs. Lady Gaga scored with "Poker Face" at #2 and "Just Dance" (featuring Colby O'Donis) at #5. Miley Cyrus made it with "Party In The U.S.A." at #7 and "The Climb" at #8.

The Peas, Lady Gaga and Cyrus also rank in the top 10 on the year-end album chart. A fourth act, Kings Of Leon, is also listed in the top 10 on both the year-end album and song charts.

I Dreamed A Dream is vying to become the first debut album to wind up as the year's best seller since Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory in 2001. It would be the first album by a British artist to come out on top since Spice Girls' Spice in 1997.

Fearless is vying to become the first country album to emerge as the year's best-seller since Billy Ray Cyrus' Some Gave All in 1992.

Even if Boyle surpasses Swift, Fearless will make history. The album, which was the third best-seller of 2008, will become only the third album in Nielsen/SoundScan history to rank among the year's top three sellers twice. It will follow Whitney Houston's The Bodyguard soundtrack (#3 for 1992, #1 for 1993) and Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill (#3 for 1995, #1 for 1996).

Billboard has Fearless at #1 on its year-end rankings, which are featured in its current issue. 2009 may become the fifth consecutive year in which Billboard and Nielsen/SoundScan have diverged on the identity of the year's top album (details at the end of the column). How can this be? The periods the two entities measure are different, by about a month. This year, Billboard's eligibility period ran from Dec. 6, 2008 through Nov. 28, 2009. Nielsen/SoundScan follows the calendar year.

Even in death, Michael Jackson is still setting records. He has sold 7,676,000 albums so far this year, all but 298,000 of them since his death on June 25. Jackson is on track to become the first artist in Nielsen/SoundScan history to have four albums in the year-end top 20. Number Ones is currently #2, followed by Thriller at #13, The Essential Michael Jackson at #16 and Michael Jackson's This Is It at #19. Garth Brooks had three albums in the year-end top 20 for 1992. (In Brooks' case, all three were in the top 10).

When all the results are in, Number Ones will probably finish #3 for the year. That would be the highest year-end ranking for a greatest hits album in Nielsen/SoundScan history. Garth Brooks' The Hits was the #5 album of 1995. It would also be the highest year-end ranking for an album by an artist who had died. 2Pac's All Eyez On Me was the #6 album of 1996. The Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death was the #6 seller of 1997.

Number Ones, which was released in 2003, will also become the first catalog album to make the year-end top 10 in Nielsen/SoundScan history.

Miley Cyrus' Hannah Montana: The Movie soundtrack is poised to be the year's #5 seller. That would be the highest-year end ranking by a theatrical movie soundtrack since the Eminem-paced 8 Mile was #5 for 2002.

Want the raw numbers? Here you go. Bear in mind that there are still three weeks to go in the year, and that the 2008 tallies reflect a full calendar year.

Two songs have topped the 4 million mark in paid downloads during 2009. This is the first time in digital history that a song has sold 4 million copies in a calendar year. Five songs have topped 3 million, up from two last year. Twenty-five have topped 2 million, up from 19 last year. Seventy-eight have topped 1 million, up from 71 last year.

But albums continue to slide. Two albums have topped the 2 million mark during 2009, down from four in 2008. Twenty albums have topped 1 million, down from 25 last year. Fifty have sold 500,000, down from 80 last year.

I have two lists for you: the top 10 songs with the most paid downloads so far this year, followed by the top 10 albums (physical and digital combined).

First, here are the top 10 songs with the most paid downloads since January 1. (If the song also had paid downloads in 2008, I make note of that, but it's not reflected in the tally.)

1. Black Eyed Peas, "Boom Boom Pow," 4,514,000. In addition to being the year's best-selling song, this is the best-seller by a group and the best-selling dance hit. This is the first time that the Peas have had the year's top song, though they came close twice before. "Let's Get It Started" was the #3 digital track of 2004. "My Humps" was the #3 digital track of 2005.

2. Lady Gaga, "Poker Face," 4,178,000. This dance smash is the year's biggest hit by a female artist. The song sold an additional 170,000 downloads in 2008.

3. Black Eyed Peas, "I Gotta Feeling," 3,986,000. The Peas followed the dance smash "Boom Boom Pow" with this more pop-oriented hit, which was nearly as successful.

4. Flo Rida, "Right Round," 3,981,000. This rap hit, which samples Dead Or Alive's 1985 hit "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)," is the year's biggest hit by a male artist. This is the second year in a row that Flo Rida has had a song in the year-end top five. "Low" (featuring T-Pain) was #3 for 2008.

5. Lady Gaga featuring Colby O'Donis, "Just Dance," 3,046,000. This dance smash is the year's biggest debut hit. It's also the biggest billed collaboration. The song sold an additional 1,743,000 downloads in 2008, when it was that year's #28 song.

6. The All-American Rejects, "Gives You Hell," 2,809,000. This robust tune is the year's biggest pop/rock hit. The song sold an additional 532,000 downloads in 2008, when it ranked #149 for the year.

7. Miley Cyrus, "Party In The U.S.A.," 2,636,000. Cyrus' late summer smash is her biggest hit to date. It's taken from The Time Of Our Lives, which was the year's top-selling EP.

8. Miley Cyrus, "The Climb," 2,498,000. This country-tinged pop smash is the biggest hit of 2009 drawn from a motion picture. Cyrus is the first female solo artist in digital history to have two songs in the year-end top 10.

9. Kings Of Leon, "Use Somebody," 2,489,000. This was the year's biggest pure rock hit (on the grounds that "Gives You Hell" leans pop). The song sold an additional 104,000 downloads in 2008.

10. T.I. featuring Justin Timberlake, "Dead And Gone," 2,453,000. This collaboration, the third smash from Paper Trail, sold an additional 173,000 downloads in 2008. "Down" by Jay Sean featuring Lil Wayne will bump "Dead And Gone" from the top 10 when the list becomes final. "Down" is just 29,000 copies behind and is gaining fast.

Now, here are the top 10 albums since January 1. (If the album also had sales in 2008, I make note of that in my text, but it's not reflected in the tally.)

1. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 2,694,000. In addition to being the year's best-selling album (at least so far), this is the best-seller by a female artist and the best-selling country album. This is the third straight year that Swift has had an album in the year-end top 10. Fearless was the #3 album of 2008, with sales of 2,112,000 last year.

2. Michael Jackson, Number Ones, 2,227,000. This is the best-selling album by a male artist and the best-seller in the pop/R&B genre. The 2003 release had sold 1,708,000 copies before this year. It was the #136 album of 2008, with sales of 334,000 last year.

3. Lady Gaga, The Fame, 1,846,000. This is the year's best-selling dance/pop album. The Fame sold an additional 150,000 copies in 2008.

4. Susan Boyle, I Dreamed A Dream, 1,803,000. With just three weeks of sales, this is already the best-selling album released in 2009. It's also the year's best-selling debut album and the year's best-selling adult contemporary album.

5. Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana, Hannah Montana: The Movie, 1,740,000. This is the year's best-selling soundtrack. This is the third time in the past four years that Cyrus/Montana has had an album in the year-end top 10.

6. Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D., 1,554,000. This is the best-selling album by a group. This is the second time the Peas have had an album in the year-end top 10. Monkey Business was #5 for 2005.

7. Eminem, Relapse, 1,551,000. This is the year's best-selling rap album. This is the fourth time that Eminem has had an album in the year-end top 10 and the fourth time that he has had the year's best-selling rap album.

8. Andrea Bocelli, My Christmas, 1,516,000. This is the third time in the Nielsen/SoundScan era that a Christmas album has wound up in the year-end top 10. Kenny G's Miracles-The Holiday Album was the #8 best-seller of 1994. Josh Groban's Noel was #1 for 2007.

9. Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3, 1,393,000.  This the first time in his long career that Jay-Z has placed an album in the year-end top 10.

10. Kings Of Leon, Only By The Night, 1,297,000. This is the year's best-selling rock album. This was the #149 album of 2008, with sales of 311,000 copies last year. (See next item.)

Digital album sales were up, but no one album was as massive in the digital realm as Coldplay's Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends was last year. The year's top digital album, Kings Of Leon's Only By The Night, has sold 408,000 digital copies. Viva La Vida sold 617,000 digital copies in 2008.

Jersey Boys is the best-selling original cast album for the second year in a row. The album has sold 217,000 copies so far this year, to rank #163 for the year. The musical tells the story of the 4 Seasons, who exploded in 1962 with the back-to-back #1 singles "Sherry" and "Big Girls Don't Cry."

I pointed out earlier that Billboard and Nielsen/SoundScan crowned a different album as their year-end champ each year from 2005 through 2008. Here are Billboard's choices as the #1 album of the year for those four years: 50 Cent's The Massacre, Carrie Underwood's Some Hearts, Daughtry's Daughtry and Alicia Keys' As I Am. And here are Nielsen/SoundScan's: Mariah Carey's The Emancipation Of Mimi, the High School Musical soundtrack, Josh Groban's Noel and Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III.

Since 1992, the first full year of Nielsen/SoundScan accounting, there have been only three other years in which the two entities declared different year-end champs. Billboard saluted Garth Brooks' Ropin' The Wind in 1992, Ace Of Base's The Sign in 1994 and the Beatles' 1 in 2001. In those three years, Nielsen/SoundScan went with Billy Ray Cyrus' Some Gave All, the soundtrack to The Lion King and Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory, respectively. It's no great mystery, just a function of different eligibility periods.

Incidentally, if you like this sort of thing, Billboard's lavish year-end issue is well worth buying. The issue has more than 250 year-end charts (!), plus several decade-end charts.

To My Readers: I'll update all the tallies and make any other necessary adjustments to this report after the final numbers come in on Wednesday, Jan. 6. You can check back that day and see the final rankings. In the meantime, happy holidays!

378 Comments

1. Virginia -
It is a great album. I listened to it twice after I first got it last night and once this morning already.

2. Yahoo! Music User -
Hello Paul,

You have kept us well caught up with the Michael Jackson, Taylor Swift, and Susan Boyle stats, thanks for that.

Another big story this year was the Beatles' remasters release. At the time there were many stories, including one on billboard.biz that the Beatles "1" was going to be the #1 album of the decade with 11.5 milllion SoundScan sales, and also according to SoundScan, the Fab Four were the 2nd best-selling artists of the decade, behind Eminem.

But before a month had passed, it seemed like most journalists had stopped talking about the remasters and artist rankings.

Will you please give us the stats for the Beatles total 2009 sales, as well as for the decade? I doubt they will surpass Eminem for decade sales, but with your news above that Michael Jackson has sold 7,676,000 in just '09, I wonder if he will overtake the Beatles and Eminem for the decade?

On another Jackson topic, I've read reviews of "This Is It" that claimed "not one note" on the album came from the film. I don't know if this is true, but if so, how can his label and Billboard tack "Soundtrack" onto the title and include it on the Top Soundtrack Charts?

Thanks so much, and the happiest of holidays to you and yours!

3. Yahoo! Music User -
CONGRET'S TO THIS YEAR'S TOPS!!! 2009 HAS PRODUCED A LOT OF GRAET MUSIC, NEW & OLD, FOR YOUNG AND SENIORS.

4. London Lover08 -
eh i hope michael's album tops swift's it should, cause its better content, and even if some songs are old, if its good music, its good no matter how old! and go gaga, she was amazing this year!

5. Yahoo! Music User -
taylor is ah-mazing!!!

6. Debra V -
taylor swift is overated shes not as great as she thinks she is whos she sleeping with there are other female country singers far better than her

7. Zippo -
Man that girl is weird looking

8. Fab -
justin bieber should be here instead of miley :(

9. Cameron -
What happened to AC/DC? Black Ice was a huge selling album. I guess it had to be released in '09.

10. Fab -
taylor swift is AWESOME how could she lose to susan boyle. like really shes so eww i hate opera singers

11. BrittanyH -
Is this from Soundscan or just, Billboard? Billboard just released the Best Selling Albums of 2009, and Beyonce's I Am is number 2, (Micheal wouldn't be on this list because his album would be in the catalog section not matter how many units it sells, it's not allowed to jump back on the Charts according to the rules), although he had an amazing year. Taylor was still number one on that list though!

12. Liz -
dont be dissin taylor swift...she is a very talented singer and she sure as heck is prettier than most of u guys.

13. Audrey -
Taylor Swift is a great singer & she was #1 on the list!!! fave singa

14. Fab -
MICHAEL JACKSON IS AWESOME THANK GOD HE SOLD RECORDS AFTER HE CROAKED:) :D :P

15. B. Scott -
Andrea Bocelli is freakin awesome!Oh you DO realise im actualy an 11 year old useing my moms account,and i like andrea bocelli?oh yeah,i dont think miley should be on here,LINKIN PARK SHOULD!kings of leon still kicks major butt!

16. Amanda -
jonas brothers should be a part of this somehow...i KNOW they've done super well this year! :)

17. Tonya -
There are over 300 million people living in the USA, and according to this list only 17,621,000 albums were sold. That is extremely sad sales numbers for the amount of people we have in this country. Music just ain't what it use to be. And the crazy thing is Michael Jackson owns the music catalogs of almost every artist mentioned in this article!!!!!!!!!!!

18. Fab -
WHERES VANESSA HUGDENS? OH WAIT HER ALBUM WAS TERRIBLE. IN THE BOONDOCKS SHE WENT. HA HA HA!

19. Yahoo! Music User -
Taylor Swift may not be the best singer but atleast she is personable, respectful and thankful for what she as acheived. Plus, it's not her fault that fans are buying her CD. Stars are only stars because we choose them to be. Taylor is awesome!

20. Jo -
i luv taylor swift!!!
she rocks!
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