Ask Billboard: Britney Spears's Career Sales

Michelangelo di Battista/RCA

A look at her top-sellers, from '...Baby One More Time' through 'Britney Jean.' Plus, Taylor Swift's latest Hot 100 honors, where's Gwen Stefani's new album & more.

As always, submit questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, Tweet @gthot20

BRITNEY SPEARS'S CAREER SALES

In anticipation of Britney Spears's ninth studio album (and yes, the possessive of "Britney Spears" is "Britney Spears's," as weird as that seems), do you think you could update the Nielsen Music totals for her albums and singles?

Thanks,

Caleb Bender
St. Louis, Missouri


Hi Caleb,

A rare Internet moment: attention to good grammar! That is much appreciated here.

And, yes, you are correct. Per Oxford Dictionary's (another correct usage of " 's" …) website, "With personal names that end in 's': add an apostrophe plus 's' when you would naturally pronounce an extra 's' if you said the word out loud: Dickens's novels provide a wonderful insight into Victorian England." So, because you would say what sounds like "Spears's album," not "Spears' album," the former is correct.

Now that we've started this "Ask Billboard" in the most entertaining way possible (no chewing gum, and there might be a quiz, too), let's get right to answering the question.

Here's an updated look at Spears's (…one more time!) best-selling albums in the U.S. and her top-selling downloads:

Albums: …Baby One More Time (1999), 10.6 million; Oops!...I Did It Again (2000), 9.2 million; Britney (2001), 4.4 million; In the Zone (2003), 3 million; Circus (2008), 1.7 million; Greatest Hits: My Prerogative (2004), 1.5 million; Blackout (2007), 1 million; Femme Fatale (2011), 788,000; Britney Jean (2013), 265,000; The Singles Collection (2009), 250,000.

With 33.1 million albums sold in the U.S., Spears is the 17th-best-selling album artist since Nielsen began tracking sales in 1991. Among women, she's fourth, after Mariah Carey (54.6 million), Celine Dion (52.4 million) and Shania Twain (34.5 million). After Spears, Reba McEntire ranks fifth among women at 30.4 million albums sold.

And, here are Spears's (… I did it again) 10-best-selling downloads (and remembering that her career predates the dawn of the digital era by a few years): "Womanizer," 3.5 million; "Circus," 3.1 million; "Till the World Ends," 2.9 million; "3," 2.3 million; "Toxic," 2.2 million.

"Piece of Me," 1.9 million; "Gimme More," 1.81 million; "I Wanna Go," 1.77 million; "Hold It Against Me," 1.6 million; "If U Seek Amy," 1.3 million.

As for whether we'll get new Britney Spears music anytime soon? "I'm going to try to do my best to do an amazing album," she recently told Billboard. "But, it's not my full priority right now."

Read Billboard's March 21 issue cover story, by Andrew Hampp, for more on Spears's (I'm in the zone …) latest plans, headlined by her Las Vegas residency and its potential renewal through 2017.

TWO IS BETTER THAN ONE

Hello Gary,

Between "Shake It Off," "Blank Space" and "Style," Taylor Swift had multiple songs in the Billboard Hot 100's top 10 for 15 consecutive weeks recently. I was wondering how rare a feat that is. How many artists have placed multiple titles in the top 10 for that long, and who are they?

Thanks,

Theodore Richert
Shelton, Washington


Hi Theodore,

If we needed more angles to gauge Swift's dominance – Keith Caulfield recently reported that 1989 has already outsold both Red and Speak Now – her comfort in the Hot 100's top 10, as you note, presents another good one.

Thanks to her recent doubling up with "Shake" and "Space," and then "Space" and "Style," plus four prior weeks with earlier hits, Swift is among an elite group of acts that have charted multiple songs (two or more) in the Hot 100's top 10 simultaneously for at least 19 weeks. Here are the acts to do so the most:

41, Usher
38, 50 Cent
27, Akon
25, the Beatles
25, T-Pain
23, Rihanna
22, Ludacris
20, Mariah Carey
19, Taylor Swift
18, Ja Rule
18, Kanye West

Usher leads the list, largely thanks to his monster 2004, when he charted multiple songs in the top 10 for 21 weeks, or nearly half of that year.

Forty years earlier, in 1964, the Beatles had spent 17 weeks in the top 10 with two or more songs. For two of those weeks (April 4 and 11, 1964), they logged a record total in the top 10: a fab five in each frame.

WHAT SHE WAITING FOR?

@gthot20 Do you know what happened to the new Gwen Stefani album? Will there be a new single soon? Seems like they canceled it ...

@Flochjan


@Flochjan, I went straight to Interscope Records to find out. The latest official word?

"Nothing new. She is in the studio."

So, for now it looks like "Baby Don't Lie" will have to hold fans over. The single reached No. 21 on the Pop Songs radio airplay chart in December, marking her first entry on the list since 2007. "Spark the Fire," meanwhile, inched to a No. 29 peak on Dance Club Songs earlier this month.

Interscope's response echoes what Stefani revealed in an interview with Billboard in January. "I had wanted to put a whole new record out, and I kind of could have, but you know when you know it doesn't feel done."

Stefani is also focusing on her first solo shows after a six-year break. "I decided to slow down a little bit, and now I've got this [live] show I've been working on, which is forcing me to go back and listen to my old songs that I've never listened to in so long.

"But it's been super-inspiring, because now it's like I'm in competition with myself. Like, 'How did I do that? I wish I could do that again.' "

EVEN MORE SUBSEQUENT SINGLES, HIGHER-PEAKING HITS

Hi Gary,

This subsequent singes, higher peaks topic in "Ask Billboard" has me utterly obsessed. I keep thinking of new examples. (Hopefully my mind can move onto other chart trivia soon.)

I've waited weeks to see someone mention one particular album and I can "control" myself no longer! 1986's Control by Janet Jackson produced the No. 4 Hot 100 hit "What Have You Done for Me Lately" and the No. 3-peaking "Nasty" before it gave us the No. 1 "When I Think of You." Then, after the title cut hit No. 5, she again charted higher, No. 2, with next single "Let's Wait Awhile." (Final Control single "The Pleasure Principle," which is my favourite track off the record, reached No. 14.)

Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 in 1989 also deserves a mention: its singles peaked at, in order, Nos. 1, 2, 1, 4, 2, 1, 1. It's like the album got its second wind midway through its release period, wrapping with two No. 1s for, incredibly, its sixth and seventh singles.

Vanessa Williams also gave us a great example with 1991's The Comfort Zone. I was so disappointed after "Running Back to You" stalled at No. 18 and the title track only made No. 62. But then, "Save the Best for Last" soared all the way to No. 1 for five weeks.

And, Paula Abdul's 1988 debut Forever Your Girl strikes me as a really interesting case regarding this phenomenon, because once its singles finally broke through, they peaked big. "Knocked Out" stopped at the oh-so-frustrating No. 41 and "(It's Just) The Way That You Love Me" sputtered at No. 88. Then, of course, "Straight Up," "Forever Your Girl" and "Cold Hearted" all reached No. 1. A re-release of "(It's Just) The Way That You Love Me" rose to No. 3, while "Opposites Attract" took her back to the top.

A rocky start for the album, but a great finish.

Cheers,

DC Sheehan
Hamilton, New Zealand


Thanks DC. Like the chart feat itself, reader emails keep getting more interesting the more we delve into coverage of albums that have yielded higher-peaking hits deep into their release cycles.

All great examples, with Abdul's perhaps the best of an album that seemed finished, only to eventually blast to incredible success. Forever Your Girl also remains the record-holder for completing the longest trip to No. 1 on the Billboard 200: 64 weeks, mirroring the build of its singles. (Fast-forward another 13 years and Abdul came back to hit more pop-culture highs, joining the judges panel on American Idol.)

Meanwhile, Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" is the song that started this thread, having reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 (for eight weeks) after "Sing" peaked at No. 13 and "Don't" climbed to No. 9. By stopping at No. 2 with "Loud," Sheeran has left room for improvement. Sources say that "Photograph" will be the next single from X. If it hits No. 1 on the Hot 100, the topic will be top-of-mind again. (Oh, and Sheeran would score his first Hot 100 leader. That would be pretty big, too.)