It's not just about popularity, but the mechanics of the modern record business.
What other acts could follow Beyonce and her surprise self-titled album release last December? Well, just about anybody. But who could do it and find tremendous success — like Beyonce? (2 million sold in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.) That’s a different story.
So, Billboard looked to its charts to determine the top five acts -- based on their weekly performance on the Billboard 200 albums chart and the Social 50 -- that could, effectively, pull a Beyonce.
We recapped the top artists on the weekly Billboard 200 going back five years, along with the top performing artists on the Social 50 (which measures the most active artists on social media) from the chart’s launch in December of 2010. Justin Bieber is the highest-ranked act on both recaps, followed by Taylor Swift. (They are two of five acts that are among the top 10 artists on both charts, followed by Eminem, Lady Gaga and Adele.)
The assumption is that the higher ranked the artist is on both chart recaps, the more likely they have a super-engaged online fan base that would purchase full albums (instead of individual tracks, or, opt for streaming songs).
1. Justin Bieber
2. Taylor Swift
She’s been the most successful albums artist of the last five years, selling 22.8 million in total. But, would she cut physical retailers from the equation in the short term, like Beyonce? Swift’s last album, 2012's Red, sold 71 percent of its 4 million on physical CDs. (She even sold the CD through Papa John's Pizza outlets, Walgreens and Starbucks.)
Whatever he releases turns to gold… well, platinum. OK, double platinum. All eight of his albums have sold at least 2 million apiece. Like Beyonce, he takes the less-is-more approach when it comes to communicating through social networks. Beyonce has 13 million followers on Twitter, but she barely uses the account (she has only tweeted eight times). Eminem has 18.5 million followers on Twitter, but has Tweeted less than 400 times. The lack of social interaction from Eminem and Beyonce actually works in their favor. Fans who want to engage with them have to do it the old-fashioned way -- by listening to an album, or seeing them on tour.
4. Lady Gaga
Her devoted Little Monsters fan base has helped her sell 9.7 million albums. Her most recent release, ARTPOP, has shifted 725,000. Like Beyonce, Gaga is a highly visual artist. Thus, a visual album (as Beyonce dubbed her self-titled set) with multiple music videos would be an attractive lure for album buyers.
Her 21 album was the top seller of both 2011 and 2012, and has moved 10.97 million in total. It’s safe to say that her upcoming album is one of music’s most anticipated releases. But, like Swift, would Adele (and her parent record labels, XL and Columbia) dare leave physical retailers out in the cold? 72 percent of 21's nearly 11 million were physical CDs, with 4.9 million of those sold through mass merchants like Walmart.
Honorable mentions (acts that ranked among the top 25 in both the Billboard 200 and Social 50 recaps), ranked alphabetically: Miley Cyrus, Michael Jackson, Lil Wayne, Bruno Mars, One Direction, Katy Perry and Rihanna.