Chart Beat

Why Taylor Swift Passing Whitney Houston's Billboard 200 Record Is Even More Impressive Than It Seems

Taylor Swift
Beth Garrabrant

Taylor Swift

Houston had amassed 25 weeks at No. 1 before Swift was born in 1989.

On this week’s Billboard 200 (dated Oct. 3), Taylor Swift surpasses Whitney Houston as the female artist with the most career weeks at No. 1. Swift has logged 47 weeks at No. 1, one more than Houston’s total. That’s a big deal, for many reasons, not least that Swift accomplished the feat in an era when long-running No. 1 albums are much rarer than they were in previous decades.

Houston’s 1985 debut album Whitney Houston logged 14 weeks at No. 1 in 1986. That was very good, even then, but it wasn’t a record for the decade. Seven albums had even longer runs at No. 1 in the 1980s, including Michael Jackson’s Thriller (37 weeks) and Prince & the Revolution’s Purple Rain (24 weeks).

Fast-forward to Swift’s 2008 album Fearless, which had 11 weeks at No. 1 in 2008-09. That was the record for the '00s -- even though it’s a few weeks shy of Houston’s reign that was only good enough for eighth place for the '80s.

Houston had three albums that logged 10 or more weeks at No. 1: The Bodyguard soundtrack (20 weeks in 1992-93), Whitney Houston (14 weeks in 1986) and Whitney (11 weeks in 1987). Swift has had just two: Fearless (11 weeks in 2008-09) and 1989 (11 weeks in 2014-15).

This is reflective of industry trends. Fourteen albums logged 10 or more weeks at No. 1 in the 1980s. The number declined to 11 in the ’90s, plummeted to one in the ’00s and rebounded to five in the ’10s. No album has yet logged 10 weeks at No. 1 in the ’20s.

Let’s look at this another way: Of the 15 artists with the most total weeks at No. 1 in the history of the Billboard 200 (which dates to March 1956), Swift is one of just four who never had an album log 15 weeks or more on top. The others are Elton John (39 total weeks; longest run at No. 1: 10 weeks), The Rolling Stones (38 total weeks; longest run: nine weeks) and Eminem (34 total weeks; longest run: eight weeks).

Elton, The Stones and Eminem made the all-time list the same way Swift did: with a series of relatively long-running No. 1 albums rather than largely on the strength of one mega-long-running No. 1.

The fact that Swift has surpassed Houston is remarkable in this sense: Houston had amassed 25 weeks at No. 1 before Swift was born in 1989. Houston landed her last No. 1 album, I Look to You, in September 2009, less than 10 months after Swift notched her first, Fearless.

One reason that Swift surpassing Houston to take the all-time female title has garnered so much attention is that we will likely have a very long wait before anyone surpasses Elvis Presley and The Beatles to take the male and group titles. Presley logged 67 weeks at No. 1. Garth Brooks is runner-up among male solo artists, but he’s back at 52 weeks. Drake is red-hot, but he’s way back at 27 weeks. He has to spend 40 more weeks on top just to tie The King.

The Beatles’ title as the top group of all time is even more secure. The Fab Four logged 132 weeks at No. 1. The runner-up among groups is The Kingston Trio, way back at 46 weeks. Among groups that have a reasonable chance of ever returning to No. 1, the runners-up are Fleetwood Mac and The Rolling Stones, each with 38 weeks at No. 1.

Houston narrowly missed out on a few more weeks at No. 1. Her 2000 compilation The Greatest Hits logged three weeks at No. 2 in March 2012, shortly after her shocking death. It was blocked from the top spot by the decade’s longest-running No. 1 album, Adele’s 21. Houston also peaked at No. 3 with two albums: I’m Your Baby Tonight (one week in December 1990) and The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack (two weeks in December 1996/January 1997).

By contrast, Swift has yet to peak at No. 2 or No. 3. Her debut album peaked at No. 5 for two weeks in January 2008. All of her studio albums since then have reached No. 1.

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