Chart Beat

Adele's '25' Rules as Nielsen Music's Top Album of 2015 in U.S.


Adele attends the television show 2015! Menschen, Bilder, Emotionen - RTL Jahresrueckblick on Dec. 6, 2015 in Cologne, Germany. 

Total album units and streams rise, sales continue to fall… while vinyl album sales are red-hot.

Adele’s 25 triumphs as 2015’s most popular album in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music, as the data company reports that the title earned 8.01 million equivalent album units during the year -- with a whopping 7.44 million of that in traditional album sales.

The 8.01 million equivalent album units figure is a multi-metric consumption total, which includes traditional album sales, track equivalent albums (TEA) and streaming equivalent albums (SEA). The multi-metric formula is also used to compile the weekly Billboard 200 albums chart, which ranks the most popular albums of the week in the U.S.

Nielsen Music’s 2015 tracking year ran from Dec. 29, 2014 through Dec. 31, 2015.

RankArtist, TitleTotal Units
1Adele, 258,008,000
2Taylor Swift, 19893,105,000
3Justin Bieber, Purpose2,225,000
4Ed Sheeran, X2,206,000
5The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness2,045,000
6Drake, If You're Reading This It's Too Late1,919,000
7Meghan Trainor, Title1,795,000
8Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour1,741,000
9Sam Hunt, Montevallo1,378,000
10Fetty Wap, Fetty Wap1,295,000
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 29, 2014 through Dec. 31, 2015.


Taylor Swift’s 1989 is the year’s second-biggest album (3.1 million units; 1.99 million in pure album sales), followed by Justin Bieber’s Purpose (2.22 million units; 1.27 million album sales) and Ed Sheeran’s X (2.21 million units; 1.16 million album sales).

The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness closes 2015 as the No. 5 most popular album (2.04 million units), followed by Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (1.92 million units), Meghan Trainor’s Title (1.79 million units), Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour (1.74 million units), Sam Hunt’s Montevallo (1.38 million units) and Fetty Wap’s self-titled album (1.29 million units).

A year ago, the most popular album of 2014 -- in terms of overall equivalent album units -- was the Frozen soundtrack with 4.47 million units. Swift’s 1989 was the No. 2 set, with 4.40 million units.

U.S. Recording Industry 2015: Streams Double, Adele Dominates

In total for 2015, Nielsen reports that 549.35 million equivalent album units were consumed -- up 15.2 percent compared to 2014’s haul (476.93 million). The increase is owed to a 93 percent lift in on-demand streams (SEA). Pure album sales were down 6 percent -- more on that in a moment -- while track equivalent albums (TEA) fell by 13 percent.

SALES STORY: Adele’s 25 finishes 2015 as the top selling album (7.44 million), which shouldn’t come as a surprise, as its weekly sales have been record-breaking. 25 was released Nov. 20 on XL Recordings/Columbia Records.

Adele is the first artist to earn the top selling album of a calendar year three times since Nielsen Music’s first full year of tracking in 1992. She also led the year-end tallies in 2011 and 2012, with her previous album, 21. In those years, 21 sold 4.41 million and 5.82 million, respectively.

25 is also the second-biggest selling album by a woman of a calendar year in Nielsen Music history. Among titles by women, only Britney Spears Oops!… I Did It Again sold more in a year, when it shifted 7.89 million in 2000.

25 sold a whopping 7.44 million copies in just six weeks on sale, as the title was released on Nov. 20.

Taylor Swift’s 1989, which was 2014’s top selling album (3.66 million sold that year), continued to perform strongly in 2015: it’s the No. 2 best-selling set of the year, with 1.99 million sold.

25 and 1989 are two of the seven million-selling albums of 2015 -- four more than were achieved in 2014.

RankArtist, TitleTotal Sales
1Adele, 257,441,000
2Taylor Swift, 19891,993,000
3Justin Bieber, Purpose1,269,000
4Ed Sheeran, X1,162,000
5Drake, If You're Reading This It's Too Late1,142,000
6Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour1,018,000
7Meghan Trainor, Title1,007,000
8The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness862,000
9Soundtrack, Fifty Shades of Grey861,000
10Luke Bryan, Kill the Lights851,000
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 29, 2014 through Dec. 31, 2015.


Following 25 and 1989 on 2015’s year-end best selling albums list is Justin Bieber’s Purpose (1.27 million), Ed Sheeran’s X (1.16 million), Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (1.14 million), Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour (1.02 million) and Meghan Trainor’s Title (1.01 million).

Rounding out the year’s top 10 best sellers are: The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness (862,000), the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack (861,000) and Luke Bryan’s Kill the Lights (851,000).

Overall album sales -- physical and digital combined -- declined by 6 percent in 2015 to 241.39 million (down from 257.02 million in 2014). Notably, 25’s impressive sales sum helped ease the continuing downward slide in sales volume. Without 25’s 7.44 million sales, album sales would have dropped by 9 percent instead of 6 percent. 25’s sales loomed so large, it represented 3.1 percent of total album sales in 2015.

Comparably, total album sales eroded 11 percent in 2014, 8 percent in 2013, and 4 percent in 2012.

The Year in Pop 2015: Taylor Swift, '1989' and 'Uptown Funk!' Rule as Top Artist, Album and Song

‘25’ RULES DIGITAL ALBUM SALES, TOO: Digital album sales also fell in 2015, for the third time, by 3 percent (103.33 million versus 106.47 million in 2014). Digital album sales also declined in 2014 and 2013.

The top selling digital album of 2015 is Adele’s 25 with 2.31 million -- the most downloads sold of any digital album in a calendar year, and the first time an album has sold more than 2 million downloads in a calendar year. The previous largest selling digital album in a calendar year was Adele’s 21, when it moved 1.8 million in 2011.

21 and 25 are the Nos. 1 and 3 top selling digital albums of all time, with 3.21 million and 2.31 million downloads sold, respectively. Taylor Swift’s 1989 is in second place, with 2.35 million.

VINYL GROOVES: Vinyl album sales continued to flourish, as they were up by 30 percent to 11.92 million sold in 2015 (up from 9.19 million in 2014) for the 10th straight year of growth.

Vinyl album sales represented 5 percent of all albums sold in the U.S. in 2015.

The top selling vinyl LP of 2015 is Adele’s 25, with 116,000 copies sold. Since Nielsen began tracking sales in 1991 (well after the vinyl format collapsed in the 1980s), 25 is the largest selling vinyl album in a calendar year.

‘FUNK’ LEADS DIGITAL SONG SALES: In terms of digital song download sales, the configuration fell by 12 percent in 2015 to 964.76 million sold (down from 1.1 billion in 2014). Nielsen began tracking song download sales in the summer of 2003, shortly after Apple’s iTunes Music Store debuted in April of that year.

The top selling digital song of 2015 is Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk!” featuring Bruno Mars, with 5.53 million sold. To compare, 2014’s best seller was Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” with 6.45 million.

RankArtist, TitleTotal Sales
1Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, "Uptown Funk!"5,529,000
2Ed Sheeran, "Thinking Out Loud"3,976,000
3Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth, "See You Again"3,801,000
4Adele, "Hello"3,712,000
5Maroon 5, "Sugar"3,343,000
6Walk the Moon, "Shut Up and Dance"2,986,000
7Fetty Wap, "Trap Queen"2,730,000
8OMI, "Cheerleader"2,698,000
9The Weekend, "The Hills"2,586,000
10Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar, "Bad Blood"2,580,000
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 29, 2014 through Dec. 31, 2015.


As for the rest of 2015’s top 10 selling download songs: Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” is runner-up (3.98 million), followed by Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again,” featuring Charlie Puth (3.8 million) and Adele’s “Hello” (3.71 million).

Maroon 5’s “Sugar” is the No. 5 seller (3.34 million), Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” is No. 6 (2.99 million) and Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” is No. 7 (2.73 million). OMI’s “Cheerleader” is No. 8 (2.7 million), The Weeknd’s “The Hills” is No. 9 (2.59 million) and Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood,” featuring Kendrick Lamar, rounds out the year’s top 10 best sellers at No. 10 (2.58 million).

In total, 61 songs sold at least a million downloads in 2015 (down from 82 in 2014 and 106 in 2013). Seventeen moved at least two million in 2015 (down from 25 in 2014 and 38 in 2013).