Ed Sheeran's 'Divide' Is Nielsen Music's Top Album of 2017 in U.S.

Greg Williams
Ed Sheeran

Plus: Overall music consumption up 12.5%, on-demand streams climb 43% & Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” is year’s top-selling album.

Ed Sheeran’s ÷ (pronounced Divide) finishes 2017 as the most popular album of the year in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music. The data tracking company reports the title earned 2.764 million equivalent album units during the year, with 1.1 million of that sum coming from traditional album sales. A year ago, Drake’s Views was named Nielsen’s top album of 2016.

÷’s 2.764 million equivalent album units figure is a multi-metric consumption total, which includes traditional album sales, track equivalent albums (TEA) and on-demand audio 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 2017 tracking year ran from Dec. 30, 2016 through Dec. 28, 2017. Numbers in this story are rounded. Nielsen Music began electronically tracking music sales and data in 1991 (so a reference in this story to the “Nielsen era” means from 1991 to the present).

÷ ruled the weekly Billboard 200 chart for two weeks, and has yet to leave the top 20 of the tally after 43 weeks on the list (through the chart dated Jan. 6). The set launched three top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart, including a pair of No. 1s: Sheeran’s first leader, “Shape of You,” and his second, “Perfect,” with Beyoncé. The album also notched the No. 6-peaking “Castle on the Hill.”

TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2017 IN U.S., BY TOTAL EQUIVALENT ALBUM UNITS  
RankArtist, TitleTotal UnitsAlbum SalesTEA UnitsSEA Units
1Ed Sheeran, ÷ (Divide)2,764,0001,102,000581,0001,081,000
2Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.2,747,000910,000217,0001,620,000
3Taylor Swift, Reputation2,336,0001,903,000153,000280,000
4Drake, More Life2,227,000363,000149,0001,715,000
5Bruno Mars, 24K Magic1,626,000710,000320,000597,000
6Post Malone, Stoney1,564,000128,000174,0001,262,000
7Migos, Culture1,438,000134,000156,0001,149,000
8The Weeknd, Starboy1,408,000275,000189,000945,000
9Soundtrack, Moana1,254,000709,000197,000348,000
10Khalid, American Teen1,220,000147,000124,000950,000
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 30, 2016 through Dec. 28, 2017. 

 

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. closes out 2017 as the No. 2 most popular album of the year, with 2.747 million units (910,000 in pure album sales). Following DAMN. on the year-end 2017 tally are Taylor Swift’s Reputation (2.336 million units), Drake’s More Life (2.227 million) and Bruno Mars24K Magic (1.626 million).

OVERALL MUSIC CONSUMPTION CLIMBS: Total music consumption in 2017 climbed 12.5 percent to 636.65 million units (up from 566.1 million). That figure adds together traditional album sales, track equivalent album units, and on-demand streaming equivalent album units from both video and audio streams. One track equivalent album unit is equal to 10 tracks sold. One streaming equivalent album unit is equal to 1,500 on-demand streams.

In terms of audio-only consumption (removing on-demand video streams from the equation), the gain was 10.2 percent, rising to 491.55 million units (from 446.12 million).

R&B/HIP-HOP DOMINATES: Additionally, the R&B/hip-hop genre represented 24.5 percent of all music consumption in the U.S. -- the largest share of any genre and the first time R&B/hip-hop has led this measurement for a calendar year. (The 24.5 percent share represents a combination of album sales, track equivalent album units and streaming equivalent album units -- including both on-demand audio and video streams.) The rock genre is in second place for the year, with 20.8 percent share.

R&B/hip-hop also led Nielsen’s mid-year report -- the first time R&B/hip-hop had overtaken rock as music’s biggest genre at mid-year.

ALBUM SALES DIP, STREAMS SIZZLE: Album sales in 2017 fell 17.7 percent to 169.15 million copies sold across all configurations (CD, digital albums, vinyl LPs, cassettes, etc.). In 2016, there were 205.54 million albums sold.

While album sales continue to slip, music fans have increasingly turned to streaming services to consume music. In 2017, total on-demand streams (audio and video combined) vaulted 43 percent from 432.2 billion in 2016 to 618 billion. Of the latter sum, on-demand audio streams increased 59 percent to 400.4 billion, and on-demand video streams surged 21 percent to 217.7 billion.

SWIFT RULES WITH YEAR’S TOP SELLING ALBUM: Taylor Swift’s Reputation tops Nielsen Music’s year-end best-selling albums list, with 1.9 million sold. This is the third time Swift has claimed the year’s top-selling album. She did it previously with her last studio effort, 1989 (2014’s best seller, with 3.66 million sold that calendar year), and Fearless (2009’s leader, with 3.22 million sold that year). 1989 and Fearless have sold a total of 6.11 million and 7.13 million copies, respectively, since their release.

Notably, in the last nine years (2009 through 2017), seven of the year-end best-sellers have been an album by either Swift or Adele. The latter did it in 2016, 2015 (both with 25), 2012 and 2011 (with 21).

Reputation sold 1.9 million in just seven weeks, following its release on Nov. 10. The album sold 1.217 million copies in its first week -- the biggest sales week of 2017, and the 10th largest sales week for any album since Nielsen Music began electronically tracking sales in 1991.

Reputation is one of only two albums to clear 1 million copies sold in 2017. Ed Sheeran’s ÷ is the other, and 2017’s No. 2 seller, with 1.1 million sold. That’s the lowest number of million-sellers in a calendar year since Nielsen Music began tracking sales in 1991. In 2016, there were four million-sellers.

For the first time since 1998, there are three soundtracks among Nielsen Music’s year-end top 10 selling albums. Moana leads the pack at No. 5 with 709,000 sold, followed by Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Awesome Mix Vol. 2 (No. 8; 600,000) and Trolls (No. 10; 522,000). Moana is the highest ranking year-end soundtrack on the top sellers list since 2014, when Frozen placed at No. 2.

The last time the year-end top 10 housed three soundtracks was in 1998, when Titanic topped the list (9.34 million), followed by City of Angels (No. 6 with 4.12 million) and Armageddon (No. 10; 3.22 million).

TOP 10 SELLING ALBUMS OF 2017 IN U.S.  
RankArtist, TitleSales 
1Taylor Swift, Reputation1,903,000 
2Ed Sheeran, ÷ (Divide)1,102,000 
3Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.910,000 
4Bruno Mars, 24K Magic710,000 
5Soundtrack, Moana709,000 
6Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Volume 1658,000 
7P!nk, Beautiful Trauma628,000 
8Soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Awesome Mix Vol. 2600,000 
9Metallica, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct585,000 
10Soundtrack, Trolls522,000 
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 30, 2016 through Dec. 28, 2017.

 

Overall album sales – physical and digital sales combined – fell by 17.7 percent in 2017 to 169.15 million copies (down from 205.54 million in 2016). Comparably, album sales decreased 16.7 percent in 2016, 6 percent in 2015, 11 percent in 2014, 8 percent in 2013 and 4 percent in 2012.

Physical album sales (CD, vinyl, cassette, etc.) decreased by 16.5 percent to 102.92 million in 2017. CD album sales accounted for 88.2 million of that sum (down 20 percent). CDs are still the dominant format for album purchases in the U.S. – digital album sales were the second-biggest configuration, with 66.2 million digital albums sold in 2017 (down 19.6 percent).

The top selling digital album of 2017 is Swift’s Reputation, with 868,000 digital copies sold.

In terms of the most popular genres in total album sales for the year, rock music represented the largest share of album purchases: 34.6 percent. R&B/hip-hop titles accounted for 14.6 percent of albums sold.

TOP 10 SELLING DIGITAL ALBUMS OF 2017 IN U.S.  
RankArtist, TitleSales 
1Taylor Swift, Reputation868,000 
2Ed Sheeran, ÷ (Divide)592,000 
3Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.551,000 
4Drake, More Life360,000 
5Soundtrack, Moana339,000 
6Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Volume 1284,000 
7Soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Awesome Mix Vol. 2279,000 
8Bruno Mars, 24K Magic255,000 
9JAY-Z, 4:44247,000 
10Imagine Dragons, Evolve240,000 
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 30, 2016 through Dec. 28, 2017.

 

VINYL STILL HOT: Once again, yearly vinyl album sales have hit another Nielsen-era record high, as the configuration sold 14.32 million (up 9 percent) in 2017. That’s up from the previous one-year high, registered in 2016 with 13.1 million.

2017 marks the 12th straight year of growth in vinyl album sales.

Vinyl LP sales represented 8.5 percent of all album sales in 2017 – up from 6.5 percent for the configuration’s share in 2016. Further, LP sales were 14 percent of all physical album sales in 2017 (a Nielsen-era record share for the format) – up from 11 percent in 2016.

Further, vinyl album sales were driven by an array of titles, not just a handful of hot sellers. In total, 77 different titles each sold more than 20,000 copies on vinyl LP in 2017, as compared to 58 in 2016.

As usual, rock music, by far, drives most vinyl album sales, as the genre accounted for 67 percent of all vinyl album sales in 2017 (versus 69 percent in 2016).

The Beatles finish 2017 with the top two selling vinyl LPs of the year: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (72,000 — powered in large part by the album’s deluxe anniversary reissue in 2017) and Abbey Road (66,000). The soundtrack Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is the third biggest with 62,000. Comparably, in 2016, the top three sellers were Twenty One Pilots’ Blurryface (68,000), David Bowie’s Blackstar (66,000) and Adele’s 25 (58,000).

TOP 10 SELLING VINYL ALBUMS OF 2017 IN U.S.  
RankArtist, TitleSales 
1The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band72,000 
2The Beatles, Abbey Road66,000 
3Soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 162,000 
4Ed Sheeran, ÷ (Divide)62,000 
5Amy Winehouse, Back to Black58,000 
6Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain (Soundtrack)58,000 
7Bob Marley and The Wailers, Legend: The Best Of…49,000 
8Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon54,000 
9Soundtrack, La La Land49,000 
10Michael Jackson, Thriller49,000 
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 30, 2016 through Dec. 28, 2017.

 

‘DESPACITO’ KING OF DIGITAL SONG SALES: Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s inescapable “Despacito” was the top selling digital song of 2017, with 2.69 million downloads sold of its various versions, combined. The most dominant version of the track was a version featuring a guest turn from Justin Bieber, which accounted for 1.9 million downloads of the song’s total 2.69 million sold.

“Despacito” spent 16 weeks atop the weekly Billboard Hot 100 chart, tying the record for the most weeks ever at No. 1 in the history of the tally. (It matched the 16-week rule of “One Sweet Day,” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men.)

“Despacito” was the only song to sell 2 million downloads in 2017 – down from five in 2016 and 17 in 2015. There were just 14 songs that sold 1 million downloads in 2017, compared to 35 in 2016 and 61 in 2015.

Overall digital song sales totaled 554.82 million in 2017 – down 23 percent compared to 2016 (724.04 million). 2017 logged the fifth straight year that digital song sales declined (an unsurprising distinction, considering how many consumers transition to enjoying music through streaming services instead of via purchasing albums and songs).

Nielsen Music started tracking digital song sales in 2003, the same year Apple’s iTunes Store launched. From 2004 through 2012, digital song sales grew on a yearly basis. The high-water mark for the format’s sales was in 2012, when 1.336 billion songs were sold.

TOP 10 SELLING DIGITAL SONGS OF 2017 IN U.S. 
RankArtist, TitleSales
1Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, "Despacito"2,692,000
2Ed Sheeran, "Shape of You"2,541,000
3Sam Hunt, "Body Like a Back Road"1,818,000
4Bruno Mars, "That's What I Like"1,673,000
5Imagine Dragons, "Believer"1,598,000
6The Chainsmokers & Coldplay, "Something Just Like This"1,348,000
7Ed Sheeran, "Perfect"1,340,000
8James Arthur, "Say You Won't Let Go"1,195,000
9Imagine Dragons, "Thunder"1,189,000
10Zayn / Taylor Swift, "I Don't Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)"1,108,000
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 30, 2016 through Dec. 28, 2017.

 

‘SHAPE’ SCORES ON THE RADIO: After being named Billboard’s year-end No. 1 Hot 100 song, it’s perhaps no surprise to see that Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” was also the most-heard song on the radio of 2017, according to Nielsen Music.

“Shape of You” collected 5.847 billion audience impressions in 2017, ahead of the No. 2 most-heard track of the year, Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like,” with 4.480 billion impressions.

“Shape of You” was a multi-format hit on the airwaves, spending 12 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s weekly Radio Songs chart — the longest run atop the list since 2015, when Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk!,” featuring Bruno Mars, also spent 12 weeks at No. 1. (The Radio Songs chart ranks the most heard songs of the week across all formats of radio.)

“Shape of You” also hit No. 1 on these weekly genre airplay charts: Pop Songs, Adult Pop Songs, Adult Contemporary and Dance/Mix Show Airplay.

Sheeran and Mars are joined in the top five on Nielsen Music’s year-end tally by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay’s “Something Just Like This” (3.522 billion impressions) and a pair of tunes by Alessia Cara: her co-billed track with Zedd, “Stay” (3.101 billion), and her solo hit “Scars to Your Beautiful” (3.081 billion).

TOP 10 RADIO SONGS OF 2017 IN U.S. (RANKED BY AUDIENCE IMPRESSIONS)
RankArtist, TitleAudience Impressions
1Ed Sheeran, "Shape of You"5.847 billion
2Bruno Mars, "That's What I Like"4.840 billion
3The Chainsmokers & Coldplay, "Something Just Like This"3.522 billion
4Zedd & Alessia Cara, "Stay"3.101 billion
5Alessia Cara, "Scars to Your Beautiful"3.081 billion
6Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, "Despacito"3.077 billion
7Shawn Mendes, "There's Nothing Holdin' Me Back"2.943 billion
8James Arthur, "Say You Won't Let Me Go"2.820 billion
9Imagine Dragons, "Believer"2.765 billion
10Maroon 5 featuring Kendrick Lamar, "Don't Wanna Know"2.751 billion
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 30, 2016 through Dec. 28, 2017.

 

“Despacito” dominated the streaming world in 2017, and ranks as the most streamed song of the year, with 1.322 billion on-demand streams earned (both audio and video streams combined). In a distant second place is Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” with 999.69 million streams.

The top 10 streamed songs were dominated by hip-hop, as a total of seven titles in the genre populate the year-end top 10. Among the top 10, the only non-rap titles are “Despacito,” “Shape of You” and Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like” (at No. 7).

“Despacito” was also the most-streamed song both in audio-only and video-only streams, with 595.63 million and 727.17 million streams, respectively.

Overall on-demand streams (audio and video combined) climbed 43 percent in 2017 to 618.03 billion. On-demand audio streams grew 59 percent to 400.38 billion, and on-demand video streams rose 21 percent to 217.65 billion.

R&B/hip-hop music was the overwhelming leader in terms of total on-demand streams, as the genre equaled 29.1 percent of all streams. The second-largest streaming genre was rock music, with 15.1 percent.

TOP 10 MOST STREAMED SONGS OF 2017 IN U.S., ON-DEMAND AUDIO & VIDEO COMBINED
RankArtist, TitleStreams
1Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, "Despacito"1,322,799,000
2Ed Sheeran, "Shape of You"999,694,000
3Lil Uzi Vert, "XO Tour Llif3"932,820,000
4Post Malone featuring Quavo, "Congratulations"910,667,000
5Kendrick Lamar, "Humble."885,588,000
6Migos featuring Lil Uzi Vert, "Bad and Boujee"858,123,000
7Bruno Mars, "That's What I Like"835,856,000
8Future, "Mask Off"778,571,000
9Cardi B, "Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)"724,118,000
10Kyle featuring Lil Yachty, "iSpy"693,564,000
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 30, 2016 through Dec. 28, 2017.

 

TOP 10 ON-DEMAND STREAMS OF 2017 IN U.S., AUDIO-ONLY 
RankArtist, TitleStreams
1Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, "Despacito"595,626,000
2Kendrick Lamar, "Humble."580,866,000
3Lil Uzi Vert, "XO Tour Llif3"570,781,000
4Post Malone featuring Quavo, "Congratulations"520,639,000
5Ed Sheeran, "Shape of You"491,092,000
6Future, "Mask Off"486,734,000
7Post Malone featuring 21 Savage, "Rockstar"434,060,000
8Khalid, "Location"418,006,000
9Migos featuring Lil Uzi Vert, "Bad and Boujee"414,262,000
10French Montana featuring Swae Lee, "Unforgettable"401,043,000
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 30, 2016 through Dec. 28, 2017.

 

TOP 10 ON-DEMAND STREAMS OF 2017 IN U.S., VIDEO-ONLY 
RankArtist, TitleStreams
1Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, "Despacito"727,173,000
2Ed Sheeran, "Shape of You"508,602,000
3Migos featuring Lil Uzi Vert, "Bad and Boujee"443,861,000
4Bruno Mars, "That's What I Like"440,709,000
5Cardi B, "Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)"407,386,000
6Post Malone featuring Quavo, "Congratulations"390,029,000
7Ayo & Teo, "Rolex"378,446,000
8Lil Uzi Vert, "XO Tour Llif3"362,039,000
9Kyle featuring Lil Yachty, "iSpy"317,938,000
10Kendrick Lamar, "Humble."304,721,000
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 30, 2016 through Dec. 28, 2017.