We've spent the year tallying album sales figures and reviewing Hot 100 song rankings. Now, at the end of 2009's road, look back at the 20 artists who traveled further and faster up the charts than all the others.
To say Taylor Swift had a remarkable year would be a comic understatement. She sold more albums than any artist not named Michael Jackson. Her first headlining tour, Fearless 2009, sold out every show within minutes. She became the youngest woman to win the Country Music Assn.'s entertainer of the year award, and she set seemingly every chart record that exists. But most important, she proved herself a graceful, timeless celebrity, handling hosting duties on "Saturday Night Live" and a rampaging Kanye West at the MTV Video Music Awards with equal aplomb. We caught up with her on the phone from London to discuss her exhilarating last 12 months.
Have you spent much time reflecting on your growth in the past year?
I do a lot of reflecting. I'll be driving down the streets I used to drive down in Nashville and my song will come on the radio or I'll pass my high school and something will remind me of how my life was before all of these crazy dreams started coming true. We wished for this, my parents and I, every single day without actually believing it would come true.
As Kanye West infamously pointed out at the 2009 VMAs, Beyonce made one of the best videos of all-time. "Out of all my videos, ("Single Ladies") was the least expensive and took the least amount of time, and it ended up being the most iconic," Billboard's 2009 Woman of the Year reflects. "But once we got on the set, it was like, wait a minute. This is something special." Not only did the ubiquitous clip inspire thousands of YouTube imitations, it also helped push her "I Am... Sasha Fierce" album to last over a year on the Billboard 200 chart.
The chart-topping hit-maker and headline-grabbing fashionista from Yonkers, NY became the first artist ever to send her first four singles to No. 1 on the Billboard Pop Songs chart. What's her secret? "A hit record writes itself," said the winner of the 2009 Billboard Rising Star award. "If you have to wait, maybe the song isn't there. Once you tap into the soul, the song begins to write itself. And I usually write the choruses first, because without a good chorus, who really gives a f**k?"
In 2009, Will.i.am, Fergie, apl.de.ap and Taboo became the first group in history to spend six consecutive months atop the Billboard Hot 100, thanks to the succession of two No. 1s songs ("Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling") from the band's fifth release, "The E.N.D." -- a body of work that Will.i.am refuses to think of in traditional terms. "I'm trying to break away from the concept of an album," he told Billboard. "What is an album when you put 12 songs on iTunes and people can pick at it like scabs? That's not an album. There is no album anymore."
What does Miley Cyrus want to be when she grows up? The 17-year-old superstar, who spent 15 weeks at No. 1 on Adult Contemporary with "The Climb," told Billboard last year, "Songwriting is what I really want to do with my life forever. No matter how long what I'm doing here lasts, I want to be a songwriter for the rest of my life." With the soundtrack to her "Hannah Montana" movie climbing to No. 1 on our Billboard 200 albums chart this spring, we think the queen of the teens is off to a pretty good start.
Mr. West is Billboard's Top Male Artist of 2009; an impressive honor, though after his bullying of Taylor Swift at this year's VMAs, we suspect he may be a little irked to see her ranked five spots higher than him on this overall artist list. Still, despite his sometimes misplaced enthusiasm, the hip-hop hit-maker never fails to give the fans (and the foes) his all. "I've always wanted to sound like I was rapping at the top of a mountain," he told Billboard in 2005. "I wanted to change the sound of music."
After a few tumultuous years that found Spears in the tabloids more often than the charts, Britney redeemed herself with a pair of mega-hit singles -- "Womanizer" and "Circus" -- from her 2008 comeback album. A successful world tour brought her back to center stage, but the real proof of her rejuvenation was the one-off single "3," which debuted atop the Hot 100 chart in October. Spears was the first artist to enter the chart at No. 1 in more than three years.
Sadly, T.I. -- who has done big things on the Rap Songs chart this year -- will be celebrating his 2009 successes behind bars in Forrest City , Arkansas , where he remains imprisoned for federal weapons charges through March 2010. But the Atlanta emcee, who scored two of the biggest hits of his career with "Dead and Gone" and "Live Your Life," is taking his punches in stride. "I must be a man and stand up and accept responsibility," he told B.E.T. in May. "I exercised extremely poor judgment, and for that, I must be willing to pay whatever price that comes before me."
Why did the band that sold 7.3 million copies of its 2005 album, "All the Right Reasons," entitle its follow-up "Dark Horse"? "We never feel like we'll ever be done trying to prove ourselves," Chad Kroeger told Billboard last year. "You really have to keep that initial hunger that made some of your first songs your best songs. You have to keep that fire in the belly."
"'Heartbreak is a Motherf*cker' is what I originally wanted to name the album," laughed Pink during an interview with Billboard last year when asked about her 2008 release, which was inspired by her split from motocross star Carey Hart. "But this album is not all about that. There is fun happening, too, and that's why I named it 'Funhouse' in the end." The set proved positive in more ways that one; it produced her first solo Hot 100 No. 1, "So What."