The news of Beyoncé’s triumph on the Billboard 200 albums chart this week (dated Aug. 13) with her seventh official solo LP Renaissance came with a somewhat startling realization: It’s the first album released by a female artist to top the Billboard 200 since Adele’s 30, which reigned on the listing from the chart dated Dec. 4, 2021 to Jan. 8, 2022.
That span of over seven months between No. 1 albums by female artists is the longest in over half a decade, since a 31-week drought following Lady Gaga’s Joanne topping the Billboard 200 on the chart dated Nov. 12, 2016 was finally ended by Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, the sophomore album from Halsey (who goes by she/they pronouns). During both runs, albums with female performers did hit No. 1 — most recently, the Encanto soundtrack (which includes major performances from Stephanie Beatriz and Diane Guerrero, among other female cast members) and five years ago with The Hamilton Mixtape (including Sia, Alicia Keys and other contemporary female recording artists) and Pentatonix’s A Pentatonix Christmas (featuring the group’s female singer Kristin Maldonado) — but none credited to exclusively female or female-fronted groups, or female solo artists.
What might account for such a long run on the Billboard 200 without a female artist at No. 1? Well, a lot of it is basic timing. Of the eight female artists who had previously topped the chart since the beginning of 2020 — Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, Summer Walker and Adele — none have yet released official LPs in 2022. Nor have many of the other female artists behind some of the biggest Billboard Hot 100 hits of the past 12 months: Doja Cat, Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj, SZA or Karol G. Some are rumored to have new projects in the works, some are currently busy on tour, some are just altogether off-cycle — some may currently be tied up in label conflicts — but the great majority of female A-listers from this decade simply have not been heard from yet in 2022 when it comes to full-length albums.
And in their stead… not a ton of breakthrough artists have emerged. That goes for artists of any gender, really: We’ve written extensively at Billboard this year about how the top tier of the Hot 100 has badly lacked for brand-new blood, and it’s probably telling that the biggest breakout hit for an artist this summer has been the 37-year-old “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” — which, sadly, the long-inactive Kate Bush is unlikely to capitalize on with a new album anytime soon. Other actually-newer female artists have scored career-making crossover hits so far this year — GAYLE with “abcdefu,” Latto with “Big Energy,” Dove Cameron with “Boyfriend,” Muni Long with “Hrs and Hrs” — but most have yet to follow their hit songs with full-length albums, and Latto’s 777 was not quite able to translate her single chart success to album chart success, peaking at No. 15 on the Billboard 200. (Female rappers have had a notably hard time on the Billboard 200 recently; not a single one has topped the chart since Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy in 2018.)
Really, if you were to look at the albums released by female artists in 2022 and ask for which it could be considered surprising that it did not reach the No. 1 spot, you might only come up with one plausible answer: Lizzo’s Special, released in July. That was an album by a female artist who had a track record of both major pop hits and massive cross-platform star power, one whose previous album (2019’s Cuz I Love You) was both a critical and commercial success, and one which was already supported by another huge crossover hit in this year’s “About Damn Time” (which ascended to No. 1 on the Hot 100 the week Special debuted on the Billboard 200). And in plenty of weeks earlier in 2022, the 69,000 equivalent album units it moved in its first week would’ve been enough for a No. 1 debut. But its week of release had the bad fortune to come after the unleashing of Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti, the most sustainable blockbuster album of 2022, which was still moving over 100,000 units weekly months after its release — meaning Special had to make do with the chart’s runner-up spot.
And really, the truth is that while this gender disparity is at an extreme in 2022, it’s by no means a problem unique to this year. Billboard‘s Keith Caulfield pointed out in his reporting yesterday that over the last five years of the Billboard 200, just 17 female solo artists (and zero female-led groups) have topped the chart, compared to 88 male artists or male-led groups — meaning that fewer than one in every six artists to top the chart has been a solo female. In fact, the problem would seem much starker if not for the Billboard 200 dominance of one of those 17 female solo artists: Taylor Swift, who has notched six separate No. 1 albums over that timespan — more than any other artist of any gender — and spent a combined 20 weeks atop the listing.
Will Beyoncé’s No. 1 bow be the beginning of a long-overdue renaissance for female artists at the top of the chart? Well, with no obvious blockbusters coming up on the release calendar, that may depend on if some of those previously mentioned stars finally decide to drop some of their long-anticipated new sets — or if an Olivia Rodrigo-type breakout artist comes crashing in from an unexpected corner of the pop world. Otherwise, we might very well end up waiting around for Beyoncé’s second act of her Renaissance project to end up breaking the next of these streaks to come.