This was the year everyone went gaga for Lady Gaga.
The shape-shifting pop star takes home Billboard’s top artist of the year honors, just a year after she earned top new artist applause. The last time an act made a move from “new” to “top” faster was in 2006, when Chris Brown snared both titles concurrently. Before that, the last woman to graduate nearly as fast was Whitney Houston, who was our top new artist of 1985 and then became the top artist the following year.
Billboard’s year-end music recaps are based on chart performance during the chart year that began with last year’s Dec. 5 issue and ended with the Nov. 27, 2010, issue. The year-end Top Artists list ranks the best-performing acts of the year derived from activity on two charts: the Billboard 200 albums tally and the Billboard Hot 100 singles list.
Since we created the top overall artist category with our year-end recaps in 1981, only seven women have taken home the trophy, including Gaga. Taylor Swift nabbed it in 2009, preceded by LeAnn Rimes (1997), Alanis Morissette (1996), Mariah Carey (1991), Whitney Houston (1986) and Madonna (1985).
Gaga takes the artist of the year honor thanks in part to the chart performance of her first two albums, “The Fame” and “The Fame Monster” (both on Streamline/KonLive/Cherrytree/Interscope), which rank at Nos. 4 and 13, respectively, on the year-end Top Billboard 200 Albums tally. Four singles from those albums appear on the Hot 100 Songs roundup, led by “Bad Romance” at No. 8.
Swift is 2010’s No. 2 artist of the year — not too shabby for the Big Machine singer who was our top artist last year. With her one-two punch in 2009 and 2010, it marks the first time an act has been one of the top two artists in successive years since Destiny’s Child was the top artist in 2000 and 2001. Narrowing the accolade among only soloists, Garth Brooks was the last to do so, when he was the No. 1 act in 1992 and 1993. The last woman? Mariah Carey, who was No. 1 in 1991 and No. 2 in 1992.
Over on our year-end Billboard 200 albums tally, four of the top 10 slots are occupied by just two artists: Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber. Swift’s “Fearless” (2009) is at No. 7 while the just-released “Speak Now” is at No. 9. The Bieb’s “My World 2.0” is No. 5 while his 2009 “My World” (EP) is at No. 8. For each, it marks the first time on act has held down two of the top 10 year-end Billboard 200 albums since 1992. That was when Brooks finished the year with “Ropin’ the Wind” at No. 1 and “No Fences” at No. 6.
“Speak Now” charted for only three weeks during the 2010 chart year, making its No. 9 placing a stunning achievement. Ranking on the year-end tally is determined by a title’s weekly charting sales. So, “Speak Now” made up for its short chart life in the chart year with massive sales: It moved 1.6 million units in those three weeks, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Elsewhere, neither Gaga nor Swift charted on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums tally, marking the first time neither of the top two artists of the year have done so since 1997, when Rimes and Spice Girls came in at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on that chart.
So, last year Gaga was our new artist and then became the top artist this year. Could Ke$ha, who snags the throne on 2010’s Top New Artists list, win the big prize in 2011? This year the Kemosabe/RCA singer celebrates not just her new artist win but also her crowning of the Hot 100 Songs roundup, where her debut charting single “TiK ToK” is tops. The track spent nine weeks at No. 1 on the weekly Hot 100 list.
The last time an act’s first charting single became the top song of the year was only two years ago, when Flo Rida reigned with “Low.” However, since Billboard began producing year-end recaps in 1946, no woman — until Ke$ha — had managed the feat.
Two steps behind Ke$ha on the new artist tally is Susan Boyle, who earns her ranking mostly on the strength of her two hit albums, “I Dreamed a Dream” and “The Gift.” The former spent six weeks atop the Billboard 200 and finishes 2010 as the No. 1 Top Billboard 200 album.
At No. 2 on the year-end Billboard 200 albums list is Eminem’s “Recovery.” All of the rapper’s albums — save for his debut, “The Slim Shady LP” — have finished among the year-end top 10 Billboard 200 albums. He’s ranked in the top two twice before: in 2005 with “Encore” (No. 2) and in 2002 with “The Eminem Show” (No. 1).
Eminem also ends 2010 as the No. 3 artist of the year, and with Gaga and Swift at Nos. 1 and 2, he’s our top male artist.
Country trio Lady Antebellum is the highest-ranking group on the top artist recap, coming in at No. 4. It’s the first time a country act is the biggest group of the year.
Since Billboard began compiling year-end combined pop artist categories in 1977 (for males, females and duo/groups, respectively) no country act had ever finished the year as the top overall duo/group.
Lady A also takes home the No. 2 honor on the Hot 100 Songs recap with its Capitol Nashville single “Need You Now,” which spent two weeks at No. 2 on the weekly tally, but lingered for 42 weeks within the top 40 during the eligibility period. A country single last reached such heights on the year-end Hot 100 tally in 2000, when Faith Hill’s “Breathe” was the top Hot 100 song.