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Ask Billboard: Life After Discussing Divas

Have we reached our limit in comparing sales of music's most powerful women? Plus, Q&A on Michael Jackson and the Beatles.

Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. Submit your burning music questions to Gary Trust at Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.


Dear Gary,

I am so sick and tired of reading about the divas in Ask Billboard. For the past three weeks, all we get is Madonna, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Can’t we just go back and ask questions that have nothing to do with the divas?

Lisa Curry
Beachwood, New Jersey

Hi Lisa,

I think at this point the only conclusion we can come to is that the three artists on which we’ve been focusing are truly three of the most successful performers in pop music history. So, it’s probably time we move on to new topics.

After three more questions …

Hello Gary,

I’ve been finding your analysis of divas’ albums to be very interesting. I was just wondering how Janet Jackson figures into the numbers.

She is one of my all-time favorites. I feel her vast accomplishments have been overlooked in recent years, and I’m very curious to see how she stacks up against Madonna, Whitney and Mariah’s album sales.


Bret Carmichael
Chicago, Illinois

Hi Bret,

According the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Janet Jackson ranks at number 11 among solo female artists, with 26 million units certified. (The RIAA’s list of all artists is viewable here).

According to Nielsen SoundScan, which began tracking data in 1991, Jackson since that year has sold 19,874,000 albums.

As we’ve recently analyzed with Carey, Celine Dion, Houston and Madonna, let’s run down Janet Jackson’s top-sellers since 1991, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

7,010,000, “janet.” (1993)
3,229,000, “The Velvet Rope” (1997)
3,107,000, “All for You” (2001)
2,422,000, “Design of a Decade 1986/1996” (1995)
1,377,000, “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” (1989)
1,002,000, “Damita Jo” (2004)
655,000, “20 Y.O.” (2006)
496,000, “Control” (1986)
446,000, “Discipline” (2008)

And, what’s one more comparison involving Carey, Houston and Madonna – and Janet Jackson? Dating to Jackson’s first week on the Billboard Hot 100 dated Dec. 12, 1982 (at age 16), in that span since, five artists have notched 10 or more No. 1s: Carey (18), Madonna (12), Houston (11) and Janet and Michael Jackson (10 each). Just more evidence that all the artists we’ve been spotlighting in this discussion are unquestionably chart royalty.

Hey Gary! How’s everything?

In the last Ask Billboard column, you wrote that “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is Mariah’s biggest-selling digital song, but I had recently accessed the sales for almost all her singles, and there were at least two that sold more: “We Belong Together” and “Touch My Body.” Maybe the numbers you cited did not account for remixes of each of the latter two titles?

Thank you for the work you do on the column. I love reading about Nielsen SoundScan figures. You’ve been providing much information, with precise numbers. I really appreciate that and had to let you know!

Have a nice week!

Vagner Coser
Bento Goncalves, Brasil

Thanks very much Vagner.

You are correct. I used the numbers of Carey’s top individual tracks, as opposed to songs (combining all versions of each title). When adding up all tracks, Carey’s top-selling downloaded songs, according to Nielsen SoundScan, rank as follows:

1,361,000, “Touch My Body”
1,253,000, “We Belong Together”
1,235,000, “All I Want for Christmas Is You”

Thanks for the catch. And, with Labor Day weekend upon us in the U.S., the holiday season is fast approaching. That will give an edge to “All I Want for Christmas Is You” in the coming weeks and perhaps push it to the top in the tight race among Carey’s best-selling digital songs.

Hi Gary,

Love this conversation!

It seems strange to me that Billboard doesn’t better address sales in countries other than U.S. Divas and pop music hold sway in so much of the world. Is it time for Billboard to factor in world sales into the Billboard 200 and/or Hot 100 charts?


Jason Hanson
Hoquiam, Washington

Hi Jason,

Billboard’s “Hits of the World” coverage has long been a part of our chart menu, and two new tallies have launched in recent years: the Billboard Canadian Hot 100 and the Billboard Japan Hot 100, each utilizing percentages of SoundScan data. also showcases the biggest songs and albums across Europe, with specific charts for the United Kingdom, Germany and France. Our sister site,, and the pages of Billboard magazine afford an even deeper look at the most popular titles, including albums, airplay and digital sales, in several other countries.

As for merging worldwide data into the Billboard 200 or Hot 100, or creating charts that would incorporate such a range of data, it’s largely an issue of logistics. Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems tracks U.S. radio airplay with electronic monitors in more than 140 markets, and Nielsen SoundScan measures sales in the U.S. with comparable technology. While similar coverage holds true in Canada, for example, the BDS/SoundScan reach does not extend worldwide. To compile some type of global chart that would include data from the U.S. and around the world, we’d likely have to devise a weighted point system that fairly represents countries’ disparate data measurement sources. Such a chart would basically take us back to the days when the Billboard 200 was compiled from ranked sales reports, as opposed to actual point-of-sale information. The benefit of BDS and SoundScan is that we now know exactly how many listeners heard a song, or how many consumers purchased an album. Any such worldwide chart could, at the moment, only represent an approximation of actual data.

Billboard Director of Charts Silvio Pietroluongo confirms the current barriers to such a chart and adds a point on licensing. “It is really an infrastructure issue. While we print charts from other countries and sources, the methods they use to create charts are different. We also don’t have the legal rights to use that data for our own purposes.”SHE WOLVES?

Hey Gary,

Thank you for taking time to answer my question. Shakira‘s “She Wolf” is close to climbing into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, but can two different versions of a song chart on the Hot 100 simultaneously? In Shakira’s case, could the Spanish-language version (“Loba”) also chart, since Latin airplay of the song is so strong?

Thank you,

Juan Croussett
Tampa, Florida

Hi Juan,

All versions of a song are merged when point totals are calculated for the Hot 100 (similar to the question above about different versions of Mariah Carey songs). Sales and airplay for all versions of a song (album cut, remixes etc.) all contribute to one chart ranking.

In the case of “She Wolf” and “Loba,” all points are merged and the song shows as “She Wolf” on the Hot 100. On this week’s chart (Sept. 12), the song ranks at No. 17 on Radio Songs/Hot 100 Airplay and totals 48.1 million in audience. That includes 15.9 million audience impressions of “Loba” at Latin radio.

The Digital Songs chart accounts for most of the sales points on the Hot 100 (physical singles still eke out a portion of at the sum), and, again, that list represents all versions of each title. If we look at the Digital Tracks chart at, we can see how sales break down for each of the song’s versions. Overall, Shakira’s new single moved 83,000 downloads this past week, placing it at No. 8 on Digital Songs. 79,000 of those are attributed to “She Wolf” and 4,000 to “Loba.”

In any language, the song, currently bulleted at No. 12 on the Hot 100, is a fun listen and a promising preview of the full “She Wolf” album, due Oct. 13. (And, thanks to the English-language version, we now have a pop hit featuring the word lycanthropy).


Hi Gary,

I am a member of the MJJ Community Fanclub (, and I was wondering how many albums Michael Jackson has sold since his death June 25.

Thanks for all your help,

Travis DeMaria

Hi Travis,

Since Jackson’s passing through Aug. 30, Jackson’s solo albums have sold 4.74 million in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. He has sold 8.34 million digital tracks in same span of time.

As Billboard 200 chart manager Keith Caulfield recently noted, Jackson’s total album sales since his death are greater than what his catalog sold between all of 2004 and 2008 (3.9 million).

Year-to-date, Jackson’s “Number Ones” has passed Taylor Swift‘s “Fearless” as 2009’s top-selling album. The former set has sold 1,688,000 copies, the latter 1,642,000.

(That last item prompted me to compare this year’s totals with those from five, 10 and 15 years ago. The top-seller from January through August 2004 was Usher‘s “Confessions,” with 5,482,000. Ten years ago, sets by Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears had each sold more than five million in the same stretch. Fifteen years ago, Ace of Base‘s “The Sign” led with 3,889,000 units in that span, and 40 albums had reached a million in sales. This year to date, the number of sets to top a million copies sold? Six).


Hi Gary,

Thanks for the “Perfect 11” item in yesterday’s Chart Beat. I keep thinking that the airplay of Mariah Carey’s “Obsessed” will increase as Mariah’s new album release date approaches, sending the song past No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

I remember when Madonna peaked at No. 11 with “The Power of Goodbye” from “Ray of Light.” Oh well, at least Madonna almost always goes to No. 1 on Dance/Club Play Songs. Is No. 1 number 40 coming up?

Fun fact: With Madonna having peaked at No. 11, she matched a particular chart trait of Aretha Franklin. Each artist has peaked at each of the Hot 100’s top 11 positions. There might be other acts in this category. I know that, including duets, Marvin Gaye came close, with peaks at Nos. 1-10 and 12 (plus a No. 12 peak for Cyndi Lauper‘s cover of his classic “What’s Goin’ On”).

Also fun to see husband Jay-Z and wife Beyonce back-to-back in the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs top 10, at Nos. 9 and 8, respectively. And, hooray for Whitney Houston. Good healing spirit in this time of mourning Michael Jackson.

Enough talk. Time to boogie,

Pablo Nelson
Berkeley, California

Hi Pablo,

Definitely lots of fodder this week for us chart geeks (and proud of it).

“Obsessed” registered its highest audience total this week among all formats (67.1 million, up 11%), so there’s life left yet in the song. That said, Island Def Jam has already set an add date at pop, urban and adult radio for Carey’s next single. Her cover of Foreigner‘s 1985 Hot 100 No. 1 “I Want to Know What Love Is” will vie for programmers’ attention Sept. 14.

The Franklin and Madonna trivia is great. The Beatles also fall just short of the feat. They have peaked at each position between Nos. 1 and 12, except for … No. 9 … No. 9 … No. 9 … (an ironic stat, as well as a coincidental tie-in to the landmark release of their remastered studio albums next Wednesday … 9/9/09). Solo, Ringo Starr did peak at No. 9 with “Back Off Boogaloo,” as did John Lennon with, what else, “#9 Dream.”

That’s all until next week, when Houston certainly won’t have a problem lifting off and rocketing to the top of the Billboard 200 with “I Look to You.”