Skip to main content

Ask Billboard: Madonna vs. Whitney … vs. Mariah


Hi Gary,

This e-mail is a follow up to last week’s entry from Neil Massey, who asked about album sales of Whitney Houston and Madonna. I’m curious as to how Mariah Carey stacks up against her two fellow superstars. I know Madonna and Houston began their careers earlier than Carey, but Carey has been very productive with her albums, especially in the ’90s.


Leo del Castillo
Baguio City, Philippines

Hi Leo,

Thanks for e-mailing and adding to Ask Billboard’s battle for diva dominance.

Please check out last week’s mailbag for all the details on Madonna vs. Houston, including each singer’s top-selling and top certified albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan and the Recording Industry of Association of America (RIAA), respectively.

Accounting for certain complexities in how soundtracks are categorized by each source, Madonna’s totals top Houston’s. As noted last week, according to the RIAA, Madonna ranks 15th all-time with 63.5 million units certified. Houston places 20th with 54 million.

According to Nielsen SoundScan – whose data begins in 1991, after the two stars had begun their careers – album sales since that year stand at 26,347,000 for Madonna and 23,786,000 for Houston (again, including soundtrack sets such as “The Bodyguard,” which is officially considered a soundtrack to Nielsen SoundScan).

With Madonna and Houston having head starts in the ’80s over Carey, who arrived with the release of her self-titled debut collection in 1990, how does the lattermost artist fare against the other two? Like last week, let’s compare using figures from both the RIAA (where longevity gives a potential edge to Madonna and Houston) and Nielsen SoundScan, where a span of 1991 to date covers a period in which all three performers have actively released product.

The RIAA places Carey just one spot below Madonna, in 16th place among all artists with 62.5 million units certified. So, per the RIAA, it’s Madonna (63.5 million), Carey (62.5) and Houston (54) in this comparison.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, Carey is the clear winner by a wide margin, actually topping the total album sales – again, since 1991 – of Madonna and Houston combined. Carey’s sum stands at 51,833,000.

Here is a look at Mariah Carey’s top-selling albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan:

7,556,000, “Daydream” (1995)
7,189,000, “Music Box” (1993)
5,912,000, “The Emancipation of Mimi” (2005)
4,993,000, “Merry Christmas” (1994)
4,845,000, “Mariah Carey (1990)
3,719,000, “Butterfly” (1997)
3,703,000, “#1’s” (1998)
3,584,000, “Emotions” (1991)
2.946,000, “Rainbow” (1999)
2,731,000, “MTV Unplugged EP” (1992)

Again, the numbers will change in upcoming weeks, as all three stars will serve up new product and add to their extraordinary sales totals. Houston’s “I Look to You” is due Aug. 25, while on Sept. 29, Madonna releases the best-of collection “Celebration” and Carey offers “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel.”


Hello Gary,

I enjoy reading your column and find your answers and insights always enlightening.

Like so many of the e-mails you’ve recently answered since his untimely and tragic passing, my question is about Michael Jackson. Given that many stories have focused on his talent as a dancer, this made me wonder where he stands in the history of Billboard’s Dance/Club Play Songs chart. Much has been reported about his prominence on the pop and R&B/hip-hop charts, but I’ve not read any statistics about Jackson on Dance/Club Play Songs. Could you recap his biggest hits solo and with the Jacksons?

I appreciate you taking the time to read this and hope you’ll find the time and space to provide an answer, as I’ve not been able to track this down anywhere.

Best regards,

DeWayne Ray
Cincinnati, Ohio

Hi DeWayne,

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in addition to Jackson’s esteemed standing on the Billboard Hot 100, the Billboard 200 and R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, the King of Pop regularly reigned over Dance/Club Play Songs.

Jackson made eight trips to the Dance/Club Play Songs summit, two with the Jackson 5/Jacksons and six solo, between 1975 and 1995. Counting all phases of his career, his Dance/Club Play Songs chart history spans from June 14, 1975 to June 28, 2008, when his last entry to date, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ 2008,” with Akon, spent its last week on the list after peaking at No. 2.

Here is a look at Jackson’s No. 1s on the tally:

The Jackson 5/Jacksons:
1975, “Forever Came Today” (The Jackson 5), four weeks
1980, “Lovely One/Can You Feel It/Walk Right Now” (The Jacksons), one week

Michael Jackson:
1982, “Thriller” (all cuts), 11 weeks
1987, “Bad,” two weeks
1987, “The Way You Make Me Feel,” one week
1992, “In the Closet,” one week
1993, “Who Is It,” one week
1995, “Scream” (Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson), two weeks

In 1984, Jermaine Jackson reached No. 1 for three weeks with “Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’ (Too Good to Be True).” Michael Jackson is featured on the popular album cut but was not officially credited and his name was not listed when it scaled the survey.

While Michael Jackson’s discography on Dance/Club Play Songs is more than impressive, he isn’t the male solo artist with the most No. 1s in the tally’s history. In this case, a Prince trumps a King. Prince notched seven No. 1s between 1981 and 1991. Madonna is the chart’s overall leader with 39 toppers.


Hi Gary,

Here’s another interesting note regarding the record-breaking run of Jason Mraz with “I’m Yours” on the Billboard Hot 100. Not only does he break the 69-week chart run set in 1998 by LeAnn Rimes‘ “How Do I Live,” but he is also on pace to surpass another mark.

Rimes still holds the record for most time spent in the top 40 of the Hot 100 with “How Do I Live,” which spent 61 weeks in that region, four of those weeks at its peak of No. 2. Mraz has spent the past 58 weeks in the top 40 with “I’m Yours” and is, therefore, only four weeks away from claiming the distinction all to himself.

Only one other song has spent at least 60 weeks in the top 40 of the 100: “You Were Meant for Me/Foolish Games” by Jewel. The single began its run the week of Dec. 21, 1996, and remained through Feb. 7, 1998.

Congratulations, Jason, and best of luck in going for the top 40 record!

John Maverick
Burt County, Nebraska

Hi Gary,

I have a trivia note for you. Miley Cyrus, who has just debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 2 with “Party in the U.S.A.,” will become the first female soloist born in the ’90s to top the chart if the song moves up one more spot.

Best always,

Larry Cohen
Trumbull, Connecticut

Hi John and Larry,

Thank you both for the research! Regarding Cyrus, she would join Sean Kingston (“Beautiful Girls,” No. 1 two years ago this week) and Soulja Boy Tell’em (“Crank That (Soulja Boy),” No. 1 in September 2007) as the only solo artists born in the ’90s to top the chart. Kingston was born Feb. 3, 1990, Soulja Boy Tell’em July 28, 1990, and Cyrus Nov. 23, 1992.

This week’s Hot 100, as analyzed in yesterday’s Chart Beat posting, boasts historic record-breaking achievements, but, of course, the charts never sleep. It will be fun to follow the potential future feats of Mraz and Cyrus’ songs in the weeks ahead.