With 2015 firmly in the rearview we can finally get the full 365-day account of the year's most popular music, and now that I'm looking at the recently released numbers from Nielsen, the results are both completely predictable and pretty surprising. I think we all saw Adele, Taylor Swift and Drake topping the charts, but do you truly comprehend how popular Fetty Wap is? Do you? I know I underestimated his impact.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, let's look at the actual numbers. The most accurate measurement of popularity in the streaming age is Equivalent Album Units, which mixes traditional album sales (physical and digital) with streams. Frankly, the actual formula they use to equate streams to sales is mind-numbingly complex and I suspect kind of bullshit, but still, it's the best we got.
TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2015 IN U.S., BY TOTAL EQUIVALENT ALBUM UNITS (Sales + Streams)
- Adele, 25 - 8,008,000
- Taylor Swift, 1989 - 3,105,000
- Justin Bieber, Purpose - 2,225,000
- Ed Sheeran, X - 2,206,000
- The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness - 2,045,000
- Drake, If You're Reading This It's Too Late - 1,919,000
- Meghan Trainor, Title 1,795,000
- Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour - 1,741,000
- Sam Hunt, Montevallo - 1,378,000
- Fetty Wap, Fetty Wap - 1,295,000
Adele's clearly such an anomaly that in a way she's barely worth acknowledging. Go ahead, try to emulate Adele, it won't do you any good unless you happen to be as talented as Adele and also happen to have the kind of fan demographic that includes middle-aged women who still buy albums (spoiler alert, you don't.) Similarly, I think we all knew that Drake and The Weeknd had huge years, but it's surprising to see Fetty Wap's album here. The man's more than one hit, more than a few hits, more than even popular. He had one of the ten most popular albums of the year in any genre, period. In fact, there's really not that big of a gap between him and Drizzy. Impressive.
Looking at the best selling songs of the year we see a pretty similar story:
TOP 10 SELLING DIGITAL SONGS OF 2015 IN U.S.
- Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, "Uptown Funk!" 5,529,000
- Ed Sheeran, "Thinking Out Loud" 3,976,000
- Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth, "See You Again" 3,801,000
- Adele, "Hello" 3,712,000
- Maroon 5, "Sugar" 3,343,000
- Walk the Moon, "Shut Up and Dance" 2,986,000
- Fetty Wap, "Trap Queen" 2,730,000
- OMI, "Cheerleader" 2,698,000
- The Weekend, "The Hills" 2,586,000
- Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar, "Bad Blood" 2,580,000
See? Mainstream America loves it some Fetty Wap, which if you step back a bit is shocking. Really? The song that every middle school kid in the country was playing this year was by a one-eyed New Jersey rapper? But the truth is often stranger than fiction. Oh, and also, Wiz kind of lowkey had the biggest hit of his career in 2015, and Kendrick hitching his wagon to the Taylor Swift train (or vice-versa) was clearly a good call.
Ultimately, though, beyond the specific jostling of artists for the top spot, the real takeaway here is that while the music industry likes to act like it's in the throes of being murdered, the truth is that more music is being listened to than every before. Total equivalent sales were up 15% from 2014, but that increase was due to an explosion in the popularity of streaming, while both physical and digital sales continued to fall. The genie's out of the bottle, we'll never go back to the days of album sales, just like we never went back to the cassette tape once the CD arrived. Streaming is the present and future of music, I just wish the music industry had figured that out in the past.
Photo Credit: Instagram