Some of us — no, many of us — may never see another week when Taylor Swift or Drake are not listed on the Billboard 200.
(November 16, 2023). It’s a harrowing thought but one that is very plausible.
Many of us who are above a certain age — let’s just say middle-aged or older — may never witness another week when neither Taylor Swift nor Drake are listed on a key Billboard chart, namely the album chart — the Billboard 200.
If that prospect seems a bit grim because, well, the average human lives a pretty long time and pop’s reigning queen and hip-hop’s most successful act of the past 15 years are bound to fall off their perches (and eventually off the charts…if only for one week), sometime before 2030, 2040 or Heaven forbid, 2050, keep reading to see how T-Swizzle and Drizzy could be listed on the Billboard 200 with at least one album every week for years — even decades — to come.
Or, if this assertion seems like an easy bet because, well, you don’t think it’s such a stretch for superstar recording artists of their stature to go extremely long periods before they’re altogether missing from chart action, some examples below may quell that thinking.
And for those of you who are quick to relegate this possibility to nothing more than an anomaly owed to how Billboard calculates its charts these days, well that’s only part of the story, and chart methodology alone doesn’t explain why other current artists aren’t the unstoppable forces that Drake and Taylor have been for going on two decades.
A bit of similar chart history
To make this case, it’s worth pointing out that the 21st century’s two most prolific chart-toppers (each now tied for third place overall with 13 No. 1 albums apiece) certainly aren’t the first acts to achieve their current levels of ubiquity on the Billboard 200 – they have 19 albums between them on the latest list dated Nov. 18 — but they are among the few to have sustained that kind of continuous command for months (and years) on end.
While other superstar musicians have blitzed the chart with half a dozen or more LPs at the same time, it was often following a major event, like an iconic recording act’s passing.
For example, Whitney Houston simultaneously charted with nine albums in the weeks following her sudden death in 2012 and, most notably, Prince had 19 charting in the first full sales week following his 2016 passing, a high water mark this blogger believes is still a record.
Yet, in Prince’s case, all but four of his albums were gone from the list less than a month later. And while His Royal Badness has had many comings and goings on the chart over the ensuing seven-and-a-half years, including a brief reappearance by his 1991 opus Diamonds and Pearls just last week, there are no albums by the Purple One on this week’s chart.
But it didn’t always take one’s death to generate the kind of fervor that would have many albums by an artist charting simultaneously.
Older acts like Peter Paul & Mary, Johnny Mathis, The Beach Boys, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, The Supremes, The Monkees, Led Zeppelin and, of course, the Beatles have all charted with four, five, six or more albums simultaneously without having a death involved. Alpert had as many as six in the top 40 at the same time during his band’s peak in 1966.
The Beatles, who had at least eight albums charting simultaneously during their 1964-65 heyday, are an obvious comparison to what Taylor and Drake are doing today.
But even music’s greatest band wasn’t immune to eventual burnout.
By the time they’d broken up in 1970, the Fab Four’s chart presence had dwindled down to their last two albums Abbey Road and Let It Be. By June 1971 – barely a year after Let It Be was released — both those albums had exited the charts, leaving the Fab Four without a Billboard 200 album for the first time since their debut in 1964.
Aside from the band’s breakup, music was changing significantly in 1971 with soul, God-rock, prog-rock, protest music, the peace movement and singer-songwriters all ushering in the new decade.
Plus with their solo members all charting individually, the Beatles’ fan base had no shortage of material to satisfy their palette, at least until Apple Records released the original compilations The Beatles 1962-1966 and The Beatles 1967-70 in 1972, which returned the group to the chart again (ironically, the 2023 versions of those LPs are slated to debut on next week’s Billboard 200 somewhere in the top 20).
A more tempting comparison to the 6 God and Swift might be the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. But he spent much of 1986 and ‘87 completely shut out from the Billboard charts after his Thriller album — the biggest selling album of all time based on worldwide sales — ran its initial course from 1982-85.
Jackson’s return to Billboard’s pages came after a nearly two-year gap with the 1987 blockbuster followup Bad, which maintained the Gloved One’s album chart presence continuously for nearly two more years before another long gap preceded his 1991 Dangerous album.
This cyclical coming and going by Jackson was typical for him back then because he simply didn’t release a lot of albums compared to what Taylor and Drake have done over the past fifteen to seventeen years.
In his 30 active years with Epic Records as a solo artist (from 1979-2009), Jackson only released seven studio albums (counting the 1997 EP Blood on the Dance Floor) while he was alive.
On the contrary — and remarkably — both Taylor Swift and Drake each have more than that many albums on the Billboard 200…this week!
Taylor had ten albums in last week’s top 50 alone (nine of those in the top 30), while Drake has nine albums scattered throughout this week’s 200-position chart (dated Nov. 18).
Those differences in album release patterns make any comparisons between Jackson, who often went three to five years between LP releases, and Swift/Drake who (each) seemingly release a new album every six months, an apples-to-oranges analysis.
Stating the obvious
Also exacerbating the differences between Jackson/The Beatles and Drake/Swift are the differences in how albums are consumed and the charts are calculated today vs. during the older acts’ heydays.
Back then, physical copies of albums had to be stocked on record store shelves in order for a purchase to be made. Once popular albums ran their courses, they were usually relegated to the back bins — if they were stocked at all — leading to poorer sales and lower chart placement. It didn’t help that radio often moved on from (and record labels stopped promoting) albums in much shorter periods than the long album cycles artists enjoy today.
There were obvious exceptions to this, most notably the longevity champ Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, which still holds the record for most weeks spent on the Billboard 200 (at 985 weeks — the cumulative equivalent of 18 years, eleven months and two weeks — and counting).
That album kept Pink Floyd on the charts for the better part of two decades after its release in 1973, with only brief absences interrupting their otherwise continuous presence.
Chart changes in the 1990s also led to catalogue albums like Dark Side of the Moon and others being ineligible for the Billboard 200 and being relegated to a separate oldies chart.
Those rules were relaxed in the 2000s and Dark Side of the Moon (as well as Thriller, Abbey Road and other older examples cited above) once again continue to pad their totals on the main chart in the streaming heavy 2020s, albeit still with brief absences here and there.
But it’s those absences that differentiate the older acts from more contemporary artists that are competing with Swift and Drake for continuous chart presence — artists that make for a fairer apples-to-apples comparison when analyzing one’s potential perpetuity.
But even today’s musicians are not on the T-Swizzle/Drizzy level.
Enter names like Beyoncé, Adele, The Weeknd, Ed Sheeran, and Kendrick Lamar, all of whom have had longstanding album chart success during the Swift/Drake era and who’ve operated under the same consumption parameters and chart rules for their entire careers.
Beginning with Beyoncé and Adele, two singers with relatively recent releases who’ve also had phenomenal careers, it would be tempting to guess that they’ve had a similar continuous presence on the Billboard 200 to Taylor’s or Drake’s.
On the contrary, those icons were completely absent from the chart for significant periods before their most recent albums — Renaissance and 30, respectively — were released. In the weeks leading up to those LPs, neither artist’s prior albums were listed on the Billboard 200.
Even today, with both Beyoncé and Adele having recently toured or performed residencies and with both having multiple albums that are similar in vintage to some of the older Taylor Swift and Drake titles gracing the chart, they each have only one album — Renaissance and 21, respectively – on the current Billboard 200.
Perhaps more impressive in the unyielding chart presence department than Adele or Queen Bey is rapper Kendrick Lamar.
He has had a nonstop chart presence for nearly nine years, with his breakthrough LP good kid…m.a.a.d. city having been listed on the chart every week without interruption since December 13, 2014.
That followed a mere one-week gap the previous week after having been listed for more than two years, non-stop, following its November 2012 debut. Thus, Lamar has been on the Billboard 200 every week but one for the past eleven years straight!
Lamar’s other albums have come and gone during his lengthy run, with only DAMN. joining good kid…m.a.a.d. city on the current ranking. His most recent LP, last year’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, exited the chart earlier in 2023 after a relatively modest 16 months on the list.
Lamar, unlike Drake or Swift, takes the Michael Jackson approach to album releases, so his long chart presence, while impressive, isn’t likely to be sustained when those two albums eventually make their exit.
Then there’s The Weeknd, whose name has been on the Billboard 200 every week since January 10, 2015, when his Trilogy compilation returned to the list after a brief absence. Like the other contemporary acts discussed here, that album has been joined by more recent releases — six to be exact — over the past nine years.
Yet only three of The Weeknd’s albums are on the latest chart: Starboy at No. 46, After Hours at No. 94, and Beauty Behind the Madness, which re-enters this week at No. 115.
Using a more prolific contemporary example, British superstar Ed Sheeran has released two albums in 2023: – (minus) and Autumn Variations.
But, astoundingly, neither of those new LPs is on the chart today (they both made quick exits after each debuted in the top five earlier this year).
Meanwhile, Sheeran’s continuous chart presence is being maintained by two earlier releases: = (equal)at No. 147 on this past week’s chart, and ÷ (divide) at No. 139.
The latter album, which contains two of Sheeran’s biggest hits — “Shape of You” and “Perfect” — has been on the chart since its debut week in March 2017 (with Sheeran himself being on the list every week since April 19, 2014, with a combination of earlier releases).
While each of those millennial artists — and probably other current acts I haven’t explored — has chart longevity that compares favorably to Swift’s and Drake’s, none currently has the number of albums charting (or ranked as high) that would make them likely contenders in the “from-here-to-eternity” sweepstakes.
It’s purely a numbers argument that suggests Drake’s nine and Taylor’s ten currently charting albums are more likely to be around ad infinitum than the two or three listed by each of their main peers.
So how long has it been for Taylor and Drake?
In reviewing Taylor’s active charting streak, one has to go back to 2017 to find the last week she wasn’t listed on the Billboard 200. That was when the original recording of 1989 was intermittently moving on and off the chart before Taylor released its followup, reputation, which debuted in December of 2017.
In the just under six years since, the “Cruel Summer” singer has released eight more albums (including the four re-recorded LPs), all of which are among the ten she has currently charting.
As for Drake, he’s been listed on the Billboard 200 with at least one album every week since August 10, 2013, which was when he re-entered the chart with his then-nearly two-year-old Take Care.
That return launched the longest active chart occupation of any act currently listed on the Billboard 200 with ten years, three months and one week since Drake’s last absence.
With Take Care being his only entry on the list in August 2013, no one could have predicted then that the Canadian rapper would be listed on the chart every week thereafter.
Now, with nine albums listed, it’s even tougher to imagine when he might not be listed at all.
With streaming becoming more and more prevalent as the dominant music consumption method, the case for Taylor’s and Drake’s prolonged continuous chart run becomes even stronger, especially for the rapper, for whom nearly all of his chart points come from streaming.
Both acts are among the three most streamed artists around the globe, according to Spotify — the world’s largest streaming platform — with Taylor having just taken over the No. 1 spot with 109 million monthly listeners and Drake at No. 3 with 82.6 million (The Weeknd sits at No. 2 with 108 million, btw).
That’s basically a built-in customer base that says whatever those artists put out, their fans are gonna stream the heck out of it, sending it high onto the charts and padding an already enormous catalogue of hits.
What could change all of this?
It would take a complete shift in the music zeitgeist to alter the current chart landscape. A whole new set of artists would have to be developed with the kind of staying power and prolificness (is that a word?) that only Swift, Drake and a handful of others are enjoying right now, assuming those newer acts would then have the power to push Drake and Swift down and ultimately off the charts.
Either that, or Swift and Drake would have to go years without releasing any new material, with the prospect that they’ll fall out of the public spotlight and, resultantly, out of fans’ consciousness. Drake recently announced that he might take a year or more off from recording following the October release of For All The Dogs, only to renege on that promise with the announcement of another Scary Hours EP to be issued in early 2024.
Or, here’s another long shot: Billboard could alter its formula and somehow turn down the contribution of streaming to an album’s chart position.
None of those three things seem likely to happen, at least not in the foreseeable future.
That makes it highly probable that Taylor Swift and Drake, and their ever growing catalog of albums, will maintain an unyielding Billboard chart presence week after week after week for what might seem like a lifetime.
And that’s probably because it will be, at least for many of us folks.
DJRob (he/him/his), Billboard chart geek, is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop, rock and (sometimes) country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.
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