(June 17, 2019). It’s hard to believe, but another decade is soon coming to an end. The 2010s will be morphing into the ‘20s in just over six months from now and we’ll all be wondering where the time went.
In addition to all the annual year-end countdowns celebrating the music of 2019, the ten-year period spanning 2010-2019 – the decade known as “the ‘10s” but rarely ever said that way – will get its own commemorations.
The ‘10s certainly have their own identity.
Musically, this will always be the decade social media took over, physical media (specifically CDs) continued to nosedive, and downloads took a downturn while streaming exploded.
Savvy musicians – those who were social media friendly – took full advantage of the platform to connect with their fans in ways they couldn’t have imagined just a decade earlier. Even acts whose record sales slipped throughout the decade, like Beyoncé or Lady Gaga, have followers numbering in the tens of millions on either their Twitter or Instagram accounts (or both), keeping them majorly relevant at a time their music wasn’t necessarily topping the charts.
Before, an artist’s success was measured by how many records they could sell (either physically or via digital downloads). Now, a large social media following is essential, and almost always translates to huge box office grosses during concert tours.
And during the 2010s, a new artist was just as likely to launch a career via SoundCloud or YouTube or even a Reddit subgroup as he or she was by terrestrial radio – maybe even more so.
But just like every other decade in modern music history, the 2010s will also have their own musical styles and memories to distinguish this from other eras, with an identifiable collection of artists and genres largely responsible for bringing the hits to us.
In this decade, traditional rock, R&B and country – once mainstream staples – became nearly extinct, while being replaced by newer, genre-bending hybrids that blurred the lines between all three. It was the decade of the DJ-producer, with EDM (electronic dance music) peaking and burning, but never completely leaving us. And hip-hop dominated, with trap being its main cash cow during the middle of the decade. In 2017, for the first time since Billboard has been tracking these things, hip-hop took over as the most consumed genre of music – thanks largely to streaming.
Not surprisingly, hip-hop’s influence is prevalent on the list of ten acts most likely to be named Artist of the Decade by Billboard. Nine of the ten are either hip-hop acts themselves or have collaborated with a hip-hop artist at some point during the ‘10s. Only Adele, who ironically has the two biggest-selling albums of the decade, hasn’t featured a credited rapper in any of her hit songs.
So, speaking of Adele and the others, let’s get right to it. Which of these acts do you think will be named top artist of the decade when all is said and done? Keep in mind, this list is an estimation based on how the artists performed on Billboard’s singles, albums and social media charts from January 2010 to the present, with some accounting for current or pending releases from those artists with plans for new product in 2019.
Keep reading to see the case for each one (the ten top contenders artists are listed alphabetically)…
Adele may have only released two albums this decade, but they were huge! She has the biggest-selling album of the decade with 21, her 2011 semi-autobiographical blockbuster that spawned three No. 1 singles, including the seven-week chart-topper “Rolling In The Deep.” She followed that era with the decade’s second-best seller, 25, which yielded a fourth No. 1 single “Hello,” the British singer’s biggest hit in America to-date.
The album 25 smashed all-time records by selling more than three million copies in its first week of release and its lead single spent ten weeks at the top of the Hot 100 at the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016. Adele is the only artist this decade with two diamond-certified albums. What she lacks in quantity when compared to the other artists on this list, she certainly makes up for in sales volume and it’ll be interesting to see if her phenomenal numbers will be enough to take her to the top of the decade’s list come December.
Aside from beginning the decade as a teenage heartthrob and later cultivating an increasingly annoying bad-boy image, Justin Bieber has amassed a lot of hits. His biggest era was 2015 leading into 2016, when he scored with multiple number ones off of his Purpose album. For several weeks, the first three singles from it were listed in the top five at the same time and they often battled each other for the top.
Bieber also shares credit for the decade’s biggest single, the reggaeton flavored “Despacito,” which in 2017 tied the mark for longest run at No. 1 in Hot 100 history at 16 weeks. Bieber is also the decade’s social media king, having ruled Billboard’s Social 50 chart (which measures weekly activity on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Wikipedia and Tumblr) for 163 weeks, longer than anyone else in the chart’s nearly nine-year history. If Billboard factors social media activity into this decade’s rankings, which they likely will, Bieber has a great chance of ending the 2010s at the top.
What Drake accomplished in 2018 alone would be enough to top most artists’ entire decade output (including maybe even one or two on this list). He had three huge No. 1 singles that totaled 28 weeks at the top of the Hot 100, an album (Scorpion) that ranked as the year’s biggest, and he established records for most top tens in one week (seven) and most simultaneous Hot 100 entries (27) – both on July 14.
It’s hard to imagine that just two-and-a-half years earlier, when his “Hotline Bling” was held to a No. 2 peak behind Adele’s “Hello,” that Drake had still never hit No. 1 as a lead artist. He’s more than made up for that since with now six No. 1s to his name, including four as a lead artist. He’s racked up more than 190 Hot 100 entries with most of them coming since 2010, including six No. 1 hits.
My guess is that Drake will be in a tight race with one or two other artists on this list for biggest recording act of the decade.
Of the acts included here, Nickelodeon alumnus Ariana Grande is the newest, having first achieved major success in 2013 with debut album Yours Truly. All five of her albums have reached the top two, with four reaching No. 1, including the last two within six months of each other. Earlier this year, the first three singles (“Thank U, Next,” “7 Rings,” and “Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored”) from her latest album made her the first woman ever to hold the top three positions on the Hot 100 simultaneously.
At just 25 years old, Grande has seen her life played out in public with high profile relationships, an unthinkable tragedy following one of her concerts and personal loss. All of it has only served to raise her profile even higher, as her more than three dozen chart hits, including 13 top tens, can attest. Will her late-decade surge be enough to put her over the top come December? We’ll see.
When Maroon 5 scores No. 1 hits, they get monsters. “Moves Like Jagger,” their first No. 1 hit of this decade: 9x platinum; “One More Night”: 6x platinum; “Girls Like You” spent seven weeks at No. 1 and just ended a full year on the chart (with all but one of those weeks in the top 40).
Even their non-No. 1 hits are blockbusters. “Sugar” peaked at No. 2 and was certified 8x platinum. “Maps” = 4x platinum.
Get the picture? Add in their four top-2 platinum albums and you have the makings of the decade’s biggest band (despite frontman Adam Levine’s high-profile celebrity status, they are still a group (and they’re the only one we’ve included among the ten biggest contenders). They are a long shot but it’s possible they could beat one of these solo artists and be named the decade’s biggest act.
Bruno Mars has been so successful this decade, it’s debatable which one of his eras was actually the biggest.
Was it really 2010/11, when he broke onto the scene with three No. 1 singles (“Nothing On You,” “Grenade” and “Just The Way You Are”)? Or was it a year later when he added two more to the mix (“Locked Out Of Heaven” and “When I Was Your Man”)?
Or was it in 2014/15 when he scored the year’s biggest hit (and the biggest of his career) as a featured act on Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”? Or maybe it was the 24k Magic era when he scored his most recent No. 1 “That’s What I Like,” the song that was his biggest crossover on the R&B chart.
All in all, with those seven No. 1s plus a host of other chart entries, it’s amazing that Bruno still only has three studio albums under his belt. But they’ve been huge, and this entertaining legend could easily finish the decade as the top act. It doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the biggest selling artists of all time, with all of that success occurring during this decade’s ten years.
In 2010, rapper Nicki Minaj scored her first Hot 100 single as a solo artist with “Your Love.” Since then she’s racked up 102 Hot 100 entries – more than any other woman in history – and fourth among all artists.
Yes, most of them are as a featured artist on other people’s hits. Still, they count towards her total and even if Billboard only gives her partial credit for the features, it’s hard to lose with those numbers. What’s more is they all occurred during this decade, which makes her case for top artist even more compelling. Add to that four Top-2 albums, with the first two of those being No. 1s, and Nicki is a serious dark horse contender.
KP began the decade with a bang, becoming only the second artist (after Michael Jackson) to have five consecutive No. 1 singles from the same album. Those came from her 2010 classic Teenage Dream and included the title track, plus “California Gurls,” “E.T.,” and her signature tune, the uplifting anthem “Firework.”
Since then she’s cooled off a bit but has had other hits, including 2014’s “Dark Horse,” her last No. 1 single (so far). Despite her recent slowdown, doubters shouldn’t count her out of the race. She has a new album slated for release this year and recently debuted in the Top-15 with its first single, “Never Really Over.” While No. 15 is not No. 1, it still contributes to her total for the decade. When they add up all the points, who knows where she might rank?
People may forget that this Barbadian singer, whose most recent successes have been in the fashion world with her Fenty line, has racked up 14 No. 1 singles in her 15 years in the pop music game. Nine of those chart toppers came this decade, and several of them were blockbusters, including the nine-week No. 1 (with Drake) “Work,” as well as her biggest chart hit, “We Found Love.”
Her singles do better than her albums, and they will have to be enough to carry her above artists who have blockbuster success with both, like Adele, Drake and Taylor. I don’t know how the math will work out in the end, but nine No. 1 singles is nothing to sneeze at – and could be enough to make her the biggest artist of the decade.
When it comes to selling albums in the 2010s, Adele may have had the two biggest, but Taylor Swift has the most big sellers. All four of her No. 1 albums this decade sold over a million copies in their first weeks of release and a fifth – entitled Lover – is likely to become the next to do so when it is released this August.
Swift’s album success, coupled with her five No. 1s on the singles chart, more than a dozen top tens, and dozens of Hot 100 entries in this decade alone, has to make Taylor a front-runner in this decade’s marathon race for top artist. The new album Lover and its hit singles between now and December may be just enough to push her to the top…if she’s not there already.
And those were the ten most likely contenders for the 2010 crown.
Now, in the close-but-no-cigar category, here are a few other artists you likely thought you’d see in the above list, but who fall short (with an explanation for why they likely won’t make it):
Ed Sheeran – The British ginger-haired artist has an affinity towards basic mathematical signs. His first three albums – all this decade – were titled +, x (multiply) and ÷ (pronounced divide). The last two were blockbusters that rank among the biggest selling albums of the past ten years, worldwide. He’s had a few blockbuster singles, too, including “Thinking Out Loud,” “Shape of You,” and “Perfect.” But those won’t be enough to make him the decade’s biggest.
Kendrick Lamar – The critic’s hip-hop darling of the decade took home a lot of Grammys for his 2017 No. 1 opus DAMN., and he topped the charts with its lead off single “HUMBLE.” But his singles chart success has been somewhat limited to that and a few other big hits, while he’s had four chart-topping albums since 2013. While we’re still waiting for the official follow-up to DAMN., we’ll have to wait until next decade to see him contend for a top decennial award.
Lady Gaga – Lady Gaga’s 2018 comeback came by way of a starring role in a classic motion picture remake – and an Oscar-winning, No. 1 single to go with it. But the decade also included some big gaps for the multitalented Stefani Germanotta. Her last No. 1 before “Shallow” (with A Star Is Born costar Bradley Cooper) was “Born This Way” in 2011. We may be goo-goo for Gaga, but the numbers just won’t add up when all is said and done.
Beyoncé – The legendary entertainer Beyoncé changed the game when it came to how albums are released and marketed in the U.S., and she has now entered the discussion – appropriately or not – as being (one of) the most important black artists of our generation. But her celebration of that blackness – especially in the Trump era – has cost her some fans and some followers, which along with an unspoken backlash at pop radio, resulted in fewer top-10 hits since 2010. A shame, yes. But it is what it is, Beyhive!
Eminem – It may seem like Eminem has slowed down over the last ten years, but he’s had nearly as many No. 1 albums this decade (4) as he did the last (5). Granted, it would be hard for Recovery, Relapse, Marshall Mathers 2 and Kamikaze to live up to the numbers Em delivered with his ‘00s fare, but he’s still one of the top rappers in the game, more than 20 years into his career. But Artist of this Decade? Nah.
Kanye West – Kanye’s career chart credentials are solid. He’s easily one of the biggest hip-hop artists ever with eight No. 1 albums and numerous chart-topping singles to his name. But bad timing will be a factor as most of his hits were split between the aughts and this decade. Despite his omnipresence in the news media, not enough happened on the charts during the 2010s to make him a serious contender.
BTS – Worldwide phenomena and social media kings, yes. But BTS didn’t make big waves on the American charts until May of 2018 when they achieved their first No. 1 album. And they still haven’t had a No. 1 single here, although they’ve dominated the Billboard Social 50 chart for a record 100 consecutive weeks (as of this typing).
The Weeknd – The Canadian artist exploded onto the scene in 2015 with a debut album and trio of smash pop/soul crossover hits. They ranked as the three biggest R&B chart hits of that year, something that had never been done before by the same artist (in any genre). But it won’t be enough to make him a serious contender for the decade’s crown.
Post Malone – Most of the decade’s biggest contenders have been charting since 2010 (or before). Post Malone is another late-decade entrant whose biggest success has been in the second half. If we were doing a list of artists from say 2015-2024, the 23-year-old rapper/non-rapper out of Syracuse would surely be a contender.
Future – Future was the king of trap in the 2010s. Since 2015, he’s had six No. 1 albums and several others that reached the top five. Two of his albums debuted at No. 1 in back-to-back weeks in 2017. But his albums typically debut high and peter out fast. His singles game also hasn’t been as lucrative, which ultimately means Future is on the list of also-rans when it comes to artist of the decade.
And in the “maybe next decade” group: Florida Georgia Line, Halsey, Cardi B, Khalid, Ella Mae…
Of course, with six months left in the year, things could change, although it would take a lot to overcome 9-1/2 years worth of data in just six months.
I hear Rihanna’s releasing a new reggae project this year.
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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