How big Is Taylor Swift by numbers?

With Swift’s career still peaking late into its second decade, we ran the numbers and analyzed the data, taking stock of what she has accomplished so far — and when — alongside some of the heaviest hitters in each category.
Last Updated : 05 July 2024, 09:07 IST

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You might have heard: Taylor Swift cannot be stopped.

Her latest album, The Tortured Poets Department, sold 2.6 million copies in its opening week in April, earning Swift her eighth Billboard No. 1 album since 2020. At the Grammy Awards in February, she became the first artist to win album of the year for a fourth time. And her 'Eras Tour', the stadium takeover that began last year, has resumed abroad before it returns to the US in October.

In 2023, according to the data tracking service Luminate, one in every 78 songs streamed in the US was by Swift. With prolific artistic output and relentless business savvy, along with cultural dominance as a celebrity, Swift, 34, has created such momentum that she is likely more popular, more omnipresent, 19 years into her professional music career than ever.

That is not normal.

But just how big is Taylor Swift, in terms of the all-time pop pantheon?

It may be impossible to do an exact, one-to-one comparison between Swift’s career and that of the Beatles — or Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John or your icon of choice. Besides music being personal and subjective, the nature of success (and how it is calculated) has changed drastically over time.

But the absence of a truly scientific comparison has never stopped the amusement that comes from the eternal sports and pop culture debates of our time.

So with Swift’s career still peaking late into its second decade, we ran the numbers and analyzed the data, taking stock of what she has accomplished so far — and when — alongside some of the heaviest hitters in each category.

Taylor Vs. The Beatles

Hit Singles

When it comes to Billboard No. 1 singles, the Beatles set the benchmark.

From the early 1960s until the Fab Four broke up in 1970, the band released 64 songs that landed on Billboard’s all-genre chart, known as the Hot 100. Many of the records they set for hit singles still stand today.

When focusing on No. 1s, the Beatles really dominate, with more chart-toppers than any other artist, a record they’ve held since 1965.

Out of the Beatles’ 20 No. 1s, the majority came quickly, with 11 songs, including “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Love Me Do” and “Yesterday,” topping the chart in 1964 and 1965, their earliest years as a fresh-faced phenomenon.

Swift’s first chart-topper, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” in 2012, came seven years into her career.

The bulk of Swift’s singles success has come even later, with seven of her 12 total No. 1s, including “Fortnight,” “Cruel Summer” and “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version),” arriving in the last five years.

But as with any comparison across eras, there must be footnotes and asterisks. When we look at the 1960s, we’re counting only an artist’s actual “singles” — songs released for purchase outside of a full album.

After 1998, the rules began changing to include any song on the radio, regardless of how it was released, and eventually counting digital downloads and streams. By today’s rules, the Beatles would have even more hits than Billboard’s official count.

Swift, whose new album features 31 songs, each of which hit the Hot 100, has dominated with these new metrics: In 2022, she became the first artist to occupy the entire Top 10 on the Hot 100 at once after the release of “Midnights.” She repeated and expanded upon that feat this year with songs from “The Tortured Poets Department,” which filled the top 14 spots on the singles chart.

The length of Swift’s career has allowed her into the Beatles’ vaunted ballpark.

Taylor Vs. Michael Jackson

Album Sales

Despite Swift’s streaming success, the bar can only be Michael Jackson when it comes to album sales.

Jackson’s career was relatively long, from his time as a child star in the Jackson 5 until his death in 2009 at 50. But the meat of Jackson’s solo career lasted from 1972 through 2001, during which he put out 10 albums and followed a fairly typical arc for a pop career: starter albums (Got to Be There and Ben in the early 1970s), a big breakthrough — Off the Wall in 1979 — and a peak, before Jackson slowed down somewhat, at least commercially.

That peak just happened to be Thriller — arguably the peak of all pop peaks — which came out in 1982, when Jackson was 24.

For albums, going platinum — or selling 1 million copies — is the go-to stat. In the four-plus decades since Thriller was released, it has been certified 34 times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, making it one of the most successful albums of all time.

Swift’s biggest albums so far are Fearless, which is officially 10 times platinum, and 1989, at nine times platinum.

However, Swift’s platinum certifications are not totally up-to-date and do not yet count the sales of her redone Taylor’s Version releases, which have not been officially tallied by the RIAA. (It’s also worth noting that an album “sale” now means something different: a set amount of song streams or downloads is considered the equivalent of one album sold.)

Using the more recent sales data available for Swift’s albums, which can help us estimate where her RIAA certifications will be when they’re updated, she starts to approach — even pass — Jackson’s monster platinum totals, giving us a better idea of how Swift will stack up to Jackson long term.

In all, Jackson’s 10 solo albums have been certified 72 times platinum. Swift’s 11 original albums have been certified 50 times platinum. But her album sales tell us that number, including Taylor’s Versions, is likely to be closer to 90. And she is very much still going.

Taylor Vs. Madonna

Era After Era

Madonna’s ability to reinvent is the reason we talk about artist “eras” to begin with. Another pathbreaking solo pop singer with a huge peak, a long run of domination, a savvy command of marketing and unexpected longevity, Madonna has had a career that is 43 years long and counting.

From her breakthrough second album, Like a Virgin, released in 1984, when she was 26, through Bedtime Stories in 1994, Madonna was inescapable, pushing the boundaries of visual and sonic reinvention.

Examining Madonna’s Top 10 Billboard hits against Swift’s shows how consistent both artists have been over extended periods of time — but also when in their careers each was most in the mix.

Madonna scored No. 1 hits across three decades, beginning with the title track from Like a Virgin in 1984. In her first 10 years dominating the charts, Madonna had 10 No. 1s, ruling radio, MTV and nightclubs.

The most recent of Madonna’s 12 No. 1 hits (“Music,” from 2000) came 19 years into her career — where Swift is now — at the age of 42. Madonna’s eight-year comeback period, from “Ray of Light” in 1998 to “Confessions on a Dance Floor” in 2005, resulted in six Top 10 hits. She has 38 overall, compared with Swift’s 59 so far.

Taylor Vs. The Veterans

Touring and Awards

Elton John, 77, and Bruce Springsteen, 74, are an interesting comparison point for Swift because of their productivity, longevity and critical acclaim — all of which have paid off on the road.

John and Springsteen, both veterans about 50 years into their careers, also had periods of commercial dominance beginning in the 1970s with their respective albums Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Born to Run.

But as they settled into pop-star middle age, plateauing commercially, they too have persisted with uber-successful, long-running tours fueled by fan allegiance and critical acclaim.

Looking at the total grosses for the bestselling tours by John and Springsteen puts them in the company of Swift.

John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, a late-career greatest hits show named for his biggest album, made nearly $1 billion in part because it lasted for six years and more than 300 dates.

If you look at how much these major tours made per show, the rankings change. This is where Swift shines, taking in more than $17 million per concert. By the time it’s over, the 'Eras Tour' could bring in more than $2 billion in ticket sales.

As for awards, while Swift has already outpaced Jackson and Springsteen in Grammy nominations, it’s Beyoncé who has the most nominations ever.

Beyoncé is also the winningest musician ever at the Grammys, where she has been awarded 32 times. Yet Beyoncé has still never taken album of the year and has won only once in the top categories, which include record, song and album of the year, along with best new artist. It’s been more than a decade since Beyoncé earned a top-tier Grammy, when Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) was awarded song of the year.

Taylor Vs. Beyonce and Drake

Modern Heavyweights

While Swift’s overall pound-for-pound standing in each of the categories we’ve looked at puts her in rare historical company, it is notable that two of her most immediate contemporaries — Beyoncé, 42, and Drake, 37 — are also legitimate challengers across the board.

All three artists have maneuvered the industry transitions between CDs, downloads and streaming to become defining modern superstars while maximizing such intangibles as cultural reach and celebrity domination.

Beyoncé, now 23 years into a solo career after her time with the group Destiny’s Child, stands with Swift when it comes to versatility, longevity and sustained commercial dominance.

Beyoncé’s commercial peak (so far) came with I Am … Sasha Fierce, released in 2008, when she was 27. That album has sold more than 9 million copies.

Since then, while selling fewer records, she has focused on different pillars of legacy, pioneering the visual album format (Beyoncé, Lemonade), experimenting with genre (Renaissance, Cowboy Carter) and pushing the limits of an extravagant live spectacle (Coachella, the 'Renaissance World Tour').

Both Beyoncé and Swift have had big-selling No. 1 albums this year, during fresh periods of productivity.

Beyoncé has also performed twice at the Super Bowl — something Swift has yet to do — a stage where acts including Madonna, Jackson and Springsteen have solidified their unquantifiable grasp on culture.

And then there is Drake, a relentless hitmaker. Like Swift, Drake has optimized his output to take advantage of the way streaming has reshaped the industry and its accolades to set records, including 328 total entries on the Hot 100. Swift, with 232, is the only other artist with at least 200.

Drake has 78 Top 10 hits so far in his career and 13 No. 1s stemming from a variety of projects. As a rapper and frequent guest artist, Drake has appeared on many hits by others. Among Drake’s top hits, he is a featured artist on 20, including three No. 1s — accounting for a wide reach beyond his own releases.

Drake, Beyoncé and Swift all have this modern characteristic in common: They’re each actively playing for legacy, one eye on history and another on the record books.

As a shrewd student of music and fame, Swift cares how she’s perceived and how she’ll be remembered when the noise fades and all that’s left are the songs — and the stats.

So far, it’s working.

Published 05 July 2024, 09:07 IST

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