The Top-Selling Songs and Albums of 2015

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As you well know, Adele has been breaking records on the weekly sales charts since her return last month. Now, she’s set to break records on the year-end charts. Her third album, 25, is far and away the best-selling album of 2015. Adele will become the first artist to have the #1 album of the year three times since Nielsen began tracking music sales in 1991. Her sophomore album, 21, was #1 for both 2011 and 2012.

25 has sold 5,186,000 copies in its first three weeks. And it has three more chart weeks in 2015 to fatten its total. It will become the first album to sell 6 million copies in a calendar year since Usher’s Confessions, which sold 7,979,000 copies in 2004.

25 was released on Nov. 20. That’s the latest in the year that an album has been released and wound up as that year’s best-seller. The old record was set just last year by Taylor Swift’s 1989, which was released on Oct. 27, 2014.

Adele’s power ballad “Hello” is already one of the year’s top five songs, but it has little chance of unseating “Uptown Funk” as the year’s best-seller. That smash, by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, headed Billboard’s Hot 100 for 14 weeks, longer than any other single this year. This will be the third time that Mars will have a song in the year-end top 10. He previously scored with a pair of ballads: “Just the Way You Are” (#8 for 2010) and “When I Was Your Man” (#9 for 2013).

The Year’s Top 10 Digital Songs

“Uptown Funk” has sold 5,462,000 copies in 2015, on top of the 1,374,000 copies it sold in the last seven weeks of 2014. The song is a throwback to the mid-1980s Minneapolis R&B sound typified by such artists as Prince and the Time.

Trailing “Uptown Funk” on the list of the year’s top digital songs are Ed Sheeran’s lovely ballad “Thinking Out Loud” (3,920,000) and “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth (3,718,000). The latter song, a midtempo hip-hop ballad, is from the movie Furious 7. This will be the second year in a row that a movie song has ranked high on the year-end chart. Pharrell Williams’s “Happy,” from Despicable Me 2, was the #1 digital song of 2014. This will be the second time that Wiz Khalifa has had a song in the year-end top 10. Maroon 5’s “Payphone,” on which he was featured, was #4 for 2012.

Maroon 5’s “Sugar” is #4 for the year-to-date (3,302,000). It’s the year’s biggest hit by an ongoing group or duo. The pop quintet ranked #4 for the year in both 2011 (with “Moves Like Jagger” featuring Christina Aguilera) and 2012 (with the aforementioned “Payphone”).

Adele’s “Hello” ranks #5 for the year-to-date (3,058,000). It will overtake “Sugar” on the year-end chart and could even climb higher. It’s already the year’s biggest hit by a female artist. This marks the second time Adele has earned that distinction. “Rolling in the Deep” was the biggest hit by a female artist in 2011 – and the biggest hit of the year, period.

Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” is #6 for the year-to-date (2,932,000), followed by OMI’s “Cheerleader” (2,644,000), Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” (2,625,000), Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” (2,522,000), and “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar (2,514,000). If “Bad Blood” remains in the top 10 on the year-end chart, this will be the second time that Swift has had a song among the year’s top 10 hits. “Shake It Off” was the #8 song of 2014.

Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” is the top country hit for the year-to-date. It ranks #20 overall. Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” is the top rock song for the year-to-date. It ranks #35 overall. But it may well be overtaken at year’s end by Elle King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s,” which currently ranks #42. (Two pop/rock hits, Walk the Moon’s’s “Shut Up and Dance” and Hozier’s “Take Me to Church,” rank higher on the year-to-date chart, but the Grammys classify both tracks as pop, and I agree.)

The Weeknd has three songs in the top 20 for the year-to-date: “The Hills” at #12, “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)” at #14, and “Can’t Feel My Face” at #15. Look for the Weeknd to become the first artist to have three songs in the year-end top 20 – all as a lead artist – since Rihanna in 2008. Rihanna scored that year with “Disturbia” (#6), “Don’t Stop the Music” (#17), and “Take a Bow” (#20). (For good measure, she was featured on a fourth hit in the year-end top 20: T.I.’s “Live Your Life,” which ranked #12.)

Swift has a whopping five songs in the top 50 for the year-to-date: “Bad Blood” at #10, “Blank Space” at #22, “Style” at #25, “Shake It Off” at #33, and “Wildest Dreams” at #43. This serves as a useful reminder that, until Adele returned last month and stole some of Swift’s thunder, this was very much Swift’s year.

The Year’s Top 10 Albums

Trailing 25 on Nielsen’s list of the best-selling albums for the year-to-date is Swift’s fifth studio album, 1989. It has sold 1,866,000 copies so far this year, on top of the 3,661,000 that it sold in the last nine weeks of 2014. Adele and Swift also finished #1 and #2 for the year in 2012 with 21 and Red, respectively.

This will be the seventh time that Swift has had an album in the year-end top 10. Beyoncé is the only other artist who has accomplished that feat in the Nielsen era – and her tally combines Destiny’s Child and solo albums.

Drake’s mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, is #3 for the year-to-date (1,117,000). It’s currently the highest-ranking album by a male artist (though Ed Sheeran’s X will probably overtake it) and the highest-ranking album by a Canadian artist (though Justin Bieber’s Purpose will give it a run for its money). This will be the fourth time Drake has had an album in the year-end top 10.

Sheeran’s sophomore album, X, is #4 (1,108,000). Sam Smith’s debut album, In the Lonely Hour, is #5 (982K). Both albums are holdovers from 2014. Sheeran’s album was the 11th best-selling album of 2014. Smith’s album ranked third last year. Smith’s album was the top-selling debut album of 2014 and is likely to be the top-selling debut album of 2015. This would be the first time an album has claimed that distinction twice. Meghan Trainor’s debut album, Title, is #6 for the year-to-date (946K).

Bieber’s Purpose is #7 for the year-to-date (915K). This will be the fourth time that Bieber has had an album in the year-end top 10. Bieber will become one of only three Canadian artists to rank in the year-end top 10 four or more times in the Nielsen era. Shania Twain is out front with five appearances in the year-end top 10. As noted previously, this will also be Drake’s fourth appearance in a year-end top 10.

The Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack is #8 for the year-to-date (848K). The album spawned two massive hits, Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” and the Weeknd’s “Earned It.” This would be the second year in a row that a soundtrack has ranked in the year-end top 10. Frozen was #2 for 2014.

The top 10 for the year-to-date is rounded out by the Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness (767K) and Luke Bryan’s Kill the Lights (766K). This would be the third time Bryan has ranked in the year-end top 10.
Drake’s album is the top hip-hop album for the year-to-date. The Weeknd’s album is top R&B album. Bryan’s album is the top country album. The top rock album for the year-to-date is Fall Out Boy’s American Beauty/American Psycho (current rank: #13).

Fall Out Boy’s album is also currently the top-ranking album (from any genre) by a group or duo, but One Direction’s Made in the A.M. will almost certainly steal that title. 1D’s album is currently #15 for the year-to-date. This would be the second time that 1D has had the top-selling album by a group or duo. They achieved that feat in 2012.

Notice something? When all the sales have been counted, I expect Adele, Ed Sheeran, and One Direction to have the year’s top-selling album by a female artist, male artist, and group or duo. All three of these acts are from England. Good show, England.