The biggest hits got significantly bigger in the first half of 2012, but there were slightly fewer medium-sized hits than in the same period last year. Two songs each sold more than 5 million copies in the first half of 2012. "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye featuring Kimbra sold 5,501,000 copies in the first half. "We Are Young" by fun. featuring Janelle Monae sold 5,087,000. Never before in the digital era has one song, much less two, sold 5 million copies in any six month period. You have to go back to the pre-digital era to find the last song that sold 5 million or more copies in a six-month period. Elton John's "Candle In The Wind 1997" sold 8,111,000 copies in the last 14 weeks of 1997.
Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" is in third place for the first half, with sales of 4,064,000. That's three songs above 4 million, which is also a record. There were two 4-million-sellers in the first half of 2011. These were the first chart hits for all five of these artists.
Three other songs topped the 3 million mark during the first half: Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" (3,324,000), Nicki Minaj's "Starships" (3,158,000) and "Payphone" by Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa (3,075,000). That's six songs above 3 million, also a record. There were four in the first half of 2011.
But once you get past the giant hits, the numbers reverse (not dramatically, but just enough to be puzzling). Fifteen songs topped 2 million in the first half, down from 17 in the first half of 2011. Forty-seven songs topped 1 million in the first half, down from 52 in the first half of 2011. A total of 107 songs sold 500K or more copies in the first half, down from 109 in the first half of 2011.
Fans have always responded to the hits, and nowadays a few massive hits are really dominating the pop landscape.
The hefty tally for "Somebody That I Used To Know" is way ahead of the tally for the biggest hit of the first six months of 2011. "E.T." by Katy Perry featuring Kanye West sold 4,120,000 in that period. Here's more proof of digital's dramatic growth: "Somebody…" sold more than twice as many copies as did the best-selling song for the first half of 2008. Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" sold 2,667,000 copies in the first six months of that year.
Two other versions of "Somebody…" also rank among the top 200 songs of the first half. A version by Walk Off The Earth sold 309K copies. Glee Cast's version sold 292K. Add the three versions together and the song is well over 6 million.
The Wanted won bragging rights in the battle of the boy bands, but it was extremely close. The Wanted's "Glad You Came" finished #7 for the first half (2,892,000), just 7K ahead of One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful" (#8 with sales of 2,885,000).
Rounding out the top 10 for the first half were "Wild Ones" by Flo Rida featuring Sia (#9 with sales of 2,790,000) and Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" (#10 with sales of 2,599,000). Both songs had long runs in the top 10 on the Hot 100.
Two Whitney Houston classics surged in the wake of her death on Feb. 11. Her 1992 smash "I Will Always Love You" sold 872K copies in the first half. Her 1987 smash "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" sold 336K.
Two other hits that pre-date the digital era are listed among the top 200. Eminem's 2002 smash "Lose Yourself" sold another 448K in the first half, bringing its total to 4,801,000. Journey's 1981 warhorse "Don't Stop Believin'" sold another 355K, bringing its total to 5,267,000.
Women continued to dominate the pop scene. It will surprise no one to learn that Adele was the only artist who sold 1 million or more copies of four different songs during the first half. She scored with "Set Fire To The Rain" (#11 with sales of 2,534,000), "Rolling In The Deep" (#28 with sales of 1,364,000), "Someone Like You" (#30 with sales of 1,320,000) and "Rumour Has It" (#41 with sales of 1,123,000).
Rihanna and Nicki Minaj each sold 1 million or more copies of three different songs (combining lead and featured credits).
Rihanna's hits were "We Found Love," her 2011 smash with Calvin Harris, which sold another 1,498,000 copies this year, to rank #24; Drake's "Take Care" (#25 with sales of 1,470,000) and "Where Have You Been" (#42 with sales of 1,108,000).
Minaj's hits were the aforementioned "Starships," David Guetta's "Turn Me On" (#17 with sales of 1,874,000) and Big Sean's "Dance (A$$) (#46 with sales of 1,042,000).
Counting only songs in which artists held the lead position (and not including featured credits), Adele leads with four million-sellers, followed by seven artists who each had two: Rihanna, Flo Rida, LMFAO, Drake, Pitbull, Maroon 5 and Kanye West.
Counting both lead and featured credits, the above-named artists are joined by Calvin Harris, Bruno Mars, Wiz Khalifa and Big Sean, who each had one million-seller in which they held the lead role and another in which they were featured.
In other highlights on the list, humor paid dividends with two songs. LMFAO's "Sexy And I Know It" sold another 2,128,000 copies to rank #12. Toby Keith's country novelty "Red Solo Cup" sold 1,056,000 to rank #45.
Rock icons were cited in the titles of two giant hits. Eric Church's "Springsteen" ranked #32 with sales of 1,312,000. "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera sold another 1,167,000 copies in the first half to rank #38.
Song titles continued to push the envelope. We had "Ni**as In Paris" by Jay-Z/Kanye West (#33 with sales of 1,309,000), "Ass Back Home" by Gym Class Heroes featuring Neon Hitch (#34 with sales of 1,283,000) and "Dance (A$$)" by Big Sean featuring Nicki Minaj (#46 with sales of 1,042,000). Further down the list: "HYFR (Hell Yah F*****g Right)" by Drake featuring Lil Wayne (449K) and Cee Lo Green's "F**k You (Forget You)" (336K).
Luke Bryan's "Drunk On You" was the biggest country hit of the first half (#26 with sales of 1,376,000). It was followed by "Springsteen," Carrie Underwood's "Good Girl" (#39 with sales of 1,156,000) and "Red Solo Cup."