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The music industry: it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl. From Beyoncé to Whitney Houston to Adele, women constitute a large percentage of music’s pantheon of greats – but who are the world’s most successful female artists?
Well, that’s actually a very tricky question to answer, as the word ‘successful’ can be defined in numerous different ways.
Below, we answer all of the key questions surrounding inspiring women in music, such as ‘Who are the bestselling female artists of all time?’, ‘Who is the most popular female solo artist?’ and, ‘Which female artist has sold the most albums?’
Most Successful Female Artists
- Céline Dion
- Katy Perry
- Taylor Swift
- Ariana Grande
- Selena Gomez
- Whitney Houston
- Mariah Carey
- J. Lo
- Diane Warren
The Bestselling Female Artists
The Queen of Pop, Madonna, is the bestselling female artist of all time.
She’s released 14 studio albums, three soundtracks, five live albums and six compilations, plus 63 UK Top 10 singles. Since 1983, she’s sold an estimated 335 million albums and singles worldwide.
Madonna’s biggest seller is The Immaculate Collection (30 million copies and counting), and five of her singles are estimated to have registered sales of over five million units, including 'Like a Virgin' and 'Hung Up'.
Only The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson have sold more records worldwide than Ms Ciccone; plus, she’s clocked up 20 gold, 17 platinum and 12 multi-platinum album awards. Over a 40-year career (she first signed with Sire Records in 1982), the 'Material Girl' is estimated to have amassed a net worth of roughly $850 million.
Makes sense considering she’s the highest-grossing solo touring artist of all time, with over $1.4 billion in ticket sales.
Second on the list is Céline Dion, the bestselling Canadian recording artist and bestselling French-language artist of all time.
The Quebec-born superstar has released 27 studio albums, 19 compilation albums, seven live albums and 137 singles – as a result, she’s sold over 250 million albums and singles worldwide.
Plus, she’s been touring almost non-stop since the mid-80s; the singer currently finds herself on her 15th concert tour (18th, if you include her three residencies).
Of course, Ms Dion has reaped the rewards of her hard work over the years: not only is she estimated to be worth around $800 million, but she also has 239 awards to her name, including five Grammys, six AMAs and seven Billboard Music Awards.
It’s rather incredible that Rihanna, the 30-something, Barbados-born singer who last released a record in 2016, is the third bestselling female artist of all time.
Like Céline, Rihanna has sold over 250 million copies of her music worldwide; her fans have 52 singles, eight studio albums and two remix albums to choose from.
Currently, Rihanna is the richest female musician in the world, estimated to be worth $1.7 billion. And although this is a lot to do with her beauty and fashion ventures, the Caribbean multi-hyphenate is known to have made stacks of cash during the ‘00s and ‘10s when she embarked on seven concert tours, five of which were worldwide.
Reportedly, her Diamond World Tour alone made over $140 million.
The Female Artist With The Fastest-Selling Album
Debuting at no. 1 in 32 countries and breaking first-week sales records just four days after its US release (it clocked up 3.38 million in its first week – over 5.77 million worldwide), Adele’s third studio album 25 became the world’s bestselling album of 2015, with over 17.4 million copies sold.
Plus she became the first female to have three top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time.
Alongside her record-breaking sales, Adele was the first artist to win an Oscar for her Bond theme and only the second female artist to take home six Grammys in a year – nabbing the big four: 'Album of the Year', 'Best New Artist, 'Record of the Year' and 'Song of the Year’ in 2012.
Plus, she’s a YouTube queen – she has racked up almost three billion views on her ‘Hello Video’ and 247 million views on the 2021 ‘Easy on Me’ video (it racked up 27.7 million views in its first 24 hours alone).
The Most Viewed Music Videos By Female Artists
Katy Perry - 'Roar'
Katy Perry’s 'Roar' (2013) has clocked up an astonishing 3.5 billion views (and 'Dark Horse' takes the number two spot with over 3.2 billion).
Stranded in the jungle after a plane crash with a quickly-dispatched, selfie-obsessed idiot, Katy proves herself a resourceful gal (evidence she’s a Bear Grylls fan, perhaps?).
She soon makes friends with a selection of animals and birds who, in turn, crown her the Queen of the Jungle, which just goes to show that she doesn’t require a Tarzan-type guy to save her.
Taylor Swift – 'Shake it Off'
Snapping at Katy’s heels, this single from Taylor Swift’s album 1989 saw her shaking off her country crown and shifting to pure pop. Clearly she was onto something as the video currently has over 3.1 million views.
Tay-Tay’s hater-crushing video proved too controversial for some, garnering accusations of cultural appropriation. However, the fact remains that it’s irritatingly catchy – you’ll quite literally have to sit on your hands to stop them reenacting Swift’s ‘shake, shake, shake’ move every time you hear the bop.
The Most Influential Performance From A Female Artist
‘Let’s just cut to the chase: There’s not likely to be a more meaningful, absorbing, forceful and radical performance by an American musician this year, or any year soon, than Beyoncé’s headlining set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival’ – New York Times.
In 2018, Beyoncé became the first Black woman to headline Coachella. The modern-day icon performed for almost two hours and was joined on stage by more than 100 performers – a masterfully synchronised and colour-coordinated army of singers, dancers, majorettes, drummers and marching band members.
Plus, there was a reunion with Destiny’s Child bandmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams for 'Say My Name’, an appearance from her sister Solange during ‘Get Me Bodied', and husband Jay-Z came out for their duet, ‘Deja Vu’.
A masterclass in Black history, feminism and the iconography of historically Black colleges and universities’ (HBCUs) half-time shows, the set was a superpowered fusion of hits, covers and iconic black anthems, with spectacular choreography and blistering vocals throughout.
The Female Artist Who Has Won The Most Awards
Beyoncé claimed the crown for the first music act in the Billboard 200 chart’s history to debut at no. 1 with their first six solo studio albums.
And her success during the 2000s saw her recognised as the Recording Industry Association of America’s 'Top Certified Artist of the Decade' as well as Billboard magazine’s 'Top Female Artist of the Decade'.
Altogether, the Houston-born singer has accumulated 542 awards, including 28 Grammys. Unsurprisingly, she is the most Grammy Award-nominated female in history – she has been nominated a grand total of 79 times!
The Most Streamed Female Artist
Ariana Grande is the most streamed female artist on Spotify, with over 29 billion streams to her name.
The only men that stand between her and the overall top spot are Drake, Ed Sheeran, Bad Bunny and The Weekend. Her most-streamed album? Thank U, Next, a fifth studio record that just so happens to contain her most-streamed song, ‘7 Rings’.
The Most Popular Female Solo Artist (According To Instagram)
Although people are often coming for her crown, Selena Gomez is the most popular female solo artist on Instagram, with over 299 million followers.
Right behind her are Ariana Grande (296 million followers), Beyoncé (239 million followers) and Taylor Swift (200 million followers).
The Most Albums Sold Ever By A Female Artist
Whitney Houston’s soundtrack to The Bodyguard is the third bestselling of all time – an estimated 45 million copies sold worldwide – and bestselling album from a female artist, helped in large by Houston’s cover of Dolly Parton classic ‘I Will Always Love You’.
The film may’ve made a movie star out of Whitney (playing singer/actress Rachel Marron), but you’ve actually got co-star Kevin Costner (aka Frank, her bodyguard) to thank for 'I Will Always Love You'.
The final song was slated to be a cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s 'What Becomes of the Broken Hearted', but as production got underway, a Paul Young cover of the song was featured in Fried Green Tomatoes. Costner, a country fan, suggested the Dolly Parton song should be the replacement and that Houston sang the introduction a capella to add more emotion.
The Most Streamed Christmas Hit By A Female Artist
Mariah Carey’s 'All I Want for Christmas is You' was written in 1994 – and unbelievably didn’t actually hit no. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list until 2019, earning it the accolade of the ‘longest trip to no. 1’.
But now, it’s Spotify’s most-streamed Christmas song of all time, and with estimated sales of over 16 million copies, it’s the bestselling Christmas single by a female artist and the third bestselling Christmas song of all-time.
The Top Latin Female Artist
Jennifer Lynn Lopez does it all – she sings, dances, acts, designs, produces and runs multiple businesses. She has sold over 75 million records worldwide and remains the highest-paid Latin actress (she was paid over $1 million for taking on the titular role in biopic Selena.)
In 2018, Time named the multifaceted artist one of the most influential people in the world.
And all that was before starring in Hustlers, which gave J-Lo her highest opening weekend for a live-action film, and awards nominations at the Golden Globes, SAG awards, Critics’ Choice and Independent Spirit Awards.
The Most Important Female Songwriter in The World
When Diane Warren became the first songwriter in Billboard history to have seven hits – all by different artists – on the singles chart simultaneously, the UK’s former Chairman of EMI Music Publishing, Peter Reichardt credited her as ‘the most important songwriter in the world’.
Warren has penned tunes for everyone from Elton John to Barbra Streisand, Lady Gaga to Reba McEntire and Aerosmith (for the latter, she wrote the Oscar-nominated 'I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing' for the Armageddon soundtrack). Her songs transcend genre – for instance, 'Don’t Turn Around' has been recorded by eight different artists as varied as Tina Turner, Aswad and Ace of Base.
Warren has been named ASCAP Songwriter of the year six times, and Billboard’s 'Songwriter of the Year' four times. Plus her publishing company, Realsongs, was named one of the top five music publishing corporations and the most successful female-owned and operated business in the music industry. Both as a prolific songwriter and a businesswoman, Warren can be considered a tour de force.
Who Are The World’s Most Successful Female Artists?
In summary, the world’s most successful female artists are those who’ve been vital to the success of the industry and those who’ve kept the world – especially their fanbase – engaged.
Whether that’s reflected in their record sales, streaming stats or social media popularity doesn’t really matter as the music industry is constantly evolving, meaning it’s hard to compare one era’s golden girl to another.
Looking to read a little more about powerful women in the arts? Have a read of our The Edit article, focused on trailblazing women in music, film and TV. Rather listen to some female-led tracks? Head on over to our Kick-Ass Women playlist.
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