Analysis

IFPI names Drake biggest recording artist of 2016. But was he?


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Drake has been named as “the world’s best-selling recording artist of 2016” by the IFPI, making him the fourth recipient of the music industry body’s Global Recording Artist of the Year award.

Drake topped the body’s 2016 list, which was published this afternoon, ahead of David Bowie, Coldplay, Adele, Justin Bieber, Twenty One Pilots, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Prince and The Weeknd.

In fact, Drake’s success in 2016 wasn’t just about selling music: it was about fans streaming his music billions of times on services including Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.

Drake has a tight relationship with Apple Music thanks to a partnership and promotional deal he signed with Apple in 2015, estimated to be worth $19m at the time by the New York Post.

Apple bankrolled Drake’s famously meme-worthy ‘Hotline Bling’ video and threw its full promotional weight behind his ‘Views’ album on its release in May 2016, complete with a two-week exclusive for Apple Music.

In its first week alone, ‘Views’ sold 1m copies globally on the iTunes Store and racked up 250m streams on Apple Music. In late September, Apple said the album had reached 1bn streams on the latter service.

Drake was also the most-streamed artist of 2016 on Spotify, with more than 4.7bn streams including nearly 2.5bn of ‘Views’ – a figure that included 970m streams of single ‘One Dance’.

“Drake has been unstoppable this year – he’s a true global superstar,” said Stefan Blom, Spotify’s chief content & chief strategy officer, in December. Yet while Spotify and Apple Music are the two dominant streaming services, they’re only part of the ecosystem that Drake is operating within.

Interestingly, the UK’s Official Charts Company says that ‘Views’ was only the eighth-biggest album in the UK last year, trailing behind Adele, Coldplay, Michael Ball and Alfie Boe, Elvis Presley, David Bowie and Little Mix. Many of those albums performed strongly with physical sales as well as (or in some cases, instead of) streams.

‘One Dance’ was the top single in the UK last year with 1.95 million ‘combined sales’ based on 530k downloads and 142m streams. Indeed, the song was so popular that its 15-week run at number one was a factor in the OCC changing its charts formula from 100 streams equalling a ‘sale’ to 150 streams.

In the US, ‘Views’ was the second-biggest album of the year behind Adele’s ’25’ according to Billboard and Nielsen, while Adele also topped the full-year albums chart in Germany according to BVMI. Meanwhile, ‘Views’ didn’t even make it into the annual top 10 in Japan according to industry figures there.

What are we getting at? According to official figures in the world’s four biggest music markets, Drake’s ‘Views’ was not the biggest selling album of the year. Yet when the IFPI combined all the data from every market it covers, he emerged victorious as the biggest-selling artist.

drake-views-album

The IFPI’s Global Recording Artist chart includes album sales (digital, CD and vinyl); singles (downloads and physical); and on-demand audio and video streams over the calendar year. Artists’ entire catalogues are counted, not just their latest album. And the IFPI uses its “album equivalent units” metric to bring downloads, physical sales and streams together for comparison.

We were still puzzled, so we approached the IFPI for clarification on whether Drake really was the biggest artist of 2016 instead of, say, Adele.

“Our chart includes all of the music of each artist featured, not just the sales of one individual album,” a spokesperson reiterated. “So in addition to sales of ‘Views’, it also includes the sales of all of his singles, both downloaded and physical; and on-demand audio streams and official music videos – as well as his other albums – across the calendar year.”

It is true that in the US, past Drake albums including ‘What A Time to Be Alive’ (#25); ‘If You Are Reading This It’s Too Late’ (#35)’ ‘Take Care’ (#58) and ‘Nothing Was The Same’ (#68) appeared in the year-end albums chart, although they did not appear in the top 40 list published by the OCC for the UK.

Still, Drake topped the IFPI’s chart, a list that says a lot about the music industry in 2016. Second-placed Bowie’s death drove huge sales of his deep back catalogue, while Coldplay, Adele and Bieber were all trading off big albums originally released in 2015.

Eamonn Forde

One response
  • Tabitha says:

    Drake’s IFPI success in 2016 is a tricky one. Like you say, a lot of Drake’s support came in the form of viral sharing because of the strong force he had behind him in the form of Apple. IFPI’s list shows the full impact of streaming services in the music industry. If record selling albums aren’t getting a look in when compared to artists who succeed through new viral marketing and streaming sites, then the ‘viral factor’ is something the industry will definitely move towards.

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