Adele and Jones both appeal to an "upper-demo," adult contemporary audience, though Adele has also broken through to a young, singles-buying demographic with three #1 hits on the Hot 100. (By contrast, Jones' highest-charting single to date, "Don't Know Why," peaked at #30).
Nielsen SoundScan has tracked sales for Billboard since 1991. It maintains a running list of the 200 best-selling albums in its history, but that list is dominated by albums from the 1990s and early 2000s, when overall sales were much more robust than they are today. Phenomenal hits like 21 were much more common back then. It's almost unfair to compare albums from that era to albums from the last decade. So I extracted this list, of the best-selling albums of the last 10 years, from Nielsen SoundScan's larger list. Now we're comparing apples to apples.
Here are all albums that have sold 5 million or more copies in the last 10 years. The sales tally is the number of albums the album has sold from the week ending March 10, 2002 to the week ending March 11, 2012. (If the album was released prior to March 2002, I also show its total sales in parentheses. This affected only Jones' album.) I cap each entry by showing the month of the album's release and the album's current rank on Nielsen SoundScan's running list of the top 200 best-selling albums since 1991.
2. Eminem, The Eminem Show, 10,049,000. This is the best-selling rap album of the last 10 years, beating out 50 Cent's Get Rich Or Die Tryin' and Nelly's Nellyville. The album, Eminem's third, spawned the top 10 hits "Without Me" and "Cleanin' Out My Closet." Released: May 2002. Top 200 rank: #18.
4. Adele, 21, 8,090,000. This is the best-selling album of the last 10 years by an artist who was born outside the U.S. Runners-up in that category are Nickelback's All The Right Reasons and Avril Lavigne's Let Go. The album has spawned three #1 hits: "Rolling In The Deep," "Someone Like You" and "Set Fire To The Rain." It won a Grammy as Album of the Year. Released: February 2011. Top 200 rank: #39.
6. Evanescence, Fallen, 7,619,000. This is the best-selling rock album of the last 10 years, beating out Nickelback's All The Right Reasons and Green Day's American Idiot. It was the band's first album. It contains two top 10 hits: "Bring Me To Life" and "My Immortal." Released: March 2003. Top 200 rank: #51.
7. Nickelback, All The Right Reasons, 7,582,000. The album contains three top 10 hits: "Photograph," "Far Away" and "Rockstar." Released: October 2005. Top 200 rank: #53.
9. Avril Lavigne, Let Go, 6,782,000. This was Lavigne's first album. It spawned three top 10 hits: "Complicated," "Sk8er Boi" and "I'm With You." Released: June 2002. Top 200 rank: #71.
10. Taylor Swift, Fearless, 6,514,000. Swift's sophomore album contains five top 10 hits, including "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me." This won a Grammy for Album of the Year. Released: November 2008. Top 200 rank: #76.
12. Kelly Clarkson, Breakaway, 6,219,000. Clarkson's sophomore album contains four top 10 hits: "Breakaway," "Since U Been Gone," "Behind These Hazel Eyes" and "Because Of You." Released: November 2004. Top 200 rank: #85.
13. Green Day, American Idiot, 6,056,000. The album spawned two top 10 hits: "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends." Remarkably, the album inspired a Tony-winning Broadway musical. Released: September 2004. Top 200 rank: #93.
15. Mariah Carey, The Emancipation Of Mimi, 5,964,000. Carey's comeback album spawned the #1 hits "We Belong Together" and "Don't Forget About Us." Released: April 2005. Top 200 rank: #101.
16. Josh Groban, Closer, 5,960,000. This was Groban's second studio album. Released: November 2003. Top 200 rank: #102.
17. Linkin Park, Meteora, 5,913,000. This was the band's second studio album. Released: March 2003. Top 200 rank: #103.
19. Josh Groban, Noel, 5,446,000. This is the best-selling holiday album of the last 10 years, beating out Andrea Bocelli's My Christmas (2,826,000) and Michael Buble's Christmas (2,456,000). Released: October 2007. Top 200 rank: #127.
20. Shania Twain, Up!, 5,409,000. This was the country star's fourth album. Released: November 2002. Top 200 rank: #129.
21. 50 Cent, The Massacre, 5,286,000. The album contained four top 10 hits, including the #1 smash "Candy Shop" (featuring Olivia). Released: March 2005. Top 200 rank: #136.
22. Eminem, Encore, 5,282,000. The album, Eminem's fourth, contained the top 10 hit "Just Lose It." Released: November 2004. Top 200 rank: #137.
23. Rascal Flatts, Feels Like Today, 5,230,000. This was the country trio's third album. Released: September 2004. Top 200 rank: #140.
24. Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift, 5,175,000. This was Swift's first album. Released: October 2006. Top 200 rank: #143.
Want me to keep going? These albums didn't quite sell 5 million copies in the past 10 years, but they came close: Rascal Flatt's Me And My Gang (4,918,000); Daughtry's Daughtry (4,873,000); High School Musical (4,867,000, the best-selling soundtrack of the last 10 years); 8 Mile (4,854,000, the best-selling movie soundtrack of the last 10 years); Beyonce's Dangerously In Love (4,825,000); Coldplay's A Rush Of Blood To The Head (4,822,000); Maroon 5's Songs About Jane (4,808,000); Elvis Presley's Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits (4,805,000); Michael Jackson's Number Ones (4,753,000); Alicia Keys' Diary Of Alicia Keys (4,650,000); Norah Jones' Feels Like Home (4,629,000) and Gretchen Wilson's Here For The Party (4,594,000).
If you're curious to know how many copies key "catalog" albums have sold in the last 10 years, here you go: Michael Jackson's Thriller (4,546,000), Bob Marley & the Wailers' Legend (4,194,000); the Beatles' 1 (3,924,000); Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon (3,743,000); Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band's Greatest Hits (3,623,000); Journey's Greatest Hits (3,309,000); Creedence Clearwater Revival's Chronicle (The 20 Greatest Hits) (2,868,000); Queen's Greatest Hits (2,624,000); Abba's Gold—Greatest Hits (2,497,000) and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Greatest Hits (2,455,000).
- Taylor Swift
- Norah Jones