Chart Watch

Chart Watch Extra: Beyonce Is The Certified Sales Champ

Chart Watch

The organization that hands out gold, platinum and multi-platinum awards has just confirmed what you probably already assumed: Beyonce was just about the hottest music artist for the past decade. The Recording Industry Assn. added up all the certifications that it awarded from 2000 through 2009, not just for albums, but for all the music configurations that they track-albums, digital songs, master ringtones and music videos.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization gave an artist credit for one "unit" when a title went gold, a second when it went platinum, a third when it went double-platinum, and so on. The RIAA counted only titles that were released from 2000 to 2009, so catalog product didn't affect the rankings. Beyonce came out on top for the decade with 64 certifications. Eagles were the top group for the decade, with 48. Michael Jackson was the top male solo artist, with 44.

The RIAA's methodology is clever, but simplistic. It gave equal weight to all four of these configurations (albums, digital songs, master ringtones and music videos), which assumes an equivalency between them. But they're not equal. Virtually every artist in the business would rather have a multi-platinum album than, say, a multi-platinum master ringtone (which reflects song usage in cell phones).

There's a second factor you need to keep in mind. The RIAA's sales criteria for certification is different for different configurations. To be certified platinum, albums and singles need to sell 1 million copies, while music videos need to sell just 100,000 copies. This disparity obviously worked to the benefit of artists who had music videos in their certification portfolios. (See Eagles and Michael Jackson below.)

Bottom line: The RIAA's jumbo-combo sweepstakes is an interesting and entertaining approach, but, as is often the case with statistics, you have to take the results with a grain of salt.

With that in mind, let's take a closer at those three artists' totals.

Beyonce's total of 64 certifications includes 20 for digital songs, 19 for master ringtones, 13 for music videos and 12 for albums. Her top title overall was her 2003 debut album, Dangerously In Love, which has been certified four times platinum. The album spawned the #1 hits "Crazy In Love" (featuring Jay-Z) and "Baby Boy" (featuring Sean Paul).

Eagles' total of 48 certifications was greatly inflated by the presence of the video, Farewell Tour: Live From Melbourne, which has been certified 30 times platinum (which translates to about 3 million copies). The group is also represented with three albums. The most successful was 2007's Long Road Out Of Eden, a two-CD set which is certified seven times platinum. (The RIAA gives double weight to two-CD albums. This translates to sales of about 3.5 million copies.)

Michael Jackson's total of 44 certifications was also inflated by the presence of a video, Number Ones, which has been certified 13 times platinum (recognizing sales of about 1.3 million copies). His tally includes two other top-selling music videos, HIStory On Film and Live In Bucharest, which are each six times platinum. Jackson's top-selling album of the decade was Number Ones, which has been certified three times platinum.

While the all-inclusive grand tallies will attract the most attention, the RIAA was on more solid statistical ground when it simply reported the top certifications for individual configurations.


George Strait was the top artist in terms of album certifications. The country veteran had 29. His top album for the decade was 50 Number Ones, a two-CD set that was released in 2004. It has been certified seven times platinum. (Again, this translates to sales of about 3.5 million copies.)

*NSYNC's 2000 blockbuster No Strings Attached was certified for sales of 11 million copies, more than any other album released in the decade. The collection spawned three top 10 hits: "Bye Bye Bye," "It's Gonna Be Me" and "This I Promise You." The boy band had a short shelf life, but one of its members, Justin Timberlake, became a solo superstar.

(Two double-disk albums were also certified at the 11 million level, which translates to sales of about 5.5 million copies each. These are Shania Twain's 2002 album Up! and OutKast's 2003 smash Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.)


Taylor Swift was the top artist in terms of digital song certifications. The country/pop star had 25. Her top titles were "Love Story" (which is four times platinum) and "Teardrops On My Guitar," "Our Song" and "You Belong With Me" (each of which has been certified two times platinum).

"Low" by Flo Rida featuring T-Pain was the highest-certified digital song. The 2007 smash is certified at five times platinum.

The RIAA added digital sales awards in October 2004. Forty-five titles were included in the initial group of certifications. One year later, Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" became the first digital single to be certified for sales of 1 million units. In January 2007, Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" became the first digital single to be certified for sales of 2 million units.

"Low" was the first digital single to be certified three times platinum (in March 2008), four times platinum (in September 2008) and five times platinum (in May 2009).


Beyonce was the top artist in terms of master ringtone (also known as phone tone) certifications. The pop/R&B superstar had 19. The most successful was her 2006 smash "Irreplaceable," which is three times platinum.

"Lollipop" by Lil Wayne featuring Static Major was the highest-certified master ringtone. The 2008 smash has been certified five times platinum.

The RIAA added awards for master ringtones in June 2006. The first double-platinum master ringtones were "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas, "Laffy Taffy" by D4L, "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire featuring Krayzie Bone and "I'm N Luv (Wit A Stripper)" by T-Pain featuring Mike Jones.

"Ridin'" also became the first master ringtone to be certified three times platinum (in August 2006) and four times platinum (in May 2007). But "Lollipop" was the first to go five times platinum (in December).

The RIAA began presenting gold awards in 1958, platinum awards in 1976 and multi-platinum awards in 1984. The organization added Diamond awards in 1999, when sales were brisk and the music industry assumed there would be a lot of 10 million sellers in its future.

In the past decade, the RIAA has added awards for digital sales and master ringtones. It will doubtless continue adding awards to its Gold & Platinum program.

"As the way fans access and enjoy music continues to evolve, so has and will the G&P program in recognizing the highest commercial and artistic success," said Mitch Bainwol, the RIAA's Chairman and CEO.

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