538.com uses tools that measure how much a performer dominates his peers and adjusts for rule changes that affect numbers (like this article about Messi).
Here’s a simple metric that disregards the effects of Napster (total sales), by focusing solely on the quality of each artist’s music and how much they dominated their competition— U.S. No. 1 singles.
The difference in these numbers is staggering. I include each artist’s competition at the time to give context to both the level of skill and the amount of domination.
1956 Elvis: Four #1 singles, 25 weeks at #1
Elvis was the King, but look at his competition: Gogi Grant (1 song, 6 weeks), Dean Martin (1 song, 5 weeks) Nelson Riddle, Les Baxter (1 song, 4 weeks)
1964 Beatles: Six (6!) #1 singles, 20 weeks at #1, (#1 for 3 1/2 consecutive months with three different songs!!)
The Beatles’ competition includes 5 Hall of Famers: Supremes (3 songs, 10 weeks), Roy Orbison, Animals, Dixie Cups (1 song, 3 weeks), Beach Boys, Four Seasons, Manfred Mann, Mary Wells (1 song, 2 weeks)
1983 Michael Jackson: Three #1 singles (one was a duo with Paul McCartney, just saying’), 16 weeks at #1;
Michael Jackson’s competition includes 2 Hall of Famers: The Police (1 song, 8 weeks), Men at Work (1 song, 8 weeks), Irene Cara (1 song, 6 weeks), Hall & Oaks, Bonnie Taylor and Lionel Richie (1 song, 4 weeks)
2015 Taylor Swift: Two #1 singles, 8 weeks at #1
Swift is only #5 in total weeks at #1, compared to her competition: Weekend (2 songs, 12 weeks), Wiz Khalifa (1 song, 24 weeks), Mark Ronson (1 song, 14 weeks), OMI (1 song, 12 weeks)
I give songwriters more weight than just singers, so my list adjusts accordingly:
- Michael Jackson
And that’s it.
I’m sorry. Using a performer’s circle of friends, social media networking skills and brand management are not metrics to determine musical achievement. Star power, maybe, but not achievement as a musical artist.
Maybe 15 years from now, we’ll have a little more perspective on Ms. Swift’s all-time standing.