50 Most Important Musical Artists in 2014: Introduction

Over the next two weeks, I will be presenting the 50 most important musical artists in the United States. The idea is to determine the most successful artists based on current form, taking into consideration popular success, industry approval, and critical acclaim. Want to know how these factors are measured? Read on to find out.

First, this list is not about my favorite artists making music today. Aside from choosing which metrics to use for this project, my opinion effectively counts for nothing. The entire scoring system will be fairly transparent for those who want to check my math. Additionally, the list is based solely on American measures of success. This is simply because it would be impossible to apply my formula on a truly global scale, as the majority of countries in the world do not have data sources analogous to the ones I am using from the US. However, the list itself is not limited to American artists.

The artist rankings are based on scores in two categories: popularity and acclaim. The scores for popularity are entirely derived from placement on Billboard Magazine’s year-end singles and albums charts. An artist is limited to their four best performing singles per year. An album counts twice as much as a single.

Points are awarded for Billboard charts based on the following chart:
#1 Album/Single – 10 points.
Top 5 Album/Single – 8 points.
Top 10 Album/Single – 6 points.
Top 25 Album/Single – 4 points.
Top 50 Album/Single – 2 points.
Top 100 Album/Single – 1 point.

Acclaim has two sources, each measuring a different kind of acclaim. The first is Grammy awards. Since the Grammys are voted on by music executives and academy members, it is considered to be indicative of acclaim from the music industry itself. Grammys are awarded in dozens of categories, with the majority being genre-specific. However, I am only using results from four categories. They are the ‘big three’ awards (for best album, record, and song) and the Best New Artist Award.

Points are awarded for Grammys based on the following chart:
Big ‘Three’ Award Win: 10 points.
Big ‘Three’ Award Nomination: 4 points.
Best New Artist Award: 5 points.
Best New Artist Nomination: 2 points.

The second aspect of acclaim is the Village Voice’s massive annual Pazz & Jop poll of music critics which asks critics to submit a list of their favorite albums and songs of the year. Thus, the Pazz & Jop poll is representative of the general critical consensus in the United States.

Points are awarded for the Pazz & Jop poll based on the following chart:
#1 Album/Song – 10 points.
Top 5 Album/Song – 6 points.
Top 10 Album/Song – 4 points.
Top 25 Album/Song – 3 points.
Top 50 Album/Song – 2 points.
Top 100 Album/Song – 1 point.

Only the past three years are considered, as this list is meant to be representative of the most vital musicians today rather than a list of legacy artists getting by on peddling decades-old songs (although, to their credit, Bruce Springsteen and Lionel Ritchie both narrowly missed the top 50). To better capture this intent, the years are weighted differently: 2013 is at 100%, 2012 at 75%, and 2011 at 50%. Therefore, an artist who had been successful in 2013 would be ranked higher than an artist who had comparable success in 2011.

Obviously, data from 2014 cannot be included. The lone exception to this is the 2014 Grammy Awards, an exception because the window to be nominated for a Grammy spans the majority of the previous year rather than the current one.

The scores from all of these factors are then added together to arrive at an artist’s overall score, with a higher score equaling a higher placement.

Each day this week and next, five artists from the list will be revealed, starting with numbers 50-46. Frankly, the top of the list is not too surprising. But then, if there were shockers in the top ten, the concept behind the list itself would be invalidated. Overall, I am reasonably satisfied with the way that the list has turned out and hope to update it next year.

Image Credit: AP / Matt Sayles


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