50 Most Important Musical Artists in 2014: 5-1

Who are the most significant musical artists in the United States today? That is the question that this list attempts to answer. The top five are below; no need for a teaser, you know who they are.


5 – Drake

Drake has gone from child star to superstar, following the trail blazed by Kanye West that allowed for a more introspective, confessional style of rapper to crossover onto the pop charts. He has placed nine songs on the year-end Billboard charts over the past three years and released two platinum albums (Take Care and Nothing Was the Same). He does well on the Pazz & Jop poll too, with Take Care placing at #8 in 2011 and Nothing Was the Same placing at #18 in 2013. He has been ignored by Grammy voters in the major categories thus far, but that is not enough to keep Drake out of the top five.


4 – Kanye West

Despite the pariah status that he has in some corners, I imagine that a number of people would have expected West to top this list. No artist has received more critical acclaim than Kanye West over the past few years. His 2013 album Yeezus topped the Pazz & Jop albums poll (his third album to be ranked #1 in the poll) while he placed three songs in the top ten of the singles poll, with “New Slaves” as his highest finishing in a tie with “Blurred Lines” for #4. However, he is often snubbed by Grammy voters and struggles to score pop hits, at least when compared to other artists in this portion of the list.


3 – Bruno Mars

Mars is perhaps the only real surprise in the top five. Although Mars was certain to place highly on this list, one could be forgiven for not expecting him to best Drake and Kanye West. Ultimately, the numbers make sense. Mars’ albums consistently place highly on the Billboard chart, with 2012’s Unorthodox Jukebox selling 2 million copies and placing fourth on Billboard’s 2013 year-end chart. The album was the source of the number one songs “When I Was Your Man” and “Locked Out of Heaven,” the latter of which was nominated for Song and Record of the Year at the Grammys.


2 – Taylor Swift

Swift’s 2012 album Red found the country darling broadening her sound, embracing contemporary pop to a much greater extent than on her previous releases. It was a wise decision, as Red has sold over 5 million copies and placed among the five best-selling albums of both 2012 and 2013. Her 2012 single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” became her first #1 song and was one of four songs by Swift to place on Billboard’s 2013 year-end chart.  She does well with music critics (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” came in at #6 on the 2012 Pazz & Jop poll), but was famously upset at the 2014 Grammy’s, losing in every category in which she was nominated. Nevertheless, with her next album due later this year, Swift is well-positioned to make a push for the top spot.


1 – Adele

Adele is the biggest pop star in America today and it is not even close. Though the R&B singer had a quite 2013 (being two years out from her last album’s release), Adele’s 2011 and 2012 were so successful that she can afford a year off. Her album 21 was the best-selling album of both 2011 and 2012 and has been certified diamond by the RIAA for sales in excess of 10 million (the last time an album sold 10 million copies was Usher’s 2004 release Confessions). She swept the major categories at the 2012 Grammy’s, winning Album (for 21), Song, and Record of the Year (both for “Rolling in the Deep”). Critics like her too, with 21 placing sixth on the 2011 Pazz & Jop albums poll and “Rolling in the Deep” topping the songs poll.  Her next album is expected to drop at the end of this year.


Image Credit: Vanity Fair / Peter Lindbergh

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