BTS were the world’s biggest-selling recording artist last year. But for the first time ever, no British acts made the Top 10.

Adele kisses her Best Original Song statuette at the 85th Academy Awards in 2013. Will she return in 2021 with a new album? (credit: FeatureFlash/Shutterstock)

Each year, global recorded music body IFPI publishes a Top 10 list of artists, reflecting the biggest revenue-generating acts across all formats during the prior calendar’s 12 months.

The list for 2020 was released by IFPI last week, and is historic for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s led by a non-US or UK artist for the first time, with BTS pipping Taylor Swift and Drake to the top spot.

Secondly, artists whose recorded music is/was affiliated with Universal Music Group occupy no less than nine spots in the entire Top 10. (Technically that’s nine-point-something when you include BTS: most of the K-pop stars’ music is released via Big Hit / Sony Music in major international territories, but their Japanese-language recordings go through Big Hit / Universal Music Japan.)

MBW has noticed the IFPI’s new list is one for the history books for another reason, too: It’s the first ever official global Top 10 released by the IFPI that doesn’t contain a single British act.

IFPI has been issuing these annual Top 10 lists since 2013, when British boyband One Direction were the biggest-selling artist on the planet, ahead of Eminem and Justin Timberlake.

In each of the seven years following these debut 2013 rankings, one or more British artists have appeared: in 2014 (One Direction, Coldplay, Sam Smith); in 2015 (Adele, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith); in 2016 (David Bowie, Adele); in 2017 (Ed Sheeran); in 2018 (Ed Sheeran, Queen); and in 2019 (Ed Sheeran, Queen, The Beatles).

Yet in 2020, the Top 10 was made up of seven US-born artists and three Canadians, plus BTS representing South Korea.

Canada’s three citizens on the list were Drake (No.3), The Weeknd (No.4), and Justin Bieber (No.10).

The artists born in the United States were Taylor Swift (No.2), Billie Eilish (No.5), Eminem (No.6), Post Malone (No.7), Ariana Grande (No.8) and Juice WRLD (No.9).

Last year was a particularly odd 12 months for the record business – and all of us – of course, with many superstars who were expected to return with new albums (Ed Sheeran and Adele included) instead holding back their new LPs for another time.

Yet the new IFPI list is bound to further fuel theories and questions over the UK’s ability to transform its homegrown artists into global superstars in an increasingly competitive worldwide streaming landscape.

There will be just as many theories, we expect, pointing to the fact that – Dua Lipa excluded – 2020 was a particularly/oddly quiet year for releases from major UK stars. And that if Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Adele etc. return in 2021, this year’s list might end up looking rather different.

(We should also note that in terms of the IFPI’s biggest moneymaking albums of 2020, across all formats, two British artist efforts – Harry Styles’s Fine Line at No.5 and Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia at No.10 – made the Top 10, which was led by BTS’s MAP OF THE SOUL: 7.)

You can see the IFPI’s Top 10 artist list for every year going back to the debut rankings in 2013 below (British artists have an asterisk next to their names).

BTS were not only 2020’s biggest revenue-generating artist – they also released the year’s biggest album, according to IFPI data

  1. BTS
  2. Taylor Swift
  3. Drake
  4. The Weeknd
  5. Billie Eilish
  6. Eminem
  7. Post Malone
  8. Ariana Grande
  9. Juice WRLD
  10. Justin Bieber

Taylor Swift Lover photoshoot
  1. Taylor Swift
  2. Ed Sheeran *
  3. Post Malone
  4. Billie Eilish
  5. Queen *
  6. Ariana Grande
  7. BTS
  8. Drake
  9. Lady Gaga
  10. The Beatles *

  1. Drake
  2. BTS
  3. Ed Sheeran *
  4. Post Malone
  5. Eminem
  6. Queen *
  7. Imagine Dragons
  8. Ariana Grande
  9. Lady Gaga
  10. Bruno Mars

Credit: Warner Music Group
  1. Ed Sheeran *
  2. Drake
  3. Taylor Swift
  4. Kendrick Lamar
  5. Eminem
  6. Bruno Mars
  7. The Weeknd
  8. Imagine Dragons
  9. Linkin Park
  10. The Chainsmokers

  1. Drake
  2. David Bowie *
  3. Coldplay *
  4. Adele *
  5. Justin Bieber
  6. Twenty One Pilots
  7. Beyoncé
  8. Rihanna
  9. Prince
  10. The Weeknd

  1. Adele *
  2. Ed Sheeran *
  3. Taylor Swift
  4. Justin Bieber
  5. One Direction *
  6. Coldplay *
  7. Maroon 5
  8. Sam Smith *
  9. Drake
  10. The Weeknd

  1. Taylor Swift
  2. One Direction *
  3. Ed Sheeran *
  4. Coldplay *
  5. AC/DC
  6. Michael Jackson
  7. Pink Floyd *
  8. Sam Smith *
  9. Katy Perry
  10. Beyoncé

One Direction
  1. One Direction *
  2. Eminem
  3. Justin Timberlake
  4. Bruno Mars
  5. Katy Perry
  6. P!nk
  7. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
  8. Rihanna
  9. Michael Buble
  10. Daft Punk

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