Like Beyoncé said – “Girls run the world”. Over the decades, we’ve seen female icons top the charts and become household names for years to come. I mean, who doesn’t know Madonna? And what is “music” without Rihanna?
We’re about to honor the 12 best-selling female artists of all time and see how they’ve made their careers shine bright with their smash-hits and successful albums. Some of these celebrities may surprise you, while others are pretty predictable.
Scroll down to discover who the most successful female artists truly are…
Information was derived from Wikipedia‘s Claimed Sales.
12. Nicki Minaj
Sales: 100 million
No. 1 Singles (Billboard): Trollz feat. 6ix9ine
Best-Selling Album: Pink Friday
After releasing her mixtapes Playtime Is Over, Sucka Free and Beam Me Up Scotty, Nicki Minaj, who we know as Queen Barbz, started receiving public recognition. It wasn’t until she signed with Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment label that she became the rapstar we know and love today.
After securing her record deal, Nicki unleashed her alter-ego Roman who often makes an appearance on her tracks and released her first studio album Pink Friday. It peaked at number one on the US Billboard charts and was certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Since then, Nicki has gone on to sell an additional three best-selling albums – Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, which went to number one on the Billboard 200; and The Pinkprint and Queen, which both reached number two in the US.
It was only in 2020 when Nicki earned her first number one single on the Hot 100 with her 6ix9ine collaboration Trollz – now marked as her most successful song since Anaconda. All in all, the rapstress has sold around 100 million records worldwide, making her the 12th highest-selling female artist.
Other than being dubbed one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time, the best-selling female rapper has bagged eight American Music Awards, 12 BET Awards, five MTV Video Music Awards and four Billboard Music Awards.
Sales: 118 million
No. 1 Singles (Billboard): Crazy in Love, Baby Boy, Check on It, Irreplaceable, Single Ladies, Perfect Duet
Best-Selling Album: Dangerously in Love
Queen Bey rose to fame in the late 1990s as part of Destiny’s Child, one of the best-selling female groups of all time. During the band’s hiatus in 2002, she tested the waters on a solo career where she acted in and recorded a song for the hit-movie Austin Powers in Goldmember.
Following the movie’s great success, Beyonce began her solo career and released her debut album Dangerously in Love in 2003. Since then, the superstar has released another four albums, as well as a joint album with her husband, Jay-Z. Lemonade made Beyonce the first artist in history to have six consecutive number one albums in the US, while Beyonce was the fastest-selling album ever on iTunes.
Beyonce has over four number one singles including Crazy in Love, Check on It, Irreplaceable and Single Ladies. In total, she has sold 118 million records worldwide (and another 60 million with Destiny’s Child).
Other than being the RIAA’s Top Certified Artist of the Decade, the highest-earning Black musician in history (in 2014) and one of Forbes’ most powerful females in entertainment, Beyoncé also has the most Grammys won by a female artist in one night (6 awards) and holds the record for the most Grammys won by a woman with a whopping 28 wins.
Her most defining career moments include her Super Bowl Half-Time Performance in 2016, her headlining Coachella in 2018 and lending her voice to The Lion King live-action remake as Nala in 2019.
Sales: 120 million
No.1 Singles (Billboard): Rolling in the Deep, Someone Like You, Set Fire To The Rain, Hello, Easy on Me
Best-Selling Album: 21
British songstress Adele released her debut album (19) in 2008 and became an instant hint with her standout vocals. Selling over 120 million records worldwide so far, the vocal phenomenon released her long-awaited fourth studio album after a six-year hiatus in 2021, which became the best-selling album of that year (Billboard).
Adele made it big in America almost immediately after 19 was certified triple platinum. Three years later, the music phenomenon put out her second album which surpassed the success of its predecessor. 21 was named the best-selling album of the 21st century, with over 31 million copies sold; and in 2015, she put out her third album 25, which was Adele’s second album to be certified diamond. The singer’s fourth album, 30 has been named the best-selling album of 2021 in the US after only three days of release.
Adele’s album 21 put her in the Guiness Book of Records as the first female in history to have three simultaneous top-ten singles in the Billboard Hot 100 including Rolling in the Deep and Someone Like You.
In 2012, Adele released Skyfall which she co-wrote for the James Bond movie and of course, it received a number of awards including an Academy Award and Golden Globe.
Her single Hello later became the first song in the US to sell over one million digital copies within a week of its release, while her fifth number one single Easy on Me broke Spotify and Amazon Music records for most streams in a day.
Adele’s albums have rewarded her with several gongs over the years. She took home two Grammys for 19; six Grammys including Album of the Year for 21 – tying her up with Beyonce for the most GRAMMYs won by a female artist in one night; and five Grammys for 25.
Adele’s music video for Hello is also one of the most-watched music videos on YouTube ever with almost three billion views, and in 2021, she was named the UK’s best-selling female album artist of the 21st century.
9. Lady Gaga
Sales: 124 million
No.1 Singles (Billboard): Just Dance, Poker Face, Born This Way, Shallow, Rain on Me
Best-Selling Album: The Fame / The Fame Monster
Lady Gaga is known for her wacky style, epic performances and killer voice, but she actually began her career as a songwriter. It wasn’t until she signed with Akon’s label, KonLive Distribution, in 2007 that she became an independent artist.
The Fame was certified triple platinum, while Joanne was Gaga’s fourth album to top the charts in the US, making her the first woman to have four number-one albums in the 2010s. Gaga also has one of the best-selling remix albums of all time with her 2010 release, The Remix.
With over one million downloads in less than a week, Born This Way became the fastest-selling song on iTunes in 2011. It was also an international success, landing at number one in a whopping 19 countries.
Gaga has a total of five number one songs including Just Dance, Poker Face, Bad Romance and Shallow. In 2020, she released her collaboration with Ariana Grande, Rain on Me, which became the first ever female collaboration to debut at number one.
Other than being one of the world’s best-selling music artists, Gaga is also the fourth highest-earning female musician of the 2010s. She has also won various Guinness World Records, 12 Grammy Awards, and awards from the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Besides that, Lady Gaga has also embarked on independent journeys launching Haus Laboratories (a vegan cosmetic brand) and Haus of Gaga (her fashion label).
8. Katy Perry
Sales: 143 million
No. 1 Singles (Billboard): I Kissed a Girl, California Gurls, Teenage Dream, Firework, E.T., Last Friday Night, Part of Me, Roar, Dark Horse
Best-Selling Album: One of the Boys
Katy Perry started her career as a gospel singer by releasing the unsuccessful debut album Katy Hudson in 2001. It wasn’t long before she transformed into one of the best-selling female artists and mega popstars we know today.
After the failure of Katy Hudson, Katy released One of the Boys in 2008 which featured her smash hit I Kissed a Girl. Her third album Teenage Dream then hit a record only Michael Jackson’s Bad had previously achieved – having five chart-topping Billboard Hot 100 singles including California Gurls, Teenage Dream, Firework, E.T, and Last Friday Night.
Katy’s fourth album, Prism, spawned the chart-topping songs Roar and Dark Horse, which led her to become the first singer to have multiple videos reach one billion views on Vevo. She then went on to unveil her next releases Witness and Smile.
Katy brags a total of nine number one singles including California Gurls and Part of Me.
One of the Boys which included her hit-singles I Kissed a Girl and Hot n Cold were certified quintuple platinum by the RIAA; while Firework, Roar, and Dark Horse, from Prism received diamond song certifications, making her the first artist ever to achieve this. With these songs, Katy also holds the record for the most 6-million-selling songs.
Katy’s achievements include four Guinness World Records and five Billboard Music Awards as well as being named one of Forbes’ highest-earning women in music from 2011 to 2019. However, Katy’s Super Bowl Half-Time performance in 2016 became a defining moment of her career and is one of the most-watched of all time.
7. Barbra Streisand
Sales: 150 million
No.1 Singles (Billboard): The Way We Were, Evergreen, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, No More Tears, Woman in Love
Best-Selling Album: Guilty
Barbara Streisand has been in the music business for more than 50 years and has performed on Broadway, numerous films and released many successful albums. Her career began in singing in the 1960s when she became an established artist after releasing her best-selling album The Barbra Streisand Album, which won two Grammy Awards including Album of the Year.
Throughout her career, Barbra has recorded over 80 albums, 11 of which have topped the Billboard 200, making her only female artist to do so. Other than Elvis Presley (the best-selling artist of all time), she is the only star to have 52 gold and 31 platinum albums.
Barbra is also the only artist to have number one albums in each of the last six decades. It’s no surprise then that the RIAA ranks her as the highest-certified female album artist with 68.5 million album units in the US.
Since her music career in the 1960s, the icon has achieved five number-one singles on the Hot 100 chart including The Way We Were, Evergreen, and Woman in Love. The Way We Were in particular, was the first original single by a female artist to become the number one song of the year in the US.
Not only is Barbra the seventh best-selling female recording artist, she’s also one of the few artists and actresses to win Academy Awards (two awards!), Grammys (eight awards!), Emmys, Golden Globes, Tony Awards (EGOT) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
6. Celine Dion
Sales: 200 million
No.1 Singles (Billboard): The Power of Love, Because You Loved Me, My Heart Will Go On, I’m Your Angel
Best-Selling Album: Falling Into You
She may be the sixth top-selling female artist in the world, but Celine Dion is actually Canada’s best-selling recording artist of all time. After starting her career by selling French albums and winning the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest, Celine soon became a household name in the 90s upon releasing her English albums.
Celine Dion has two of the best-selling albums of all time. Falling Into You achieved the eleven-times platinum certification, while Let’s Talk About Love featured the highest-selling single of her career, My Heart Will Go On.
She is also one of the best-selling stars in France, with her album D’eux being dubbed the best-selling French-language album in history. Additionally, Celine’s Christmas and Greatest Hits albums have topped charts around the world.
The Titanic theme track My Heart Will Go On was an international success after being certified diamond, multi-platinum and gold around the world. The singer has also achieved several more number-one hits including The Power of Love and Because You Loved Me, which is her biggest Billboard Hot 100 hit, selling over two million copies in the US alone.
Celine has the most cumulative weeks at number one in the Adult Contemporary charts, logging in a total of 87 weeks – A New Day Has Come spent the longest time, precisely 21 weeks. For this, Billboard has named her the “Queen of Adult Contemporary” for having the most number-one songs on the radio as a female singer.
During the 2000s, Celine became known as a performer and entertainer and gained a spot on the Las Vegas strip, which remains the highest-grossing concert residency of all time.
The influential vocalist has also won five Grammy Awards throughout her successful career.
5. Whitney Houston
Sales: 200 million
No.1 Singles (Billboard): Saving All My Love For You, How Will I Know, The Greatest Love Of All, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, Didn’t We Almost Have It All, So Emotional, Where Do Broken Hearts Go, I’m Your Baby Tonight, All the Man That I Need, I Will Always Love You, Exhale
Best-Selling Album: The Bodyguard
Along with being one of the biggest-selling female artists, Whitney is often regarded as the greatest singer of all time. With her powerful vocals, she landed a record deal at the age of 19 and was on her way to becoming a global superstar, eventually selling a whopping 200 million records worldwide.
The late icon released her first album Whitney Houston in 1985, which is now one of the best-selling albums of all time, selling 30 million copies globally. She then went on to produce eight more albums which have been certified diamond, multi-platinum, platinum, or gold.
Whitney had the best-selling gospel album of all time with The Preacher’s Wife, while The Bodyguard album remains the best-selling soundtrack album ever.
During her prime in the 80s, Whitney had seven consecutive number-one singles on the Hot 100 chart, from Saving All My Love for You to Where Do Broken Hearts Go; making her the only artist to ever do so.
Besides recording music, Whitney also took up a career in acting and starred in the romance film The Bodyguard. I Will Always Love You, her soundtrack for the film, became the best-selling physical single by a female in music history having sold 20 million copies worldwide.
Whitney Houston is officially the most awarded female artist of all time by the Guinness World Records, with several gongs recognizing her worldwide success over the years. These include Grammy Awards for Record of the Year (1994) and Best Pop Vocal Performance (1986, 1988, 1994).
4. Mariah Carey
Sales: 200 million
No.1 Singles (Billboard): Vision of Love, Love Takes Time, Someday, I Don’t Wanna Cry, Emotions, I’ll Be There, Dreamlover, Hero, All I Want For Christmas is You, Fantasy, One Sweet Day, Always Be My Baby, Honey, My All, Heartbreaker, Thank God I Found You, We Belong Together, Don’t Forget About Us, Touch My Body
Best-Selling Album: Music Box
With a five-octave vocal range and a dolphin-like whistle register, Mariah has been in a league of her own since rising to fame in 1990 and releasing her debut album Mariah Carey.
Equaling Barbra Streisand, Mariah is the highest-certified female artist in the US, with 68.5 million certified album units. Mariah Carey was certified nine-times platinum, and also made Mariah the first artist in history to have their first five singles hit number one on the Hot 100, from Vision of Love to Emotions.
The diva went on to release another 15 albums – including holiday albums to accompany her highest-selling hit All I Want for Christmas, which has now crowned her the “Queen of Christmas”. Mariah has two albums certified diamond in the US including Music Box, one of the best-selling albums of all time, with over 28 million copies sold; and Daydream.
In total, the diva has released an extravagant 75 singles. With 19 number one hits, Mariah officially holds the record for the most chart-topping singles by a solo artist, a female songwriter, and a female producer.
Mariah has also broken the record for any superstar in US history after spending a total record of 82 weeks at number one. Her biggest singles include Fantasy, My All, and We Belong Together.
Mariah is America’s most successful artist of the 1990s (Billboard), the best-selling pop female artist of the millennium (World Music Awards), and also has five Grammy Awards, 19 World Music Awards, and 15 Billboard Music Awards under her belt.
Other than music, Mariah has also tried Hollywood. After a failed performance in Glitter, she went on to redeem herself with her performance in Precious. Since then, Mariah has sat on the panel of American Idol and starred in other hit-movies.
3. Taylor Swift
Sales: 200 million
No.1 Singles (Billboard): We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, Shake It Off, Blank Space, Bad Blood, Look What You Made Me Do, Cardigan, Willow, All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)
Best-Selling Album: Fearless
Popular singer-songwriter Taylor Swift rose to fame in 2006 as the innocent country singer and American girl-next-door. She soon gained worldwide attention after adding a pop twist to her songs, which would later see an even bigger shift into mainstream music.
Taylor’s first self-titled album spent 157 weeks on the Billboard 200, becoming the longest-charting album of the 2000s. Her second album, Fearless was certified diamond and became the first of Taylor’s nine remaining albums to consecutively reach number one in the US.
In total, Taylor has sold over 37 million albums in the US, and is the first singer to have the best-selling album of a year five times (Fearless in 2009, 1989 in 2014, Reputation in 2017, Lover in 2019, and Folklore and Evermore in 2020). Her most recent achievement includes the success of Red (Taylor’s Version) which broke the Spotify record for the biggest single-day streams for an album by a female artist.
Taylor Swift has achieved 136 chart entries on the Hot 100 including eight number one singles and 29 top tens – the most entries for a female artist!
Shake It Off is officially Taylor’s biggest single in America and is certified diamond, while every track on Lover and Folklore charted on the Hot 100 in the same week, breaking the record for the most simultaneous entries on the chart by a female artist. Taylor also has a total of 48 weeks at number one, making her the longest-reigning act of the Billboard Artist 100.
Ranked as one of Billboard’s Greatest of All Time Artists and one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world (2010, 2015 and 2019), the star has also received 11 Grammy Awards, 49 Guinness World records, 32 American Music Awards (the most wins for an artist) and 25 Billboard Music Awards – the latter being the most wins by a woman.
Sales: 250 million
No.1 Singles (Billboard): SOS, Umbrella, Take a Bow, Disturbia, Rude Boy, Only Girl, What’s My Name, S&M, We Found Love, Diamonds, Work
Best-Selling Album: Good Girl Gone Bad
Since her debut single Pon de Replay in 2006, Rihanna has become a pop icon, producing hit after hit. With nine successful albums under her belt, Rihanna quickly became the second best-selling female artist of all-time, selling over 250 million records worldwide.
All nine of Rihanna’s albums are certified platinum and multi-platinum by the RIAA, with total sales of over 10 million copies in the US alone. Her number one albums include Unapologetic and Anti, both certified three-times platinum.
All in all, Rihanna has released 75 singles, 14 of which have reached number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 (including as a featured artist), and 31 which became top-ten singles. Rihanna is officially the only singer to have number-one singles on the Hot 100 chart from seven consecutive albums.
Umbrella hit number-one in 15 countries and remained in that spot for seven consecutive weeks on the Hot 100, while Rude Boy had similar success, staying at number-one for five consecutive weeks.
Rihanna has had several worldwide number-ones including We Found Love which hit the top spot in 29 countries and remained in the Hot 100 for 10 whopping weeks.
RiRi has earned nine Grammy Awards, 13 American Music Awards, 12 Billboard Music Awards, and six Guinness World Records. After 2016, her career took a turn and she took a shot at acting with performances in Battleship, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and Ocean’s 8.
In recent years, Rihanna has focused on growing her successful businesses, Fenty Beauty and Skincare, LVMH and Savage x Fenty. In 2021, she was announced as the wealthiest female musician, with an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion.
Sales: 300 million
No.1 Singles (Billboard): Like a Virgin, Crazy For You, Live to Tell, Papa Don’t Preach, Open Your Heart, Who’s That Girl, Like a Prayer, Vogue, Justify My Love, This Used To Be My Playground, Take a Bow, Music
Best-Selling Album: The Immaculate Collection
It comes as no surprise that the long-standing “Queen of Pop” is also the best-selling female artist of all-time. Since her first appearance in the music scene in 1982, Madonna has remained current by reinventing herself and her craft and has sold over 300 million records worldwide.
While Madge’s self-titled debut album only reached number eight on the Billboard 200, her follow-up albums went on to shine even brighter. Like a Virgin was certified diamond, while True Blue hit number-one in a then record-breaking 28 countries.
Madonna’s fourth album, Like a Prayer also reached the top spot, making her the only female artist in the 1980s with the most Billboard 200 number-one albums. The Immaculate Collection then became her second diamond-certified album and still remains the best-selling compilation album.
Continuing her reign as the best female musician even in the 2000s, Madge’s tenth album Confessions on a Dance Floor went to number one in 40 countries.
Madonna has 12 number one singles, with Like a Prayer making her the female artist with the most US number-ones in the 1980s – a title shared with Whitney Houston.
Hung Up is best-charting song worldwide and earned a place in the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records for topping the charts in 41 countries.
Madonna outdid Elvis Presley as the artist with the most top 10 singles after 4 Minutes became her 37th Hot 100 top-ten in 2008.
Madonna has certainly earned the title of the best-selling female artist of all time – a title certified by Guinness World Records. She is officially the most successful solo artist ever of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and holds the record for the most number-one singles by a female singer in Australia, Canada, Italy, Spain, and the UK.
So, there you have it, the 12 fierce women that have dominated the music industry over the last few decades.
With many more great female singers stepping onto the scene, such as Ariana Grande and Selena Gomez, it’s undeniable that this list will switch up very soon.
Will Madonna always wear the crown? Let us know who you think deserves their spot on this list by leaving a comment in the section below.
There are sections of this article that were written by Joanna Zambas.
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