Many of the most popular and influential soloists in the music industry these days are influential, empowered women. Household names of diverse styles like Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Adele, and Lady Gaga are dominating the charts. In the face of the enormous success of so many women in the music industry at the moment, moguls Tori Amos and Sinead O’Connor have both recently spoken out about some of the downsides to being female in the music business. Amos was quoted in The Metro stating that, “the music industry…chews women up and spits them out.” O’Connor wrote an open letter to Miley Cyrus warning her about her provocative videos, saying “you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped.” As with any woman in the spotlight, the unfortunate reality is that she will most likely face criticism not only based on perceptions of her abilities but also based on her looks and sexual desirability. And this is not just true for women; any person who is essentially ‘marketing’ themselves to an audience will surely face similar questions of their so-called viability as a star.
Lily Allen, another great lady in the biz, addresses some of the more exploitative aspects of the music business in her video for “Hard Out Here.” For instance, she depicts herself on an operating table getting liposuction while a TV above her blares a hip hop video complete with scantily clad dancing women. She declares, “don’t need to shake my a** for you ‘cause I have a brain,” before declaring sarcastically, “we’ve never had it so good.” Allen’s video, which also openly makes fun of Robin Thicke’s disputed hit video “Blurred Lines,” manages to satirically attack the industry’s excessive sexualization and objectification of women.
Overall, what is important, it seems, is that women are comfortable with their image in the industry, and that they feel that their public persona does not obscure their true talent. The fact that so many women are finding musical success on the modern stage, however, is quite encouraging. The formidable list of enormously successful female musicians is testament to the musical talent and business acumen of women over the years in the music industry. All of these women have avoided the fate of having the media ‘chew them up and spit them out.’ In fact, they’ve taken the industry by storm and have served as inspirations for girls of all ages.
As icons, many of these women have gained success in more than one aspect of the industry, and have used their fame to benefit others as much as themselves. These artists are ranked according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)’s “certified millions.” Certified millions is a way to measure an artist’s overall success based on the number of albums and singles sold through retail and other supporting markets. These are the 10 most successful female recording artists of all time as of 2014.
10. Faith Hill (25.5 million certified units)
Born in Ridgeland, Mississippi, Faith Hill is an American country pop singer. She has sold more than 40 million records worldwide. Hill’s album Faith in 1998 featured the hit “This Kiss,” which went multi-platinum in several countries and became one of the best-selling country albums of all time. Hill is also married to country singer Tim McGraw, with whom she has released many successful duets such as “Just To Hear You Say That You Love Me,” “Let Me Let Go,” and “The Secret Of Life.” She has won 5 Grammy Awards, 14 Academy of Country Music Awards, and 4 American Music Awards.
9. Janet Jackson (26 million certified units)
Janet Jackson, born in Gary, Indiana in 1966, is an American recording artist and actress, as well as the youngest child of the Jackson family of musicians. She has sold over 140 million records, and is ranked as one of the best-selling artists in the history of contemporary music! In 2012, Billboard named Jackson the seventh most successful female artist of the past twenty years. She has also earned six Grammy Awards and an Emmy Award, and has even been nominated for a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award. A testament to her multifaceted talent, Jackson is also the only artist in history to receive Grammy nominations spanning five different genres.
8. Linda Ronstadt (30 million certified units)
Linda Ronstadt, born in Tucson, Arizona in 1946, is one of the most famous singers of the 1970s. She gained recognition after her 1974 album “Heart Like a Wheel” spawned hits such as “You’re No Good” and “When Will I Be Loved.” The album went platinum, selling more than a million copies, as did her next few albums. In 1989 she won a Primetime Emmy for outstanding individual performance in a variety or music program for her work on the television series Great Performances. She has also earned an incredible 11 Grammy Awards, 2 Academy of Country Music Awards, and an ALMA Award. Only recently in 2013, Ronstadt revealed that she suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, which left her unable to continue singing. Her autobiography, Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir, was released in 2013 and debuted in the top 10 on The New York Times Best Sellers List.
7. Britney Spears (34 million certified units)
Britney Spears is a household name for any 90s kid. Born in 1981 in McComb, Mississippi, Britney Spears gained recognition after her studio albums “Baby One More Time” (1999) and “Oops!…I Did It Again” (2000) became international successes. In fact, the former became the best-selling album by a teenage solo artist. Despite some heavily publicized personal turmoil in 2007, Spears continued to release albums; her sixth album “Circus” (2008) yielded chart-topping singles like “Womanizer,” and its subsequent tour entitled “The Circus Starring Britney Spears” was one of the highest grossing global concert tours in 2009. Spears’ continued success over the years has earned her a Grammy Award, nine Billboard Music Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2009, she was recognized by Billboard as the best-selling female artist of the first decade of the 21st century.
6. Shania Twain (48 million certified units)
Shania Twain, born in Windsor, Ontario in 1965, is a Canadian country pop singer and songwriter. She is sometimes referred to as the “Queen of Country Pop.” She first gained fame in 1995 when she released her album “The Woman in Me,” and by 1997 her album “Come on Over” became the best selling studio album of all time by a female act in any genre. The album debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums and stayed there for 50 non-consecutive weeks; to date it has sold over 40 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling country album of all time. Twain has also won 5 Grammy Awards and 27 BMI Songwriter awards. She is the first and only female artist in history to have 3 consecutive albums reach diamond status, certified by the RIAA.
5. Celine Dion (50 million certified units)
Celine Dion was born in Charlemagne, Quebec in 1968, and was the youngest of fourteen children. She became a teen star in the French-speaking world after she released her first album in her native language. In 1990 she released the English-language album “Unison,” which gained her recognition as an English-speaking pop artist. Dion has won five Grammy Awards, including one for her famed song “My Heart Will Go On”. She is also the best-selling Canadian artist of all time, as well as the only female artist to have two singles sell more than a million copies in the UK alone.
4. Whitney Houston (57 million certified units)
The late Whitney Houston was born in 1963 in Newark, New Jersey to mother Cissy Houston, who was also a singer famed for her background in American gospel and soul music. In 1985, she released her debut album Whitney Houston, featuring the famous hits, “Saving All My Loving For You” and “How Will I Know.” The album quickly made her a pop sensation. Over the years, she was nominated on twenty different occasions for Grammy Awards, and won six. In 1992 she married R&B singer Bobby Brown, with whom she shared a tumultuous relationship and battled substance abuse. Fans and collaborators alike were devastated when Houston passed away in February of 2012.
3. Mariah Carey (63.5 million certified units)
Mariah Carey, an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and actress, was born in Long Island, New York in 1970. In 1990 she made her recording debut with her self-titled studio album, which went multi-platinum and give rise to four number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Her career has lasted over two decades, spanning genres from pop to R&B to hip-hop. The song “Touch My Body” (2008) marked her eighteenth number one single in the United States, more than any other solo artist. She has also won five Grammy Awards, and has a net worth of an estimated $500 million.
2. Madonna (64.5 million certified units)
Madonna, an American singer, songwriter, actress and entrepreneur, has sold more than 300 million records worldwide. She was born in Bay City, Michigan and moved to New York as a young woman to pursue a career in modern dance. She released her first album in 1983. She followed it with a series of albums that gained enormous support due to their diverse and often groundbreaking lyrics and imagery. She has also released a slew of number one hits such as “Like a Virgin,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” and “Like a Prayer.” Time magazine deemed her one of the “25 most powerful women of the past century” and while she has continuously reinvented her image and music, she has remained incredibly influential in the music industry.
1. Barbra Streisand (73.1 million certified units)
Powerhouse Barbra Streisand is an American singer, songwriter, author, actress, writer, film producer, and director. She was born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York in 1942 and went on to become the best selling female artist of all time, having sold more than 73 million albums in the United States alone. She has won 2 Academy Awards, 8 Grammy Awards, 5 Emmy Awards, a Special Tony Award, and an American Film Institute Award, to name just a few accomplishments. She is also one of the very few entertainers to have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony Award.