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)
8 Linda Ronstadt (30 million certified units)
7 Britney Spears (34 million certified units)
6 Shania Twain (48 million certified units)
5 Celine Dion (50 million certified units)
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)
2 Madonna (64.5 million certified units)
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.