Nielsen SoundScan is releasing its tabulations of the best-selling artists of the decade today. And, given that this was probably the most depressing decade in the history of everything ever, it won’t surprise you to know that the results are less than heartening. According to USA Today,
With 32.2 million copies sold, Eminem leads the pack in overall album sales, followed by The Beatles with 30 million.
Slim Shady claims two of the decades’ five best-selling albums with The Marshall Mathers LP (#4) and The Eminem Show (#5). The top three albums were:
1. 1, The Beatles
2. No Strings Attached, N*Sync
3. Come Away With Me, Norah Jones
I have nothing against Eminem or The Beatles. The Beatles are the most important rock band of all time, and Eminem is brilliant on the mic and willing to expose his own demons far more than the average hip hop artist.
But it’s depressing to think that the decade’s number one album (and likely the only truly lasting album of the top 5) came from a group that disbanded nearly four decades ago. And while Eminem is a compelling artist in many ways, do you know anyone who still listens to either of those two albums? Eminem’s catalog, particularly big hits like “Without Me,” has the shelf life of ground beef. You won’t see his name among the decade’s best sellers at the end of the 2040s.
What this decade lacked, from a rock perspective, was a handful of bands that truly mattered. That were simultaneously the best at what they did and were the most popular as well. There was only one band that fit that criteria in the past ten years: Radiohead. And even they couldn’t outsell The Beatles.
That’s a bad sign for an industry whose current business model is now based on the honor system. One transcendent rock band isn’t enough. We need more. We need to replenish the pool of universally beloved artists, so that we don’t have to go through a Beatles or Stones revival once every five years. I love both those bands, but it’s time for them to take their rightful place in history and make way for the new blood. Permanently. Here’s hoping the next decade will bring us not just one Radiohead, but a dozen of them. And that the face of rock is not the same face we’ve seen for half a century.
Drew Magary is a writer for deadspin.com.