The “Biggest Artists of 2018” is a difficult award to hand out, because there are many different criteria we could use. When I looked at the Billboard list of Highest-Paid Musicians, all of the Top 10 made most of their money from touring. This does not apply to you if you’re not a major touring artist, so I don’t want to focus on highest pay alone. Instead, let’s focus on the Top 10 biggest artists of 2018 according to the year-end charts.
Aubrey Drake Graham had a massive 2018. His double-album “Scorpion” was certified Platinum the day it was released and broke a Spotify record for one-day global streams (132.45 million).
Drake actually got his start in acting. A high school friend’s father was an acting agent, who got him a part on “Degrassi” in 2001. This is a Canadian teen drama series, which garnered a following of fans for Drake to set up his album release in 2006. However, the mixtape was self-released and only sold about 6,000 copies.
His second album featured a song called “Replacement Girl,” a duet with Trey Songz. The song set a record because it was “the first unsigned Canadian rapper to have his music video featured on BET,” which is an oddly specific record. The first unsigned Canadian rapper? So there have been other unsigned Canadians, and other unsigned rappers? Weird. Anyway, it was featured on BET as “New Joint of the Day” in 2007:
Another song on the 2nd album was “Man of the Year,” which was a song already made by Lil’ Wayne, Flo Rida and Brisco. Drake kept Lil’ Wayne’s part on it and included him as a feature. Lil’ Wayne then invited Drake on his Tha Carter III tour. All of this paved the way for where he is today.
Don’t be afraid to branch out to other forms of media to launch your music. Drake was an actor, but if you do any other form of creative art (dance, painting, graphic design), you can use it to gain interest in your music. I hesitate to suggest taking someone else’s song and making it your own, because I don’t know the legalities of that. However, not only did Drake not get in any trouble, he also got to tour with Lil’ Wayne, so it might be worth a try!
2). Post Malone
I wrote about Post Malone in my list of 2017’s biggest artists, so check there for his backstory. He moved up the list this year from #3 to #2, so let’s see what kind of year he had to make it here.
2017 kind of set up the next year for Post Malone. His album “Beerbongs & Bentleys” was supposed to be released in 2017, but ended up getting pushed back. The single “Rockstar” was released in September 2017 and was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts for 8 straight weeks. In November 2017, the music video was released which kept the song in the public eye.
“Psycho,” a duet with Ty Dolla Sign, was released in February of 2018. On April 5th, he released “Stay” and announced that “Beerbongs & Bentleys” would drop 3 weeks later. When it came out, it broke first day streaming records on Spotify (this record was broken later by Drake).
“Beerbongs & Bentleys” was certified platinum in four days and had three Top 10 songs and six Top 20 songs. “Better Now” was the third Top 10 song, peaking at number 3:
Staggered releases played a major role in Post Malone’s year. Of course it didn’t hurt that the first two releases were major hits, but carefully planning out your release strategy will impact your album sales.
3). Ed Sheeran
I wrote about Ed Sheeran last year also, so check that out here if you want. This year, Ed Sheeran switched places with Post Malone, dropping to number three. This is pretty impressive, however, considering that he didn’t even release an album this year.
His album “÷” was released in March of 2017, and he’s been riding the wave of it since then. In January 2018, “Shape of You” was named the best selling single of 2017 in the UK and the US. At the 2018 Brit Awards, Sheeran received the Global Success Award. In April 2018, the IFPI named “÷” the best-selling album worldwide of 2017. At the 2018 Billboard Music Awards Sheeran won six awards: Top Artist, Top Male Artist, Top Song Sales Artist, Top Hot 100 Artist, Top Radio Songs Artist and Top Radio song for “Shape of You.” “Shape of You” is currently the #2 watched video of all time on YouTube:
You can coast on the success of a great album for quite a while. If Sheeran had put out another album in 2018, it may have overshadowed the commercial success of “÷,” or it may have oversaturated the radio and made people a little tired of him. If you’ve already got an album out, work with what you have for a while, especially if you didn’t promote it a lot initially.
4). Taylor Swift
Like the previous two artists, Tay Tay was on my 2017 top artist post, so check out her backstory there. However, she was #1 in 2017 and this year she dropped a couple places. This is still big for her though, since like Ed Sheeran, she didn’t release an album in 2018.
“Reputation,” Swift’s most recent album, came out in November of 2017 and she’s been promoting it since then. The “Reputation” tour started in 2018, which likely had a huge impact on her sales in 2018. The tour began in May and ended in November. Amazingly, although the album came out in 2017, it ranked as the #1 of 2018 on Billboard.
A lot of “Reputation’s” success came from the preceding drama with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West (hereby known as Kimye). Swift initially seemed like the villain of the story (I’m not going into detail but it was literally all over the internet if you want to check it out). However, she quickly disappeared from the spotlight, leaving everyone to wonder where she had gone. When she emerged with “Reputation” (a nod to the Kimye scandal), people were eager to see this new version of Swift.
As always, there were many opinions about the new image and style. The first music video from the album showed all of the old versions of Swift squaring off against each other at the end:
Scandals are great for a career. Seriously, it may seem like a bad move, but this scandal helped Swift create a different image, inspired a whole album and kept her in the top 10 artists for 2 years. In fact, many people think the whole scandal was pre-planned and staged. Whether or not that’s true, you can’t deny that it worked out for her.
5). Cardi B
This year was intensely successful for Cardi B, born Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar. In January of 2018, she became the first woman to have five top 10 singles on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart. Her debut album “Invasion of Privacy” was released in April and is certified double platinum.
Cardi B got her start on social media in 2013, with several of her Vine and Instagram posts going viral. She mostly focused on comedy and was open about her previous career as a stripper:
In 2015, Cardi was the breakout star of season 6 of “Love & Hip Hop: New York.” At this time she was also working on music, collaborating with Shaggy and other artists. In 2016, she appeared on the shows “Kocktails with Khloe” and “Being Mary Jane.” In 2017 she landed a partnership with Mac cosmetics, released an album, then signed a major label deal with Atlantic Records. “Bodak Yellow” was her first major release single.
Make your own opportunities. Cardi B already had a Mac partnership BEFORE she had a major label. She was already getting booked on major TV shows before she was a household name. Her personality got her noticed on social media, which opened all of these doors for her. You can certainly achieve all of this too!
Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy, aka XXXTENTACION, got his musical start in choir but was kicked out after physically attacking another student. He used a Blue Snowball microphone and began uploading snippets of music to Soundcloud. From 2013 – 2016, he wrote and released multiple mixtapes. In 2017, the song “Look At Me” peaked at #34 on the Billboard charts, but was criticized for sounding similar to Drake’s “KMT.” Despite the controversy, XXX signed a label contract based on the success of “Look At Me.”
His debut album, “17,” was released in 2017 and debuted at #2 on the US Billboard 200. Seven songs from the album made Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. “Look At Me” was his first music video, but it was removed from YouTube due to violent images.
Throughout this entire time, controversies surrounded the rapper. There are seriously too many to mention, but they include alleged kidnapping and beating of his pregnant girlfriend, assaulting a homosexual cellmate in prison, several prison stints and getting into physical altercations with fans. If you want the full list, Vulture covers it here. I mention these because they definitely contributed to his publicity during his short career and life.
XXX was murdered in June of 2018. Gunned down while in his car, the murder was not thought to be premeditated and appeared to be an armed robbery. The gunmen were caught and arrested.
Before the murder, XXX’s song “Sad!” was charting, peaking at #17 but eventually making it to #1 after his death:
Ugh, there’s a lot to unpack here. While many have called XXX a visionary and a pioneer for many artists to follow (Lil Pump and 6ix9ine to name a few), others have focused on his extremely violent past and claim that his success is due mainly to his untimely death and controversy. This is a heavy topic but we can all agree that getting murdered is bad, right? I honestly can’t say that his death did NOT contribute to his success, but I also can’t say that it was the ONLY contributor to his success. The same goes for his controversies. He worked hard and released a lot of songs, so let’s let that be the lesson here.
Also, I know that I previously mentioned that controversies are good for your career, but I did NOT mean kidnapping and beating your pregnant girlfriend. I meant more like getting into a Twitter feud or something like that. Okay? Rest in Peace, XXXTENTACION, and now let’s move on.
7). Imagine Dragons
Imagine Dragons was also on my list of 2017’s top artists, so check out their backstory here. They drop from #5 last year to #7 this year. In addition to releasing the album “Evolve” in 2017, Imagine Dragons toured to support the album through 2018. The tour ended in September and their album “Origins” dropped in November 2018.
In July of 2018, Imagine Dragons released “Natural” as a single, which was the official song of the year for the ESPN College Football season. “Natural” appears on “Origins” along with four other singles. The album was said to be a “sister album” to “Evolve” since it was released so soon after the “Evolve” release and world tour. “Natural” hit #1 on Billboard’s US Hot Rock Songs Chart and was certified Platinum in Canada:
You can look at this in several ways. On one hand, Imagine Dragons had another great year. They released a new album while capitalizing on the success of the previous one. On the other hand, many people felt “Origins” came out too soon, while others (myself included) had no idea there was a new album. I thought “Natural” was a single from the previous album. They also dropped down on the list of the Top 10. So, you could look at this lesson as “keep working to follow up on your success.” Or, you could take a page from Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift and exploit one album fully before moving on to another.
BTS is a newcomer to this list, and honestly I’m glad to have some new artists because I was getting sick of sending you to my 2017 blog! I first became aware of BTS through my zodiac blogs, where I list every artist I can find under a zodiac sign. BTS, also known as Bangtan Boys, is a boy band from South Korea. They began their journey in 2010, when Big Hit Entertainment (a South Korean entertainment company) met with BTS rapper RM (who is a Virgo just FYI).
Originally, BTS was supposed to be more of a hiphop group and release their debut album in 2011. However, their debut was postponed and the group was reorganized into a pop group. The 7 members gained attention through releasing cover songs on social media until their debut album dropped.
Fast forward to 2017, when they have a healthy fan base in South Korea. They released the single “Spring Day,” which hit #15 on Billboard’s “Bubbling Under Hot 100” in the United States, with “zero promotions.” I don’t know if “zero promotions” means they also didn’t promote it in South Korea, but that seems unlikely. Anyway, it was around here that the United States as a whole started to take notice of BTS.
In January of 2018, the single “Mic Drop/DNA/Crystal Snow” went Double Platinum. They won “Top Social Artist” at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards. They seriously had such a huge year it’s hard for me to jam in everything they accomplished. Their music video for “Idol” broke the record for the most viewed video in its first 24 hours on YouTube:
The TL;DR of BTS this year is that they worked their asses off, won a ton of awards and continued to gain popularity around the globe.
Work your ass off, win a ton of awards and continue to gain popularity around the globe. It’s that simple. Haha, but seriously, I think a large part of BTS’s success is BECAUSE they’re from a different market, not despite it. People are curious about artists they’ve never seen or heard of. If you can cultivate a fan base in a different market, by all means go for it!
9). Bruno Mars
Bruno Mars was #10 on my 2017 list, and this year he moves up a notch. This is impressive because, like Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars did not release an album in 2018.
At the 2018 Grammy awards, Mars won all 6 awards he was nominated for. These all stemmed from the album “24k Magic,” released in 2017. For most of 2018, Mars was touring to support the album. The tour was a massive success, ranking as the 4th highest-grossing tour of 2018. Also in 2018, Mars left his management company and created his own, Gorilla Management.
Besides that, though, Mars had a pretty low-key year. It sounds ridiculous to say that a 4th highest-grossing tour is low-key, but there were no albums or singles and the only new song he appeared on is “Wake Up In The Sky” by Gucci Mane:
I think the success of this year is due to the success of last year, so I would say it really does pay off to do as much as you can, when you can. I also think that this is another case where it’s good to just rest on an album when you can, in order to maximize its success.
10). Camila Cabello
Karla Camila Cabello Estrabao was born in Cuba but moved to Miami at age 5. In 2012, she auditioned for The X Factor and sang Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” but her audition could not be aired because the show didn’t have clearance rights for the song. That’s interesting to me because I thought anyone could just sing anything. Does that mean every show has to get clearance for every cover song on it? That seems like a lot of work.
Anyway, Cabello was eliminated during the Bootcamp portion of the show, but was called back with four other young ladies to form Fifth Harmony. They finished in 3rd place on the show and signed a joint record deal with Syco Music and Epic Records. The group released three albums and then Cabello split for a solo project.
Her first solo album, “Camila,” dropped January 2018 and debuted at #1 in the United States. This was due largely to the single “Havana” which was released in September 2017. “Camila” has been certified Platinum and is currently nominated for two Grammy awards. Since the awards haven’t been given yet, I will have to update this to whether or not she won. However, it is likely that I’ll forget. Just know that she was nominated at the very least.
Her most recent single (which I love) is “Consequences:”
Camilla has been a master at adapting to what life throws her way. I’m sure when she was audition for The X Factor, she wanted to be a solo artist. When they wanted her in a group, she took the role even though it wasn’t her initial plan. Without Fifth Harmony, she wouldn’t be where she is today. If someone with a lot of money and power wants to make your dreams come true, but alter them slightly, you have the right to turn it down. However, I would encourage you to see the bigger picture. Would this opportunity allow you to get to your original goals faster? There are many ways to answer this question, but only you know what’s right for you.
So there you have it! I hope this list inspires you and maybe gives you a few ideas for how to make 2019 a success! Let me know your resolutions or goals if you have any, and you can get tips on making yours here!