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Ask Billboard: Madonna vs. Whitney ... vs. Mariah

Guest djstephenjv


by Gary Trust   |   August 21, 2009 4:52 EDT


Hi Gary,
This e-mail is a follow up to last week's entry from Neil Massey, who asked about album sales of Whitney Houston and Madonna. I'm curious as to how Mariah Carey stacks up against her two fellow superstars. I know Madonna and Houston began their careers earlier than Carey, but Carey has been very productive with her albums, especially in the '90s.


Leo del Castillo
Baguio City, Philippines

Hi Leo,

Thanks for e-mailing and adding to Ask Billboard's battle for diva dominance.

Please check out last week's mailbag for all the details on Madonna vs. Houston, including each singer's top-selling and top certified albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan and the Recording Industry of Association of America (RIAA), respectively.

Accounting for certain complexities in how soundtracks are categorized by each source, Madonna's totals top Houston's. As noted last week, according to the RIAA, Madonna ranks 15th all-time with 63.5 million units certified. Houston places 20th with 54 million.

According to Nielsen SoundScan - whose data begins in 1991, after the two stars had begun their careers - album sales since that year stand at 26,347,000 for Madonna and 23,786,000 for Houston (again, including soundtrack sets such as "The Bodyguard," which is officially considered a soundtrack to Nielsen SoundScan).

With Madonna and Houston having head starts in the '80s over Carey, who arrived with the release of her self-titled debut collection in 1990, how does the lattermost artist fare against the other two? Like last week, let's compare using figures from both the RIAA (where longevity gives a potential edge to Madonna and Houston) and Nielsen SoundScan, where a span of 1991 to date covers a period in which all three performers have actively released product.

The RIAA places Carey just one spot below Madonna, in 16th place among all artists with 62.5 million units certified. So, per the RIAA, it's Madonna (63.5 million), Carey (62.5) and Houston (54) in this comparison.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, Carey is the clear winner by a wide margin, actually topping the total album sales - again, since 1991 - of Madonna and Houston combined. Carey's sum stands at 51,833,000.

Here is a look at Mariah Carey's top-selling albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan:

7,556,000, "Daydream" (1995)
7,189,000, "Music Box" (1993)
5,912,000, "The Emancipation of Mimi" (2005)
4,993,000, "Merry Christmas" (1994)
4,845,000, "Mariah Carey (1990)
3,719,000, "Butterfly" (1997)
3,703,000, "#1's" (1998)
3,584,000, "Emotions" (1991)
2.946,000, "Rainbow" (1999)
2,731,000, "MTV Unplugged EP" (1992)

Again, the numbers will change in upcoming weeks, as all three stars will serve up new product and add to their extraordinary sales totals. Houston's "I Look to You" is due Aug. 25, while on Sept. 29, Madonna releases the best-of collection "Celebration" and Carey offers "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel."


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