What a difference a few months can make. As of mid-October, not one artist’s album had sold more than one million copies for the year, and Disney’s late-2013 Frozen soundtrack was the top-selling album of 2014. Later that month, Taylor Swift released a little album called 1989. Now the final numbers are in, and 1989 has beaten Frozen in a squeaker.
The final results don’t exactly mean boom times are back for the music world — far from it — but they do paint a slightly less dismal picture of 2014.
Swift’s 1989 sold 3.66 million copies on the year, as Billboard reports, citing Nielsen Music. Frozen shifted 3.53 million. Dramatically, T-Swift overtook Elsa in the last tracking week of 2014, which ended December 28; the Disney crew was in front for every other week of the year. It’s not Swift’s first time with a best-selling album of the year: Her sophomore LP, Fearless, outsold every other album in 2009, with 3.22 million units shifted. But it’s only the second time an album has pulled into the top spot in the last week of the year, followed by another Disney soundtrack, The Lion King, defeating Ace of Base’s The Sign at the end of 1994.
Swift is an industry unto herself at this point, though, and for the rest of the music business the 2014 numbers are, at best, mixed. The sales tallies for 1989 and Frozen mark a bit of a rebound from 2013, when Justin Timberlake‘s The 20/20 Experience became the lowest-selling year-end champ on record, with 2.4 million copies sold (no other album in 2013 sold more than 2 million). On the other hand, in 2013 there were 13 million-sellers and 45 albums that sold 500,000 copies or more. In 2014, only four albums sold a million, while 31 sold 500,000. And overall album sales kept falling, down 11 percent from 2013 at 257 million. For the second straight year, and only the second time ever, digital album and track sales each also fell, coinciding with listeners’ ongoing shift toward streaming.
One positive: Vinyl’s comeback continues. People bought 9.2 million vinyl albums in 2014, according to Nielsen, up 52 percent from the previous year. Every year now since 2008, annual vinyl album sales have been their highest since Nielsen started keeping track in 1991. Jack White‘s Lazaretto, long a lock for the year’s best-selling vinyl album, wound up selling 86,707 copies on vinyl in the United States and more than 150K globally, according to his website (via Stereogum). In another sign of vinyl’s continued resurgence, Fat Possum Records has opened its own vinyl pressing plant near Memphis, Tennessee.
Essentially, then, fewer new albums are selling, but there remains a passionate core of fans willing to pay to own a physical format. And there’s still an ample appetite for debating top albums — over at Deadspin, Rob Mitchum counts 35 lists championing 588 albums. The album is dead, long live the album, and all that.
Following Swift and Frozen on the year-end sales chart are Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour (No. 3, 1.2 million), Pentatonix’s That’s Christmas to Me (No. 4, 1.1 million) and Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack (No. 5, 898K — no word how many of those sales were on cassette). Beyond the top five are Beyoncé’s Beyoncé (No. 6, 878K), Barbra Streisand’s Partners (No. 7, 856K), Lorde’s Pure Heroine (No. 8, 841K), One Direction’s Four (No. 9, 814K) and Eric Church’s The Outsiders (No. 10, 811K).
As for individual tracks, Pharrell Williams‘s “Happy” was the biggest-selling digital song of 2014, with 6.45 million downloads purchased. That compares with about 6.5 million downloads of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” in 2013. “Happy” is followed by John Legend’s “All of Me” (No. 2, 4.7M), Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” (No. 3, 4.4 million), Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” (No. 4, 4.4 million) and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” (No. 5, 4 million). Rounding out the top 10 Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” (No. 6, 4 million), DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What” (No. 7, 3.5 million), Swift’s “Shake It Off” (No. 8, 3.4 million), Idina Menzel’s Frozen song “Let It Go” (No. 9, 3.4 million) and Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me” (No. 10, 3.3 million).
No word on where a mashup of “Shake It Off” and “Let It Go” factors into all these numbers, but that’s below.