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Introducing the Queen of Pop

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Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga
Mariano Vivanco

DIGITAL TRACKS

But enough about these time-consuming albums! What's a Queen of Pop about – in our earbudded, attention-starved, put-it-on-shuffle times – if not selling singles?

Appropriately, on the digital tracks list, our top two in album sales reverse their positions, with Gaga taking the top slot over Swift by a huge margin of nearly eight million downloads. A large chunk of Gaga's margin can be attributed to one hit: her very first, "Just Dance," which topped the charts in January 2009 and is one of only two songs in digital history to sell more than six million copies (the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" is the other). "Just Dance" is to Gaga what "Get the Party Started" is to P!nk: not her most artistically representative hit – that would be "Poker Face" or "Bad Romance" – but an annuity that keeps on selling as long as people like to party.

Photos: Lady Gaga's Best Looks

Swift is no slouch in the blockbuster-singles department, possessing one of a handful of five million-sellers in digital history: her 2008 hit "Love Story." Close on its heels is the four million-selling 2009 smash "You Belong With Me." But virtually every track from her last two albums – more than a dozen songs from each—has made a dent on Billboard's singles charts, selling tens of thousands of copies apiece. Compare that with Gaga, whose singles sales are concentrated in fewer than a dozen songs over her three albums.

Our very close third-place finisher, Katy Perry, undoubtedly would've edged Swift if we'd done this survey just a month or two from now. And yet, if we'd done the tally a year ago, she wouldn't have been anywhere near the top – Perry has had an outrageously successful 12 months (including two covers of Rolling Stone). Since the summer of 2010, she's racked up four straight Number One Billboard hits from her Teenage Dream album, and each has sold major digital tonnage: 4.9 million for "California Gurls" with Snoop Dogg, 3.7 million for "Teenage Dream," 4.5 million for "Firework" and four million for "E.T." with Kanye West. Additionally, "Gurls" was the top-selling download of 2010.

Watch Katy Perry's Sexy, Silly Rolling Stone Cover Shoot

One final note, in the she-wuz-robbed department: For numerous technical reasons, we focused the Queen of Pop data entirely on the ladies' lead performances. (So, for example, Lady Gaga alone is credited for sales of the Beyoncé-supported single "Telephone," while Beyoncé alone is credited for the Gaga-supported, and much lower-selling, "Videophone.") No one is hurt more by this rule than Rihanna, who in addition to her lightning rise to pop stardom over the past half-decade has become the go-to hook singer for top-shelf male rappers. Just since 2009, she has been a featured singer on Jay-Z's "Run This Town," Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" and Kanye West's "All of the Lights." Were we to include such supporting performances on the digital-tracks list, the sixth-ranked Barbadian would have vaulted into the top three. Forgive us, Ri.

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