A little past the mid-point of the year, two male country stars are leading country sales and consumption charts across the board: Jason Aldean and Kane Brown. According to recent figures from Nielsen Music, Aldean still performs well using country’s traditional sales measuring sticks – physical CDs and downloads – even as those sales appear to be on the decline, while Brown is dominating streaming metrics on his swift rise to stardom. Women, meanwhile, are getting an even smaller slice of the pie.
Released in April, Aldean’s eighth studio album Rearview Town leads the Top 10 Country Albums list, which combines traditional sales along with track-equivalent albums (10 downloads of tracks from one album) and streaming-equivalent albums (1500 plays of songs from one album). His 522,000 total units, bolstered by multi-week Number One “You Make It Easy,” include 328,000 traditional sales units and puts him slightly ahead of Kane Brown’s self-titled debut and Luke Combs’ This One’s for You, both of which have been reissued in 2018 as expanded, deluxe releases with bonus tracks.
Rearview Town is trailed in traditional sales by Keith Urban’s Graffiti U, which moved just shy of 200,000 units. The only other 2018 set in the group is Dierks Bentley’s latest release The Mountain, with 113,000 sold, while the rest are repackaged collections like Alan Jackson’s Precious Memories or big releases from previous years (Luke Bryan’s 2017 LP What Makes You Country, for example). Chris Stapleton’s name appears three times, as his 2015 album Traveller and both volumes of 2017’s From A Room are still generating healthy sales for the soulful country performer, who scored his first chart-topping single with “Broken Halos” earlier in 2018.
Brown, whose self-titled debut sold 120,000 to land at Number Seven on the traditional sales chart, is an object lesson in the power of streaming and its effects on listening habits. With his considerable streaming numbers factored in, Brown’s self-titled album sits at 432,000 units in total consumption. A not insignificant portion of that can be attributed to the success of his song “Heaven,” a track that only showed up on the deluxe edition of his debut. Its combined 242 million audio and video streams put it 60 million ahead of the closest competition (Thomas Rhett’s “Marry Me”) and it bests the field in the individual audio and video streaming categories.
Conspicuously absent from any of these lists are women originating from country music. Pop singer Bebe Rexha is in the top slot on the digital sales chart for the Florida Georgia Line collaboration “Meant to Be,” trailed distantly by Jason Aldean’s “You Make It Easy.” It doesn’t factor into these calculations, but “Meant to Be” also benefits from radio play – the song has spent 32 weeks so far in the top spot of the Hot Country Songs chart and its wall-to-wall saturation on country and pop radio has doubtless driven consumers to go download it. But among solo women in country, only Lauren Alaina’s name appears among the entries as a guest on Kane Brown’s first Number One, “What Ifs,” a streaming hit that’s also performed well in terms of actual downloads.
But this disparity illustrates the way that some of the same problems plague radio station musical programming and on-demand service playlists, resulting in lower sales tallies. Only two solo women have reached the top of the Country Airplay chart since January, with Maren Morris’ “I Could Use a Love Song” and Kelsea Ballerini’s “Legends” being virtual outliers in a massive sea of maleness. (Carrie Underwood’s “Cry Pretty,” currently Number 10, also looks destined for the top before summer ends).
For comparison’s sake, Spotify’s Hot Country playlist, with 4.8 million followers, currently features two solo women: Ballerini, whose current single “I Hate Love Songs” is on the rise, and Underwood’s “Cry Pretty.” Miranda Lambert, whose singles from The Weight of These Wings were largely ignored by radio, appears on Jason Aldean’s new single “Drowns the Whiskey.” Apple Music’s Country A-List, on the other hand, does slightly better, with tracks from Lindsay Ell, Kacey Musgraves, Cassadee Pope and Carly Pearce among the current selections. In both cases, they don’t radically depart from what’s currently already in rotation on country radio, challenging the idea that programming without having to consider advertisers is any more egalitarian.
Thus far, the year’s only big new country album has belonged to Aldean and his Rearview Town. The second half of the year is considerably more packed with potential big sellers, including Kenny Chesney’s Songs for the Saints, Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty and a new one from Eric Church – he’s teasing an announcement coming July 12th.
Here’s the list of the top albums and artists via Nielsen:
2018’s Mid-Year Top 10 Country Albums (Overall Equivalent Album Units)
- Jason Aldean, Rearview Town (522,000)
- Kane Brown, Kane Brown (432,000)
- Luke Combs, This One’s for You (394,000)
- Chris Stapleton, Traveller (326,000)
- Thomas Rhett, Life Changes (325,000)
- Keith Urban, Graffiti U (277,000)
- Luke Bryan, What Makes You Country (257,000)
- Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Volume 1 (241,000)
- Brett Young, Brett Young (235,000)
- Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Volume 2 (227,000)
2018’s Mid-Year Top 10 Selling Country Albums
- Jason Aldean, Rearview Town (328,000)
- Keith Urban, Graffiti U (199,000)
- Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Volume 2 (177,000)
- Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Volume 1 (153,000)
- Chris Stapleton, Traveller (133,000)
- Luke Bryan, What Makes You Country (133,000)
- Kane Brown, Kane Brown (120,000)
- Kenny Chesney, Live in No Shoes Nation (115,000)
- Dierks Bentley, The Mountain (113,000)
- Alan Jackson, Precious Memories Collection (101,000)
2018’s Mid-Year Top 10 Selling Digital Country Songs
- Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line, “Meant To Be” (846,000)
- Jason Aldean, “You Make It Easy” (493,000)
- Kane Brown, “Heaven” (450,000)
- Thomas Rhett, “Marry Me” (317,000)
- Dan + Shay, “Tequila” (274,000)
- Luke Bryan, “Most People Are Good” (264,000)
- Chris Stapleton, “Broken Halos” (254,000)
- Morgan Wallen featuring Florida Georgia Line, “Up Down” (219,000)
- Kane Brown featuring Lauren Alaina, “What Ifs” (204,000)
- David Lee Murphy & Kenny Chesney, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” (202,000)
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period of Dec. 29, 2017 – June 28, 2018.