It’s not often that an artist’s debut album goes on to be the most commercially successful album of the year. In fact, the last time it happened was with 50 Cent’s 2003 album Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, which he released after a series of successful mixtapes. Since then, the Number One spot has primarily gone to members of music’s top 1 percent — the Drakes, Taylor Swifts, Ed Sheerans and Adeles.
But in 2019, teenager Billie Eilish shook up the status quo, often without raising her voice above a whisper. Eilish’s debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, finishes at Number One on the inaugural year-end Rolling Stone Top 200 Albums Chart. Despite its humble roots — produced entirely with her brother Finneas in their family’s home in Highland Park —When We All Fall Asleep finished the year with 2.5 million total album-equivalent units in 2019, 400,000 more units than any other album.
The majority of the album’s unit came from streams, with 2.3 billion on-demand audio streams throughout the year. (Only Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding pulled in more.) But Eilish fans were also eager to own her debut in physical form — no album sold more vinyl copies in 2019. Eilish shipped out close to 113,000 LPs of When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
The Rolling Stone 200 Albums chart tracks the most popular releases in the United States. Entries are ranked by album units, a number that combines digital and physical album sales, digital song sales, and audio streams using a custom weighting system. The chart does not include passive listening such as terrestrial radio or digital radio. The year-end Rolling Stone 200 Albums chart is based on a tracking period from January 4th, 2019, through January 2nd, 2020.
Ariana Grande’s thank u, next finished second on the year-end RS 200 chart with 2.1 million album units. Malone came in third with Hollywood’s Bleeding, a streaming juggernaut that spent five weeks at Number One. However, Malone didn’t release his new album until September, giving thank u, next and When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? a months-long head start in the race to win year-end consumption.
Taylor Swift’s Lover came in fourth on the year-end tally, moving 2.1 million units, falling just 30,000 units behind thank u, next. Taylor’s seventh studio album saw the biggest first-week numbers of the year, debuting with nearly 1 million units in late August thanks to a colossal, old-fashioned album push that included an Amazon Prime Day concert, a bundle for Capitol One members and deal with Target to sell four different deluxe versions of the album.
Following Lover are back to back Post Malone records: Hollywood’s Bleeding comes in fourth with 2 million units, with his 2018 album Beerbongs & Bentleys following with 1.4 million units. Post Malone the only artists to have two releases in the year-end Top Ten and three in the year-end Top 25. Khalid’s sophomore effort Free Spirit comes in at Number Six, moving 1.4 million units. Four of the Top Five albums of the year came out through Republic Records, and all five were put out by Universal Music Group.
In a year when most of the biggest rappers in the game didn’t release an album, that made room in the top 10 for hip-hop up-and-comers — A Boogie Wit da Hoodie’s Hoodie SZN came in at Number Eight with 1.3 million units— as well as two more albums from 2018: Drake’s double-album Scorpion in seventh, and Travis Scott’s Astroworld in ninth. The soundtrack to A Star Is Born rounded out the Top Ten with 1.2 million units.
Other breakout artists in 2019 include Lil Nas X, whose debut EP 7 earned 769,400 units, and Lizzo, whose third studio album Cuz I Love You finished at Number 17. Charlotte rapper DaBaby launched two new albums into the Top 50 — Baby on Baby (Number 18) and Kirk (Number 37) — while Polo G’s debut studio album Die a Legend landed at Number 80 but was named Number One in Rolling Stone‘s list of the Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2019.
Top Albums, Vinyl Sales
Who buys records anymore? Billie Eilish fans — Eilish was one of just two modern artists to finish in the Top Ten on the year-end vinyl chart, and one of the only two artists to sell more than 100,000 copies of a single record. Taylor Swift fans were also eager to get their hands on a Lover LP.
But the best-selling vinyl titles are mostly classic rock albums — Abbey Road, The Dark Side of the Moon — and compilations of canonical artists (Ultimate Sinatra) or old hits (Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1). One exception was Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. Winehouse inhabits a middle ground between the golden oldies and contemporary pop stars, but Back to Black continues to sell well on vinyl, shipping close to 50,000 units this year.
Here are the top albums of 2019 by vinyl sales, according to Alpha Data:
- Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, 112,798 copies
- The Beatles, Abbey Road, 101,024 copies
- Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody, 78,600 copies
- Various Artists, Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1, 69,924 copies
- Taylor Swift, Lover, 66,702 copies
- Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon, 64,018 copies
- Bob Marley & the Wailers, Legend, 62,325 copies
- Michael Jackson, Thriller, 59,553 copies
- Frank Sinatra, Ultimate Sinatra, 52,104 copies
- Amy Winehouse, Back to Black, 49,231 copies
Top Albums, Streams
The better an album streamed, the more likely it was to land in the upper echelons of the year-end RS 200. So the top 10 albums by streams look largely similar, except some key differences: Taylor Swift’s Lover and the soundtrack to A Star Is Born don’t make the cut. In their place are two rap albums: Lil Nas X’s 7 — which benefitted from “Old Town Road,” the year’s biggest single — and Juice WRLD’s Death Race for Love.
- Post Malone, Hollywood’s Bleeding, 3.17 billion streams
- Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, 2.36 billion streams
- Ariana Grande, Thank U, Next, 2.22 billion streams
- Khalid, Free Spirit, 1.67 billion streams
- Post Malone, Beerbongs and Bentleys, 1.62 billion streams
- A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Hoodie SZN, 1.61 billion streams
- Lil Nas X, 7 EP, 1.52 billion streams
- Drake, Scorpion, 1.51 billion streams
- Juice WRLD, Death Race for Love, 1.47 billion streams
- Travis Scott, Astroworld, 1.45 billion streams
Top Albums, Physical Sales
Unlike the year-end streaming chart, which was heavy on hip-hop acts, the year-end physical sales chart skews more toward pop, with boy bands (Jonas Brothers, Backstreet Boys) and former members of boy bands (Harry Styles) appearing in the Top Ten. Other standouts are BTS, who sold multiple collector version of their Map of the Soul: Persona EP, and Tool, who offered a CD package of Fear Inoculum with a download that quickly sold out.
- Taylor Swift, Lover, 1.09 million
- Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, 594,597
- Jonas Brothers, Happiness Begins, 483,565
- Harry Styles, Fine Line, 452,500
- Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born: Original Motion Picture 2018, 437,732
- BTS, Map of the Soul: Persona, 383,239
- Post Malone, Hollywood’s Bleeding, 356,994
- Tool, Fear Inoculum, 344,285
- Backstreet Boys, DNA, 313,616
- Ariana Grande, Thank U, Next, 267,586
See the full year-end RS 200 Chart here.