Detailed findings and methodology:
The most famous artists today who were active in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were not necessarily the most popular musicians of their day. Tastes change, and the fame of many of the most popular artists in the mid-20th century did not last. For example, of the 10 artists who had the No. 1 song of the year from 1970 to 1980, three have fewer than 450,000 monthly Spotify listeners today. For context, there are thousands of artists with at least half a million monthly listeners.
The title of most famous musician born in a given year, as determined by our index, is more contested in some years than others. Some of the closest competitions were between artists in similar music categories.
For example, the top two contenders for the most famous musician born in 1978 are Usher and John Legend. Though Legend has eclipsed Usher in terms of daily average Wikipedia page views and monthly Spotify listeners, Usher’s appearance on Billboard’s Hot 100 Songs of all time with “Yeah!” and Billboard Top 200 Albums of all time with “Confessions” pushed his celebrity index score above that of Legend. Usher has spent a total of 1,010 weeks on the Hot 100 Songs chart, the ninth longest stay of any artist.
Other tightly contested years with musicians from similar music genres include 1947, when rock icons Elton John and David Bowie were born. Similarly, born in 1951, Sting and Phil Collins, former lead singers of rock bands The Police and Genesis who have fashioned successful solo careers, compete for the most famous musician that year.
Other years feature performers whose fame is enhanced by the news they make. Pop stars Cardi B and Demi Lovato were both born in 1992. This year has been a big one for Cardi B. She became the first female rap artist to post two No. 1 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, and she also gave birth to her first child. Cardi B weighed in with more than 18.24 million Wikipedia page views. She topped Lovato, whose relapse into drug addiction made headlines earlier in July.
Whereas recording was once prohibitively expensive for many potential stars, today’s artists have access to a wider array of recording options and easier distribution platforms than their predecessors.
Drake and Lil Wayne, the most famous musicians of 1986 and 1982, respectively, have already surpassed the record previously set by the Beatles and Elvis Presley for the most songs on the Billboard Hot 100. Pop divas Rihanna and Taylor Swift are well on their way to accomplishing the same feat. Presley, born in 1935, still has the most Wikipedia page views with nearly 6.9 million.
With access to streaming technology and the ability to distribute their art across an increasing number of new mediums, the music stars of today may leave a larger and more enduring legacy than any artist before them.
To determine the most famous musician born each year since 1930, 24/7 Wall St. constructed an index based on Wikipedia page views, Spotify followers, and Billboard chart performance. The list of musicians within the index consists of the 818 artists that were listed among the most popular musicians listed by their birth year on celebrity profile aggregation website Famous Birthdays. The Wikipedia page view metric consists of annual page views over the period from July 29, 2017 to July 29, 2018. Total Spotify followers were also included in the index. For artists who have both been in a band or multiple bands and recorded as a solo artist, the career stage with the most monthly Spotify listeners is included in the index. Also included in the index are the total numbers of weeks each artist spent on the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard 200 charts going back to 1960. Due to these constraints, commercial success of artists prior to 1960 may have been overlooked. For artists who had greater chart success with their bands than they did with solo work – such as John Lennon – we considered the band only when looking at Billboard performance.