Spotify’s most-streamed artist since 2010 is — we’d say “drum roll, please” but the answer is too obvious — Drake, followed by Ed Sheeran, Post Malone, Ariana Grande and Eminem.
Of course Drake claimed the top spot. By gaming the streaming system, the rapper — with a boost from Spotify — engineered his own popularity.
One logical way to rack up numbers is to release more songs for fans to stream. Drake, ever the workhorse, has released at least 179 songs on Spotify since 2010. That equates to nearly an 18-track album per year, and doesn’t count singles or songs that feature the rapper only. The sheer output alone is astronomical, but Drake seems to have another trick up his sleeve: He creates soundscapes more than albums — sets of songs that bleed into each other, encouraging a listener to just let it ride.
That’s another important ingredient to attract streams. As The Washington Post’s pop music critic Chris Richards wrote in 2017: “Streaming is designed to feel cool and undisruptive. It promises fluid, frictionless listening — an experience that can be entirely predictable, even when you don’t know exactly what’s coming next. … Dominance belongs to those superstars willing to replicate their softness in abundance, and then roll it out on the streaming platforms — the way that Drake and the Weeknd have each done on their wildly successful, shamelessly overlong albums of late.”
These factors played an important role in why Drake’s longest and worst-reviewed record, the 25-track behemoth “Scorpion,” garnered a record-breaking 745.9 million U.S. streams in its first week and became the first record to globally generate 1 billion streams in a single week.
But it certainly didn’t hurt that Spotify inundated its platform with Drake’s face during promotion of the album. His image appeared in various places across the website, including as the promotional image for Spotify-curated playlists on which his music didn’t even appear. Furious users pointed out that they paid for a premium service that didn’t include advertisements and demanded refunds, which some reportedly received.
The top female artists of the decade — Ariana Grande, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Sia and Beyoncé — particularly reflect the fact that Spotify’s stats exist within a self-constructed reality. As a result, they do not necessarily represent what people are listening to.
At first glance, for example, it may be surprising to learn that four other female artists were streamed more often than Beyoncé, arguably the most culturally relevant pop star of the past 10 years. But if gaining Spotify streams is a sport, then it’s important to note Beyoncé wasn’t fully in the game for most of the decade; not all her music was on the service.
Notably, her 2016 smash hit “Lemonade” was only available on the subscription-only streaming service Tidal, of which she and her husband Jay-Z have partial ownership, for nearly three years. It didn’t reach Spotify until mid-2019. She even pointedly rapped about her disinterest in streaming metrics on “Nice,” saying, “My success can’t be quantified / If I gave two f---s about streaming numbers / would have put ‘Lemonade’ up on Spotify.”
But wait, you might be thinking: Wasn’t Taylor Swift also absent from Spotify? She pulled her music from the service in 2014 as she released “1989,” her fifth studio album. “All I can say is that music is changing so quickly, and the landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment,” she said at the time. “And I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music.” Three years later, she returned her entire back catalogue to the service in celebration of selling 10 million copies of that very album.
While she and Beyoncé faced a similar handicap, Swift’s fans might care more about streaming numbers — they often purposely stream Swift’s music repeatedly to boost her numbers. When experts recently predicted that industrial rock band Tool’s first album in 13 years might knock Swift’s latest album “Lover” from the top of the charts, her fans rallied to stream Swift repeatedly in the hope of keeping her at No. 1. Stunts like this make it even more difficult to discern whether an artist’s popularity is organic or manufactured.
So while people may look to Spotify’s end-of-the-decade list as an accurate roundup of what listeners have been consuming, in actuality, it might be misleading. While the data generally represents the pop music landscape of the past 10 years, it also reflects how meaningless streaming numbers can be.
Below are the results of Spotify’s decade-end stats.
Most-streamed artists of the decade (global)
- Ed Sheeran
- Post Malone
- Ariana Grande
Most-streamed female artists of the decade (global)
- Ariana Grande
- Taylor Swift
Most-streamed male artists of the decade (global)
- Ed Sheeran
- Post Malone
- the Weeknd
Most-streamed tracks of the decade (global)
- “Shape of You” — Ed Sheeran
- “One Dance” — Drake, Kyla, WizKid
- “rockstar (feat. 21 Savage)” — 21 Savage, Post Malone
- “Closer” — Halsey, the Chainsmokers
- “Thinking out Loud” — Ed Sheeran