If you’ve studied the Billboard 200 albums chart week-to-week you may have noticed that there are some titles that never seem to drop off the list. Classic albums like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Nirvana’s Nevermind or Drake’s Nothing Was The Same consistently rank on the Billboard 200, but what albums have spent the most weeks on the chart and what insights can we learn from these perennial favorites?
In the past year, the number of albums that have been on the Billboard 200 for over eight years in total nonconsecutive weeks jumped from 4 to 15. In Week 39 of 2021 (week ending 9/30/21), albums that had been on the chart for more than 4 years occupied 22% of the 200 slots. This number increased to 27% in week 39 of 2022, and this year is now at 33% for week 39.
Adele’s 21 takes the top spot in longevity: it has been on the Billboard 200 for 583 weeks, 88% of the time since the album was released in January 2011. In the past year, the album ranked consistently in the #150 to #200 range, earning roughly 8.1k units per week in activity. Otherwise, the range of long-staying albums is vast: everything from Kendrick Lamar (Good Kid M.A.A.D City; 568 weeks) to Bob Marley, Journey, Eminem, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Lana Del Rey. Eighteen of the albums on the Billboard 200 this week were “greatest hits” compilations, which collectively averaged 263 weeks on the chart, or just over five years.
Each week, new albums have to compete with these long-tenured players in order to make it in the Billboard 200. But what type of consumption is most important in making it onto the chart?
The longest-charting albums have consistently high consumption from streaming. The top 10 longest-running albums on the Billboard 200 each earned over 78% of their units from streaming last week, and in particular Drake’s Take Care (on the chart now for just under 9 years) had a much higher streaming ratio, at 98%. Album sales are important –on average, these albums sold 1.5k units last week– but streaming is critical. If an album is going to stay in the top 200, then it needs to be streamed week over week to do so.
Using Luminate Insights consumer research data, we can see that nostalgia plays a part in older generations’ music streaming habits. US Baby Boomers that stream music are the generation most likely to report agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement, “I listen to music from my past to remind me of that period in my life,” compared to other music streamers (index 109). But, while nostalgia doesn’t play as big a role in younger streamers’ listening habits, Gen Z is the most likely to report listening to songs on repeat, indicating that once a song becomes a favorite it stands a good chance to be listened to over and over again.
In the streaming age, activity week-to-week can keep an older album buoyant on the Billboard 200. Before streaming, there was no way to know how often someone listened to an album that they bought. Now, the Billboard 200 illustrates not only how popular an album is at the time of its release, but how much it continues to be streamed week over week. We can see which albums are lasting with consumers as new albums try to compete with them for a spot on the chart.