Rihanna Crowned Top Billboard Pop Songs Artist Of The Last 20 Years

The sexy singer beat out all her contemporaries including Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and Madonna.

Happy birthday, Billboard's Nielsen BDS-based Pop Songs chart! Two decades in, the ranking continues to track the trends at, and reveal the realities of, U.S. mainstream top 40 pop radio.

The week of Oct. 3, 1992, Billboard premiered the Pop Songs radio airplay chart, as then-new Nielsen BDS-based monitoring technology allowed for unprecedented accuracy in gauging the biggest hits on mainstream top 40 radio.

The chart's 20th anniversary - it launched the week of Oct. 3, 1992 - also coincides with an unprecedented pure pop boom, as mainstream top 40 radio is playing more pure pop than ever before. And, as station ratings soar, such a focus on the format's musical middle ground is reinforcing that the format works best when deemphasizing such extremes as rock and rap.

A year-by-year analysis of Billboard's Pop Songs chart reveals that pure pop - i.e., melodic, often synth-driven, uptempo fare from the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry - has made up at least 60% of the survey's total top 10 hits each year from 2008 through 2012 (from January through July annually). Last year, the style accounted for a whopping 79% of the list's top 10s - the highest percentage in the chart's history - as 30 of the 38 top 10s during that period fit a pop classification.

Twenty years later, we're celebrating the anniversary by counting down the top 40 artists on the Pop Songs chart over the past two decades. We're also mixing in memories from those working in the format, on both the radio and records sides.

1. Rihanna
2. Pink
3. Britney Spears
4. Kelly Clarkson
5. Mariah Carey
6. Katy Perry
7. Usher
8. Black Eyed Peas
9. Janet Jackson
10. Madonna
11. Lady Gaga
12. Christina Aguilera
13. Justin Timberlake
14. Nickelback
15. Matchbox Twenty
16. Beyonce
17. Backstreet Boys
18. Jennifer Lopez
19. Maroon 5
20. Avril Lavigne
21. Nelly
22. Chris Brown
23. Eminem
24. 'N Sync
25. Alanis Morissette
26. Destiny's Child
27. Flo Rida
28. Celine Dion
29. Boyz II Men
30. 3 Doors Down
31. Goo Goo Dolls
32. Bruno Mars
33. No Doubt
34. Sheryl Crow
35. TLC
36. Hootie & the Blowfish
37. Ke$ha
38. Fergie
39. Taylor Swift
40. Jewel

Billboard has chosen her as the top pop artist of the last 20 years. With only seven years under her belt Rihanna beat out veterans Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Usher and Celine Dion.

Second place went to Pink, and third place went to Britney Spears.

As far as her peers she toppled her bestie Katy Perry, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Chris Brown.

Part of Riri’s success can be attributed to her ability to dish out catchy hit after hit. Her hooks hook you. No pun intended. The chorus and hooks immediately come to mind when you hear just the titles of “We Found Love,” “Where Have You Been,” “Umbrella,” “Birthday Cake” and countless others. Is Rihanna’s formula for mastering an infectious song why she leaves her counterparts slouching in the dust?

Another component of Rih’s success is attributed to her devoted navy. Her mentor, Jay-Z, once said, “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.” Her chart numbers are indisputable. She has the most chart appearances with 34, most top 10s with 21 and the most No. 1s racking up nine.

Her talent or lack thereof depending on who you ask has been the subject of criticism many times. That hasn’t stopped the singer from putting out an album every year since she’s come out excluding 2008. Rihanna is a superstar, and perhaps always had the “it” factor that makes one a successful pop singer. We adore her. Do you think she’s the best pop star in the past 20 years?

What's behind the pure pop boom? It's no coincidence that 2008 marked the arrival of two of the format's reigning stars: Perry and Gaga. Rihanna, meanwhile, continued to solidify her star status as an almost constant chart staple, adding touches of R&B and reggae to her overall pop focus. Add the continued domination or resurgences in that span of such acts as Christina Aguilera, Clarkson, Maroon 5 (which, in recent years, has segued from rock to a more pop lean), P!nk and Britney Spears, and it's clear that pop became tops at mainstream top 40 radio.

In turn, ratings have reflected that audiences' appetites for pop are robust. CBS Radio flipped KAMP Los Angeles and WXRK New York to mainstream top 40 in 2009, taking on respective Clear Channel Media and Entertainment-owned format leaders KIIS and WHTZ. In Arbitron's August 2012 ratings among listeners ages 6 and older, KIIS led all Los Angeles stations with a 5.5 share, while KAMP pulled a 3.8 share. In New York in August, WHTZ registered a 6.1 share, while WXRK scored a 2.4 showing.

Similar battles brew in other large markets. In Detroit and Boston, CBS Radio has likewise switched WDZH (also in 2009) and WODS (two months ago) to mainstream top 40, again challenging established Clear Channel-owned format outlets WKQI and WXKS, respectively.

Programmers' adherence to, and the availability of, pure pop music at the format has ebbed and flowed since Billboard premiered Pop Songs, born of then-new BDS electronic monitoring technology, 20 years ago. (Ironically, given its title, Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" led the inaugural list. Current No. 1 "One More Night" by Maroon 5 is the chart's 252nd topper.)

While pure pop has comprised more than 60% of all Pop Songs top 10s each year since 2008, the sound encompassed just 41% in 1993, when R&B from the likes of Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and TLC infused format playlists.

In 1996, pop accounted for just 19% of all top 10s, as such rock/alternative acts as Gin Blossoms, Hootie & the Blowfish and Alanis Morissette became the format's - and the public's - flavor of choice.

And, in 2003, pop's percentage rose to 45%, but the amount of rap top 10s doubled to 12 from the previous year, too. The heyday of 50 Cent, Diddy and Eminem at pop radio contrasted with 1993-2002, when no more than one rap title reached the top 10 annually.

Since 2008, however, Rihanna has reigned with 15 more top 10s after "Umbrella," Gaga's implored us to just dance (while racking seven Pop Songs No. 1s) and Perry's tallied a record six Pop Songs No. 1s from one album ("Teenage Dream"). And, she, um, kissed a girl. Clearly, we've liked it all.

According to Edison Research VP of music and programming Sean Ross, several factors have aligned to make for a current pinnacle for pop music. "There's less competition. R&B/hip-hop and alternative don't have the [ratings] influence that they used to, or, thus, the same ability to force songs on top 40's agenda. Only country has a similar ability to break new music and it's still viewed by most pop PDs as another sphere."

Ross adds that mainstream top 40 has learned to cultivate its own versions of rock and R&B-influenced pop, allowing the format to sample variety without risking playing extremes. In recent years, he notes, the format largely replaced hip-hop with rhythmic pop from such acts as the Black Eyed Peas. Teen punk similarly usurped alternative at top 40, thanks to the rise of bands like the All-American Rejects. "Plus, R&B acts like Chris Brown and Usher are releasing exclusive pop singles for top 40 while saving their core R&B singles for that format," says Ross (who served as Billboard's radio editor in 1988-92).

While the names have changed - Peter Cetera, En Vogue, Guns N' Roses, Elton John and Toad the Wet Sprocket inhabited the maiden Pop Songs chart; Miley Cyrus wasn't born until a month after the list's launch; Justin Bieber, a year and a half later - the survey continues to help guide pop programmers' decisions. "The Pop Songs chart came along at point when country and hip-hop were competing heavily with the format," Ross recalls. "It gave mainstream top 40 PDs their own chart to look at."

Twenty years later, it continues to.

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