If you aspire to be awarded and lauded as a musician, you may be intrigued to know how the biggest names became famous. So, who are the most successful female singers and how did they make it?
Want to learn who the most successful female singers are and how they made it? We’re in a golden age for fantastic female vocalists. They’ve all worked hard to get where they are, along with a little bit of luck, savvy career choices and some good contacts.
Read on to find out how and why these ladies became so successful and how you too can take a leaf out of some of their books.
Who are the most successful female singers of all time?
Success is to a degree subjective. But there are generally a few factors that we look at when attempting to calculate who is among the most successful female singers in the music industry. These are:
- Records sold
- Career longevity
- Earnings/net worth
- High profile gigs and tours
- Social media following
- Additional career achievement (songwriting, producing, collabs etc)
There will, of course, be a number of names that come instantly to mind. Think of the numbers you like to sing – chances are a well-known songstress once recorded them. But success is generally easier to measure these days, in the 21st century, where followers, fans, streams and sales are quantifiable. The music industry is highly competitive and can be a callous world to break into. Yet those who do reach the dizzy heights can go stratospheric, as our list will reveal.
Who is the number one female singer in the world?
#1 Taylor Swift
Ask a bunch of different people and they’ll all give you different answers to this question. But let’s begin with a lady who’s held her place as one of the biggest names in music for over a decade. She writes many of her own songs, recently released a Netflix documentary about her life and packs stadiums.
The self-titled Miss Americana, Taylor Swift began her career on the country circuit at a very young age. After performing at festivals and events, she recorded her first demo aged 11 but was rejected by labels.
However, a year later, with the help of her guitar tutor, Taylor got the opportunity to perform for RCA Records (a subsidiary of Sony Music). She won an artist development deal and began to attract attention before being signed by Big Machine Records.
Swift continued writing, recording and gaining fans – a trajectory that continues to rise. Taylor not only tops the charts with her music but also with hear earnings and awards.
Top female singers
The top UK female singer is almost certainly Adele. Her moving songs and smooth vocals are timeless and epic. Unlike other stars, Adele’s a very private person and won her fans on her talent, rather than a widely prompted colourful private life. After winning a place at the BRIT school (along with fellow top female singers Jessie J and Leona Lewis), Adele was able to explore her songwriting and vocals, although had originally planned a career in A&R. The school also provided access to top industry contacts, so before graduating she landed a recording deal with XL Records.
#3 Ariana Grande
Ariana is the social media queen, as the most followed woman on Instagram, just behind fellow top female singer Selena Gomez. As a child, Grande started out in Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre. Ariana began a juvenile career in musical theatre, getting cast on Broadway in the show 13.
From this, she moved to a role on Nickelodeon and began uploading songs to YouTube, where she was picked up and signed by Republic Records.IN 2019, Billboard named Grande the most accomplished female artist to debut in the 2010s. NME named her one of the defining musical artists of this decade.
The greatest female singers of the 20th century
#4 Barbara Streisand
One of the most epic singers of the 20th century, Barbra Streisand has been in the business for six decades. Streisand’s awards include two Oscars, ten Grammys, five Emmys and a Tony award, among others. Her unique sound has taken her from Broadway to movies and stadiums. Although as she suffers from extreme stage fright, she has often struggled with large scale concerts in later years.
Streisand was intent on an acting career in her early years, knocking on the doors of casting offices until landing a big break on stage. It was through acting that her incredible voice was discovered and ended up taking centre stage in her career. She’s now a legend of music.
#5 Celine Dion
Canadian songstress Celine Dion has a distinct sound that made her internationally famous when she recorded My Heart Will Go On as the theme to mega movie Titanic. A child star before she’d even reached adulthood, Dion had recorded nine albums and won many awards. And she controversially ended up marrying the man who’d discovered her, aged 12.
Celine has 13 siblings and came from a musical family – it was her mother who sent a cassette of her daughter singing, to impresario René Angélil, who remained her partner in both work and life, until his tragic death from cancer.
#6 Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey is a queen of pop. Her whistle register is astounding and her incredible range make her vocals instantly recognisable. Having a big Christmas hit has meant she is never to be forgotten in the annals of musical history. Her mother was a vocal coach and opera singer, and while waitressing by day and gigging by night, Mariah managed to get a demo into the hands of the Colombia Records president.
The greatest female singers of the 21st century
#7 Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga proved her status as one of the biggest hitters of our time when she rallied the world’s most famous artists and bands, by organising One World: Together at Home. It takes some standing as a musician to get big names in the industry onto your project.
And, like Taylor, Lady Gaga has had a documentary made about her life, as well as making the movie A Star is Born. It was while performing at a burlesque revue that Gaga was noticed and signed by Akon. But she’d been singing and playing since age 4. Her first album was a hit, and in her early days, she opened for the newly reformed New Kids on the Block.
The Queen of Pop
Of course, this list couldn’t be compiled without, Madonna, a singer who’s success has straddled both centuries. Her ability to reinvent her brand and stay up to date has been key. Madge began in the music industry as a backup singer and dancer. She took classes in NYC while working as a waitress and eventually formed a rock band with her boyfriend.
As their gigs began to gain traction, she decided to promote herself as a solo artist, resulting in her first record deal. In the 1980s and early 1990s, her controversial style brought her notoriety and renown, along with some toe-tapping hits such as Like a Virgin and Holiday.
#9 Billie Eilish
Billie Elish already has five Grammy Awards, two American Music Awards, two MTV Europe Music Awards, three MTV Video Music Awards and an NRJ Music Award. She’s also recorded a Bond movie theme and her distinct new sound has taken the world by storm. Find out how she made it in this article.
The highest-paid female singer of all time
Once again Taylor Swift tops this list. But she’s followed by Beyoncé. Bey’s headline set at Coachella in 2018 is said to be one of the best musical performances of all time. And she was perfecting her soaring, powerful vocals very early on. Aged 9, she formed the all-girl group Girl’s Tyme, performing on the talent show, Star Search. They didn’t win, but were picked up and signed by Columbia Records, where they changed their name to… Destiny’s Child. And the rest is history.
#11 Katy Perry
The pop princess Katy Perry may not have the intense sound of the likes of Beyonce, but her appeal is massive. Similarly, though, Perry began aged 9 with singing lessons and concerts at her church. It was here, in her late teens she was spotted singing by rock artists Jennifer Knapp and Steve Thomas who took the young singer to Nashville to record a gospel demo. It didn’t take off, but Katy met Glen Ballard began writing for, and signed with, him.
Once again it didn’t really go anywhere, but Perry kept plugging away, managed to get her music in some movies and collaborated wherever she could. It paid off when Capitol Records noticed the starlet and under their direction, Katy Perry released the hit I Kissed a Girl.
The highest-paid female singer
Caribbean-born singer Rihanna was named the richest female singer in 2020, with a huge £468m fortune. Rihanna formed a girl group in her early teens. They auditioned for US music producer Evan Richards in 2003 and while they were rejected as a whole Rhi Rhi was taken on as a solo artist.
Aged 17, her first single, Pon De Replay, was a surprise global smash. Within five years she became the only female artist in the history of the US Billboard chart to land four No 1 singles in one year. She’s since become one of the biggest-selling digital artists of all time. So it’s no surprise she’s made a buck or two.
The most awarded female of all time
Awards are another way to measure success, although they’re not the be-all and end-all. Some singers like Madonna have enjoyed immense success and record sales, but not won such hearty critical acclaim. Not all awards are equal either. In the USA Grammys and in the UK the BRITS are generally considered to have the most kudos. Most of the ladies on our list have many accolades to their names.
Who is the most awarded female singer?
#13 Whitney Houston
At the time of her unfortunate and early death, Whitney Houston was the most awarded female singer of all time. The music legend is best known for her Bodyguard hit I Will Always Love You – one of the biggest songs of all time. Whitney garnered over 400 awards during her career spanning three decades. Houston holds the Guinness World Record as the most awarded female artist of all time and her first four albums sold 86million copies.
Whitney started out by singing gospel music at her mother’s church. Aged 19, Whitney was discovered singing in a nightclub by Arista Records A&R, who signed her immediately. Her first album was an almost overnight hit.
But Taylor Swift made history in 2019 as the most awarded artist of all time at the American Music Awards.
Most successful female rapper
#14 Nicki Minaj
The Trinidadian rapper and songwriter is estimated to have a net worth of £70 million.
How to get discovered as a singer
Nowadays, there are many more routes to get noticed by the right people. Talent scouts scour YouTube, and streaming sites and many contemporary artists are discovered in this way. Gigging and having a strong social media presence is an important part of the process too. Talent shows and competitions have also become a major route into record contracts and high profile careers. You can learn more about how to make it in the music industry here.
How will you make it and what steps will you take to begin a singing career in the music industry?
- Who is the highest-paid singer in the world in 2020?
Dr Dre has a net worth of $950 million, bringing in the dollars continuously. But it’s his music producing that made him the big bucks, not his voice. Madonna has an eye-watering net worth of $850 million. Madonna has many hits still bringing her an income, so the singer is continually getting paid.
- Who is the most popular singer in 2020?
It depends on how you define popularity, but the Colombian singer Shakira certainly has the most followers on Facebook (over 100 million). She also headlined the Superbowl along with J-Lo this year and is one of the most awarded Latin singers in history.
- What are the top hits of 2020?
This is ever-changing, so we recommend you subscribe to a top hits playlist to keep ahead of new music that’s topping the charts. You can learn about which playlists to follow in this article.
Who would you say are the most successful female singers? Are you taking the same path to stardom as any of them? Let us know about your journey and the artists who inspire you, in the comments below.