Forget rock -- country is music's salvation. In a dire year for music sales, Evan Serpick finds two notable exceptions: Nashville twang and Eminem

By Evan Serpick
Updated January 08, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Shania Twain: Scott Gries/ImageDirect

Forget rock — country is music’s salvation

For all the media hype about 2002 marking the ”Return of Rock,” consumers don’t seem to be buying it. Among the 25 top-selling albums of the year, according to Soundscan’s annual report, the highest rock finisher is… Elvis? That’s right — and the King only finished at No. 15.

Among rockers who DON’T appear on a postage stamp, the top seller was Creed at No. 16. Of course, Avril Lavigne finished at No. 3, but she’s about as rock ‘n’ roll as Sid Vicious is polka. Despite all the buzz, the White Stripes, the Strokes, the Hives, et al, are nowhere to be found.

In one of the worst years ever, music sales were down nine percent overall. And of the 11 genres that Sounscan tracks, only one experienced a significant increase: country. While R&B fell 18 percent and Metal dipped 15 percent, country sales jumped 12 percent. In fact, four country artists — the Dixie Chicks, Alan Jackson, Shania Twain, and the ”O Brother” soundtrack — finished ahead of Elvis, rock’s top seller.

One way to look at this is in the context of music downloading, which must factor into any explanation of the industry’s woes. Fans of R&B, rap, alternative, and metal — which all dropped significantly in 2002 — are the most likely to download music, while country fans are among the least likely.

Still, while music biz types are busy bashing the Internet for siphoning the life out of the industry, it’s worth noting that the single most downloaded artist was also the best-seller of 2002. Research shows that more surfers download Eminem songs than any other artist, which you might expect to put a crimp in his record sales.

But, in fact, the ”Eminem Show” was the most popular album of 2002, selling 7.6 million copies — a full 2.7 million more that the second-place finisher, Nelly’s ”Nellyville.” As if that didn’t make Slim Shady’s pockets fat enough, he had another album near the top, the ”8 Mile” soundtrack, which sold 3.5 million and finished at No. 5.

So while the music industry searches for solutions to its woes, it might as well start listening to it’s shining star, who hit it right on the head when he said, ”It will be so empty without me.” Move over, Elvis, there’s a new King in town. Hey, millions of Eminem fans can’t be wrong.