Mark, My Words: The best-selling albums of the 21st Century list is an indelible stain on all humanity

Adele and Ed Sheeran dominated the top of the list, after which it all became a bit of a red mist for columnist Mark Beaumont

When the aliens finally descend from their observation modules to pick through the ruins of our once mighty civilisation looking for remnants of the rare earth mineral Tizer, the only fuel that will power their spacecraft home, they’ll do it with a certain empathy and understanding. Scouring our ancient Facebook feeds and televisual archives, they’ll find a depressingly accurate portrait of a species destined to self-destruct.

They’ll see us lied to by despots, spambots and lizard-mouthed demigods, rendered helpless by all-powerful corporate interests and misled by propagandists calling themselves ‘journalists’ with inhuman names like Oakeshott and Harltey-Brewer while being ordered to ignore anyone with a clinical investigative thirst for the truth, unless they were Coleen Rooney.

They’ll watch an episode or two of Hunted and connect with our universal sense of anxiety and paranoia. In Strictly Come Dancing they’ll note our fundamental untrustworthiness, in Love Island our desperate need for physical and emotional approval, no matter how shallow, fake or financially motivated. And they’ll watch Who Do You Think You Are? and realise, perhaps, that we never really knew who we were – that, distracted and constrained by the relentless, everyday blood-suck of late-stage capitalism, we never learnt the lessons of our history or strove for the betterment of our communities and bloodlines. That we were nothing but the offspring of once-noble stock reduced to having our nut done in by twats with their trotters up.


But let’s hope they don’t stumble across the list of the top 40 best-selling albums of the 21stCentury so far. Because then they’ll just raze our remain to dust with their knuckle beams and stamp the dirt down. Because then they’ll realise that humanity was a psychopath.

They wouldn’t even need to listen to the music to see the signs. All the meaningless numbers and mathematical symbols at the top of the list, the sort of thing you’d see scratched in blood on a serial killer’s secret chalkboard – ‘21’, ‘x’, ‘÷’, ‘25’. The many titular references to mental instability: Blunt’s ‘Back To Bedlam’, Buble’s ‘Crazy Love’, Keane’s ‘Hopes And Fears’, Coldplay’s ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’. The sheer, demented repetitiveness of it all, like Jack Nicholson in The Shining typing ‘Adele, Ed Sheeran, Adele, Ed Sheeran’ onto a sheet of paper. The obsessive-compulsive mania of not being happy just with ‘Sing When You’re Winning’ but needing ‘Swing When You’re Winning’ in there as well.

Were they to listen to them all in order, they’d hear a species so impossibly boring, drearily melancholic and easily moved by a big chorus key-change that there could only be deep-seated psychotic tendencies thriving underneath it all. And there they are, bursting out like a full-moon freakout on Eminem’s ‘Marshall Mathers LP’ and Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’, before being boxed in and buttoned back down in time for ‘Songs About Jane’ by Maroon 5. It sounds, for all the world, like the most forgettable, manicured middle manager in the world who goes home, wraps his tie around his forehead and nails his neighbours’ cats to his basement wall with a claw hammer every Friday night, cry-screaming David Gray’s ‘Babylon’.

Now we’re used to the effects of lowest-common-denominator major label campaigns designed to force the dullest, most derivative wallpaper music slop on us from every conceivable media orifice. It’s why all mainstream radio has been unlistenable since 1996, why the singles chart has become an irrelevance and why Sam Fender is considered in any way ‘indie’. But with so much blinding beige in the list, either a) the industry has streamlined the art of grinding white-soul musical gruel relentlessly through the promotional machine and into our ears like so much sonic Andrex Unquilted Unscented Basic Wipe Your Arse And Go paper, b) music has flung its hands up and admitted it’s got no ideas left or c) the general public has been so ground down by social media FOMO, Tinder disappointment, hand-to-mouth living and Bridget Jones movies that it doesn’t care about music anymore and just wants some sort of reliable way to kick off their nightly six-hour bouts of gentle, regretful sobbing. Or all of the above.


I mean, look at the best-selling albums of the 20th Century. ‘Thriller’. ‘Rumours’. ‘Hotel California’. ‘Back In Black’. ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’. ‘Sgt Pepper…’. ‘Bat Out Of Fucking Hell’. Whatever you think of those records, few of them were made to a formula. Fewer still were designed as risk-free money spinners. And not one of them – at least until you get down to Celine Dion – is boring. So what happened? The airwaves got beige-washed? The internet killed off the big balls-on-the-line industry risk? The majors just got too damn good at music? Whatever, the worst thing about this humiliation for humanity is, with record sales through the floor – only a handful of the albums are from this decade – this list won’t change for a hundred years, except to add more Sheeran. Those aliens will take one listen to this list and agree we deserved everything we had coming to us. Waterworld Faragian Empire and all.