Was 2004 Usher's year? ''Yeah!'' The R&B heartthrob had the top-selling album of the year in Confessions, which sold a hair under 8 million CDs, according to SoundScan. In fact, that figure makes it the best-selling album of the past three years; the 2003 champ, 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' sold 6.5 million copies, and 2002's top-selling The Eminem Show moved 7.6 million units. Still in the Billboard album chart's top 10 after nine months, Confessions could ultimately surpass Britney Spears' ...Baby One More Time's 10.5 million sales figure to become one of the top 10 selling albums in U.S. history.
Usher sold more than twice as many albums as his nearest competitor, Norah Jones, whose 2004 release Feels Like Home sold 3.8 million discs. (Jones came in second last year, too, selling 5.1 million copies of Come Away With Me in 2003.) The top album on the Billboard chart this week, Eminem's Encore, sold 3.5 million copies in 2004, finishing third for the year. Kenny Chesney's When the Sun Goes Down was fourth with sales of 3.1 million, while country rookie Gretchen Wilson was No. 5 with Here for the Party (2.9 million). Rounding out the top 10 were Tim McGraw's Live Like You Were Dying, Maroon 5's Songs About Jane, Evanescence's Fallen, Ashlee Simpson's Autobiography, and NOW That's What I Call Music! 16.
Overall, CD sales were up 2.3 percent for the year, marking the first time in four years that sales rose instead of slumping. That's especially impressive considering that 2004 also saw an exponential rise in the legal download market, with MP3 listeners buying 140 million individual tracks off the Internet in 2004. (That's up from 19.2 million tracks in the second half of 2003, when SoundScan started measuring online sales.) Online shoppers downloaded 5.5 million albums in their entirety.