Who is the highest-selling artist from your state?

What’s Eminem doing in Missouri? Kanye West in Georgia? And Wiz Khalifa in, of all places, North Dakota?

An intriguing map of America's best-selling artists, by state of birth
Eminem may be 'from' Detroit, but he was born in Missouri

This is a mysterious map. Obviously about music, or more precisely musicians. But what's Eminem doing in Missouri? Kanye West in Georgia? And Wiz Khalifa in, of all places, North Dakota? None of these musicians are from those states! Everyone knows that! Is this map that stupid, or just looking for a fight? Let's pause a moment and consider our attention spans, shrinking faster than polar ice caps.


This is a map of the best-selling artists in each state, it says. And then to clear up the ambiguity, it adds: FROM not IN each state.

And that checks out, at least concerning the birthplaces of the aforementioned trio:

  • Though associated closely with Detroit, Eminem was born Marshall Mathers on October 17, 1972, in St. Joseph, Missouri.
  • Kanye Omari West was born on June 8, 1977, in Atlanta, Georgia and moved to Chicago with his mother when he was three.
  • Wiz Khalifa is a military brat, born Cameron Jibril Thomaz on September 8, 1987, at Minot AFB in North Dakota. He lived in Germany, the UK, and Japan before settling in Pittsburgh.

But hey, isn't Dave Matthews a native of Johannesburg, South Africa? What's he doing in Virginia? Because he's not mentioned as a solo artist, and bands are not born but formed (an important distinction). That seems to be the criterion here: the Dave Matthews Band took shape in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Backstreet Boys – two Floridians, two Kentuckians and a New Yorker – saw the light of day in Orlando, Florida in 1993.

This map popped up last year on r/MapPorn, Reddit's corner for cartography nerds, where it generated almost a thousand comments. Since we couldn't find a link to the data used for the map, we did some digging of our own and ended up at the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which keeps track of music sales in the U.S.

The Gold & Platinum section of the RIAA website ranks (1) artists by their all-time sales (but not by the state of birth). Cross-referencing with the map, the ranking (of both albums/EPs and singles sold) produces this Top 10:

  1. Garth Brooks (OK): 148 million.
  2. Elvis Presley (MS): 146.5 million.
  3. Eagles (CA): 101 million.
  4. Michael Jackson (IN): 81 million.
  5. George Strait (TX): 69 million.
  6. Aerosmith (NH): 66.5 million.
  7. Madonna (MI): 64.5 million.
  8. Mariah Carey (NY): 64.5 million.
  9. Whitney Houston (NJ): 58.5 million.
  10. Kenny G. (WA): 48 million.

The RIAA ranking does not make a distinction per state (either of birth or residence) and indeed also includes non-American artists. The Beatles top the overall list (178 million units sold). Garth and Elvis come second and third. Led Zeppelin, Brits as well, occupy #4 (with 111.5 million units sold). In fifth overall place are the Eagles, #3 in the ranking that conforms to this map.

Things quickly go wrong. Brooklyn-born Billy Joel, #6 in RIAA's overall ranking (with 82.5 million), does not get to splash his name across his native state. That honor goes to Mariah Carey (scoring 64.5 million units). Similarly, it's not Bruce Springsteen (65.5 million) but Whitney Houston (58.5 million) who 'owns' New Jersey on this map.

What gives? Are we counting the wrong things? Instead of checking the total for Albums/EPs and Singles, let's try just Albums/EPs. And yes, now Whitney resoundingly beats Bruce, 17.5 versus 3.5 million. And Mariah outsells Billy.

But solving one problem just causes others. Album-wise, the Eagles' 2.5 million total sales pale into insignificance versus Katy Perry's 98 million – yet it's not her name splashed across California. But wait… despite scoring 98 million in the Album/EP category alone, Katy Perry seems to disappear in the combined Album/EP and Single ranking.

We'd love to get to the bottom of this. But now our head hurts, and we need to lie down. Can anybody point us to a valid source that makes sense of this map? Please help us out via the email below.

Map found here on r/MapPorn.

Strange Maps #901

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

‘Designer baby’ book trilogy explores the moral dilemmas humans may soon create

How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.

Surprising Science
  • A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
  • It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
  • While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Keep reading Show less

Designer uses AI to bring 54 Roman emperors to life

It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.

Meet Emperors Augustus, left, and Maximinus Thrax, right

Credit: Daniel Voshart
Technology & Innovation
  • A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
  • A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
  • It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
Keep reading Show less

Archaeologists identify contents of ancient Mayan drug containers

Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.

A Muna-type paneled flask with distinctive serrated-edge decoration from AD 750-900.

Credit: WSU
Surprising Science
  • Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
  • They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
  • The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
Keep reading Show less

Ten “keys to reality” from a Nobel-winning physicist

To understand ourselves and our place in the universe, "we should have humility but also self-respect," Frank Wilczek writes in a new book.

Photo by Andy HYD on Unsplash
Surprising Science
In the spring of 1970, colleges across the country erupted with student protests in response to the Vietnam War and the National Guard's shooting of student demonstrators at Kent State University.
Keep reading Show less
Mind & Brain

This is your brain on political arguments

Debating is cognitively taxing but also important for the health of a democracy—provided it's face-to-face.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast