Ever since Taylor Swift and Kanye West’s infamous run-in at the MTV Video Music Awards a decade ago, they’ve had a relationship that could be best described as star-crossed. Now they’re duking it out for the title of music’s highest-paid act. This year, Swift wins.
The superstar songstress earned $185 million thanks to a new record deal, a bevy of endorsements and the tail end of her most recent tour, landing in the top spot on the Forbes list of Highest-Earning Musicians for the second time in five years. West was not far behind, with $150 million, thanks to a surge in sales of Yeezy sneakers.
“I am a product guy at my core,” explained West, No. 2 on the list, in an interview with Forbes for the cover of our August issue. “To make products that make people feel an immense amount of joy and solve issues and problems in their life, that’s the problem-solving that I love to do.”
Two other acts entered nine-figure territory this year: British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran (No. 3, $110 million) and California rock band The Eagles (No. 4, $100 million), who both made the cut thanks to a heavy slate of gigs. The No. 5 spot is claimed by another venerable rocker, Elton John, who collected $84 million in 2019 in the midst of his farewell tour. Jay-Z and Beyoncé are tied at No. 6 with $81 million apiece. In all, the 10 highest-paid musicians in the world earned just over $1 billion pretax during our June-to-June scoring period, up from $886 million last year.
To determine our rankings, we consider income from touring, music and outside business ventures with the help of Pollstar, Nielsen Music and interviews with industry insiders including many of the stars themselves. Our list measures pretax earnings and does not deduct fees for agents, managers or lawyers. The ranking once again highlights an unfortunate reality of the music business: just ten women out of 40 names, only a marginal improvement over last year’s one-in-five ratio, while 15 people of color made the list, though five of them in the top ten.
There are nine newcomers to the 2019 list, a number of them Forbes 30 Under 30 alumni, including K-Pop supergroup BTS (No. 15, $57 million), songstress Ariana Grande (No. 22, $48 million) and hip-hop trio Migos (No. 40, $36 million). The latter diversified their on-stage earnings by inking a deal for a piece of Martell cognac, the latest example of artists learning the lesson that cash is one thing, but ownership is the key to building a fortune.
“If I’m rapping about drinking in the clubs, they’re buying bottles in the club,” says Migos cofounder Quavo. “I need to be having equity in some kind of alcohol.”