CSPC: Nirvana Popularity Analysis

Exactly one year ago I posted the fifth CSPC article. The artist studied was the cult rock band Nirvana. Some 25 years after the hype around Nevermind, their popularity is still soaring. At current pace, this album is looking to become the very best selling catalog record on Earth. How come?

Kia.

Taking into account that a mere two and a half years passed from the release of Nevermind to the death of lead singer Kurt Cobain, the impact of this Seattle band in the history of the music industry is unparalleled.

In total, Nirvana released only three albums, including one before their cross over. With such a tiny discography, and the fact that even Nevermind is not higher than the all-time Top 40 best selling albums, many millions behind other rock albums such as Led Zeppelin IVAC/DC Back In BlackPink Floyd Dark Side Of The Moon and even Guns N’ Roses own Appetite For Destruction, among various others, one may cast Nirvana‘s real popularity under a shadow of doubt. The early passing of Kurt Cobain led Geffen Records label to extensively milk the group’s existing material. Inclusively issuing two major live sets and later several compilations. All those records took catalog sales away from the band’s original albums which turn out to be lower sellers than their popularity would justify. Thus, it is needed to merge and weight together all records sold on the back of the Nevermind LP.

As usual, I’ll be using the Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept in order to relevantly gauge their results. This concept will not only bring you sales information for all Nirvana‘s albums, physical and download singles, as well as audio and video streaming, but it will also determine their true popularity. If you are not yet familiar with the CSPC method, the next page explains it with a short video. I fully recommend watching the video before getting into the sales figures. Of course, if you are a regular visitor feel free to skip the video and get into the figures.

Let’s go!

The Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept (CSPC)

04 Scale and Balance Eric Johnson

There are two ways to understand this revolutionary concept. The first is the Scribe video posted below. If you are unaware of the CSPC method, you will get the full idea within just a few minutes.

If you are a mathematical person, and want to know the full method as well as formulas, you can read the full introduction article.

Now let’s get into the artist’s sales figures in detail in order to apply this concept and define the act’s true popularity!

Original Albums Sales

Bleach (1989)

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "nirvana bleach"
  • America
    • US – 2,425,000
    • Canada – 250,000
    • Argentina – N/A
    • Brazil – N/A
    • Mexico – N/A
  • Asia – 280,000
    • Japan – 140,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 110,000
    • New Zealand – 20,000
  • Europe – 1,800,000
    • UK – 450,000
    • France – 280,000
    • Germany – 300,000
    • Italy – 215,000
    • Spain – 80,000
    • Sweden – 40,000
    • Netherlands – 50,000
    • Switzerland – 20,000
    • Austria – 25,000
    • Finland – 10,000
  • World – 5,200,000

NB: N/A means no specific number is available. Sales from the country are still accounted for in the Worldwide estimate by using figure patterns of both the artist and the country market. Countries not displayed in this fixed panel are factored in also.

Nevermind (1991)

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "nirvana nevermind"
  • America
    • US – 12,600,000
    • Canada – 1,360,000
    • Argentina – 245,000
    • Brazil – 480,000
    • Mexico – 310,000
  • Asia – 1,725,000
    • Japan – 900,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 660,000
    • New Zealand – 120,000
  • Europe – 9,720,000
    • UK – 2,430,000
    • France – 1,710,000
    • Germany – 1,550,000
    • Italy – 685,000
    • Spain – 505,000
    • Sweden – 270,000
    • Netherlands – 505,000
    • Switzerland – 165,000
    • Austria – 165,000
    • Finland – 60,000
  • World – 27,750,000

NB: N/A means no specific number is available. Sales from the country are still accounted for in the Worldwide estimate by using figure patterns of both the artist and the country market. Countries not displayed in this fixed panel are factored in also.

In Utero (1993)

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "nirvana in utero"
  • America
    • US – 6,425,000
    • Canada – 750,000
    • Argentina – 90,000
    • Brazil – 180,000
    • Mexico – 125,000
  • Asia – 580,000
    • Japan – 300,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 250,000
    • New Zealand – 50,000
  • Europe – 3,410,000
    • UK – 825,000
    • France – 635,000
    • Germany – 410,000
    • Italy – 375,000
    • Spain – 150,000
    • Sweden – 140,000
    • Netherlands – 120,000
    • Switzerland – 55,000
    • Austria – 45,000
    • Finland – 25,000
  • World – 12,050,000

NB: N/A means no specific number is available. Sales from the country are still accounted for in the Worldwide estimate by using figure patterns of both the artist and the country market. Countries not displayed in this fixed panel are factored in also.

Original Album Sales – Comments

Last year, I didn't want september ends.

1989 Bleach – 5,200,000
1991 Nevermind – 27,750,000
1993 In Utero – 12,050,000

Now that’s what I call a short discography. Nevermind is clearly a massive selling album with a tally that keeps increasing at a fast pace year after year. In Utero is often disregarded, but 12 million copies sold is huge no matter what some might say. Bleach achieved an impressive total of 5,2 million copies sold strictly as a catalog album, despite none of its songs being known at first.

A total of 45 million units sold with just three albums is big, but perhaps not as huge as some would expect for a band as popular as Nirvana. As previously mentioned though, their sales aren’t focused on just their studio albums. We will see during the next pages how successful they have been with sales of compilations, live albums and downloads.

Physical Singles Sales

Where the sun don't ever shine.

As a reminder, the weighting is done with a 10 to 3 ratio between one album and one physical single.

Bleach (1989) – 30,000 equivalent albums

About A Girl – 100,000

Nevermind (1991) – 1,077,000 equivalent albums

Smells Like Teen Spirit – 2,590,000
Come As You Are – 630,000
Lithium – 250,000
In Bloom – 120,000

In Utero (1993) – 75,000 equivalent albums

Heart-Shaped Box – 140,000
All Apologies – 110,000

Orphan – 75,000 equivalent albums

Sliver – 50,000
You Know You’re Right – 200,000

Not selling anything of note in 1989, Nirvana sold a few singles starting with the release of Smells Like Teen Spirit. That song was huge, selling some 2,59 million copies, although obviously their main force was in the albums category. Many of their singles benefited a little from the fans collecting the band’s products.

Digital Singles Sales

Nirvana

As a reminder, the weighting is done with a 10 to 1,5 ratio between albums and digital singles.

Bleach (1989) – 285,000 equivalent albums

About A Girl – 900,000
Remaining tracks – 1,000,000

Nevermind (1991) – 2,070,000 equivalent albums

Smells Like Teen Spirit – 5,800,000
Come As You Are – 2,500,000
Lithium – 1,500,000
In Bloom – 800,000
Remaining tracks – 3,200,000

In Utero (1993) – 690,000 equivalent albums

Heart-Shaped Box– 1,600,000
All Apologies – 600,000
Rape Me – 700,000
Remaining tracks – 1,700,000

Orphan – 443,000 equivalent albums

Sliver – 200,000
The Man Who Sold The World – 1,000,000
Lake Of Fire – 400,000
Where Did You Sleep Last Night – 500,000
Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam – 150,000
Plateau – 150,000
Oh Me – 150,000
You Know You’re Right – 200,000
Remaining tracks – 200,000

With an estimated 23 million singles downloaded, Nirvana performs very well in the digital world considering how few singles they released. Some 13 million of those have been achieved by songs from Nevermind. This is a tremendous result.

Streaming Sales

https://flic.kr/p/orNu17

Streaming is made up of two families – audio and video. Our CSPC methodology now includes both to better reflect the real popularity of each track. The main source of data for each avenue is respectively Spotify and YouTube. As detailed in the Fixing Log article, Spotify represents 132 million of the 212 million users of streaming platforms, while YouTube is pretty much the only video platform generating some revenue for the industry. Below is the equivalence set on the aforementioned article:

Audio Stream – 1500 plays equal 1 album unit
Video Stream – 11,750 views equal 1 album unit

Thus…

Equivalent Albums Sales = 212/132 * Spotify streams / 1500 + YouTube views / 11750

Streaming Part 1

As incredible as it may seem, even tracks like About A Girl or In Bloom are higher than anything Madonna released prior streaming years. This fact highlights how strong Nirvana‘s discography is on the Spotify platform. The song Smells Like Teen Spirit is the third biggest pre-2000 song overall at 278 million, a terrific achievement. Come As You Are is up to 180 million, while Lithium cracks 100 million too. Every track from the original Nevermind album is well over 10 million Spotify streams.

The band’s views on YouTube are just as extraordinary. They are also led by Smells Like Teen Spirit at a massive 689 million.

In terms of equivalent album sales, Bleach‘s streams  result in a solid 166,000 equivalent album units sold, while Nevermind has a monster result in more than 1 million units!

Streaming Part 2

Just like in terms of album sales, In Utero appears to be not too shabby at all in the streaming world. Heart-Shaped Box is almost on 100 million and four more tracks top the 20 million milestone. The most impressive fact is maybe that every song of the original track listing is up to 6 million or more. Lower than Nevermind for sure, this figure is much higher than a lot of all-time best sellers. All in all, its songs add for almost 360,000 equivalent album sales.

One more surprisingly high result is how three tracks originally issued on MTV Unplugged In New-York are over 30 million Spotify streams as well. Enjoying their live version videos, songs from the Orphan category total 450 million YouTube views. It is worth 254,000 equivalent album sales for songs belonging to the Orphan folder.

DSC_0914

Full Length related record Sales

It sounds fairly logical to add together weighted sales of one era – studio album, physical singles, downloads, streams – to get the full picture of an album’s popularity. For older releases though, they also generate sales of various live, music videos and compilation albums.

All those packaging-only records do not create value, they exploit the value originating from the parent studio album of each of its tracks instead. Inevitably, when such compilations are issued, this downgrades catalog sales of the original LP. Thus, to perfectly gauge the worth of these releases, we need to re-assign sales proportionally to its contribution of all the compilations which feature its songs. The following table explains this method.

Remaining Long Format – Part 1 – Compilations & Boxes

How to understand this table? If you check for example the Nirvana compilation line, those figures mean it sold 7,700,000 units worldwide. The second statistics column means all versions of all the songs included on this package add for 1,291,000 equivalent album sales from streams of all types.

The second part on the right of the table shows how many equivalent streams are coming from each original album, plus the share it represents on the overall package. Thus, streaming figures tell us songs from Nevermind are responsible for 59% of the Greatest Hits track list attractiveness. This means it generated 4,548,000 of its 7,700,000 album sales and so forth for the other records.

A few comments now, Nevermind is obviously the main selling machine of the group’s catalog. It represents more than 50% of the strength of all compilations and boxes. Line after line, the album amasses huge sales. Truly huge.

Remaining Long Format – Part 2 – Lives & Videos

Nevermind continues to be the major contributor of all records. MTV Unplugged In New-York is one of the few Video / Live / Compilation from Nirvana in which less than half of its sales are generated by the 1991 blockbuster. This is the consequence of both the absence of Smells Like Teen Spirit and the presence of various new and popular songs, giving a solid part of this record to the Orphan Album.

In total, four records Nevermind it from 2 to 7 million sales each. We have already studied various mega albums from the 90s so far, the biggest of all being Whitney Houston‘s Bodyguard, which banked in 53 million CSPC sales. Nevermind is responsible for more than 20 million of sales from albums listed on those two previous tables, an unreal total which coupled with the original album sales, will definitely make it onto the biggest albums of all-time list.

Full Length related records Sales – Summary

Here is the most underestimated indicator of an album’s success – the amount of compilation sales of all kinds it generated. Due to the dependency of sales of the original studio albums on these releases, they are a key piece of the jigsaw.

Nirvana sold an impressive 37,65 million units of their various long formats outside of their studio albums. While the power of Nevermind was obvious, Bleach at 3,8 million, In Utero at 5,8 million and the bulk of Orphan songs at 7,1 million are incredibly strong too.

BONUS: Compilation Albums Sales

MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "nirvana mtv unplugged"
  • America
    • US – 6,725,000
    • Canada – 1,060,000
    • Argentina – 180,000
    • Brazil – 400,000
    • Mexico – 200,000
  • Asia – 810,000
    • Japan – 350,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 605,000
    • New Zealand – 100,000
  • Europe – 5,670,000
    • UK – 910,000
    • France – 1,130,000
    • Germany – 815,000
    • Italy – 545,000
    • Spain – 400,000
    • Sweden – 125,000
    • Netherlands – 245,000
    • Switzerland – 125,000
    • Austria – 140,000
    • Finland – 35,000
  • World – 16,050,000

NB: N/A means no specific number is available. Sales from the country are still accounted for in the Worldwide estimate by using figure patterns of both the artist and the country market. Countries not displayed in this fixed panel are factored in also.

From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah (1996)

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah"
  • America
    • US – 1,600,000
    • Canada – 275,000
    • Argentina – 35,000
    • Brazil – N/A
    • Mexico – N/A
  • Asia – 370,000
    • Japan – 175,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 175,000
    • New Zealand – 25,000
  • Europe – 1,380,000
    • UK – 260,000
    • France – 380,000
    • Germany – 100,000
    • Italy – 155,000
    • Spain – 80,000
    • Sweden – 30,000
    • Netherlands – 40,000
    • Switzerland – 20,000
    • Austria – 35,000
    • Finland – 15,000
  • World – 4,100,000

NB: N/A means no specific number is available. Sales from the country are still accounted for in the Worldwide estimate by using figure patterns of both the artist and the country market. Countries not displayed in this fixed panel are factored in also.

Nirvana (2002)

  • America
    • US – 2,550,000
    • Canada – 360,000
    • Argentina – 75,000
    • Brazil – 170,000
    • Mexico – 150,000
  • Asia – 760,000
    • Japan – 400,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 385,000
    • New Zealand – 55,000
  • Europe – 3,020,000
    • UK – 965,000
    • France – 470,000
    • Germany – 310,000
    • Italy – 280,000
    • Spain – 160,000
    • Sweden – 65,000
    • Netherlands – 80,000
    • Switzerland – 90,000
    • Austria – 65,000
    • Finland – 25,000
  • World – 7,700,000

NB: N/A means no specific number is available. Sales from the country are still accounted for in the Worldwide estimate by using figure patterns of both the artist and the country market. Countries not displayed in this fixed panel are factored in also.

With The Lights Out (2004)

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "With The Lights Out"
  • America
    • US – 600,000
    • Canada – 80,000
    • Argentina – N/A
    • Brazil – N/A
    • Mexico – N/A
  • Asia – 140,000
    • Japan – 80,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 25,000
    • New Zealand – 5,000
  • Europe – 290,000
    • UK – 60,000
    • France – 60,000
    • Germany – 40,000
    • Italy – 35,000
    • Spain – 10,000
    • Sweden – N/A
    • Netherlands – 5,000
    • Switzerland – 10,000
    • Austria – 5,000
    • Finland – N/A
  • World – 1,200,000

NB: N/A means no specific number is available. Sales from the country are still accounted for in the Worldwide estimate by using figure patterns of both the artist and the country market. Countries not displayed in this fixed panel are factored in also.

World

BONUS: Total Album (all types) Sales per Country

  • America
    • US – 35,525,000
    • Canada – 4,505,000
    • Argentina – 710,000
    • Brazil – 1,565,000
    • Mexico – 960,000
  • Asia – 5,060,000
    • Japan – 2,570,000
  • Oceania
    • Australia – 2,280,000
    • New Zealand – 390,000
  • Europe – 27,250,000
    • UK – 6,490,000
    • France – 5,040,000
    • Germany – 3,750,000
    • Italy – 2,490,000
    • Spain – 1,460,000
    • Sweden – 770,000
    • Netherlands – 1,015,000
    • Switzerland – 515,000
    • Austria – 520,000
    • Finland – 185,000
  • World – 79,800,000

Please note that some of the countries totals may be slightly incomplete when the figure is N/A for minor releases. Countries with too much missing information to be precise enough are listed as N/A.

Nirvana Career CSPC Results

Nirvana

So, after checking all the figures, how many overall equivalent album sales has each Nirvana album achieved? Well, at this point we hardly need to add up all of the figures defined in this article!

In the following results table, all categories display figures in equivalent album sales. If different, pure sales are listed between parentheses.

'Av.' stands for Average, 'LD' for Last Day.

As a reminder:

  • Studio Album: sales of the original album
  • Other Releases: sales of compilations generated thanks to the album
  • Physical Singles: sales of physical singles from the album (ratio 3/10)
  • Download Singles: sales of digital singles from the album (ratio 1,5/10)
  • Streaming: equivalent album sales of all the album tracks (ratio 1/1500 for Audio stream and 1/6750 for Video stream)

Artist career totals

See where the artist ranks among remaining singers


This is it! Nevermind made it, crossing the mind blowing 50 million sales equivalent barrier. If nobody doubted this album was a very successful album, it is actually more than this, a true all-time blockbuster. It is only 300,000 sales away from the Bodyguard. A much bigger catalog seller on all fronts, the album will undoubtedly be #1 soon. The album recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. In fact, we will soon be able to say it is quite simply the most successful album that came out since its release.

In Utero will be up to the 20 million mark within a couple of years, while Bleach is pushing strong to get into the 10 million area. The Orphan Album is also a relevant segment of the band, once again mostly thanks to the MTV Unplugged In New-York album’s unreleased songs.

As for the band’s overall total, the cumulative tally of Nirvana is up to 89,2 million equivalent album sales, an unreal total for an act that issued the tiny number of three original albums.

The following pages list their most successful songs as well as their records and achievements. Do not forget to check our amazing cross-artists lists posted inside the CSPC: Data Collector which includes the full listing of all CSPC results compiled so far to better gauge their position in the history of the music industry.

As usual, feel free to comment and / or ask a question!

Sources: IFPI, Spotify, YouTube, Chartmasters.org.

BIGGEST TRACKS – Nirvana

Festival Style - Soundwave

The list of most successful songs is compiled in album equivalent sales generated by each of them. It includes the song’s own physical singles sales with a 0,3 weighting, its download and streaming sales, and with appropriate weighting too, plus its share among sales of all albums on which it is featured.

1 1991 – Smells Like Teen Spirit [Nevermind] – 17,330,000
2 1991 – Come As You Are [Nevermind] – 13,880,000
3 1993 – Heart-Shaped Box [In Utero] – 5,910,000
4 1991 – Lithium [Nevermind] – 5,830,000
5 1989 – About A Girl [Bleach] – 5,180,000
6 1991 – Polly [Nevermind] – 4,310,000
7 1993 – All Apologies [In Utero] – 3,440,000
8 1994 – The Man Who Sold The World [Orphan] – 2,710,000
9 1993 – Rape Me [In Utero] – 2,550,000
10 1991 – In Bloom [Nevermind] – 2,480,000
11 1993 – Dumb [In Utero] – 2,460,000
12 1991 – Something In The Way [Nevermind] – 2,010,000
13 1993 – Pennyroyal Tea [In Utero] – 1,680,000
14 1994 – Where Did You Sleep Last Night [Orphan] – 1,490,000
15 1991 – On A Plain [Nevermind] – 1,320,000

If you feel inspired by this list, we just created this CSPC Nirvana playlist on Spotify!

Records & Achievements

Trophy
  • At 89,2 million equivalent album sales, Nirvana is the highest selling act ever with 4 albums or less. In fact, they did it in spite of issuing only 3.
  • In terms of equivalent album sales, Nevermind will soon become the highest selling album released since 1990.
  • With over 16 million pure sales, MTV Unplugged In New York is among the Top 3 highest selling Live albums ever, only topped by Eric Clapton‘s Unplugged and virtually tied with Serious Hits Live by Phil Collins.
  • Nevermind is the first pre-2000 album ever to crack 1 million equivalent album sales from streams. It tops Michael Jackson‘s Thriller which is the runner up.
  • On its way to reaching 10 million European sales, Nevermind is the highest selling album ever by an American band in the old continent.
  • Thanks to catalog sales that pushed its pure album sales to 27,75 million, Nevermind has now passed Backstreet BoysMillennium and Santana‘s Supernatural to become the second best selling studio album of the 90s by a group. It is topped by Metallica‘s Black Album.

We have more for you

Nirvana‘s streaming masters analysis

checking out the upcoming artists or even voting for them!

… similar artists

… best-selling artists, albums, and singles

4 17 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

32 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments