Beyonce, Rihanna, and Alicia: Does Sex Really Sell?

Does sex really sell? A look at the numbers…my findings may surprise you.
By: Amanda Anderson

The music industry is a cold place for an artist. Pop singers are manufactured, and forced to become sex kittens by their sophomore albums, and brainwashed to believe that their re-creation is all in the name of tangible success. As a society, we ourselves have been forced to believe that sex sells, and our favorite artists must become different people to have any type of longevity in the business. While we all want an opportunity to do what we love for a great living, at what cost should an artist have to pay to live their dreams? And more specifically, why is it that women are the ones that suffer the most from the sex sells theory, while male artists continue to evolve minimally?

Do women really have to become big booty pad wearing, gyrating on the stage, drop it low, penis addicted sex kittens to sell more records? Or are we just being bamboozled and misled into female enslavement at the hands of greedy music executives, and sadly paying a huge price that is leaving young girls in an unhealthy mind state that could scar them for life?

Let’s take a look at the numbers.

First up…Beyonce’

Beyonce came busting on the scene in one of R&B’s most successful girl groups of all time: Destiny’s Child. Known for their female empowerment type anthems, and independent lady driven lyrics; these ladies had a continuous presence on the charts, and a list of hits that just about every woman knows word from word.

Eventually Beyonce decided to pursue her solo career, and went into the studio to record her debut album, Dangerously in Love. Her first single, “Crazy in Love,” featuring hubby Jay-Z, is still one of her biggest hits to date.

Image wise, Beyonce’ was glamorous, and sexy in a subtle way. Her lyrics were more loved based, and her dance moves didn’t consist of anything more drastic than the “uh oh” dance. Beyonce was still safe, and still very familiar to the Destiny Child’s fans. How many records did the safe and subtle sexy Beyonce sell? Over 4,688,000.

Beyonce’ then parted ways with her Destiny’s Child sisters Kelly and Michelle, and recorded her sophomore album , B Day. This was the beginning of the new Beyonce’.

Beyonce has always been known to become a different person while performing, but this time, she placed a little more emphasis on her sexier alter ego…Sasha Fierce. The songs on this album were sexier, with songs focusing more on man pleasing (sexually), and club grinding.

The singer went from singing about being dangerously in love, to getting bodied, and tricking like a sugar mama for a man that gives some good sex. So how many records did Bey sell this time? 5,992,540.

Her third studio album, I Am…Sasha Fierce, was a double disc collection of songs from the perspective of Beyonce’s alter ego and her normal self. Her biggest hits were “Single Ladies,” “If I Were A Boy,” “Halo,” “Diva,” and “Ego.” This time around, Beyonce was a bit more aggressive, and took it a notch up in sexuality at the hands of more sexual dance routines in her latest music videos.

Her third album sold over 6 million records.

Seems like she hasn’t sold that many more records since changing up her image.

To be more specific:

She sold 1,304,540 more copies of B Day than Dangerously In Love and about 7, 460 more copies of I Am…Sasha Fierce than B Day.

Could it be that sex sells temporarily?

Let’s go on to Rihanna…

Her debut album, Music of the Sun, introduced the world to a bright eyed young Rihanna who sang about love, a little heartbreak and dancing in the club. The songs were more bubble gum than Rihanna’s current style, and sold over 2 million copies.

Since Rihanna was gaining a little steam as a new artist, her label rushed her back to the studio to record her second album. A Girl Like Me was a tad bit more Pop than Music of the Sun, and featured hits such as “SOS” and “Unfaithful,” which was a worldwide success. She sold roughly over one million records. When the executives began to feel like Rihanna wasn’t becoming the major star they wanted her to be fast enough, they decided it was time for a new image and a new album.

By her third album, Good Girl Gone Bad, Rihanna shed the typical R&B singer long hair signature look penned by Beyonce, cut her hair, became a rebel, and got sexy.

Her first single, “Umbrella” became her first number one single, and Rihanna was no longer the little Island girl we once knew; she was stylish and sexy beyond our imagination.

She cranked out about 8 hit singles, with “Please Don’t Stop the Music,” and” Shut Up And Drive” taking her into cross over appeal. Her signature performances were replaced with edgier and sluttier attire, and a rocked out Rihanna who could no longer leave the house without leather and see through garments. Good Girl Gone Bad sold over 5 million records. Rihanna was finally the sex pop star her label always wanted her to be.

After a nasty and violent break up with ex boyfriend Chris Brown, Rihanna went back to the studio to record her fourth album, Rated R. As the name suggests, Rihanna had became even more edgier, sexier, and dark. Her lyrics were centered around a man’s penis size, a dangerous game of russian roulette, being a rock star and being hard. No more cute songs praising the DJ, or gushing over the dangers of puppy love.

Rihanna went from smiling and dancing around helplessly to the DJ, to popping her coochie, and pleasing herself manually on stage. How many records did she sell this time around? A little over 3 million records. That’s 2 million less than Good Girl Gone Bad and only 2 million more than her debut album.

Now let’s flip things a little, and look at two artists who didn’t rely on sex to sell records…

Alicia Keys (she keeps her two hands on her piano, not her vagina on stage)

Alicia Keys is a powerhouse. This woman came busting on the scene with not just a pretty face or great hair…but a piano and song writer skills.

Her debut album, Songs In A Minor, sold over 6.2 million records. Not shabby for a pretty tomboy who couldn’t dance or couldn’t being anything close to the traditional pop star. Although her debut was stellar, it was clear that a softer image may be more beneficial to her career. By her second album, she changed her image. But she didn’t get sexier, she got softer, and more relatable to women.

Alicia Key’s released her sophomore album, The Diary of Alicia Keys. She began to drop her signature braids, and became more interested in her style. Hit singles included “You Don’t Know My Name,” “If I Ain’t Got You,” and “Karma.” And this time around, though sexless and sexual lyrics free, she sold 4.4 million records. That’s 1.8 million records less than her debut album.

By her third album, Alicia had forsaken the braids completely, and concentrated more on her song writing. As I Am produced one of Keys’ biggest hits to date, “No One.” While there were many other great songs on the album, this album gave Keys her biggest first week sales in her career. The album sold over 6 million records. Did I mention that she still had not gone the sexually kitty route yet?

And finally, we get to Alicia’s current and fourth album, The Element of Freedom. This was the first album that didn’t end up number one on the charts. While some may blame the Mashonda drama, most of us believe musically, this album was sub par. And as a result, Keys sold less albums than she ever has in her career. Despite this fact, Keys still sold more her first week with this album than Beyonce and Rihanna ever have in their career.

Interesting isn’t it?

Now let’s look at Keyshia Cole.

Keyshia Cole is a beautiful woman, but her music has always stroke a chord in women, as she belts out songs on heartbreak and real love. Her debut album, The Way It Is, went platinum, and proved that Keyshia Cole was an artist worth listening to. The album had big hits such as “Love” and “(I Just Want It) To Be Over.” The album sold over 1.2 million copies.

Still without a sexy image, slutty clothes, or penis praising…Cole managed to sell over a million records. Interesting as she doesn’t even have as much fame as Alicia, Beyonce’, or Rihanna.

By her second album, Keyshia had improved in her song writing and vocals. She released Just Like You in 2007, and a controversial TV show the same year with BET. With big hits such as “Let It Go,” “Heaven Sent”, and “I Remember”; it’s no surprise that it sold over 1.6 million records.

Her third album A Different Me wasn’t a hit with fans, as her supporters felt like Keyshia had changed, and no longer made songs they could relate to. She sold 980,000 copies, making this album her lowest to date.

Regardless, Keyshia has still sold millions of records without raunchy lyrics and whoring herself out on stage.

But I thought you couldn’t sell millions of records without sex? Looks like Alicia Keys and Keyshia Cole prove that the theory is untrue.

The Conclusion

“Sex sells” is a halfway true statement. When Beyonce and Rihanna switched up their images, they only sold a couple million more than their debut albums. Did they stop selling records because they got raunchier? No. But by their third albums, they sold a lot less, and the quality of their music suffered. Rihanna has only sold about 11 million records, Beyonce has sold 11.2 records, and Alicia Keys has sold a whopping 30 million records.

The truth is sex garners popularity, and more media recognition. You have a woman who coochie pops and sings about penises versus a woman who sings about heartbreak with some clothes on. Who’s more interesting and more story worthy? My point exactly. When you look at the numbers, the only thing Beyonce and Rihanna have over Alicia Keys is more cross over appeal. But Alicia still sells more than both.

Keyshia Cole sold millions of records as an relatively uninteresting R&B singer, but still garnered a huge fan base because she was relatable. Once she tampered with that, her third album flopped.

And just in case you still don’t get where I’m going with this, let’s look at R&B singer Ciara.

Ciara’s debut album goodies introduced the world to a goodie stingy, independent 19 year old R&B singer with some pretty sick dance moves. Goodies, Ciara’s first album, sold 5 million records. Her sophomore album, Ciara: The Evolution, was a tad bit more mature without ratchetness, and sold over 2 million records. By her third album, you couldn’t tell if Ciara was a singer or a stripper, and she only managed to sell 300.000 copies.

Ciara must not have gotten a look at the numbers, because she got even more sexual, and her fourth album is continuously getting pushed back after that Ride video spectacle; meanwhile her fans are feeling more and more alienated.

So if sex really does sell, how come Ciara’s career is on life support?

No shade to either artist, but I just wanted to prove to every singer listed (and fans) that they don’t have to degrade themselves or coochie pop to sell records. At the end of the day, women like women (and artists) we can relate to. We’re about the music; not Beyonce’s questionable booty, Rihanna’s addiction to big penises, awful hair colors, spikes, and leather; or Ciara’s stripper like tendencies, gymnast and matrix like dance moves. It isn’t wise to piss off women, because studies indicate that we buy more albums than men. So the music executives may be fooling these artists, but it won’t change that what’s less relatable won’t sell well. And as we watch Beyonce, Ciara, and Rihanna’s numbers continue to dwindle (concert tickets as well, Rihanna), we all know that if Alicia Keys and Keyshia Cole have better luck with song writing the next go round, they will continue to have successful careers without depending on whoredom.

Sex sells temporarily, while good music and real talent never gets old.

In these artists’ case, sex only sells a little more for a little while (one album to be exact). But it doesn’t make that much of a difference. After a while, the thrill is gone, and you’ll have nothing left to do but masterbate on stage since most of your songs are terrible.
Let’s get back to the music ladies. You’re better than this.


  1. Ha ha, I loved this! You proved a major point that I have been questioning for years! Beyonce had a better career before Sasha Fierce, Rihanna's gotten slutty and boring, and Alicia Keys is suffering now because of Mashonda and badly written songs. So there's no need to slut out the artists, but very crucial that they concentrate on the music. Thanks for this and using numbers to prove that sex doesn't really sell.

  2. And this is why I can't understand why people call Beyonce or Rihanna queens? Queen of what…stage whoring? Their music gets worse by the album. Dangerously in Love is the only album I have of Beyonce's. And sadly, I haven't purchased any by Rihanna. They are beautiful girls, but they have allowed themselves to become trashy and overrated. I'm very disappointed in Beyonce's transformation after DC, and I wish she'd go back to her classy days.

  3. Ciara is the saddest case of them all. Humble girl from ATL becomes an oversexed and desperate singer because she got some bad industry advice. These artists will always have to worry about someone taking their shine because thy are image first, and talent last. And that's what makes them easy to replace. I love Beyonce, but how long will this image work for her?

  4. I agree that sex doesn't really sell, but I can't agree that the Mashonda thing didn't affect Alicia's record sales. Sure the music wasn't her best, but I do think that the blogs and Mashonda's constant speaking out stayed in people's minds so much that they held off on supporting Alicia. Beyonce will never sell as many records as AK because she can't put out quality records. And I feel Rihanna is a fad that is on her last leg. When Willow's song came out, it was clear how easy it is to replace Rihanna. Beyonce may be a little harder to replace though since she's an actual entertainer. It will be interesting what to see what happens to all of these artists in a few years.

  5. I love this magazine, but umm, Beyonce is the queen! She is one of the biggest black pop stars in the world. And most of all, she can sing and dance! Maybe she's more sexual than she has to be, but it's no fair to minimize her as an artist.

  6. @ Anon 4:08Beyonce is a mediocre singer at best, and a decent dancer. And I call her a pretty decent dancer because most of her dance moves revolve around gyrating. I think she's okay, but I prefer the Dangerously in Love Beyonce over this one. And she may be a pop star, but she can't sell as many records as Alicia Keys. So maybe Alicia is the real queen? I'm just saying.

  7. I loved this article!! I think the sexiness becomes a distraction and the music suffers. There has to be a balance with music being the focus. When Beyonce came out with Dangerously…. Every person that hates her now, loved her then. But there have been some drastic changes since her first album. And as she becomes more cocky and more driven to beat the other ladies she pushes the envelope more and more. Rihanna I like this girl alot but her music is not for someone in their 30's, it's getting younger and younger so I dont listen to her as much as I did Good Girl….. She was edgy at first, now it's over the top at times and I want her to focus on her music more, fans watch videos but you need to sound good and sing about something too. Ciara is having the same problem as Ashanti, sometimes the fans take a brief break from cheering you on and in the silence they hear what you REALLY sound like and no matter how many splits and backbends she does her vocals are EXTREMELY limited. She should focus more on the quality of music she puts out than how she looks having air sex.Alicia did lose some of her luster to me with the Mashonda situation, but by FAR she is the most talented. She can sing and entertain without any of the shenanigans.

  8. Those pictures of Beyonce and Rhianna are sickening. I use to love Beyonce in her destiny's child and DIL days, but what has become of this woman? Why does fame have to do this to people? Yeah! I agree. These ladies have been losing their steam over the last few years, so I won't be surprised if they aren't finished in 2 or 3 more years. I honestly, for the life of me, cannot fathom how Beyonce won all of those grammy's for that I Am album. I mean its a decent record, but a 6-time grammy winner? Something's definitely wrong with that picture. But, why should we worry. That music industry is cold and if you can't get with the program, you will be off the program.

  9. Pattie LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Anita Baker & Micki Howard are singers. Those other girls listed in the article are amateurs that are known for only one thing. I don't believe that they are 100% @ fault but I do fault them for not standing up for themselves & expressing the need to be creative sans sexually suggestive lyrics & clothing. Getting back to AK, Kerry Krucial Keys was a vital part of her creative & emotional support team & once they parted ways I personally believe that's when her music began to suffer. Besides, no self-respecting woman is going to take love advice from an adultress…that's asinine, absurd & ludicrous!! You're just as guilty as he is for that one Alicia!!

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