FILE - In this Feb. 24, 1988 file photo, Michael Jackson leans, points and sings, dances and struts during the opening performance of his 13-city U.S. tour, in Kansas City, Mo. Five years after Jackson's untimely death at age 50, the singer remains a pop culture powerhouse, proving to be just as big a moneymaker in death as in life. He's graced the stage at the Billboard Music Awards via hologram, appears on a new album of unreleased songs and is generating tens of millions of dollars a year - money that will continue to grow and keep Jackson's mother and children living like entertainment royalty. (AP Photo/Cliff Schiappa, File)

Cliff Schiappa

In this era of streaming and free music, it can be difficult to measure an artist's commercial success. But even though many fans are more likely to listen to an album for free instead of buying it, sales are still a major barometer of achievement in the music industry. In February, Michael Jackson's iconic 1982 album "Thriller" — the top-selling album in history — solidified its notoriety by hitting 33 million sales in the U.S.

With this in mind, PrettyFamous, an entertainment data site by Graphiq, found the best-selling artists of the millennium using data from the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) database on gold and platinum single sales.

To measure the modern top-selling artists, PrettyFamous only considered digitally downloaded singles, since digital sales did not begin to impact the recording industry until the turn of the century. In case of a tie, they favored the artist with the higher number of diamond certifications, then multi-platinum, platinum and gold for all singles, not just those that were digitally downloaded. Where ties still existed, they were broken by 30-day Wikipedia page views — a proxy for notoriety.

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