Music Losers 2014: Robin Thicke, Apple, Lady GaGa, Madonna...

Earlier this month, we took a look at some of the music industry’s winners of 2014–namely, Taylor Swift, Dr. Dre and the unusually large group of successful acts from the U.K. and its former colonies, not counting the U.S.

Today, we’ll consider those who didn’t fare quite so well over the past 12 months. Among them: Robin Thicke, Apple, (or, at least, its music business interests) and last year’s two top earners in music, Madonna and Lady Gaga.

Let’s begin with…

Robin Thicke:
Last year, Thicke earned three Grammy nominations for his album Blurred Lines and its title track, which was certified 6x platinum. The effort also garnered four Billboard Music Awards–not to mention the superstar status that had eluded him throughout a reasonably successful career previously.

This year, however, opinion swung against him as a chorus of critics declared ”Blurred Lines” video misogynistic, overwhelming the accolades the song had racked up. He even managed to alienate his wife, who filed for divorce this year; his next album, Paula, an ill-conceived effort to win her back, sold a measly 24,000 copies its opening week. That’s a drop of 86% from the debut of Blurred Lines.

It seems that Thicke flew too close to the sun. His followup to Blurred Lines didn’t hold up to its predecessor without the contributions of Pharrell Williams–the main reason Thicke’s career-making single did so well. Williams also turns out to have the sort of teflon image that Thicke apparently doesn’t. That’s one sign of a true superstar.

Apple Corp.
The tech giant’s $3 billion purchase of Beats earlier this year is the main reason Dr. Dre is one of the music industry’s big winners of 2014, providing the bulk of his $620 million payday, the biggest single year earnings total of any musician in history.

But for Apple itself, at least when it comes to music, the past year has been anything but a clear win. Digital track sales dropped by 13% as streaming jumped 42% year over year, according to Nielsen’s midyear report. That’s bad news for the iTunes Store, the behemoth that made Apple arguably the most important company in music over the past decade.

The acquisition of Beats–and its Beats Music streaming service–seems to have been an effort to solve that problem by creating a true Spotify competitor. As currently constituted, though, Beats is anything but: at the time of the Apple deal, its subscriber count was said to be “in the low six figures,” an order of magnitude smaller than Spotify’s 50 Million users..

Apple is reportedly hoping to integrate Beats Music with future versions of iOS, which may help grow that number rapidly. But given the mixed results of iTunes Radio, there’s little reason to believe that Apple can turn Beats Music into a Spotify killer. That makes its $3 billion purchase quite a risk. Coupled with the U2 snafu, this year hasn’t been Apple’s best when it comes to music.

Last Year’s Queens of Pop
In 2013, Madonna was music’s top earner, pulling in $125 million; Lady Gaga finished second with $80 million. This year was a completely different story. Gaga dropped to No. 30, taking in $30 million, (a staggering 62% drop in income);

Madonna fell off the list of the world’s highest-paid musicians altogether. Acts like Beyonce and Taylor Swift surpassed the aforementioned divas, both in terms of earnings and global mind share.

Madonna’s departure actually isn’t necessarily a bad sign for her career. In recent years, she’s followed a boom-and-bust pattern: touring extensively and reaping nine-figure paydays, then taking some time off the road before going out again. Right now, she’s in the former stage, and didn’t play a single show in our June-to-June scoring period.

Gaga played 24, significantly more but nowhere close to her totals during her top earning years. There’s a bit more reason for concern here. Though fans loved ARTPOP, it didn’t achieve the sort of mainstream acclaim her previous efforts did.

The ensuing tour grossed $83 million over 74 performances; on the surface, that’s a comparable per-show rate to the $227 million she took in over 200 dates starting in November 2009–but that total included a period before she had achieved peak popularity.

At the end of her ARTPOP Ball tour, which drew heavily on the album of the same name, Gaga sold 50,453 tickets and grossed $7.8 million at two Tokyo shows; in 2012, she sold 96,550 tickets for a total of $18.3 million over three nights, a better performance any way you slice it.

There’s no doubt she’s got an incredibly dedicated fan base and still has a bright future on the road, but she’ll need to nod a bit more to the mainstream with her next effort if she hopes to regain her peak earning form.