Two decades ago Jon Bon Jovi sat with the members of his eponymous band in a basement in New Jersey. Hoping to rekindle the group's desire to make music after two grueling years on the road, he'd hung vintage posters on the wall, illuminated only by candles and blacklights. But instead of feeling inspired, Bon Jovi found himself becoming cranky and short of breath.
"I'm thinking maybe this is an issue, maybe I just don't like them," Bon Jovi said in a recent interview for the FORBES Celeb 100 issue. "Until I realized that all the oxygen was sucked out of the room by the candles ... So I blew out the candles, cranked up the amplifiers, and said, 'We're going to be a rock band. If you believe in what I'm telling you, we can be the Rolling Stones.'"
Sure enough, Bon Jovi is still rocking. The group earned $125 million over the past 12 months, enough to claim the No. 2 spot on FORBES' annual list of the world's highest-paid musicians. U2 (pictured above) took home $195 million-and music's money crown-thanks to an international stadium tour that grossed some $700 million over two years, surpassing the Stones' A Bigger Bang tour as the most lucrative of all time.
Power ballad rockers aren't the only artists raking in the cash this year. Elton John ranks third with $100 million, fueled by a 102-show tour; Lady Gaga, godmother to Sir Elton's new son, clocks in at No. 4 with $90 million; Canadian crooner Michael Bublé rounds out the top five with $70 million, also on the strength of a lucrative tour.
Our numbers encompass all pretax income earned from May 2010 to May 2011, before subtracting agent and manager fees. The totals were compiled with the help of data from Pollstar, RIAA and others, as well as extensive interviews with industry insiders including lawyers, managers, concert promoters, agents and, in some cases, the musicians themselves.
For most artists, touring was the largest source of income this past year-but some were more efficient than others. Lady Gaga grossed nearly as much in 12 months of touring ($168 million) as Elton John ($204 million), but the costs of her elaborate production (dozens of backup dancers, pyrotechnic undergarments, etc.) ate into her take significantly. Gaga did grab plenty of additional cash from recorded music, publishing and endorsements. And regardless of the margins on her tour, drawing some 2 million fans over the past 12 months is no small feat-for Gaga, or for any of the big touring acts.
"It's one thing to cut a song and get airplay, it's another thing to convert listeners into a loyal fan base that goes through the trials and tribulations of buying tickets, paying for dinner, hiring a baby sitter," says Randy Phillips, chief of concert promoter AEG. "To motivate a fan base to go through all those hurdles, there are very few artists who can do that consistently."
The musicians on our list run quite a gamut. Justin Bieber, who raked in $53 million, is the youngest at age 17. Paul McCartney, who took home $66 million, is the oldest at 68. One couple even made the list-Jay-Z and Beyoncé took home $37 million and $35 million, respectively, marking the first time since their nuptials that the hip-hop mogul earned more than his wife.
Beyoncé is one of only five female solo acts on the list, compared to 13 males. What the list lacks in gender equality, it makes up for in geographical diversity-over one-third of the artists hail from outside the U.S., from countries including the U.K., Barbados, Canada, Ireland, South Africa and Australia.
As for the Rolling Stones, they're widely expected to hit the road again to celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2012. But don't expect a Bon Jovi reunion tour in 2030.
"I don't know if I want to be 68 years old and doing 140 shows in a year," admits Jon Bon Jovi. "Where I'm going, I don't know. And that's the beauty of it."
The Full List:
1. U2 - $195 million
2. Bon Jovi - $125 million
3. Elton John - $100 million
4. Lady Gaga - $90 million
5. Michael Buble - $70 million
6. Pail McCartney - $87 million
(This is an incredibly slow, slow process, since the noodnik who put this "list" together did it as a slide show instead of a straight list that I could cut and paste. I hope you appreciate this...)
7. The Back-Eyed Peas - $61 million
8. The Eagles - $60 million
9. Justin Bieber - $53 million
10. David Mattews Band - $51 million
11. Toby Kieth - $50 million
12. Usher - $46 million
13. Taylor Swift - $45 million
14. Katy Perry - $44 million
15. Brad Paisley - $40 million
16. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - $38 million
17. Jay-Z - $37 million
18. AC/DC - $35 million (tie)
19. Beyonce Knowles - $35 million (tie)
20. Sean "Diddy" Combs - $35 million (tie)
21. Tim McGraw - $35 million (tie)
22. Muse - $35 million (tie)
23. Rascal Flatts - $34 million
24. Kenny Chesney - $30 million
25. Rihanna - $29 million
Well, that was torturous. I have to say it was torturous in more than one way. Except for the number 1 slot, U2, I am not into ANY of the other musicians listed here. I never got into soft rock or the bubblegum pop that so many people peddle today. (Luis listens to it while I find it all rather revolting. And I have 8,000 songs on my iPod, so it is not as though I haven't diverse musical taste.
The other scary thing is the age of some of those listed here. At 17, this kid Justin seems ill-equipped to handle that kind of fame. Few children who become famous do well. The moment Brittany Spears hit 18 she went from the teen idol that parents loved to a hooker. Miley Cyrus did the same. Lady Gaga, at age 25, doesn't have her own face anymore. She didn't have to wait to begin dressing provocatively, but at the same time, how long before this kind of fame and money catches up with her?
Look at Amy Winehouse. Have you seen this one? Hopelessly ugly, a total tramp on and off the stage, and heading for the ditch as fast as anyone can. Lindsey Lohan hardly made anything and hit rehab. The kid that punched one of her dancers, Demi Lovato, made it into rehab before hitting 18 - not only did she have an eating disorder, but she was into cutting as well. I've had patients who did that. And they were regular people. Imagine what fame would have done to them. It certainly would not have solved the issue.
And finally, I wonder about the world. These are musicians; but look at sports figures. They make insane amounts of money as well and turn out just as poorly (both figuratively and really) as everyone else. U2 and Bon Jovi seem to be the exception and there are a few others as well, but most really go crazy with the money and like so many, live far beyond their means. (I could not begin to imagine living beyond my means at $25 million, so don't ask me.) Then they run out of fame and suddenly live poorly - and never regain it. It is an ugly situation. No one teaches people who hit this kind of income what to do with it. And often the ones who attach themselves to the stars are bloodsuckers anyway.
And another area where U2 shines is how much money, time, effort and themselves they have given to charities and helping to stamp out injustice and wrongs done everywhere. Some artists really put their heart and soul into making the world a better place. They all live very well and they are doing right by their families, and they still fight to make the world more what it should be. That is not just admirable, it is right. When one has that kind of money, that should be a huge part of it. People should have to give something. I know that sounds contradictory to my ravings about freedom. But on the one hand, you had Leona Helmsley who cheated on her taxes when it was the tinest savings and on the other hand, you have U2, who live in multiple countries, pay multiple taxes and still give of themselves in every way to help.
But how many on this list have given that much? Or ends up cheating on their taxes or in a ditch or broke?
Hopefully, this changes... but my natural sense of cynicism rears its head to say I doubt it...