Coldplay has set the bar in terms of what a contemporary pop band can achieve. They have sold more than 90 million records worldwide and have successfully adapted throughout the years without losing their identity. When a Coldplay track comes on, you know its Coldplay. Going through their catalogue of work, one comes to understand a little bit about why Coldplay is the biggest pop band of this era.
The band’s first album was supported by a strong single in Yellow (#48 US) and saw massive sales worldwide. Parachutes represents a sign of the times for Coldplay, introducing them to audiences that were flush with British rock bands, and building off the work of Radiohead and others in this category. Though it has its weak points, this album demonstrates the importance of knowing what’s going on in culture and being able to provide something that is familiar but that may not necessarily be present at that exact moment. Parachutes filled a void left by the boom of British rock bands in the early 1990s.
“A Rush of Blood to the Head” (2002)
A Rush of Blood to the Head built Coldplay’s fan base in the UK and demonstrates the importance of knowing who one’s audience is. Though they have amassed much success internationally and in the United States, Coldplay has always been a band closely associated with the UK. As a body of work, A Rush of Blood to the Head had more depth than its predecessor and features the piano in a way that most bands at this stage wouldn’t dare trying. The single Clocks (#29 US) featured a ringtone-esque piano melody, creating a unique track that no artist has been able to duplicate.
“X & Y” (2005)
X & Y was supported by the singles Speed of Sound (#8 US) and Fix You (#59 US), featuring more piano than any other Coldplay album and capitalizing on the feeling of the era. Their first three albums shows an artist finding what works for them commercially and moving further towards what their commercially successful sound is. X & Y and its predecessor built themselves musically off the backs of the songs that resonated with fans so well from the album previous. This approach did pay off as this was the best-selling album in the world for the year 2005.
“Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends” (2008)
Artistically speaking, the trilogy of albums from the start of Coldplay represents a band finding their identity amongst a landscape of pop acts. Their fourth album was a major departure musically, featuring the rock single Violet Hill (#40 US), the dance-driven Viva La Vida (#1 US), and the beat-based Lost! (#87 US). Among the most successful experimental pop records of the past few decades, Viva La Vida was also a #1 album in thirty-six countries and was the biggest selling album of 2008. At the heights of their commercial success with X & Y, Coldplay opted to move towards a more adventurous, artistically satisfying collection of music. This renewed their value in the eyes of many listeners and demonstrates the rewards of re-invention.
“Mylo Xyloto” (2011)
The first Coldplay album to move away from its indie rock roots and deeper into EDM and hip hop influences, Mylo Xyloto was an album that pulled in listeners from both genres. This grew Coldplay’s audience and after having spent over a decade in the music business, kept them relevant to a new generation. Though some may see the band as moving towards a commercial pop sound, Mylo Xyloto continued the journey from the artistic rediscovery of Viva La Vida and kept Coldplay moving into new territory. They did this without sacrificing the classic elements of the Coldplay sound – the Chris Martin emotive vocal, the melodic piano playing, and the supportive, sometimes song-defining lead guitar lines. Mylo Xyloto delivered to them a massive world tour and a string of strong singles including Every Teardrop is a Waterfall (#14 US), Paradise (#15 US), and the Rihanna duet Princess of China (#20 US).
“Ghost Stories” (2014)
Ghost Stories is a collection of songs that blend a back-to-basics approach along with more adventures into electronic dance music including a collaboration with Avicii. This quiet, more low-key album demonstrates the importance of being able to offer one’s audience range. Coldplay is a band that adapts to the commercial and artistic environment around them. As much as they are artists with their own identity, every album on this list shows Coldplay aware of what’s going on in the world of music as well as an openness to experimenting with those trends. Though the album itself may not have sold as well as previous albums had, Ghost Stories still boasted a strong set of singles in Magic (#14 US), Midnight (#29 US), and A Sky Full of Stars (#10 US).
“A Head Full of Dreams” (2015)
A Head Full of Dreams and the continued success of their career has made Coldplay into one of the biggest artists in the world, filling stadiums wherever they go. A Head Full of Dreams did not bring anything new to the table in terms of growing the Coldplay sound and is arguably the first album to not do so. The band continued their experiments blending indie rock with electronic dance and hip hop with the singles Adventure of a Lifetime (#13 US) and the Beyonce duet Hymn for the Weekend (#25 US).
More recently Coldplay’s collaboration with the Chainsmokers produced the hit single Something Just Like This (#3 US).
An artist has to be able to adapt over time to the trends in the marketplace. To do so without sacrificing one’s artistic integrity is the challenge. Coldplay has outlasted dozens of commercially successful pop artists and continue to thrive with new collaborations because there’s an intellectual depth, originality, and emotional resonance in the music. No matter if you are a hip hop artist, a DJ or an EDM artist, or are set on being the next big pop artist, there’s something for everyone to learn from Coldplay’s staying power.