Musicians are constantly touring, bringing their music to various continents and countries, spreading their messages, and creating a space for fans to let go and feel the music. With many artists taking the flashy route to establish a thrilling atmosphere, fans are all too happy to spend hundreds, if not thousands, to see their favorite artists.
As of April, 2023, Here are the top 10 highest-grossing tours of all time, according to Forbes.
Sir Elton John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” Tour – $853 million
Iconic singer-songwriter Sir Elton John’s tour “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” began in 2018 and is coming to an end this July. John is ending his touring career by hitting North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The $853 million accounts for only 293 out of more than 300 shows. This tour is the first in history to surpass $800 million, passing Ed Sheeran’s Divide Tour by $77 million.
Though the set list incorporates music spanning his career, the tour name is a reference to John’s 1973 album, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” which is largely regarded as his magnum opus.
Always adorned in shimmery outfits and his classic square glasses, John radiates energy even as he sits at his piano. Like many other artists, John worked with Stufish Entertainment Architects to design the stage. Though the staging isn’t as extreme as some of the other tours on this list, the gold-lined stage and screen is flashy and representative of the Baroque period style.
Even if you weren’t able to see John live, Disney+ released a two-and-a-half-hour long live concert experience, showing his farewell show from Dodger Stadium.
John’s first-ever tour, “1970 World Tour,” was just the start of a lifetime of performing for massive audiences. With just over 60 years in the music industry, it only makes sense for John to be at the top of the list.
Ed Sheeran’s “÷” (Divide) Tour – $776 million
The “÷” Tour was English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s third world tour, and took place from 2017-2019. Tickets sold out quickly, and more dates were added. The tour reached North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania.
Sheeran broke multiple records during the “÷” Tour, including selling more than 300,000 tickets in one day in Ireland and more than 1 million tickets in Oceania. He had the biggest stadium tour in Australia and New Zealand, the highest attendance on one tour, and the highest attendance in a single show, beating the record previously set by AC/DC for biggest attendance at a series of stadium shows.
The “÷” Tour became the highest-grossing tour of 2017, with $122 million in ticket sales, and almost 1.5 million tickets sold. He set an all-time record for the highest-grossing solo tour, and highest year-end gross ever. Sheeran also broke the record for highest-grossing tour, reaching $735 million, surpassing U2’s, 360° tour.
The tour reached North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania.
Though Sheeran is typically attached to his guitar, his contagious energy is more than enough for fans to help him set records.
U2’s “U2 360°” Tour – $736 million
Irish rock band U2 went on their “U2 360°” Tour from 2009-2011, for their 2009 album “No Line on the Horizon,” playing in North America, Europe, Oceania, Africa, and South America. The stadium tour was known for its circular stage and “the claw,” a four legged structure that loomed over the stage, resembling a spaceship. It took four days to assemble and achieved Bono’s goal of making the stage so big that the stadium appeared smaller than it actually was.
Messages and a video from the International Space Station, as well as sociopolitical messages from South African bishop Desmond Tutu, and Burmese politician, diplomat, and author Aung San Suu Kyi were played during the show.
Frontman Bono noted that the performance was divided into two acts and a coda. The first half, from songs “Breathe” to “Vertigo,” reflects Bono as he searches for an epiphany. The remix of “I’ll Go Crazy” was meant to disorient the audience as they prepared for the second act, “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” to the encore, where Bono references politics. And the coda, where vulnerability takes over the show’s energy.
Every show sold out, some within minutes, the tour becoming the highest-grossing tour of 2009, with $3 million in ticket sales. In 2011, it was announced that the tour was the highest-grossing tour in history, with ticket sales surpassing $700 million. Over 7 million fans attended the tour, ending with a gross of over $736 million.
Guns N’ Roses’ – “Not in This Lifetime” Tour – $584 million
American hard rock band Guns N’ Roses went on the “Not in This Lifetime” Tour, playing 175 shows over the course of three years, in Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. The lineup included Axl Rose, Slash, and Duff McKagan, playing together for the first time since 1993, and featured new member Melissa Reese on keyboard.
Various openers performed over several legs of the tour, most notably Alice in Chains, Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown, Billy Talent, and Skrillex.
Guns N’ Roses brought in Dale “Opie” Skjerseth and Phil Ealy to produce the show and design the set respectively. LED screens and pyrotechnics lit up the venues, and the catwalk that ventured into the audience excited fans. The band also worked with Creative Works London to produce the LED visuals and pyrotechnics.
“Not in This Lifetime” Tour was their third longest tour, following “Use Your Illusion” and “Chinese Democracy.”
Selling over 5 million tickets, “Not in This Lifetime,” became the highest-earning per-city global concert tour and the 4th highest grossing tour of 2016, the 2nd highest grossing worldwide tour of 2017, and winner of the first ever Ticketmaster Touring Milestone Award (2017).
The Rolling Stones’ “A Bigger Bang Tour” – $558 million
Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts, and Keith Richards of the iconic English rock band The Rolling Stones went on “A Bigger Bang Tour” from 2005-2007 for the album, “A Bigger Bang.”
After kicking off the tour at Fenway Park in Boston on a stage so big it caused damage to the sod in the outfield, “A Bigger Bang Tour,” included stops in North and South America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania.
For the first time since the 60s, they played the Ottawa Auditorium and the Baltimore Arena and performed in China for the first time ever.
The Rolling Stones also played a one-night-only show on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which was broadcast on television and broke several records, becoming the biggest rock show of all time.
With an ever-changing setlist, The Rolling Stones played a total of 80 songs over the course of 147 shows. The openers also greatly varied, some of which were The Black Eyed Peas, Alice Cooper, Maroon 5, Metallica, and The Smashing Pumpkins.
The Rolling Stones brought in Mark Fisher to design the stage, and he along with Patrick Woodroffe and band members Jagger and Watts worked on the production design together. The stage itself was 84 feet tall, had a multilevel construction, and featured screens with live footage as well as fireworks.
It was the highest-grossing tour of all time at that moment, but has been surpassed in recent years. At the end of 2005, the tour grossed $162 million, breaking their own North American record set in 1994-1995 “Voodoo Lounge Tour.”
The Rolling Stones’ “No Filter Tour” – $547 million
The Rolling Stones take up two spots on this list, for the previously mentioned “A Bigger Bang Tour” and the North American and European “No Filter Tour.” The “No Filter Tour” took place from 2017-2021, with the exception of canceled shows due to COVID-19 in 2020. Jagger, Richards, Wood, and Watts continued their classic lineup, until August of 2021 when longtime band member Charlie Watts died. His spot was then filled by Steve Jordan, who has been a part of several groups since 1978.
Consisting of four legs and 58 shows, the tour entertained over two million attendees. The stage was designed by Stufish Entertainment Architects and was built by Stageco and WIcreations. 4 LED video columns loomed 72 feet above the stage, and were 36 feet wide, giving audience members with distant seats the opportunity to see frontman Jagger up close. The stage varied over the years, with some shows having a t-shaped catwalk and secondary b-stage, and others having a round stage that extended into the crowd.
Openers included Gary Clark Jr., Juanes, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, The Wombats, Des Rocs, The Revivalists, and Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk with Soul Rebels.
Coldplay’s” “A Head Full of Dreams Tour” – $524 million
British rock band Coldplay went on “A Head Full of Dreams Tour” from 2015-2017, venturing to North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania, playing 8 legs and 122 shows.
Their seventh tour, this one following the 2015 album, “A Head Full of Dreams,” Coldplay performed before over five million fans at their stadium shows.
After a brief stint in intimate venues, “A Head Full of Dreams,” Tour marked the return of Coldplay’s band members: Chris Martin (lead vocals, piano, rhythm guitar,) Jonny Buckland (lead guitar, backing vocals, keyboard,) Guy Berryman (Bass, backing vocals, keyboard, percussion,) and Will Champion (drums, backing vocals, and percussion) to stadiums.
Coldplay returned with a bang, using laser light effects and pyrotechnics to create a dynamic energy to engage large audiences. With multiple stages, the main stage served as the place for upbeat songs with the more intimate B and C stages reserved for acoustic renditions.
An eclectic lineup of openers included Lianne La Havas, Alessia Cara, Foxes, Birdy, Ximena Sariñana, Hana Ciliberti, Radwimps, Jess Kent, AlunaGeorge, Tove Lo, Femme Schmidt, Mew, Embrace, Izzy Bizu, Alina Baraz, Jon Hopkins, and Dua Lipa.
Though recently surpassed on the list of highest-grossing tours, “A Head Full of Dreams’ ‘ was the third highest-grossing at the time, broke several international records, and won numerous awards.
At the Foro Sol in Mexico, Coldplay set the record for the venue’s biggest single-day attendance, selling more than 67,000 tickets. They also broke records in Bangkok, Singapore, and Taiwan, for selling more than 62,000 tickets at the Rajamangala Stadium, having the highest-grossing box score report of history, with $12.4, and the biggest ticket sales of all time for an international act, respectively. Fans also crashed the ticket-buying website in Seoul, with over 900,000 fans trying to buy tickets.
Coldplay also won many awards for this tour, including :
- Top Draw and Top Boxscore – Billboard Live Music Awards – 2016
- Ticket of the Year – Ticketmaster Awards (Globally, United Kingdom, and Spain) – 2016
- Most Anticipated Show (France) – Ticketmaster Awards – 2017
- Tour of the Year – American Music Awards – 2017
- Top Rock Tour – Billboard Music Awards – 2017
- Best Tour of 2017 – iHeartRadio Music Awards
- Music Moment of the Year – NME Awards – 2017
- Ticket of the Year (Globally, Canada, France, Ireland, Poland, and Sweden) – Ticketmaster Awards – 2017
- Best Live Event of the Past 20 Years – Ireland – Ticketmaster Awards – 2017
Roger Waters’ “The Wall” – $459 million
Co-founder of legendary English rock band Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, visited North America, Europe, South America, and Oceania, performing 6 legs and 219 shows from 2010-2013.
“The Wall,” is the eleventh studio album by Pink Floyd, released in 1979. Waters’ performed the album in its entirety by the band or former members, for the first time since he did in 1990 in Berlin.
Released in 1979, “The Wall,” was Pink Floyd’s 11th studio album, and for the first time since playing Berlin in 1990, Waters performed the album in its entirety.
Taking the place of his former bandmates, Water was joined on tour by G. E. Smith, Dave Kilminster, Snowy White, Graham Broad, Jon Carin, Harry Waters, Robbie Wyckoff, Jon Joyce, Kipp Lennon, Mark Lennon, and Pat Lennon.
Full of social commentary, the tour includes two different pre-shows, one in America, and one in Europe. In America, a man who appears to be homeless pushes a cart around the floor seats, talking to fans while carrying a two-sided sign that reads, “No thought control,” and “Homeless people need money for booze and hookers,” and the original 1979 “Pink” doll. The audio included 20 minutes of TV sitcoms and cartoons, and after the first leg was changed to political songs by Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, John Lennon, Billie Holiday, and The Impressions.
As the man approaches the stage, the pre-show music stops and the climax of the movie “Spartacus,” plays. As a spotlight shines on him, and the sounds of Spartacus slaves play over the speakers, the man throws “Pink” on stage, and the show begins.
In Europe, however, the homeless man is replaced by soldiers wearing crossed hammers on their uniforms. They also bring “Pink” to the stage, and throw him to the ground before marching offstage. The audio then switched Waters playing the melody of “Outside the Wall,” before the full band breaks into “In the Flesh?”
The shows were a spectacle, with bursts of fireworks, massive puppets, 3D effects, and a dive bomber crashing into the wall, all taking control of the audience’s attention. The sets were overbearing, creating an overwhelming yet entertaining atmosphere for the audiences.
In the second act the band plays from behind the wall, prior to its future crumbling during “The Trial,” as “tear down the wall” echoes throughout the venues.
As of 2010, The Wall was the second highest-grossing tour in North America, the third-highest worldwide tour in 2013 and the highest for a solo musician in the same year.
Waters also directed the documentary “The Wall,” featuring footage from the Quebec City and Athens shows.
AC/DC’s Black Ice World Tour – $442 million
Going on tour for the first time since 2001, Australian rock band AC/DC performed in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania from 2008-2010 for their fifteenth studio album, “Black Ice.” Spread over 8 legs, AC/DC played 168 shows, touring with members Brian Johnson (lead vocals,) Angus Young (lead guitar,) Malcolm Young (rhythm guitar, backing vocals,) Cliff Williams (bass guitar, backing vocals,) and Phil Rudd (drums.)
AC/DC fans sold out 18 shows in minutes, a record time. Fans in San Antonio bought more tickets in one day than any other artist in the market’s history, and tickets for Toronto’s Rogers Centre sold out faster than any concert in the venue’s history.
Brilliant Stages designed and created the infrastructure for the enormous ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Train,’ the focal point of the stage design. The steam locomotive appeared to have crashed onto the stage, and was accentuated by pyrotechnics, smoke, and headlights. The stage also had a catwalk going into the audience and a set of devil horns adorning each side of the stage.
Over 50 supporting acts were featured over the 168 shows, some of which were The Answer, Redwood, Black City, Krokus, Calling All Cars, The Subways, and The Last Vegas.
The Black Ice World Tour would be the last with founding member Malcolm Young, due to ill health, and drummer Phil Rudd because of a now dropped charge of hiring a hit man and possessing drugs.
Harry Styles’ “Love on Tour” – $418 million
Record-breaking English singer-songwriter Harry Styles has been touring Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, and South America since 2021, and will have his last show this July. “Love On Tour” is in support of his second and third studio albums, “Fine Line,” and “Harry’s House.”
The tour consisted of seven legs and 169 shows, with various supporting acts, some of which were Blood Orange, Madison Cunningham, Madi Diaz, Wet Leg, and Jenny Lewis. Styles’ band consists of Yaffra (piano, keyboards, percussion,) Sarah Jones (drums, backing vocals,) Pauli Lovejoy (percussion, backing vocals,) Ny Oh (piano, keyboards, rhythm guitar, theremin, backing vocals,) Mitchell Rowland (lead guitar, backing vocals,) and Elin Sandberg (bass, backing vocals.)The brass section includes Laura Bibbs on trumpet, Lorren Chiodo on saxophone, Paris Fleming on trumpet, and Kalia Vandever on trombone.
Although the stage design is simple, Styles’ shows are full of vibrancy and contagious energy. He creates a safe space for fans, allowing them to be their authentic selves. Styles has helped several fans come out as he raises pride flags and runs around the stage. His fashionable (and sometimes sparkly) outfits are always greatly anticipated by fans. The pit often showers Styles with bouquets of flowers, thanking him for the space he has created – though if you ask him, he’ll say the space was created by the fans themselves.
Styles played at New York City’s legendary Madison Square Garden 15 nights in a row, setting records and becoming the highest-grossing headline engagement in Boxscore’s history, selling 277,000 tickets and grossing $63.31 million. The venue raised a banner for Styles, the third musician to receive the honor, with Billy Joel and Phish being the first two.
Styles beat out Madonna and her “Sticky & Sweet Tour” in April of 2023, making it onto the list at number 10. With more than 20 shows left, we’ll have to wait and see if he grosses more than the above artists.
Standout artists such as Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are currently on tour and certainly have the potential to make it onto the top 10 list, knocking other artists off in the process. As the music industry constantly changes and makes waves, there’s no telling who will make it onto this list in the future.