Last week, when the first sales projections for Beyoncé‘s fourth solo studio album 4 came in, Columbia Chairman Rob Stringer told Billboard.biz that the figures were a “vindication” after rumors swirled about the album facing trouble despite repeated denials from the label. Now that the official figures are in, how much of Stringer’s claim is legitimate and how much is spin?
As chart positions go, 4 had a smashing first week, hitting #1 with a bullet on the Billboard 200, selling 310,000 copies—over three times the closest competitor. But the specifics of the sales figures tell a slightly different story. The #2 album is Adele’s 21, which, with 95,000 copies sold this week, marks the first of its nineteen chart weeks that the album hasn’t sold at least 100,000 copies. That kind of longevity is unlikely to be repeated by Beyoncé (or anyone else) this year.
Furthermore, though Beyoncé’s first album, 2003’s Dangerously in Love, had a similar first week—317,000 copies even after the airplay success of lead single “Crazy in Love”—B was at the time untested as a solo artist, and her follow-ups had much bigger first-week tallies: B’Day sold 541,000 and I Am . . . Sasha Fierce sold a comparable 482,000. Not to mention that Dangerously in Love quickly made up for lost time, going platinum within six weeks. In fact, all three of her previous records have gone double-platinum within the first four months of release.
4, meanwhile, has yet to break a big single. “Run the World (Girls)” peaked at a dismal (for Beyoncé, at least) #29, and “Best Thing I Never Had” isn’t exactly flying up the charts at the moment. The rest of the album is great, but its R&B ballads aren’t exactly bangers. Any big single from 4 is gonna be a lot closer to “Rolling in the Deep” than to “Single Ladies.”
Maybe that’s the label’s idea. Perhaps Columbia isn’t worried about the opening-week sales because, “Run the World (Girls)” aside, 4 is a slow-burn and slow-build record. “Irreplaceable” and “Halo” both spent over half a year on the charts (“Halo” never even hit number one!) but they both boosted the sales of their respective records. If this is true, the rumors, at the very least, suggest that many were hoping for a new Beyoncé record more like the “Sasha Fierce” half than the “I Am…” half of her 2008 album. In either case, we can’t really make a final determination on this album until we see how much of a sales dropoff the record experiences over the next few weeks—and whether “Best Thing I Never Had” sticks with listeners the way her past ballads have.
Beyoncé Notches 4th Billboard 200 No. 1 with 4 [Billboard]
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