Chart Watch

Chart Watch Extra: Is It A Hit Or A Let-Down?

Chart Watch

Katy Perry's exuberant "Teenage Dream" jumps to #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 this week. It's Perry's second #1 hit in a row on that chart, following her summertime smash "California Gurls." So her new Teenage Dream album must be setting records, right? Not so much. The album has sold 281,000 copies in its first two weeks, nothing to sneeze at, but far below industry projections. (Most insiders figured it would sell about 400,000 copies in its first week, which would have it approaching 600,000 by now.)

Album sales have been dropping in recent years, but most figured that Perry had attained a level of pop stardom that would enable her to defy downward sales trends. Three of her songs ("I Kissed A Girl," "Hot N Cold" and "California Gurls") have topped the 3 million mark in digital sales. She received back-to-back Grammy nominations for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance the last two years (and will probably be in the running in that high-profile category again when this year's nominations are announced in December). She was even on the cover of Rolling Stone in August.

So what happened? The most obvious problem is that the album should have been released a few months ago, when "California Gurls," Perry's monster-hit collaboration with Snoop Dogg, was at its peak. "California Gurls" topped 200,000 in weekly sales in each of its first nine weeks of release. Its sales peaked at 359,000 in the week ending June 13. (The old adage "strike while the iron's hot" comes to mind.)

Perry's follow-up single, "Teenage Dream," is a big hit, but at least so far, it's not a "California Gurls"-style smash. It sold 259,000 copies in its biggest week to date.

Also, fans may simply prefer buying Perry's songs one at a time. Perry's debut album, One Of The Boys, has sold 1,283,000 copies since its release in June 2008, which is a solid total. But the four hottest songs from the album, "Hot N Cold," "I Kissed A Girl," "Waking Up In Vegas" and "Thinking Of You," have sold a combined total of 11,084,000 digital copies.

The pattern seems to be repeating with Perry's new album and its key songs. "California Gurls" and "Teenage Dream" have already sold a combined total of 4,968,000 copies.

Teenage Dream is far from a flop. The album sold 192,000 copies in its first week, which was the eighth biggest first-week total so far in 2010. It was the best showing so far this year by a female solo artist, bigger than Ke$ha's opening week with Animal (152,000 in January). But Ke$ha was a new artist at the time. More was expected from Perry, because this is her second album.

Teenage Dream sold 88,000 copies in its second week, which pushed it from #1 to #4 on The Billboard 200. (It sold fewer copies in its second week than Eminem's Recovery did in its 11th week.)

Teenage Dream is, to be sure, off to a far faster start than Perry's debut album. One Of The Boys sold 47,000 copies in its first week in June 2008. After two weeks, it had sold 81,000. But that was before Perry became a star.

In years past, after an artist had a string of hits, a major magazine cover, several high-profile TV appearances and a pair of Grammy nominations, fans would be comfortable stepping up to an album purchase. The fear in the industry is that fans no longer think that way.

Ed Christman, a senior correspondent for Billboard, writes this week that EMI shipped 1 million copies of Perry's album prior to its Aug. 24 release, based on high expectations from such "big-box retail chains" as Walmart, Target and Best Buy. The album's softer-than-expected opening could make those chains more cautious about future orders. As Christman writes, it "has sparked worries that the album's performance may affect retail orders for other superstar releases due later this year."

The music industry may have simply pinned too much hope on Perry's album. The industry has been starved for a big hit this summer. No albums have topped 200,000 in weekly sales since Eminem's Recovery, which was released in June. (It exceeded that mark in each of its first three weeks.)

Virtually everyone in the industry thought Perry would top 200,000. Billboard reports that first-week estimates ranged from a low of 300,000 to a perhaps unrealistically high of 700,000.

"California Gurls" is one of only three songs in digital history to have topped the 300,000 mark in weekly sales four or more times. The others are Flo Rida's "Right Round" and "Love The Way You Lie" by Eminem featuring Rihanna.

What we're seeing is that having such a monster hit is no guarantee of strong album sales. Eminem's Recovery is a blockbuster, with sales of  2,420,000 copies in just 11 weeks, but Flo Rida's R.O.O.T.S. (Route Of Overcoming The Struggle) has been just a modest hit, with sales of just 264,000 copies since its release nearly 18 months ago. (Perry's album will probably wind up somewhere in the middle. She is neither an album-selling titan like Eminem or an almost purely "singles artist" like Flo Rida.)

Dominic Pandiscia, executive vice president of EMI Music Services, told Billboard's Christman that he was happy with Perry's launch. That's predictable, coming from an executive who oversees North American sales for EMI labels (which includes Perry's label, Capitol). Label executives always put the best possible spin on their artists' sales.

But Pandiscia made a further statement that carried the ring of truth. "The magnitude of the marketing plan is about driving overall revenue around the project, including track downloads, ringtones and video sales. Album (sales are just) one component of it."

Pandiscia's point is it doesn't matter to a record company if the money comes from individual song downloads, album sales, ringtone sales or video sales, as long as it comes.

Perry is far from the only artist who does better with individual songs than with albums. Train's feel-good hit "Hey, Soul Sister" has sold 4,516,000 digital copies. That's 10 times as many copies as the album the song came from, Save Me, San Francisco, which has sold 451,000 copies.

The first three hits from B.o.B's B.o.B Presents: The Adventures Of Bobby Ray have sold a combined total of 6,870,000 copies. The album itself has sold just 386,000 copies, again, not bad, especially for a new artist, but way below what you might expect for such a hit-laden album.

Here's the most dramatic current example: The first two smash hits from Taio Cruz's Rokstarr ("Break Your Heart," featuring Ludacris, and "Dynamite") have sold a combined total of 5,298,000 copies. The album itself has sold just 105,000 copies.

Of course, the biggest single factor inhibiting the sales of Perry's album is that album sales are down across the board. Only two albums have topped the 2 million mark so far this year: Lady Antebellum's Need You Now, which has sold 2,593,000 copies since its release in January, and Recovery. Just seven albums have sold 1 million or more copies so far this year. Just 21 albums have sold 500,000 or more copies so far this year.

Incidentally, this is the 14th consecutive week that either Perry or Eminem has had the #1 single on the Hot 100. "California Gurls" had six weeks on top in June and July. It was bumped by "Love The Way You Lie," which had seven weeks on top, before yielding to "Teenage Dream" this week.

One act that may be relieved that Perry's album is underperforming is the rock band Disturbed, which rang up first-week sales of 179,000 copies of its new album Asylum. If Perry's album had lived up to expectations, Asylum might have debuted at #2. As it is, Disturbed was able to maintain its streak of four consecutive albums to debut at #1.

I have more to say about Perry, Eminem, Disturbed and the rest of the acts in this week's top 10 in my regular Chart Watch blog, which is posted each Wednesday. If you missed it, here's a link.

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