Chart Watch

Week Ending June 15, 2008: Lil Wayne Feels Like A Million

Chart Watch

Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III becomes the first album in more than three years to sell a million copies in a week. The opus sold 1,006,000 copies to debut at #1 on Nielsen/SoundScan's list of the best-selling albums in the U.S. That's the biggest sales week since another rap album, 50 Cent's The Massacre, bowed at #1 in March 2005 with sales of 1,141,000.

Frankly, I was starting to think that the days of albums selling a million copies in a week were gone forever. Rascal Flatts didn't even come close in 2006 when Me And My Gang opened with sales of 722,000. Even the red-hot Kanye West fell short when his latest, Graduation, bowed in 2007 with sales of 957,000. And those were the biggest one-week sales totals for those years. Until this week, the heftiest tally for 2008 was less than half of West's total. Mariah Carey's E=MC2 had held the record for 2008 with sales of 463,000.

It's telling that while the industry focused on media-anointed superstars (Madonna, Usher) in searching for someone who might be able to top Carey's record, it was broken by a rapper with a fraction of their media profile.

This is Lil Wayne's sixth top 10 album, but his first to reach #1. The rapper, who was born Wayne Carter, first hit the chart in 1999, when he was 16. Lil Wayne is the third artist to hit #1 so far this year who first cracked the Billboard album chart as a teenager. Janet Jackson was also 16 when she first charted in 1982. Usher was just 15 when he first charted in 1994.

This is Lil Wayne's third album in the Tha Carter series. That's not so unusual: Jay-Z's In My Lifetime stretched to three volumes, while Johnny Cash released five albums in his American Recordings series. But what is unusual is that each of Lil Wayne's Tha Carter albums has charted higher than the one before it. Tha Carter hit #5 in 2004.  Tha Carter II reached #2 in 2005.

We all know that downloading of individual songs is on the upswing, and that CD sales are in decline, but consider this: Tha Carter III sold more than twice as many copies this week as any song has ever sold in any one week in digital downloads. The all-time weekly (and overall) digital champ, "Low" by Flo Rida Featuring T-Pain, sold 467,000 downloads the last week of December.

This is the 15th album in Nielsen/SoundScan history (which dates to 1991) to sell a million copies in one week. The first was Whitney Houston's The Bodyguard soundtrack, which sold 1,061,000 copies in its sixth week on the chart in January 1993. That was the one-week record until November 1998, when Garth Brooks' Double Live debuted with sales of 1,085,000. That record held until the following May when the Backstreet Boys' Millennium debuted with sales of 1,134,000. That became the mark to beat until March 2000 when N Sync's No Strings Attached sold more than twice as many copies--a stunning 2,416,000--in its first week.

Another rapper, Plies, enters the chart at #2 this week, with Definition Of Real. It's the first time that rap albums have held the top two spots since September, when Kanye West's Graduation and 50 Cent's Curtis ruled the chart.

Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" is #1 on Hot Digital Songs for the third straight week, with 246,000 paid downloads. This bodes well for the release next week of the band's fourth album, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends. Coldplay's previous album, X&Y, sold 737,000 copies in its first week. That was the third hottest opening of 2005, trailing only 50 Cent's The Massacre and Kanye West's Late Registration.

The good news of the Lil Wayne and (expected) Coldplay debuts comes just in the nick of time. Sales in the music industry have been slow this year. How slow? This next item tells the story.

E=MC2 and Tha Carter III this week become the second and third albums to sell a million copies in 2008, following Jack Johnson's Sleep Through The Static. Now, that would be OK if it was January or February, but it's June, the 24th week of the year. It's the first time in Nielsen/SoundScan history that there have been this few million-selling albums this deep into the year.

I checked out each year from 1994, the oldest year that this information is available on the Nielsen/SoundScan site, to the present. The previous low mark was set last year, when five albums had topped the 1 million sales mark by the 24th week of the year. The low before that was in 2006, when 13 albums had topped the 1 million mark by this point.

The high point for the industry was in 2001, when 31 albums had topped the 1 million mark in sales by the 24th week of the year. That broke a record that had been set the previous year when 27 albums had topped the 1 million mark by the same point.

Two more albums will probably top the 1 million mark in coming weeks. Alicia Keys' As I Am has sold 968,000 copies in 2008 (on top of the 2,543,000 copies it sold last year). And Coldplay will probably hit the million mark very quickly. But, for the industry, there's clearly some catching up to do. For an industry that has taken its lumps, here's a hopeful glimmer: This is the second week in a row that the top five albums all sold more than 100,000 copies.

Here's the low-down on this week's top 10 albums.

1. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III, 1,006,000. This opening sales tally is more than four times that of Lil Wayne's previous best opening, Tha Carter II, which bowed with first-week sales of 238,000. Tha Carter III is also the #1 Digital Album, with 100,000 paid downloads (which are included in the overall total). An impressive 11 songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, led by the smash "Lollipop" (featuring Static Major), which dips from #3 to #7.

2. Plies, Definition Of Real, 215,000. This is the rapper's second straight album to open at #2. Real Testament bowed in the runner-up spot in August. But the first-week sales of this album are more than twice the first-week sales of that album (96,000). "Bust It Baby Part 2," featuring Ne-Yo, holds at #21 on Hot Digital Songs. The album also features J. Holiday, Keyshia Cole, Trey Songz, Jamie Foxx and The Dream.

3. Various Artists, Now 28, 132,000. The compilation dips a notch to #3 in its second week. It's the 10th regular Now volume to peak at #2. Twelve other installments in the long-running series have hit #1. Incidentally, what's with all these pink album covers? This is the third in the past two months to reach #1 or #2, following Madonna's Hard Candy and the Sex And The City soundtrack. It's a veritable explosion of pink.

4. Disturbed, Indestructible, 102,000. All three of Disturbed's #1 albums have had just one week in the top spot. And all three fell from #1 clear out of the top three. Believe fell from #1 to #4 in 2002. Ten Thousand Fists tumbled from #1 to #8 in 2005. "Indestructible" drops from #35 to #55 on Hot Digital Songs. "Inside The Fire" jumps from #105 to #84.

5. Usher, Here I Stand, 101,000. Usher's last album, Confessions, spent its first 20 weeks in the top five. This album has managed three so far. It debuted at #1 two weeks ago and then slipped to #3. Three songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Love In This Club" (featuring Young Jeezy), which dips from #12 to #16.

6. Journey, Revelation, 89,000. This Wal-Mart exclusive was released on the band's Frontiers label. (Frontiers was the title of the group's 1983 album, which logged nine weeks at #2, all of them behind Michael Jackson's Thriller. No other album spent as many weeks stuck at #2 behind that monster hit.)

7. N*E*R*D, Seeing Sounds, 80,000.This is the rap trio's second straight top 10 album. Fly Or Die opened at #6 in March 2004. As The Neptunes, group members Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo won a Grammy as Producer of the Year in 2003. "Spazz" enters Hot Digital Songs at #61.

8. Alanis Morissette, Flavors Of Entanglement, 70,000. All five of Morissette's regular studio albums have reached the top 10, but this is the first to fall short of top five. Morissette's U.S. debut, Jagged Little Pill, was the #1 album of 1996. Her next two studio albums also reached #1. So-Called Chaos hit #5 in 2004. "Not As We" enters Hot Digital Songs at #90. "Underneath" bows at #127.

9. My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges, 49,000. This is My Morning Jacket's first top 10 album--and its first to make the top 50. The group's previous best mark was #67 for Z in 2005. My Morning Jacket is the second group whose name begins with the possessive "My" to crack the top 10 in less than two years. My Chemical Romance hit #2 in October 2006. I see a trend! (I should have named this blog My Chart Watch.)

10. Weezer, Weezer, 46,000. The album dips from #4 to #10 in its second week. "Pork And Beans" drops from #47 to #54 on Hot Digital Songs. The album has sold 173,000 copies in its first two weeks. The song has sold 142,000 downloads in its first eight weeks.

Five albums drop out of the top 10 this week. 3 Doors Down's 3 Doors Down dips from #9 to #11, the Sex And The City soundtrack falls from #7 to #12, Ashanti's The Declaration dives from #6 to #13, Chris Brown's Exclusive falls from #10 to #23, and Jewel's Perfectly Clear tumbles from #8 to #25.

Montgomery Gentry's Back When I Knew It All opens at #20. It's the country duo's third album to reach the top 20.

Emmylou Harris' All I Intended To Be opens at #22. It's Harris' best solo showing since Evangeline reached the same position in 1981. She has since reached the top 20 with two collaborations. Trio, a 1987 partnership with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, reached #6; All The Roadrunning, a 2006 teaming with Mark Knopfler, hit #17.

Jakob Dylan's Seeing Things bows at #24. It's Dylan's solo debut album following five albums with The Wallflowers. The group peaked with its second album, Bringing Down The Horse, which was the #7 best-selling album of 1997. Rick Rubin, who produced Neil Diamond's recent #1 album Home Before Dark, also did the honors here.

Ups & Downs: Elton John's Rocket Man-Number Ones re-enters the chart at #109. The album has sold 416,000 copies since it debuted at #9 in April 2007. The album experienced a sales gain of 185% this week, the biggest increase of any non-debuting album. Opeth's Waterfall falls from #23 to #113 in its second week, a sales drop of 66%. That's the biggest decline of any album in the top 200.

Catalog Report: Journey's Greatest Hits is the #1 catalog album for the second week in a row. It sold 21,000 copies and would have ranked #28 on the big chart if older, catalog albums were allowed to compete there.

Heads Up: In addition to Coldplay (see above item), albums due on next week's chart include the Camp Rock soundtrack, featuring the Jonas Brothers; Katy Perry's One Of The Boys, featuring the smash single "I Kissed A Girl"; Judas Priest's Nostradamus; and Rihanna's Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded, an expanded edition of her 2007 album.

Useless Information: Lil Wayne is the first artist with "Lil" in front of his or her name to land a #1 album. There have been quite a few of these acts in recent years. In addition to Lil Wayne, five others have reached the top 10--Lil Bow Wow, Lil' Flip, Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz, Lil' Kim and Lil' Romeo.

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