Chart Watch

Week Ending May 18, 2008: Diva Smackdown Ends With Ingenues On Rise

Chart Watch

It was billed as the Great Diva Smackdown of '08. In the space of just nine weeks, three of the biggest female stars of the rock era--Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Madonna--released new studio albums. It was like three summer blockbusters hitting your local multiplex in a nine-week span, with the added (and admittedly sexist and sophomoric) appeal of an all-star catfight. Meow!

So who made the most divalicious showing? All three albums--Jackson's Discipline, Carey's E=MC2 and Madonna's Hard Candy--debuted at #1, though only Carey's improved on the opening-week sales performance of her previous studio album. (Indeed, Carey had the biggest opening of her career.) Also, only Carey's album managed to hold on to the #1 spot for a second week. Indeed, at least at this early stage, Carey's album has sold more copies than Madonna's and Jackson's albums combined.

In terms of raw numbers, E=MC2 has sold 887,000 copies in its first five weeks, making it the #3 best-seller so far in 2008. Hard Candy has sold 428,000 copies after three weeks, putting it 22nd for the year. Discipline has sold 385,000 copies after 12 weeks, putting it 26th. (Divalicious? That's divalousy--though Jackson is launching a tour in September that should give the album a second wind.)

The outcome has been similar on the digital download front, though here Madonna is out front. "4 Minutes," the pop icon's collaboration with Justin Timberlake, has sold 1,429,000 downloads in nine weeks. Carey's "Touch My Body" has sold 970,000 in eight weeks. Jackson's "Feedback" slips out of the top 200 this week, after selling 608,000 in its first 19 weeks.

But now that the diva derby is moving into the follow-up singles phase I can't help noticing that several ingénues are moving up on these long-established pop queens. Leona Lewis' Spirit has sold 618,000 copies in six weeks, putting it #8 for the year-to-date. Four other debut albums by young female artists rank among the top 30 of 2008. (All four albums were released prior to this year, but this ranking counts only sales since Jan. 1.) Taylor Swift's Taylor Swift is #5, Sara Bareilles' Little Voice is #12, Colbie Caillat's Coco is #16 and Jordin Sparks' Jordin Sparks is #30.

And Duffy may well join them on that list. Her Rockferry opens at #4 on this week's chart.

In non-diva news, Death Cab for Cutie's Narrow Stairs opens at #1, one rung ahead of Frank Sinatra's Nothing But The Best. Pop music is always moving forward, so it's fitting in a way that a group that first cracked the weekly album chart less than five years ago outperforms a legend who has been world-famous since the 1940s. It echoes what happened in 1993, when Sinatra was still alive. His Duets logged three weeks at #2 but couldn't get past Pearl Jam's Vs.

Remarkably, Sinatra has put an album in the top 20 in each of the last seven decades. (Top that, Death Cab For Cutie.) His top-charting album of the '40s was The Voice Of Frank Sinatra, which hit #1 in 1946. Sinatra had two #1 albums in the '50s, when he was at his artistic peak--Come Fly With Me and Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely, both in 1958. He also had two #1 albums in the '60s, when he was at the peak of his fame and power--Nice 'n' Easy in 1960 and Strangers In The Night in 1966.

Sinatra's top-charting album of the '70s was Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back, which ended the star's much-publicized, two-year retirement when it reached #13 in 1973. His top album of the '80s was the three-disk career celebration, Trilogy: Past, Present, Future, which hit #17 in 1980. His top album of the '90s was Duets, which climbed to #2 in 1993.

Nothing But The Best, which was released on the 10th anniversary of Sinatra's death, is by far his highest-charting posthumous release. The old record was held by Greatest Love Songs, which peaked at #32 in 2002. Sinatra isn't the first artist to approach the top spot on the chart a decade or more after his death. The Notorious B.I.G.'s Greatest Hits, released on the 10th anniversary of his murder, hit #1 in March 2007. Elvis Presley holds the record for reaching the top spot the longest after his death. His Elv1s 30 #1 Hits made #1 in September 2002-a little more than 25 years after he died at 42.

Sinatra has never lost his cultural relevance. It's hard to imagine Michael Buble and Harry Connick Jr., among many others, without him. The 1980s dance group Frankie Goes To Hollywood drew its name from breathless 1940s press reports recounting Sinatra's move into films. The most memorable line in Stephen Bishop's 1977 smash "On And On" was "puts on Sinatra and starts to cry." The "doo-doobie-doo-wah's" in Johnny Rivers' 1966 smash "Poor Side Of Town" were a nod to Sinatra's style. And that's just off the top of my head. You can doubtless come up with more examples of Sinatra's enduring hold as a cultural touchstone.

The top four albums this week are all new entries. It's the first time that this has happened since the last week of October, when Carrie Underwood, Robert Plant/Alison Krauss, Gary Allan and Serj Tankian opened in the top four spots. (I ought to remember that. It was the first week of Chart Watch.)

Rihanna's "Take A Bow" holds at #1 on the Hot Digital Songs chart for the second week, with sales of 196,000 downloads. Rihanna has three other titles on this week's chart-"Don't Stop The Music" at #30, "Umbrella" at #79 and "Shut Up And Drive" at #137. Total combined sales of the four songs: 6,349,000. Downloads are only about a buck a song, but for a lucky few artists, it can really add up.

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

1. Death Cab For Cutie, Narrow Stairs, 144,000. This marks a big improvement over the group's previous album, Plans, which opened at #4 in September 2005 with first-week sales of 90,000. The Washington-based group first hit the chart in 2003 with Transatlanticism, its fourth album. "I Will Possess Your Heart" jumps from #57 to #48 on Hot Digital Songs. "Bixby Canyon Bridge" opens at #194.

2. Frank Sinatra, Nothing But The Best, 99,000. Sinatra's top five albums span a record-setting 62 years and two months, from The Voice Of Frank Sinatra in March 1946 to this album. For, say, Duffy to match that record, she'll have to still be turning out top five albums in July 2070. (Pace yourself, Duffy.) This is the biggest sales week for a deceased artist since The Notorious B.I.G.'s Greatest Hits sold almost exactly the same number of copies when it debuted at #1 in March 2007. Sinatra's version of "The Way You Look Tonight," the Oscar-winning Best Song of 1936, opens at #184 on Hot Digital Songs.

3. Jason Mraz, We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things, 73,000. This is Mraz's highest-charting album to date and his second straight album to reach the top five. Mraz opened at #5  in July 2005 with Mr. A-Z. "Lucky" bows at #34 on Hot Digital Songs. "I'm Yours" dips from #32 to #41.

4. Duffy, Rockferry, 71,000. It used to be unheard of for a debut album to enter the chart inside the top five. Not anymore. This is the sixth debut album to achieve the feat so far in 2008, following albums by Day26, Leona Lewis, Flo Rida, Lady Antebellum and Flight of the Conchords (their first full-length album). Aimee Duffy has been compared to Amy Winehouse and the late, great Dusty Springfield. "Mercy" vaults from #38 to #13 on Hot Digital Songs. "Warwick Avenue" debuts at #190.

5. Leona Lewis, Spirit, 62,000. Lewis climbs back into the top five after slipping to #6 last week. This is the top "hold-over" album from last week's chart. "Bleeding Love" tops the 2 million mark in paid digital downloads, as it holds at #2 on Hot Digital Songs for the second straight week. The Grammy organization could save a lot of money on printing and postage if it just gave Lewis the award for Record of the Year right now.

6. Mariah Carey, E=MC2, 59,000. Lewis and Carey switch places this week, with Carey slipping a notch to #6. "Touch My Body" dips from #14 to #16 on Hot Digital Songs. "Bye Bye" drops from #36 to #38.

7. Neil Diamond, Home Before Dark, 53,000. This makes the biggest drop from the #1 spot since Jay-Z's American Gangster fell from #1 to #8 in November. The chart gods giveth and they taketh away.

8. Madonna, Hard Candy, 53,000. After debuting at #1 two weeks ago, this drops from #3 to #8. "4 Minutes," Madonna's megastar collabo with Justin Timberlake, holds at #5 on Hot Digital Songs.

9.Toby Keith, 35 Biggest Hits, 41,000. Last week, this became Keith's third album out of his last four releases to peak at #2. He also stalled in the runner-up slot with Honkytonk University and White Trash With Money. But don't feel too bad for Keith. He has also had three #1 albums: Unleashed, Shock'n Y'all and Big Dog Daddy.

10. Keith Sweat, Just Me, 37,000. This new entry is Sweat's first top 10 album in nearly 10 years. He last made it to the winners circle with Still In The Game in October 1998. Two subsequent studio albums peaked in the teens. Still, this is Sweat's ninth consecutive studio album to reach the top 20, which stretches all the way back to his 1988 debut, Make It Last Forever.

Five albums fall out of the top 10 this week. Dierks Bentley's Greatest Hits/Every Mile A Memory 2003-2008 dips from #9 to #14, Gavin DeGraw's Gavin DeGraw falls from #7 to #15, Josh Groban's Awake Live drops from #8 to #16, Clay Aiken's On My Way Here dives from #4 to #18, and Luis Miguel's Complices plummets from #10 to #34. Sales of Aiken's album dropped by 78%, the steepest decline of any album in the top 200.

Taylor Swift's Taylor Swift holds at #11 for the third straight week. This is the album's 28th consecutive week in the top 20, a remarkable degree of staying power in an era when albums fly in and out of the top 20 so fast you hardly remember they were there. Swift's album is two or three weeks away from topping the 3 million mark in sales, which also runs counter to current trends. It's nice to see that it can still happen.

Spring Forward: 10 Years' Division opens at #12. This represents a big improvement over the hard rock band's debut, The Autumn Effect, which opened (and peaked) at #72 in August 2005.

Michael Jackson's Thriller 25 returns to #1 on the Catalog Album chart for a 10th week, with sales of 13,000. It would have ranked #41 on the big chart if older, catalog albums were eligible to appear there. This brings sales of the album to 556,000, which makes it the #10 album for the year-to-date. "Thriller" and "Billie Jean" are both listed on this week's Hot Digital Songs chart.

Kate Voegele's Don't Look Away re-enters the chart at #78 after a one-week absence. Sales of the album jumped by 153%, the biggest increase of any non-debuting album. (Q: Isn't that a debut if it wasn't on the chart last week? A: It's a re-entry, which is a little different.)

Heads Up: 3 Doors Down is hoping to land its second straight #1 album next week with 3 Doors Down. The band's previous release, Seventeen Days, opened at #1 in February 2005. Also due next week: Jesse McCartney's Departure, Bun B's II Trill, Donna Summer's Crayons, the soundtrack to Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and, from Dancing With The Stars, Julianne Hough's Julianne Hough.

Countdown to Usher: Usher's Here I Stand is set to debut in two weeks. It's the pop/R&B superstar's first album since Confessions, which debuted in March 2004 with first-week sales of 1,096,000. If Usher does only half as well this time out, he'll still have the biggest opening of 2008, topping Mariah Carey's E=MC2, which bowed with sales of 463,000.

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