When is artpop an artflop?

Lady Gaga - AMAs

Lady Gaga at the 2013 American Music Awards
(photo from glamour.com)

It’s been three weeks since the release of Lady Gaga‘s ARTPOP and many articles have surfaced already deeming it a commercial flop. On the surface, it might seem like an easy conclusion based on numbers comparing the album to others released this year and to Gaga’s own prior releases, but underneath, it might still be too early to tell.

Since the record industry took a hit in the early part of the 2000s, first-week sales of an album have been more important than ever as labels used these numbers as promo points to display how successful a record is. Therefore, an album could be deemed a flop after just a week of release – but it doesn’t always necessarily paint the complete portrait.

For a quick example, we can look no further than Madonna and her most recent studio release MDNA, which opened with 359,000 copies sold in the U.S. in its first week in early 2012 – her highest first-week sales since 2000 with her album Music. For comparison purposes, that’s more than Adele‘s 21 sold in its first week a year earlier. Yet, Adele’s total sales are nearing 11 million while Madonna’s are just shy of 550,000 – less than double its first week’s sales.

Two rather extreme examples but both indicate that first-week’s sales aren’t always indicative of how successful a project is. Another factor is to compare to the competition and to previous efforts.

ARTPOP is part of the pop trinity of 2013, along with Katy Perry‘s Prism and Bangerz by Miley Cyrus. (Some may also include Britney Jean and call it the Pop Quad of 2013, but I digress.) Prism had the highest first week sales of the three with 286K while Bangerz sold 270K. ARTPOP sold less than both with 258K in its first week.

Comparing ARTPOP to Gaga’s last album, Born This Way, puts it about 1/4 the total of its predecessor’s first week, which was 1.108 million – one of the biggest first week totals of the 2000s so far. Its current sales are about 2.3 million in the U.S.

Katy Perry - Prism

Katy Perry’s album Prism has so far sold 660,000 copies in the U.S.

Another factor is the performance of the singles from the album so far, which for Gaga – up until the release of the album – primarily included only Applause. Applause peaked at #4 on the Hot 100 and spent 14 weeks in the Top 10. Only when compared to her Born This Way single, and Katy’s Roar – which it was often compared to in terms of success – is it deemed a disappointment. However, it’s actually one of her longest running Top 10 singles. And both Born This Way and Roar are two of the biggest pop hits in recent years, all things considered.

Yet, holding anyone to the standard of fame Lady Gaga has had for several years is an impossible task. It’s highly unlikely for any artist or performer to maintain that level of success for very long. When you’re on top, there’s nowhere to go but down. Lady Gaga started out on top and is unlikely to ever reach the heights of success she experienced in 2010 again. But not doing so doesn’t equate to flopping.

To once again reference Madonna as an example (because she actually has covered all the ground), she never replicated her success in the 80s again – in the 90s or afterward. She had many albums deemed successful after her 5-million-selling Like A Prayer from 1989, but the only one to come close to that was Ray Of Light, released in 1998, selling 4.5 million copies. And she’s only had two #1 singles in the last 20 years, after having racked up 10 chart-toppers before that.

It’s also worth noting that Prism is Katy’s first album since her huge string of eight Top 10 hits from Teenage Dream. Following the instantaneous success of Roar (her 8th #1 single in total) and some pretty fancy promo, the release week of Prism is a career high for her (so far).

Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus

Likewise, Bangerz was released following two hit singles, the #2 We Can’t Stop and the then-new #1 Wrecking Ball, as well as Miley’s infamous MTV performance and the multitude of press and coverage she received from that. Miley is also rumoured to be Time Magazine‘s Person of the Year and a contender for Barbara Walters‘ annual Most Fascinating People of 2013.

Consider that the media backlash against Lady Gaga has been huge for quite some time. Everything she does is heavily criticized and the resulting comments are overwhelmingly negative. At this point, it would seem that she is fighting an uphill battle. Taking into account the amount of negative press, the record is doing fine.

Comparing sales of ARTPOP after three weeks to that of Prism and Bangerz during the same length of time also puts them on par with each other. ARTPOP currently has sales of approximately 425,000 compared to Prism‘s 440K after its third week (current total is 660K) and Bangerz‘ 388K (current total is 580K). It’s worth nothing that ARTPOP‘s third week does include the numbers from the Black Friday sales whereas the respective third week totals from the other two obviously don’t – although their current sales total does.

Of course, numbers aren’t everything and I’m always one of the first to say that. ARTPOP is a huge drop for Lady Gaga who was everywhere, figuratively and literally, from 2009 up until the early days of her last album cycle. The question simply comes down to who determines when something is considered a commercial failure and how much influence can a bunch of bloggers and trolling “news” sites like The Examiner have? Simply comparing ARTPOP to the current standard of what defines a “hit record” in pop music today suggests that it’s on par with the others and that Lady Gaga may simply be settling into a more modest level of success as far as the numbers are concerned.

One comment

  • It is disappointing when your favorite artist isn’t as successful as they used to be. Most of my favourite artist have not been as succuessful as when they first appeared on the scene. I still love them though because they become my personal favourite and not just something that “everyone” likes. You can’t satisfy everyone all the time. Gaga’s new music doesn’t appeal to me as much as it used to. I find the subject matter not as interesting to myself personally. It is a good dance record I will give it that. Madonna never ever appealed to me until I was 13 and Ray of Light came out. So I guess its important to write music that appeals to younger generations as well as keeping your fans still interested

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