Alicia Keys crowns the Billboard 200 for the fifth time in her career, as her fifth studio album, "Girl On Fire," debuts atop the list with 159,000 sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Keys previously led the list with her first four albums (three studio sets and a live release). Her last album, 2009's "The Element of Freedom" (her fourth studio set), launched at No. 2 with 417,000. Its hefty sales were buoyed by its week-before Christmas release date (Dec. 15). However, it was blocked from No. 1 by Susan Boyle's "I Dreamed a Dream," which was in its fourth week at No. 1 (with 661,000).
The launch of "Girl On Fire" is the smallest of any Keys album -- falling lower than that of her 2005 "Unplugged" set (196,000). That said, the album's start is what industry sources had forecasted a week ago, when insiders suggested it would bow with about 145,000 to 170,000.
One forecast that didn't pan out was that of Rod Stewart's "Merry Christmas, Baby" posing a threat to Keys' No. 1 debut. It sold 117,000 last week -- down less than 1% -- and rises 6-3. The album's climb as its sales decline is relatively mild compared with those found on the rest of the chart.
As the new Billboard 200 reflects the week after the Thanksgiving holiday shopping weekend, the bulk of the titles on the chart experience steep declines. (Sales are always down the week after what's generally one of the busiest shopping weeks of the year. This week, album volume fell by 23%.)
For example, in the top 100 this week, not counting debut and re-entries, only 13 albums post a gain. Thus, a number of albums with drops in sales move up the chart: The "Now 44" set jumps 15-11, though it's down 28%, while Scott McCreery's "Christmas With Scotty McCreery" leaps 21-12, despite an 18% decline.
Starting next week we should see most of the titles on the chart stabilize and increasingly gain more sales as we march toward Christmas.
Back on this week's chart, Keys' "Girl On Fire" is the lone debut in the entire top 20. The chart's second-highest entry is way down at No. 29, where Timeflies' "One Night" EP bows with 24,000.
In the top 10, Taylor Swift's "Red" is steady at No. 2 (137,000; down 26%), One Direction's "Take Me Home" slips 3-4 (92,000; down 48%), and Phillip Phillips' "The World From the Side of the Moon" moves 4-5 (74,000; down 56%). Rihanna's first No. 1 album, "Unapologetic," slides to No. 6 with 72,000 (down 70%) in its second week.
Michael Buble's "Christmas" rebounds 16-7 with 66,000 (up 24%), marking the 2011 set's first visit to the top 10 since it wrapped a five-week run at No. 1 on the Jan. 7 chart.
Lady Antebellum's "On This Winter's Night" also rises, moving 19-8 with 59,000 (up 13%), as does Blake Shelton's holiday effort "Cheers, It's Christmas" (18-9 with 53,000; up 1%). Rounding out the top 10 is Kid Rock's "Rebel Soul," dipping 5-10 in its second week (46,000; down 68%).
Over on the Digital Songs chart, we have a new No. 1, as Will.i.am's "Scream & Shout" (featuring Britney Spears), jumps from No. 66 to the top with 196,000 downloads sold (up 483%). The song debuted on last week's tally with five days of sales, as it was released Nov. 21. The newest chart data reflects its first full sales week (ending Dec. 2), along with impact felt from its music video's premiere on "The X Factor" (Nov. 28).
"Scream & Shout" is Will.i.am's second No. 1 on the Digital Songs chart as a solo artist (but first as a lead), following his featured turn on Usher's "OMG" in 2010. He's also notched five leaders as a member of the Black Eyed Peas. For Spears, it's her seventh No. 1 on the 8-year-old tally.
Bumped out of the top slot on Digital Songs is PSY's "Gangnam Style," which falls to No. 2 with 143,000 (down 37%). Keys' song "Girl On Fire" benefits from its parent album's release and a performance on "The X Factor" (Nov. 29), as it rockets 17-3 with 140,000 (up 72%).
In the No. 4 slot is the chart's highest debut, 50 Cent's "My Life" (featuring Eminem and Adam Levine), which starts with 140,000. 50 and Levine performed the track live last week on NBC's "The Voice" (Nov. 26).
Bruno Mars' "Locked Out of Heaven" is stationary at No. 5 (135,000; down 10%), the Lumineers' "Ho Hey" rises 7-6 (127,000; up 1%), and Ke$ha's "Die Young" falls 4-7 (122,000; down 19%). Rihanna's "Diamonds" tumbles 2-8 (slightly exceeding 122,000; down 31%), Phillip Phillip's "Home" descends 6-9 (118,000; down 10%), and Flo Rida's "I Cry" slides 8-10 (96,000; down 18%).
Overall album sales in this past chart week (ending Dec. 2) totaled 7.6 million units, down 23% compared with the sum last week (9.7 million) and down 7% compared with the comparable sales week of 2011 (8.1 million). Year-to-date album sales stand at 275.3 million, down 4% compared with the same total at this point last year (286.8 million).
Digital track sales this past week totaled 22.2 million downloads, down 8% compared with last week (24.1 million) and up 7% stacked next to the comparable week of 2011 (20.7 million). Year-to-date track sales are at 1.2 billion, up 6% compared with the same total at this point last year (1.1 billion).
Next week's Billboard 200 competes with the same week in 2011 when: Michael Buble's "Christmas" led the chart for a third week (479,000; up 64%) while the Black Keys' "El Camino" arrived at No. 2 with 206,000.