Target will not be carrying Frank Ocean's debut studio album, "Channel Orange," which is projected to make an unexpectedly strong debut on the Billboard 200 next week. According to statements from the company and Ocean's manager, Target's move is in response to the decision by Ocean's label, Def Jam, to sell the album ahead of its scheduled release date on iTunes, and not due to recent revelations about Ocean's sexuality. ITunes is the sole digital seller of the album until July 17.

Ocean became the focus of Internet discussion after a recent Tumblr post in which he discussed a past romantic relationship with a man. In a July 10 tweet on the morning of the Target decision, Ocean's manager, Christian Clancy, implied that the disclosure influenced Target's decision not to carry the album, although he quickly deleted the tweet and has since recanted. "Target has refused to carry Frank's album because of iTunes exclusive," Clancy's initial tweet read. "Interesting since they also donate to non-equal rights organizations."

Target was at the center of a controversy last year in which it canceled a $10 million TV campaign for Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" album, reportedly due to differences over the company's support for political candidates opposed to gay rights. In response, Target issued a statement to Billboard that read: "The claims made about Target's decision to not carry the Frank Ocean album are absolutely false. Target supports inclusivity and diversity in every aspect of our business. Our assortment decisions are based on a number of factors, including guest demand.

"Target has a long-standing tradition of supporting music and artistry that reflects the diverse landscape of American culture. Our history of partnering with diverse artists includes recent partnerships with a variety of musicians, such as Ricky Martin, B.o.B and Gloria Estefan."

Soon after, Clancy backtracked from his original statement in a series of tweets: "I apologize for my comments about Target. They are not carrying Frank's album because it went digital first. Not for ANY other reason . . . My response was simply an emotional knee jerk reaction."

Apparently addressing the iTunes exclusive, Target said in a statement: "At Target, we focus on offering our guests a wide assortment of physical CDs, so our selection of new releases is dedicated to physical CDs rather than titles that are released digitally in advance of the street date."

"Channel Orange" - released by Def Jam and distributed by Universal Music Group Distribution - made its iTunes debut shortly after midnight on the morning of July 10, when Ocean performed on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon." The album also began streaming on Ocean's Tumblr. While the iTunes release was marketed as a surprise, it had been in the works for weeks, sources tell Billboard. An unnamed Def Jam rep and "Fallon" booker Jonathan Cohen told Entertainment Weekly the same thing earlier this week. "The announcement of the early digital release was part of the plan from the very beginning," Cohen said.

How much all of this will affect Ocean's first-week sales remains to be seen, but "Channel Orange" is soaring past early, prerelease sales forecasts: The album looks set to debut at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 next week with 100,000-120,000 copies - nearly all from iTunes.

Initial forecasts had pinned its start somewhere in the 40,000-50,000 range. That would have fallen in line with bows of the Ocean-associated Odd Future's debut album, "The OF Tape Vol. 2," earlier this year (No. 5, 40,000) and Odd Future frontman Tyler, the Creator's 2011 set "Goblin" (No. 5, 45,000).

While the album's CD version wasn't publicly scheduled to go on sale until July 17, physical retailers have been told by Universal to start selling the album as soon as they receive it. Thus, some physical CDs will be in the mix when the album debuts on the Billboard 200.

Based on past situations in retail, it seems possible that Target wasn't informed about the iTunes exclusive in advance­ - which is usually the retail procedure with exclusives - and may have canceled its order of the Ocean album when it learned about it.

Neither Ocean nor the label had granted Billboard's requests for comment on the situation.••••

Additional reporting by Keith Caulfield and Ed Christman.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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