Two superstar divas -- Lady Gaga and Beyonce -- both have eagerly-awaited albums on the way, but their latest singles are seeing a less-than-spectacular reaction on the charts. Is there cause for alarm?
First up is Lady Gaga's "Judas," which falls 6-19 in its third week on Digital Songs with 81,000 according to Nielsen SoundScan (down 48%). It's the second single from Gaga's third studio album, "Born This Way," due out May 23.
The set is easily one of the biggest releases of the year, not just for her label, Interscope, and its parent company Universal Music Group -- but for the entire industry. With 5.8 million albums sold in the U.S. since her "The Fame" debuted in August of 2008, all eyes and ears have been trained on Gaga and what "Born" may sell in its first week.
Could it possibly reach the magic 1 million sales mark in its debut? (A threshold that only 16 albums have achieved, debut or otherwise.)
Back in February, previous to the title track and lead single's unveiling on Feb. 11, that was a line of conversation in the industry -- and not a far-fetched one, either. While a 1 million-start was perhaps always a pie-in-the-sky figure -- even back in February -- a forecast of a 750,000-start was plausible. Now, three long months later -- with "Judas" cooling -- the album's first-week projections have certainly been lowered.
"Judas" launched with 162,000 after it bowed on Friday, April 15, with only three days of sales (SoundScan's tracking week ends on Sunday of each week). Though one would have suspected it would have grown in sales after it had a full week under its belt -- it actually declined, shifting 156,000 in its second week on the tally.
Compare that to the arrival of "Born This Way," which dropped on the morning of Friday, Feb. 11. It debuted with 448,000 downloads, logging the largest debut sum for a female artist. Then, in its second (and first full) week, it increased to 509,000 -- up 14% -- earning the fourth-largest week ever for a digital download and just the fifth song to shift more than 500,000 in a week.
"Born" -- which famously became the Billboard Hot 100's 1,000th No. 1 single when it debuted atop the list -- went on to become the year's third-biggest selling single, with 2.5 million downloads sold. Only Katy Perry's "E.T." (2.8 mil) and Cee Lo Green's "F**k You (Forget You)" (2.6 mil) have shifted more.
Keep in mind of course that "Born" was an incredibly anticipated song that was sure to be a blockbuster -- and thus apples-to-apples comparisons are unfair.
On the Hot 100 -- which combines sales, airplay and streaming data -- "Judas" debuted well at No. 10, but then fell to No. 12 in its second week and this week descends to No. 20. On its component Hot 100 Airplay chart, which monitors more than 1,200 radio stations, the song bowed at No. 48 three weeks ago with 26 million in audience impressions according to Nielsen BDS. However, its rise has been slow (if not at least steady). In week number two it moved up to No. 36 with 33.6 million and then this week it shuffles up three spots to No. 31 with 34.6 million.
Meanwhile, "Born This Way" exploded onto the Hot 100 Airplay chart at No. 6 with 78.6 million out of the gate, quickly rising to No. 4 the following week with 84.7 million. "Born" ultimately hit No. 1 on the Airplay list on the tally dated April 2, with a peak of 106 million. (Again, "Born" was destined to be an out-of-the-box smash, as it had been hyped for months previous to it release, thus making it hard to compare it to "Judas," nor any other single's performance.)
Does any of this spell trouble for the "Born This Way" album? Certainly not. Gaga is cranking up the promotion for the set, and it's likely there won't be any music fans unaware that the album hits retail on the 23rd. This week already she performed on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and unveiled the music video for "Judas." Next week, she'll release a new track via iTunes -- "Edge of Glory" -- as part of the digital retailer's "Countdown to 'Born This Way'" campaign and mentor the final four contestants on "American Idol." However, it's hard to argue with the notion that a blockbuster second single would have pushed the album even further into the sales stratosphere.
Another diva, Beyonce, has quickly run aground with her new single "Run the World (Girls)." It slips 23-39 on Digital Songs with 47,000 (down 39%) in its second week and 65-71 on Hot 100 Airplay (16.2 million in audience, down 11%). The tune is the lead single from B's as-yet-untitled fourth solo album, expected later this year.
Beyonce's last effort, 2008's "I Am ... Sasha Fierce," was ushered in by two lead singles: the ballad "If I Were a Boy" and the dance number "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)."
Both songs bowed at No. 1 on the Digital chart, with the former shifting 190,000 in its first week while the latter sizzled with 204,000. (The songs were released commercially at different times, though both were promoted to radio outlets concurrently.) "Boy" hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and "Single" spent a month lodged at No. 1. Both were smash radio hits, too: "Boy" climbed to No. 6 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart while "Single" topped the list for five weeks.
"Fierce" ultimately arrived at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 482,000 and has since sold 2.9 million copies in the U.S.
The stylistic curveball "Run the World (Girls)" is -- so far -- not performing comparably to either of "Fierce's" first singles. In fact, it's behaving more like the lead-off track from B's 2006 sophomore album "B'Day" -- "Deja Vu."
"Deja Vu" started at No. 3 on the Digital Songs chart with 75,000 (back when that number was a fairly handsome sum in the early days of digital sales). However, it quickly fell down the list, dropping to No. 4 in its second week with 66,000 and then tumbling out of the top 10 in its fourth frame on the list. On the Airplay chart, it spent five weeks in the top 10, topping out at No. 7.
"Deja Vu" peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, spending just two weeks in the top 10. "B'Day's" second single, "Ring the Alarm," faired about as well, never moving more than 56,000 downloads in a week, and peaking at No. 13 on the Airplay chart and at No. 11 on the Hot 100.
Weirdly, even though both "Deja Vu" and "Alarm" were received somewhat cooly, "B'Day" still exploded at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart with 541,000 sold in its first week. (Perhaps, one could surmise, its handsome debut was generated by goodwill earned from the performance of her smash first album "Dangerously in Love.")
It wasn't until "Irreplaceable" -- released four months after "Deja Vu" -- did Beyonce find a certifiable smash hit from "B'Day." The track spent a whopping 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, 11 weeks atop the Hot 100 Airplay chart, and four weeks leading Digital Songs. In turn, it helped lift the "B'Day" back into the top 10 on the Billboard 200 chart and propelled it to a cumulative 3.3 million albums sold.
So, while "Run the World" isn't setting the charts on fire -- it's not the end of the world for Beyonce -- nor for Lady Gaga. "B'Day" still blew up without a blockbuster lead track, and, once "Irreplaceable" hit, the album found an extended life. As for Gaga -- never underestimate the buying power of her legions of little monsters and her ability to capture the public's attention as we inch closer to the release of "Born This Way."