While it was a sure thing that Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience" would debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, it's still pretty amazing to see the whopping sales the album racked up.
The RCA Records set crashes in with 968,000 copies sold in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan, scoring the 19th-largest sales week since SoundScan started tracking sales in 1991. Amazingly, Timberlake well outpaced the initial prerelease forecast for the album, which had placed its first week at 500,000-plus. But, as you already know if you read this column last week, "20/20" exploded once it hit stores. The day after "20/20" was released on March 19, its projection was raised to 750,000. A day later, it rose to 850,000-900,000, and then by Sunday, March 24, it climbed to 950,000-975,000. To say "20/20" overperformed would be appropriate.
Timberlake's start is easily his best sales week ever. His last album, "FutureSex/LoveSounds," debuted at No. 1 with 684,000 while his 2002 debut, "Justified," bowed and peaked at No. 2 with a 439,000 start.
"20/20"'s launch is the biggest overall sales frame since Taylor Swift's "Red" debuted with 1.2 million on Nov. 10, 2012. Among male artists, Timberlake has the biggest sales week in nearly five years. The last larger frame by a man was when Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III" debuted with 1 million on June 28, 2008.
Impressively, "20/20" instantly becomes the year's best-selling album, easily surpassing Mumford & Sons' "Babel" (658,000).
To put "20/20"'s sales in further perspective: In all of 2012, only 11 albums sold more than what "20/20" did this week. Last year's top seller was Adele's "21," with 4.4 million sold. The 11th-biggest was Maroon 5's "Overexposed," with 988,000.
Overall, Timberlake's "20/20" also logs the third-largest sales week for a male singer in the SoundScan era, behind only Usher and Garth Brooks. Usher's "Confessions" (2004) and Brooks' "Double Live" (1998) debuted with 1.10 million and 1.09 million, respectively.
"20/20" was a massive digital seller, too. The set sold 452,000 downloads in its debut frame, making it the third-largest week ever for a digital album. Only Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" (662,000 in 2011) and Swift's Red (465,000 in 2012) sold more downloads in a single week.
Sources say Apple's iTunes store moved the most copies of "20/20" for the week, with Target its No. 2 account. ITunes sold an astounding 44% of "20/20"'s overall debut, while Target locked up about 34% of the week. The latter was the only retailer with an exclusive version of the album that includes two bonus songs unavailable anywhere else: "Dress On" and "Body Count." Target has been heavily promoting the album in a series of TV commercials, the first of which premiered during CBS' broadcast of the Grammy Awards on Feb. 10. For its part, iTunes had an exclusive stream of "20/20" that premiered March 11, more than a week before the album arrived March 19.
While Timberlake didn't hit the magic million mark, his proximity to the figure elicited questions by outside media along the lines of: "Who can sell a million next?" Does everyone else remember the time when folks were saying the era of million-selling weeks was over? After 50 Cent's "The Massacre" started at No. 1 with 1.1 million on March 19, 2005, we waited a long three years for the next million week (Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III" in 2008). Since then, there have been three million-selling weeks (two by Swift and one by Lady Gaga, though the latter was goosed tremendously by Amazon MP3's deep discounting).
So, who's got next? Certainly Adele's third album is a likely candidate to sell a million its first week. She has the across-the-board appeal required to achieve a blockbuster debut. But let's face it: In this age of streams and track sales, the fact that we're discussing the possibility of million-selling weeks is flabbergasting. But, as Timberlake and Swift have proved, superstars can still rack up enormous sales frames.
Next week: Timberlake should maintain his grip on No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for a second week, while Lil Wayne's new "I Am Not a Human Being II" is on course to arrive in the runner-up slot. The latter may sell around 200,000 copies, so say industry forecasters. Wayne will be one of a number of new arrivals in the top 10, which will also boast bows from Blake Shelton, Depeche Mode and the Strokes, among others.