P!nk's Extraordinary Sales Week: How Did She Do It?
The number started off impressive, and by week's end it was downright staggering. Billboard's initial reports pegged P!nk's Beautiful Trauma album -- her 7th solo LP, and first since 2012's The Truth About Love -- as likely to earn upwards of 300,000 equivalent album units in its opening frame, which would already put her in elite company for 2017 first-week numbers.
But by the week's close on Oct. 19, that number had ballooned to over 400k -- 408,000 at the final bell, according to Nielsen Music, with an incredible 384,000 of that total coming in traditional album sales. Those 408,000 in equivalent album units gave Beautiful Trauma the fourth-best week of any album in 2017 -- behind only Kendrick Lamar's DAMN., Drake's More Life and Ed Sheeran's ÷ (Divide), while also marking the best week by a female artist since Beyoncé's Lemonade bowed with 652,000 units in May 2016. And most impressively, in terms of straight sales, Beautiful Trauma's 384k was the strongest of any set this year.
"It definitely exceeds expectations," says John Fleckenstein, evp of P!nk's RCA label, of the album's first-week numbers. "The reaction and response from the sales community at all levels was way beyond what we hoped. Quite frankly, we're thrilled."
Of course, on one level, it shouldn't be surprising to see the artist born Alecia Moore succeed commercially, since that's what she's done virtually non-stop for the last 17 years. She's had 15 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 -- four of them going all the way to No. 1-- ranging back to debut single "There You Go" in early 2000, right up to Alice Through the Looking Glass soundtrack single "Just Like Fire" in June of 2016. Meanwhile, since her sophomore LP M!ssundaztood went to No. 6 in 2001, each of P!nk's albums has charted in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart -- even including hits compilation Greatest Hits... So Far!! and folk duo side project You+Me's Rose Ave -- with The Truth About Love earning her first No. 1 on the chart in 2012. (In a statement to Billboard, RCA ceo Peter Edge calls P!nk "a leader among the few, true global superstars.")
For her to put up these numbers is still a headline-grabbing achievement in 2017, though, if for no other reason than because so few of her past or present peers are doing the same. The recent pop landscape has proven to be an increasingly inhospitable place for female pop stars, thanks in large part to changing trends in music consumption that have de-emphasized pop in favor of hip-hop and EDM. In the last year, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Kesha and Lady Gaga -- by just about any metric, four of the biggest pop artists of the past decade -- have all released new albums, to varying levels of acclaim and radio success, as have younger, rising alt-pop stars Halsey and Lorde. But none of them even moved half of Beautiful Trauma's 408k in their first week.
What's more, Beautiful Trauma isn't P!nk's play for pop success in the Spotify era -- far from it. The two biggest names in the album's credits besides Moore's are Eminem and Max Martin, both of whose mainstream success predates even her own. The set occasionally leans into some dance-friendly trends in production, and definitely feels less rock-rooted than The Truth About Love did five years ago, but no one would accuse P!nk of trend-hopping here.
Instead, the album is an intensely personal, almost overwhelmingly emotional portrait of the weary-sounding singer-songwriter assessing her place in her marriage and in the world at large -- it's not quite P!nk turning her back on pop radio or streaming playlists, but it certainly doesn't sound like her rushing to embrace either. Indeed, lead single "What About Us" has gotten off to a modest start on the charts, debuting in the 20s on the Hot 100 and languishing in that general region for much of its chart run, before finally leaping to No. 13 this week, thanks to its parent LP's first-week momentum.
So what makes P!nk such an outlier here? Well, a number of factors, starting with the sort of Tortoise-over-Hare approach that's defined the singer-songwriter's career to this point. As previously mentioned, she didn't get her first No. 1 album until attempt No. 6 a half-decade ago, when The Truth About Love scored her then-best first-week sales with 280,000 copes sold in its opening frame -- and that was well before Nate Ruess duet "Just Give Me a Reason" became the album's biggest hit, topping the Hot 100 in spring 2013 and allowing Truth to further grow in stature for the year's remainder.
Since then, P!nk has stayed visible -- with You+Me, with "Just Like Fire," with spots on singles by Kenny Chesney and StarGate and with the new theme to The Ellen DeGeneres Show -- without being overexposed. In fact, she's only released three albums in the last decade, dating back to 2008's Funhouse, but has still managed 11 top 20 hits on the Hot 100 over that span. "If you look at any paragraph about pop music, I don’t get mentioned — my name doesn’t come up," she told the New York Times earlier this year, about her perennially overlooked but progressive undeniable top 40 resume. "And yet, here I go again, right under the wave, duck-diving.”
It's a hidden-in-plain-stardom contradiction that continues to perplex P!nk's fans, and even her label, who sees her as a no-doubt A-lister. "From a traditional recorded music perspective, she's always been one of our, if not the, biggest sellers for RCA," Fleckenstein says. "Ironically, from a media perspective, she always has this kind of underdog status, which isn't necessarily fair or anywhere close to accurate with regards to her ticket pull or her sales.
"It's always been a bit funny to us," he continues. "It would always be a little harder to get the opportunities [with P!nk] you would normally be picking from the litter of on a big pop artist, and sometimes it's taken a little bit more effort on our side to get these big opportunities. In reality, from a sales, and from a ticket sales perspective, she's top of the game."
In more practical terms, P!nk was also helped out on Beautiful Trauma by a promotional factor that's played an increasingly prominent role in determining first-week sales success in recent years: a concert ticket/album sale redemption offer. The cost of the CD edition of P!nk's album was bundled into the purchase price of each ticket sold online to her upcoming Beautiful Trauma World Tour in the U.S. and Canada, which launches in March 2018. After purchasing a ticket, customers received (via email) a redemption offer for the album, where they could choose to redeem the CD and have it mailed to them. The only sales that count towards the charts are those albums that are redeemed by customers. Many ticket buyers never redeem the offer.
The promotion undoubtedly played a considerable part in her final 384,000 sales figure (perhaps driving around 225,000-plus sales) -- as similar ticket/album bundling strategies did for recent No. 1 albums from artists like Shania Twain, LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire and The Chainsmokers.
However, it's worth pointing out that for whatever sales advantage this strategy gives P!nk, it's the same strategy dozens of other artists have used in 2017 alone -- including Kesha and Katy Perry, by the way -- and still, she's dangling over all of them, "Glitter in the Air"-style, in terms of first-week numbers. If the early figures for Beautiful Trauma owe a portion of their extraordinariness to their attachment to P!nk's upcoming live show, then that's largely a testament to what a formidable touring attraction the pop star has grown into, a status she attributed in that same NYT interview to being a development of this decade, following the aforementioned "Glitter" performance at the 2010 Grammys. And it's a testament to her reliability as a recording artist, too, if so many purchasers bothered to redeem their download codes -- certainly no longer a given in the streaming age.
"It was the biggest bundle we had done with regards to the volume of tickets that she'd put on sale," Fleckenstein explains of the over 500,000 tickets that came packaged with a redemption offer for Beautiful Trauma, adding that it surprised the label how well the set sold, even apart from the bundling promotion. "We thought it'd be substitutional, in terms of the marketplace... but not at all; it felt like it was completely additive over what was already a great result with regards to institutional [metrics]: physical [sales], downloads and streaming."
Ultimately, Beautiful Trauma's stunning first-week sales is the culmination of a career's worth of slow-building success for P!nk, growing from an L.A. Reid-packaged teen-pop act for the TRL era into an acclaimed singer-songwriter, a dominant live performer and a commercial best-seller. More than any of her peers (outside of The Queen herself), she's proven that there's a path for pop stars to adulthood that doesn't include submitting to prevailing mainstream trends, or conceding commercial relevance. Slow and steady has won the race for P!nk, and that 408,000 number is her long-awaited gold medal.