Nevertheless, West's 496,000 gives him his fourth straight No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 and the fourth-best sales week of 2010. It's also a better launch than the 450,000 that greeted his last set, 2008's "808s & Heartbreak." As for Minaj, she racks up the second-best sales week for a female hip-hop act. Only Lauryn Hill has done better, when "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" started at No. 1 with 423,000 in 1998.
Also, this week marks the first time in two years that the Billboard 200 has seen two albums bow with more than 300,000 units. It last happened on the list dated Dec. 6, 2008, when Beyonce's "I Am ... Sasha Fierce" started at No. 1 with 482,000 while Nickelback's "Dark Horse" galloped in a No. 2 with 326,000.
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Many chart-watchers were keeping tabs of West's presence in both the Amazon MP3 and iTunes stores last week. Amazon offered "Fantasy" for the entire week at just $3.99, while iTunes did not promote the album on the front of its store until Saturday (27) -- five days after its Monday release.
West's "Fantasy" starts with 224,000 downloads -- 45% of the album's overall first week. While SoundScan does not disclose retailers' specific numbers -- so we don't know how much of that 224,000 is owed to Amazon MP3 or any other service -- that number ranks as the fourth-biggest digital week for any set.
It's behind only the debuts of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" (288,000 in 2008), Taylor Swift's "Speak Now" (278,000 this year) and Eminem's "Recovery" (255,000 this year). It's notable that those albums all had larger overall first-week sales figures -- each began with well over 700,000 -- making West's digital debut more impressive because of its ratio of digital-to-physical copies.
Last week's No. 1 album, Susan Boyle's "The Gift," slips to No. 3 with 263,000 (down 21%), while Taylor Swift's "Speak Now" feels the heat from her NBC Thanksgiving TV special, rising five spots to No. 4 with 241,000 (up 64%). Jackie Evancho's "O Holy Night" falls three rungs to No. 5 with 142,000 (down 41%) while Rihanna's "Loud" drops three as well to No. 6 with 141,000 (down 32%).
Justin Bieber's Wal-Mart and Sam's Club-exclusive set, "My Worlds Acoustic," strums in at No. 7 with a 115,000 start. It's the teen's third top 10 entry in a little over a year. His first came with his debut album, "My World," which arrived at No. 6 on the list dated Dec. 5, 2009.
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My Chemical Romance's "Danger Days: the True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys" bows at No. 8 with 112,000 -- the rock band's second top 10 album. The act's last studio set, 2006's "The Black Parade," started with 240,000 at No. 2.
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The fifth and final debut in the top 10 this week comes from Ne-Yo's "Libra Scale," which weighs in at No. 9 with 112,000 (just a hair behind My Chemical Romance). It's the fourth release for the singer/songwriter, but begins with his lowest debut sales week. His first album, 2006's "In My Own Words," opened at No. 1 with 301,000 while its follow-up, 2007's "Because of You," also began at No. 1, but with 251,000. His third set, 2008's "Year of the Gentleman," came in at No. 2 with 250,000.
Rounding out the top 10 is the "Glee" Christmas album, which jingles down two slots to No. 10 with 108,000 (down 33%).
The top 12 albums this week each sold in excess of 100,000 -- no surprise since Thanksgiving week is such a busy time of year for new releases and holiday shopping. However, because of the competitive chart, some notable new releases fail to make the top 10 this week. They include Ke$ha's "Cannibal" (No. 15 with 74,000) and the soundtrack to "Burlesque" (No. 18 with 63,000).
Over on the Digital Songs chart, the "Glee" cast takes a predictable tumble from No. 1, as its "Forget You" falls to No. 16 with 78,000 (down 59%). Meanwhile, its "Teenage Dream" hangs in at No. 48 (34,000; down 52%), marking the first "Glee" single to spend at least three weeks on the Digital Songs list since "Poker Face" racked a month back in June.
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"Glee's" departure from No. 1 leaves us with a new topper in the form of Katy Perry's "Firework," which blasts 4-1 with its best week yet -- 232,000 (up 32%). P!nk's "Raise Your Glass" rises three rungs to No. 2 (209,000; up 22%) and Ke$ha's "We R Who We R" holds at No. 3 with 186,000.
There aren't any debuts in the top 10 this week, but two singles jump into the region. One's visiting for the first time while the other is making a return engagement -- and both are by the same artist. Bruno Mars' "Grenade" says hello to the top 10 as it explodes from No. 13 to No. 6 with 164,000 (up 64%) while his earlier single "Just the Way You Are" returns to the top 10 (up six to No. 8 with 126,000; up 44%). The latter benefits from the "Glee" cast's cover of the song on last week's show. "Glee's" rendition of "Just the Way" enters at No. 19 with 70,000.
The Digital Songs chart's highest debut this week comes from Enrique Iglesias' "Tonight (I'm Lovin' You)" at No. 13 with 97,000. That sum combines both the sales of this version and its explicit edition: "Tonight (I'm F*****' You)."
Overall album sales in this past chart week (ending Nov. 28) totaled 10.24 million units, up 26% compared to the sum last week (8.12 million) and down 5% compared to the comparable sales week of 2009 (10.73 million). Year to date album sales stand at 272.02 million, down 13% compared to the same total at this point last year (311.71 million).
Digital track sales this past week totaled 22.16 million downloads, down 1% compared to last week (22.47 million) and up 12% stacked next to the comparable week of 2009 (19.79 million). Year to date track sales are at 1.023 billion, up less than 1% compared to the same total at this point last year (1.019 billion).