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Will Beyonce’s ‘Renaissance’ Match Taylor Swift, Drake or Harry Styles’ Big First Weeks?

The much-anticipated album's debut success depends largely on whether fans still want to buy Beyoncé's albums or will just stream the songs.

Beyoncé’s Renaissance, out Friday — her seventh solo studio album and her first since 2016 — will be a blockbuster for the singer and Columbia Records. But how well the album performs in the U.S. during its first week depends on whether Beyoncé can still rally fans to buy vinyl and CDs like an old-fashioned “album artist,” rather than stream a popular track or two. This decade, an album usually doesn’t post a stellar first week without fans buying albums.

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Billboard’s analysis of 14 other superstars’ albums since 2020 reveals the best-performing titles had a potent combination of strong physical and digital sales in their first weeks, in addition to exceptional streaming numbers. For Renaissance to compete with top albums of the last two years, it would need to debut with roughly 500,000 album equivalent units that combine album sales, track sales and streams. That target would likely require hundreds of millions of streams in addition to more than 100,000 in album sales and tens of thousands of track sales. It would probably reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart with half that number.

“At this point, it seems like a strong release,” says Steve Harkins, vp of sales and marketing at Ingram Entertainment, a wholesale distributor. Laura Provenzano, senior vp of purchasing and marketing at Alliance Entertainment, believes Renaissance could sell 100,000 CDs alone in its first week. Both Harkins and Provenzano believe Renaissance would perform better if vinyl were made widely available to retail — it’s available only at Beyonce.com. But “good anticipation” in the market means some vinyl retailers are even considering carrying the Renaissance CD, says Harkins. “The fans are going to grab it no matter what,” says Provenzano.

Still, one industry source’s forecast doesn’t see Renaissance hitting that 500,000-unit mark. They predict the album will debut with 300,000 total album equivalent units in its first week.

For comparison, Beyoncé’s last album, Lemonade, released April 23, 2016, moved 657,000 album equivalent units in its first week: 485,000 digital albums, 908,000 digital tracks and 121.3 million on-demand streams. All 12 tracks reached the Hot 100. A physical version of the album wasn’t available until May 6, 2016.

But Beyoncé’s previous albums are imperfect guideposts for the performance of Renaissance. The year Lemonade was released — 2016 — was a generation ago in terms of music consumption habits. There was an average of 22.6 million subscribers to music streaming services in 2016, according to the RIAA. That jumped to 84 million in 2021 and likely stands close to 95 million today. Streaming rose to dominate music consumption over that period, as on-demand streams jumped 162% from 431 billion in 2016 to 1.13 trillion in 2021. And while download sales were a significantly greater part of an album’s consumption, overall digital album and track sales fell 68% and 72%, respectively, from 2016 to 2021, according to Luminate. Vinyl LPs meanwhile skyrocketed 218% from 2016 to 2021 as CD sales dropped 63%, and their combined sales fell 33%. What’s more, 2016’s Lemonade was released exclusively on Tidal for streaming, bypassing more popular platforms such as Spotify, until three years after its release. That won’t be the case in 2022.

Few artists can sell hundreds of thousands of albums in a single week in 2022. Taylor Swift’s Folklore sold 615,000 digital albums in its first week of release in July 2020 — no physical product was for sale that first week. (Folklore also benefited from sales it racked up through merchandise bundles on Swift’s website, which were disqualified — along with ticket bundles — from Billboard chart calculations for albums starting in October 2020.) In November 2021, Swift’s RED (Taylor’s Version) sold 261,000 physical albums and 108,000 digital albums. Only two other artists this decade have had similar first-week physical sales: Last November, just one week after Swift’s RED release, Adele’s 30 had first-week sales of 487,000 physical albums and 205,000 digital albums. And in May, Harry StylesHarry’s House sold 306,000 physical albums en route to 523,000 equivalent album units in its first week.

 

Columbia Records is casting a wide net with Renaissance. Unlike Lemonade’s Tidal exclusive, Renaissance will be available at Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music and other leading music streaming platforms upon its release. That’s vitally important in 2022 when streaming is the de facto method of music consumption for Americans. Lemonade still managed 120 million streams in its first week of release — impressive for a Tidal exclusive. Today, a successful first week would range from 252 million (accomplished by Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind) to 305 million (Swift’s RED (Taylor’s Version)).

Renaissance will also be available in multiple physical formats. The CD is being sold at retailers such as Amazon, Target and Urban Outfitters. (As of July 28, the pre-order of Renaissance was ranked No. 8 on Amazon in CDs and vinyl.) The album is also being sold as a digital album at online retailers such as iTunes and Amazon. And, as for vinyl, the online store at Beyonce.com is selling four different box sets (featuring a collectible box, a T-shirt and a CD) for $39.99 and a limited-edition vinyl LP that ship on the album’s release date – all five releases have already sold out and will begin shipping July 29, according to Beyonce.com.

Beyoncé helped write the current album marketing playbook with the surprise release of her self-titled album. The album was dropped without warning at iTunes on Dec. 12, 2013 — along with an accompanying full-length visual album — as her reaction to new music marketing of the day. “Now people only listen to a few seconds of [a] song on the iPods and they don’t really invest in the whole experience,” she bemoaned in a video posted to her Facebook page following the set’s release. “It’s all about the single, and the hype.” Lemonade took a similar tact by teasing the album’s release just one week before street date in two Instagram posts. The shock announcement created a media blitz across television, online outlets and radio. A day before the HBO premiere, Beyoncé ads took over Times Square in New York City.

Beyoncé exists among an elite class of musicians who can take six years off between proper album releases and still garner just as much — or even more — interest when she returns with a new album. Adele accomplished a similar feat last year with 30; but unlike Adele, who was relatively silent in the six years between 2015’s 25 and 30, Beyoncé has remained a cultural mainstream presence and has stayed creatively busy between Lemonade and Renaissance. That period’s mixed commercial results make prognosticating Renaissance difficult, however. She released Everything Is Love with Jay-Z as The Carters in 2018, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with 123,000 album equivalent units. (The set, which has sold 836,000 album equivalent units to date, was limited as a Tidal exclusive, and by not being available for less than the full week.)

The following year, Beyoncé produced and recorded The Lion King: The Gift, the soundtrack to the remake of the animated 1994 film – which also debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, with 54,000 album equivalent units, and has achieved a modest 322,000 album equivalent units to date. In addition, standalone singles “Black Parade” (2020) and “Be Alive” (from King Richard, 2021) drew acclaim, with the former making numerous year-end lists and the latter scoring an Oscar nomination – but neither achieved great commercial success, with “Parade” peaking at No. 37 on the Hot 100 and “Alive” missing the chart entirely.

Perhaps in a reflection of how much the industry has changed since 2016 —particularly how important a physical release is to producing robust first-week numbers — Beyoncé has been building up to Renaissance over the course of months, rather than weeks or days, in what essentially amounts to her most traditional rollout since 2011's 4. The album was first teased in early June, before being announced with a Vogue UK cover story – the kind of extended media look Beyoncé mostly eschewed while promoting her last two LPs – on June 16. Lead single “Break My Soul” followed four days later and has since climbed to No. 7 on the Hot 100, her highest-peaking single on the chart as a lead artist since “Drunk in Love” (No. 2) in 2014.

While people will be closely watching Renaissance’s first-week performance, the true test will come over the next two years. But as Billboard explained in April, popular tracks have increasingly long shelf lives on streaming platforms. Success for albums is now defined by the number of songs they can generate that stick around among the most popular streaming tracks for more than 18 months. Tracks such as Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” and The Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears” and “Blinding Lights” have remained popular more than two years after their release and given legs to their albums, Future Nostalgia and After Hours. Longevity, not the number of units sold in any single week, is the difference between a modest hit album and an undeniable blockbuster success.