One Direction just made history, again. When Four debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, they became the only group in the chart’s 58-year history to see their first four albums debut at the list’s top slot.
The world’s biggest boy band moved 387,000 copies of Four in the week ending Nov. 23, according to Nielsen SoundScan. While that’s more copies than the most recent releases from fellow pop stars Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, it’s a notable 29 percent drop from the first-week sales for their previous album.
Midnight Memories, which came out just last year, opened with 546,000 copies in its first week. Their previous album, 2012’s Take Me Home, had a similar first week, moving 540,000 copies.
To reiterate, Four‘s opening week sales are still massive — but this is the first 1D album since their debut not to cross the half-million mark in its opening week. And that album, Up All Night, came out before the boys were bona fide superstars in the U.S.
Despite their increasing fame and their maturing sound, 1D fever may slowly be cooling off. And there’s nothing shocking about that. As a boy band grows up, so does their audience — and not every tweenage fan sticks with their one-time crushes.
It’s worth keeping in mind that overall album sales are down 13 percent compared to the same time a year ago, so it’s a challenge for anyone to sell albums. (Still, Taylor Swift somewhat miraculously sold 1.287 million copies of 1989 in its first week — her best sales week yet and the first album to shift more than a million since Swift’s own Red two years ago.)
In the bar graphs above, we’ve rounded up the first-week sales for the first few studio albums from One Direction, ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys and the Jonas Brothers. So how does 1D’s record sales history match up to their boy band predecessors?
In some respects, it’s very similar.
‘N Sync’s three albums followed a similar sales path. Not close to superstardom when their self-titled album dropped in America, ‘N Sync’s first album sold just 14,000 its first week out (astonishing, right?). It would eventually become a hit, and by the time No Strings Attached dropped, the group sold nearly 2.5 million copies of its second album in its first week — the largest sales week ever for an album since SoundScan started tracking sales in 1991. But when their swan song, Celebrity, came out, sales slipped to 1,888,000 copies — a 28 percent sales drop. That’s pretty similar to the 29 percent sales drop 1D just saw with Four.
Backstreet, on the other hand, was a different story. Much like ‘N Sync, their first album’s first-week sales were wildly below the peaks they were soon to reach – they became superstars in America after the first record dropped. Their second album, Millennium, moved 1,134,000 copies in its first week, while Black & Blue sold 1,591,000 in its debut week. But Backstreet went on a two-year hiatus at the peak of their fame. So when their fourth album dropped, the massive sales slip they saw — Never Gone moved just 291,000 in its first week — was partly due to the fact that they’d reformed at a point when boy bands were very much passé.
What about the Jonas Brothers? First off, yes, we know the JoBros played their own instruments are wrote their own songs, which makes them remarkably different from other boy bands. But the JoBros made teen pop/rock, they were marketed as teen heartthrobs, and they were quite literally a band made up of boys. It’s fair to compare them to other boy bands.
Although their career got off to a slow start (their first album, It’s About Time, sold just 10,000 in its first week), by the time their third album, A Little Bit Longer, rolled around, it broke half-million sales in its first week. And even though their fourth did quite well, it saw a similar drop to 1D’s fourth — Lines, Vines and Trying Times opened with 247,000.
Despite the Jonas’ success, it took 1D to make boy bands cool again. And even if no one else has replicated their incredible international domination, America is safer place for boy bands thanks to 1D.
Whether 1D’s next album will follow the gradual sales slip most boy bands seem to experience after their third or fourth album — or come back with another half-million selling LP — remains to be seen.