It’s little surprise that all of Michael Jackson’s albums flew off the shelves – literal and digital – this past week, overtaking the attention spans of almost any media-watcher and music lover. His “Number Ones” album moved 108,000 copies. “The Essential Michael Jackson” and “Thriller” sold 102,000 and 101,000 respectively. Between those, some Jackson 5 releases, “Thriller,” “Bad” and all the rest, the death of Michael Jackson spurred almost half a million sales.
But you won’t see any of that on The Billboard 200. Because of chart rules, Jackson’s catalog is relegated to Billboard’s Top Pop Catalog Albums chart.
What’s crowning The Billboard 200? Black Eyed Peas’ “The E.N.D.” with a mere 88,000. According to Keith Caulfield at Billboard, it marks the first time since 1991, when Nielsen SoundScan began compiling sales data., that a pop catalog title – let alone three — outsells the No. 1 album on The Billboard 200.
There are a few things worth noting about this week’s chart.
First, it should be considered that it takes fewer and fewer sales these days to achieve the coveted No. 1 position on The Billboard chart. This is for the same reasons that we’ve known for a while: peer-to-peer trading, cherry-picking songs at digital outlets, the slow death of the record store, the shrinking of labels, radio formats disintegrating, so forth and so on. The economic financial recession the world feels today was felt by the music industry eight years ago. Selling little plastic discs with music on them, or a digital download, is harder.
So does this mean music is dying? I’d say it’s never been healthier. The industry just isn’t feeling so hot. And superstars are harder and harder to procure. Who are today’s Michael Jacksons, Madonnas, Bruce Springsteens, who will have such enduring legacies?
Maybe Jackson’s passing gives pause to these questions. Perhaps it’s better we have superstars of their own niche.
Just ook at the rest of the top tier on the chart for this week: The Jonas Brothers move a lot of copies to teens and pre-teens but no adult could hum you a lick to any one of their songs. Regina Spektor (No. 3), Ginuwine (No. 9) and Dream Theater (No. 6), all respectable and talented in their own right, aren’t big crossover artists. Eminem (No. 5) has built a career in putting people off and turning only certain people on. Lady GaGa (No. 8) has the stylistic trappings of a star, but has to work a lot longer to become unavoidable. Dave Matthews Band (No. 4) has generally already won over all the fans that it’s gonna and makes a mark more on the road, but they’re superstars in that fold. That Transformer’s soundtrack (No. 7) isn’t the stuff of legend. Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus (No. 10) can’t be a Disney prop forever.
Michael Jackson pumped a little adrenaline into the business of selling music this week, but he’s dead, so sadly. After the funeral, the toxicology reports, the legal battles, tabloid fodder, the vault releases, re-releases, expanded deluxe edition DVD/CD release, are all but a memory, there’s no obvious superstar to take his place.
Sure, acts like Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and the ilk will always have a place, but I think the way we listen to music, discover music and invest in music aren’t as simple as they were in Jackson’s best days. So we enjoy the superstars of our own favorite genres. That sort of buying pattern obviously doesn’t rack up the numbers at the top of the charts like it used to, but regardless we support the music we love in the ways we can, while we can.