With the exception of two huge new singles and one surprisingly popular country album, this week's sales are of a piece with the slow summer. Track sales remain down three percent compared to last year, and album sales are down six percent. The big new singles by Katy Perry and Lady Gaga represent hope for the fall, but someday we all may remember 2013 as the year streaming took over.
KATY WINS THE BATTLE, BUT WHO WANTS TO FIGHT A WAR WITH GAGA?: Lady Gaga's careful plan to expose bits of her upcoming album ARTPOP began in earnest last week when she put out "Applause," a dance single in which she uses her deep Marlene Dietrich voice to make a cryptic point about art, pop, critics, fame, fans and nostalgia. The song is what we like about Gaga – a little Madonna but not too much. So is the over-the-top video, in which the singer struts in a black bikini, lounges in a giant magician's hat, models fly-wings and writhes naked. But Katy Perry's single, "Roar," which doesn't yet have a video, one-ups Gaga with an old-fashioned big, catchy and, yes, roaring pop anthem. As a result, Perry soundly beat Gaga in the first-week sales showdown – "Roar" sold 557,000 downloads while "Applause" had just 218,000. This isn't the end of this battle. These singles are likely to bounce up and down as both put out albums, perform on MTV and tour.
SLACKER! THE BEATLES PUT OUT FIVE ALBUMS IN 1964: What's most startling about Luke Bryan's Number One album this week, Crash My Party, is not the fact that the country star has had two Number Ones in the same year. (Spring Break . . . Here to Party came out March 23rd.) It's that he sold 456,000 more copies than the number two album, R&B singer K. Michelle's Rebellious Soul – 528,000 to 72,000. That's a huge disparity. Bryan is following the Country Manual for Guaranteed Chart Success, putting out an album full of hits ("That's My Kind of Night" made its debut this week at number five, selling 164,000), touring relentlessly, then doing it again. The only difference between him and, say, Lady Antebellum is that he's more prolific, adding a bit of Lil Wayne to his business formula. He's headlining fairs and amphitheaters through late October.
THE DAY THE SUMMER (SINGLES) DIED: Thanks to Katy and Gaga, almost certain to be the fall's biggest chart stars, summer is unofficially over. No longer is Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" at Number One on the Digital Songs chart – it drops to number two, selling 291,000 copies this week, a sales loss of 16 percent. No longer is Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop" in the top five – it drops from number three to number six, selling 148,000, a drop of six percent. Even Imagine Dragons, the year's Teflon pop stars, fell from number four to number eight, with 121,000, a drop of nine percent.
Last week: The Civil Wars Divide and Conquer