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On the Charts: Lady Gaga Shows Signs of Weakness

'Born This Way' drops 84 percent in its second week

June 8, 2011 2:05 PM ET
 Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie performs at The El Rey Theatre on June 7, 2011 in Los Angeles.
Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie performs at The El Rey Theatre on June 7, 2011 in Los Angeles.
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

WINNER OF THE WEEK: We can't just keep lauding Adele and her weird sales power in this space. So: the much-anticipated Death Cab for Cutie album Codes and Keys sold 103,000 copies – which is quite respectable and good enough for Number Three, but a decline from 2008's Narrow Stairs, which debuted at Number One with 144,000 copies sold. Then there's My Morning Jacket, whose Circuital did 55,000 copies to land at Number Five, which is fine but not especially impressive. So let's focus instead on the tiny guitars on the list. Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder's Ukelele Songs may have sold only 71,000, but it's a ukelele album. Ukelele albums are not supposed to hit the Top 10 – we don't care if Mick Jagger, Taylor Swift, Dr. Luke and the ghost of King David Kalakaua, who pioneered the instrument in Hawaii in the late 1800s, collaborated on it. Vedder is almost certain to drop off the list by next week, but for now, he's at Number Four. There's a Don Ho joke here someplace.

LOSER OF THE WEEK: We vacillated for literally minutes over whether to include Lady Gaga as Loser or Winner of the Week. She's still Number One in the second week after releasing Born This Way. But she also sold an absurdly weak 174,000 copies, an 84 percent drop from her 1,108,000-selling debut. So Loser she is. This is a terrible sign for people who still rely on the old record-business model of "selling units," as it seems the only way Gaga could generate those higher-than-expected first week sales was due to a steeply marked-down Amazon promotion – 99 cents for the entire digital album. The lesson here? Music still sells – that is, if it's so cheap it becomes easier to buy than download some torrent and figure out how to unpack it to your iTunes library. As an aside, Amazon did the thing that record executives complained furiously about when Best Buy and Wal-Mart did it in the Eighties and Nineties – it took a loss on music in order to drag people into the store to buy more expensive stuff. Those complaints seem veritably quaint today.

AND BECAUSE WE'RE STILL OBSESSED WITH GAGA . . . : We once spoke with Steve Greenberg, former Columbia Records president, founder of S-Curve Records and discoverer of the Jonas Brothers, and he speculated that Gaga would have sold 50 million albums if she'd only had the foresight to arrive in the mid-Nineties rather than the late 2000s. Look at Alanis Morissette, Greenberg said, who was (briefly) the world's biggest female pop star. She sold 16 million copies of Jagged Little Pill in the U.S. after it came out in 1995, when the CD boom was very close to its peak. And Gaga dominates the pop world – and pop culture in general – far more than Morissette ever did. Gaga is ubiquitous, with singles on the Billboard charts all year; BigChampagne's Ultimate Chart (which measures online indicators like YouTube views and iTunes sales) lists her latest single "The Edge of Glory" at Number Four. But don't cry for Gaga. Unlike Morissette, whose tours were successful but not monstrously so, Gaga is the biggest live performer of her generation, and she has mastered the New Music Business art of using recordings to promote her tour rather than vice versa. Her personal business model, of generating as many hits and as much hype as possible online in order to make money later off expensive stuff like concert tickets, is making her sufficiently rich, thank you very much. Still, we wonder if Alanis
occasionally fires off "nyeah, nyeah, I was born at the right time" e-mails to Gaga.

LAST WEEK: Lady Gaga Leaves Brad Paisley in the Dust

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