Remember those days when album sales were the purest measure of a pop star's success? They're gone forever. So Keith Urban, the biggest star in the land this week, has only managed to coax a relatively paltry 98,000 people to a store, online or otherwise, to buy his album. It's much more interesting to follow the singles charts – they're up and down and all over the place, racking up consumption numbers on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, Vevo and Rdio, making room for any star with a dirty wrecking ball or a voice like an angel.
The Evolution of Miley Cyrus
BRUCE, NEIL AND EMMYLOU NEVER KNEW THIS WRECKING BALL: My guess is whenever the haters mock Miley Cyrus for the skimpy-clothed shenanigans she pulled on MTV and in the "Wrecking Ball" video, she has a gesture for them involving her tongue. Whatever she's doing, it's working – and, it must be noted, rockers and rappers rarely get this kind of controversy anymore based on their music or videos. After "Wrecking Ball" landed 19.3 million Vevo views in one day last week, it sold 477,000 downloads, vaulting from Number 10 to Number One on Billboard's Digital Songs chart. (As of this morning, it's up to more than 118 million views, although her seven million Spotify streams is pretty low, compared to 42 million for "We Can't Stop" and 23 million for "Party in the U.S.A.")
YOU CALL THAT A RACE?: Industry predictions for this week focused on the race between Keith Urban and the Weeknd for Number One. But Urban sold just 98,000 and the Weeknd 95,000 – neither of which is exactly a blockbuster number. What this really shows is just how infrequently people buy albums in the uneventful days between summer and holiday-shopping season. It's kind of incredible, actually, that Urban, one of country's biggest stars, can appear on The View, Letterman, Kimmel and Today and continue his amphitheater tour in one week, then wind up with less than 100,000 sales.
BATTLE ROYALE: One artist who must be wishing Miley Cyrus would slow down is Lorde, whose catchy "Royals" gained 17 percent in sales and sold 263,000 downloads – more than enough for Number One on just about any other week, but just second-best in the Miley Era. Also suffering: Avicii's "Wake Me Up!," which sold 202,000 copies, an increase of three percent, but fell from Number Three to Number Four. Sleeper pick for those of you in chart-watch fantasy leagues: Lady Gaga's "Applause," which has had the misfortune of competing with Katy Perry, then Miley. It sold 184,000 this week, an increase of 15 percent, allowing it to climb from Number Six to Number Five.