WINNER OF THE WEEK: Rihanna. For all the negative press Rihanna received the last two weeks about dragging a bunch of tired, grumpy journalists on her plane throughout Europe, the singer sold a respectable 238,000 copies of Unapologetic, hitting Number One a week after "Diamonds" became her 12th Number One single. Those sales are great for Rihanna – it's her biggest one-week number ever. But for one of the world's biggest pop stars, one who automatically makes magazine covers and national headlines and has sold a gazillion singles, 238,000 seems low. How come she can't sell albums like Taylor Swift or Adele? It's mysterious. The main reason seems to be that Rihanna, like Katy Perry or Flo Rida, defines herself as a singles artist and not an album artist, and has trained her fans to pick off singles as they arrive on iTunes. In a tweet last night, Billboard editorial director Bill Werde predicted a 70 percent drop next week.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: One Direction. Yes, it's fun to put "One Direction" and "Loser of the Week" in the same line, but the hunky boy band's 67 percent sales drop, to 176,000 and Number Three, deserves the distinction. It's an oddly slow post-Black Friday sales week, even counting Rihanna, as American Idol winner Phillip Phillips' The World from the Side of the Moon sells just 169,000 (Number Four) and Kid Rock's Rebel Soul adds 146,000 (Number Five). (Rebel Soul is Rock's first album available on iTunes, and he sold 57,000 digital copies of it, which is respectable, but this dude was multi-platinum not so long ago.) Given early-fall successes of Taylor Swift and Mumford and Sons, I was starting to believe holiday-season blockbusters would continue with impressive sales numbers, but the record-industry regression to the mean is painful these days.
ADELE'S MEGA-MILLIONS: It'd be one thing if Adele had sold 10 million copies of one album in, say, 1999 – everybody was doing it back then, from Britney Spears to Eminem to the Backstreet Boys. But this is 2012, and gigantic pop stars like Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Rihanna struggle to sell even a few million copies of their albums. In the context of its era, Adele's 21 is as impressive as Michael Jackson's Thriller, with a series of new singles (the latest being "Skyfall") that respark album sales every time. I'm dubious about signs of record-industry strength these days, and I usually predict fast failures after first-week successes, but Adele is an exception to every negative trend.
Last week: One Direction Assume the Boy Band Throne