On the Charts: Will Beyoncé's Reign Be Short-Lived?

Though '4' debuted at Number One, her social-media numbers are worryingly low

Beyoncé
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WINNER OF THE WEEK: Beyoncé – with some qualifications. Her album 4 sold 310,000 copies the old-fashioned way, topping the Billboard charts this week for the fourth time in her career. But if we were Beyoncé, we'd be concerned: Check out BigChampagne's Ultimate Chart, compiled from sales data as well as newfangled critiera such as YouTube views and Facebook likes. The pop superstar's  rankings of old-school criteria such as sales and radio play are far higher than the social-media data – and thus her first single "Run the World (Girls)" is at just Number 35 and her latest, "Best Thing I Never Had," is at Number 85. That implies Beyoncé's fan base is still based on traditional hits and mainstream popularity, rather than a broader, percolating Internet fan base. Another problem is that 310,000 is really not that much for one of the world's biggest and most recognizable megastars – her previous solo albums sold 482,000, 541,000 and 317,000 in their first weeks, respectively. That said, unlike a Taylor Swift or a Lady Gaga, Beyoncé is traditionally a slow starter. She didn't release "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" until a few months into her campaign for 2008's I Am . . . Sasha Fierce, and the single took off over time. It's entirely possible 4 will do the same thing -- but Beyoncé might need to take some aggressive, Lady Gaga-style marketing steps to make it so.
 
LOSER OF THE WEEK: American Idol. At least for now, NBC's The Voice is kicking Idol butt in terms of chart success. Hunky Javier Colon, who won the new singing competition last week, has a Number Five single on iTunes, "Stitch by Stitch," while fellow contestant Dia Frampton ("Inventing Shadows") is at Number Seven. Mentor-judge Adam Levine's band, Maroon 5, has surged into iTunes' Top 10 albums with Hands All Over, and his colleague Blake Shelton hit Number Five with his best-of set Loaded. Colon's song sold 145,000 copies, while Frampton's sold 137,000; other Voice songs and albums are all over the various charts, including BigChampagne's Ultimate Chart. While 2008 Idol winner David Cook didn't fare too poorly on iTunes, landing at Number Eight with his album This Loud Morning, and he hit Number Seven on the Billboard charts. However, he sold only 46,000 copies, compared to 280,000 with his debut three years ago. New champion Scotty McCreery's five-song, $5, Wal-Mart-only EP American Idol Season 10 Highlights hit Number 10, but with just 40,000 copies sold. The situation could change in the long run – who knows, maybe McCreery will put out a Christmas album on Thanksgiving Day and turn into the new Neil Diamond – but for now the Voice strategy of spewing online singles is more effective than the methodical Idol approach of developing artists via long-term albums.
 
MAYBE RECORD EXECS KEEP THEIR JOBS ANOTHER WEEK: Not a bad week for the overall record industry, which has been hemorrhaging profits, jobs and signed artists over the past few years due to Internet piracy and the dominance of low-cost iTunes singles. Album sales are up 14 percent compared to the same week in 2010, and digial-track sales are up 18 percent. Why the sudden sales strength? Not to beat this thesis into the ground, but The Voice has a lot to do with it – that show not only gave the world a deep bench of potentially popular new stars but also seems to have revived the old ones. Maroon 5, Blake Shelton and Christina Aguilera have recently charged up the charts more aggressively than they have in years, and Cee Lo Green could still follow. The show returns to NBC in the fall, and it'll be interesting to see if it has staying power. One suggestion: Stop allowing the judges to make lengthy speeches about what a tough decision it is to choose one contestant over another. That's some boring television.

LAST WEEK: 'The Voice' Judges Make Their Marks