Paul McCartney easily took the top spot on the Billboard 200 this week when his new album Egypt Station blew past 153,000 equivalent album units — a forceful 147,000 of which were traditional album sales. Eminem’s Kamikaze, now two weeks old, slotted in at Number Two with 136,000 units.
But just under those two, and well ahead of records by Drake, Ariana Grande, Mac Miller, Post Malone, Travis Scott and Nicki Minaj, is a somewhat unexpected record called Look Up Child by 27-year-old Christian singer Lauren Daigle, selling 115,000 units, 103,000 of which are traditional album sales. Granted, the aforementioned musicians’ records are a few weeks old while Daigle’s is brand new. The might of Look Up Child‘s release rivals that of other top artists in the past, though: Arcade Fire, for instance, sold 100,000 copies in the first week of its album Everything Now last year, which took it to Number One on the Billboard 200, and Camila Cabello’s album Camila came in at 110,000 units upon debut, which also was enough to bring it to Number One that week.
Look Up Child — which sets the record for biggest Christian music album of 2018, biggest traditional sales frame for any Christian album in nine years and biggest sales week for a Christian female artist in over 20 years — owes part of its big splash to concert/album and merchandise/album bundle sales, but it also sold well in traditional retail stores, according to Nielsen figures. Daigle, whose first album went platinum after its 2015 release, tells Rolling Stone she is “overjoyed” to see the new album debuting high on the charts this week, adding that it’s been her dream to share her music with such a broad audience. “I’m inspired to see music continue to cross-pollinate through genres,” she says. “I’m incredibly grateful for how well people have connected with Look Up Child.”
The album’s success highlights something broader, however: the deep persistence of Christian music in the U.S. audience — an aspect of music consumption that has been largely skipped over by headlines proclaiming rap as the sole driver of modern music in America. While rap and R&B have indeed risen to become the leading genre of music consumption, Christian music remains a sizable minority mass. Solid numbers are hard to come by, but at its annual conference in 2015, the Gospel Music Association reported that 68 percent of Americans had listened to Christian or gospel music within the last 30 days.
Christian radio stations — which sprung up soon after Christian rock’s inception in the late Sixties and have proliferated quietly but steadily ever since — dominate the broadcast landscape, matching country music stations and news stations in size. And as Kelefa Sanneh recently noted in the New Yorker, half of the 20 most popular rock songs of 2017 were by “bands whose members have espoused the Christian faith,” even if their music was not overtly marketed as Christian. “Faith no longer seems so alien to popular music — ours is an era where plenty of artists, not just religious ones, aim to send inspirational messages,” Sanneh observes.
But the case of Look Up Child is still exceptional, accentuating the degree to which American music fans rally around Christian music, even as other leading genres of the past few decades fizzle out.