On the Charts: 'Empire' (Barely) Reigns Over Madonna - Rolling Stone
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On the Charts: ‘Empire’ (Barely) Reigns Over Madonna

While ‘Rebel Heart’ sells more traditional albums, the Billboard 200’s new measurement system boosts ‘Empire’ to Number One

Madonna and Terrence HowardMadonna and Terrence Howard

Kevin Mazur/Getty; Catrina Maxwell/Getty

It was a tale of two tallies this week on the Billboard 200 as, depending on your vantage point, both the Empire soundtrack and Madonna‘s Rebel Heart could stake a claim for the top spot. Officially, the compilation of songs from Fox’s hip-hop soap opera will be recognized as this week’s Number One as it racked up 130,000 total album sales, a number that compiles streams and a la carte purchases, Billboard reports.

However, by using a different metric of measurement, it could be argued that Madonna’s 13th album was actually more successful, but the ever-changing music industry landscape has forced the Billboard 200 to change the way they calculate sales to reflect “multi-metric consumption.” Rebel Heart sold 121,000 total units, of which 116,000 were traditional album purchases. By comparison, Empire only sold 110,000 traditional albums, but its TEA (track equivalent albums) and SEA (stream equivalent albums) totals pushed the soundtrack to Number One.

Regardless of where you stand on Billboard’s methodology, Empire exceeded expectations while Madonna underwhelmed. TV’s surprise smash surpassed industry forecasts both on the Billboard 200 and Nielsen’s television ratings – it’s now the third most-watched show behind stalwarts NCIS and The Big Bang Theory – as a collection of tracks by Jennifer Hudson, Courtney Love and Mary J. Blige managed to defeat the Material Girl. (Ironically, Empire star Terrence Howard is set to star in the upcoming music video for Madonna’s “Ghosttown.”)

For Madonna, Rebel Heart marks the singer’s 13th consecutive Top 10 studio album. However, Madonna’s latest effort is also her first album to not hit Number One in its Billboard 200 debut since 1998’s Ray of Light. In that scenario, Madonna set a then-record for the best-selling first week ever by a female artist with 371,000 copies, but Ray of Light – which debuted at Number Two – could not sink the behemoth known as the Titanic soundtrack.

Other than the battle for the top spot, the Top 10 featured only one other debut: Country star Luke Bryan’s Spring Break… Checkin’ Out, which sold 106,000 copies on its way to Number Three. The rest of the Top 10 was packed with a bunch of 2015 staples: Taylor Swift’s 1989 at Five, Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour at Six, Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late at Seven, Ed Sheeran’s X at Eight, etc. Last week’s Number One, Kelly Clarkson’s Piece By Piece, dropped from the top spot to Number 12.

Next week, we’ll see what impact the sorta-surprise, sorta-disastrous release of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp as Butterfly has on the Billboard 200.


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