Artists Have To Find New Tricks To Score A #1 Album
Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
The age old tactic of bundling albums with concert tickets to boost chart performance is finally being taken off the table thanks to the Coronavirus, and honestly, it’s about time.
In the week ending March 26th, The Weeknd‘s ‘After Hours’ debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 with a career-best sales week of 444k units sold. Of that total, Billboard reports 275k represented traditional sales that were largely driven by a concert ticket/album sale redemption for The Weeknd‘s upcoming tour along with merchandise bundles. By purchasing a ticket to the ‘After Hours’ concert, fans were also emailed a digital copy of the album that would be counted toward the Billboard 200 chart once redeemed.
With the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling or postponing all live events indefinitely, it’s clear that The Weeknd‘s debut week would’ve looked a lot different had it been released following the cancellation of the ‘After Hours’ tour scheduled to begin in June.
Moving forward, artists who have already cancelled their shows due to COVID-19 won’t have the same advantage The Weeknd was afforded with his ticket/album bundle. The shift poses an interesting scenario that could finally even the playing field and eliminate what many stans describe as B.S. sales numbers. There’s also the possibility, however, that social distancing will result in wilder and even more roundabout strategies to secure the #1 spot on Billboard 200.
While Billboard often fails to delineate how many chart sales are attributed to ticket/album bundles as opposed to merchandise in a given week, there are a handful of chart debuts that give us strong indicators. Take the Jonas Brothers for example, whose comeback album ‘Happiness Begins’ debuted at #1 with 414k (357k sales) thanks to a concert ticket/album sale redemption offer. The group’s effort to bolster their chart position through concert tickets was put into better focus the second week when ‘Begins’ dropped 87 percent in sales to #4 (52k units), proving that most of its chart points came from concert-goers and not streaming.
Madonna‘s ‘Madame X’ is another notorious example of the concert bundle strategy. After debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 with 95k units, the project experienced the fourth-biggest fall of all time in its second week to #77 with a 97 percent decrease in sales. If an album experiences a steep drop from #1 in its second week, there’s a good chance there was some sort of bundle work at play. The record for the biggest fall is held by Bon Jovi‘s ‘This House Is Not For Sale,’ a 15-month-old project at the time that surged to #1 thanks to another ticket/albums sale redemption offer before dropping to #169.
Madonna’s ‘Madame X’ show at the Met in Philly (photo credit: Stufish)
Big chart debuts like the ones above don’t fool stans, though, who have long drawn issue with Billboard’s policy allowing for such manipulated figures. Stan Twitter’s outrage on the issue reached a fever peak when Travis Scott‘s ‘Astroworld’ beat out Nicki Minaj‘s ‘Queen’ in it second week thanks to – you guessed it – merchandise and concert ticket bundles. Minaj later addressed her #2 debut on ‘Queen Radio’ where she criticized Scott for selling clothes/concert tickets and passing them off as album sales:
“On Thursday, when he realized the queen was about to have the no. 1 album in America, he and his label decided to have Kylie and baby Stormi put up a tour pass. He had her go and post and say, ‘Hey, me and Stormi can’t wait to see y’all.’ How are you selling something that doesn’t have anything to do with your album, but it’s being counted on Billboard as album sales? What we’re not going to do is have this auto tune man coming up here selling fucking sweaters and telling y’all he sold a half a million fucking albums, because he didn’t.”
— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) August 19, 2018
Billboard grabbed headlines again last summer when they disqualified a portion of sales for DJ Khaled‘s ‘Father of Asahd’ that were bundled with energy drinks on the e-commerce site, Shop.com, for $23. Khaled later announced plans to sue Billboard for disqualifying an alleged 100,000 units and costing him to lose out on the no. 1 spot to Tyler, The Creator‘s, ‘IGOR.’
DJ Khaled is planning to sue Billboard after they disqualified sales bundled with his energy drink.
His new album, ‘Father of Asahd’ recently debuted at #2 with 136k equivalent units, falling short of Tyler, the Creator’s ‘IGOR,’ which debuted at #1 with 165k equivalent units. pic.twitter.com/VQX6mmVcGd
— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) June 10, 2019
Public squabbles like these over chart points has only added to the stigma around bundling. Last year November, Billboard announced they were working to combat sales baked into merchandise and concert tickets with new rules. Under the updated policy, an album sale will only be counted as part of a bundle if all the items in the bundle are available for purchase “concurrently and individually” on the same website. Pricing for individual items must be lower than the bundle that includes both merchandise and an album, the policy reads, while third-party sites are prohibited from selling bundles.
According to the New York Times, 39 albums that reached #1 on the Billboard 200 in 2018 were sold as part of a ticket or merchandise bundle. Because the market is so saturated with schemes like these, debuting at #1 without the aid of a bundle is now considered a badge of honor among stans who consider the tactic desperate and sneaky. Most recently, stans celebrated BTS when ‘Map of the Soul: 7’ earned the biggest debut of 2020 with 422,000 album units (347,000 unit sales ) that didn’t rely on bundles. Notably, however, the group released four collectible CD packages for the album.
BTS are the first artist in 2019 to sell 300,000 pure copies in the US. In a fcking DIGITAL ERA. With NO tour/merch bundles. See what happens when you do TALENTRY.. @BTS_twt pic.twitter.com/SbZjNR9MpN
— ➶ ⁷ (@bhxcyphers) May 24, 2019
With live events shut down indefinitely due to COVID-19, it looks like artists will have to find new and creative ways to sell albums under the bundle method if they want to secure big debuts. Right now, The Weeknd‘s merch store on his official site includes album bundles with playing cards ($15), a 3D sculpted keychain ($14), a gold ashtray ($25), a hotel gift shop matchbox ($7) and various items of clothing ranging from $34 to $82, among other things.
It’s difficult to tell how big of an impact items like hoodies, t-shirts and keychains will have in securing a #1 debut, especially since a big incentive behind these purchases is to wear the gear to concerts. Will fans still be willing to buy an $82 hoodie that they’ll wear inside their house when millions of Americans are filing for unemployment? Is anyone going to buy a $23 energy drink bundled with a DJ Khaled album they could stream for free online?
It’ll be interesting to see how the elimination of a concert ticket/album bundle affects chart sales moving forward. In the best case scenario, it looks like we’ve finally gotten rid of a faulty practice that should’ve been fixed a long time ago. On the other hand, it’s likely we’ll see artists pulling some silly stunts to continue scoring big debuts.
Do you think it’s fair to bundle concert tickets with album copies? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter at @PopCrave!