2009 in pop music: It's Hannah Montana, Taylor Swift and Michael Jackson
With an additional 114,000 copies sold this week, Michael Jackson's hits collection "Number Ones" has become 2009's second-best selling album, according to Nielsen SoundScan data released to Billboard. Largely over the last month, "Number Ones" has sold 1.37 million copies. The only artist that stands in Jackson's way, as of this week, is country superstar Taylor Swift, whose 2008 effort "Fearless" has shifted an additional 1.5 million copies in 2009.
With an industry onslaught of Jackson merch and product on the horizon, including everything from a film to virtual tattoos, the prognosis is strong for him to overtake Swift and end up with the year's bestselling album.
In the days after Jackson's death, digital sales of his albums outweighed physical sales. Of the 422,000 albums Jackson sold in the shortened sales week, 241,000 came from the digital sector. Since then, physical has taken the lead, largely, Billboard tells us, due to major labels catching up to consumer demand, and getting CDs back in the marketplace.
No surprises here. In the wake of the pop icon's death, his sales would expectantly skyrocket, and if there's one thing major labels still excel at, it's flooding the market faster than one can say "more Beatles reissues" with albums from artists who haven't recorded a noteworthy track in more than 20 years.
But it certainly doesn't mean the physical CD is still a force to be reckoned with.
Of the albums actually released in 2009, the only ones selling close to Jackson's numbers are the soundtrack to "Hannah Montana: The Movie" and Eminem's "Relapse." "Hannah" has sold 1.33 million copies, and "Relapse" stands at 1.31 million. One is a multi-tiered promotional tie-in to a Disney Channel phenomenon, and the other is the return of a veteran artist who knows how to score media headlines.
More interesting than how Jackson has dominated sales for the last five weeks is the fact that most of 2009's big releases -- at least the ones tipped as blockbuster albums -- are puttering along. There's U2's "No Line on the Horizon," which was entering August with fewer than 1 million units sold in five months.
There's Bruce Springsteen's "Working on a Dream," which has fallen out of Billboard's top 200 albums. There's Kelly Clarkson's "All I Ever Wanted," which is crawling toward 700,000 copies sold. On the bright side, Green Day's "21st Century Breakdown" and Black Eyed Peas' "The E.N.D." are holding up, having passed the 700,000 mark in less than three months.
Still, that's not exactly reason to be hopeful for the coming holiday season. Big albums from Jay-Z, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Madonna and supposedly Lil Wayne are on the horizon, but there appears to be more desperation in the air than excitement.
Jay-Z is fighting for relevancy by mocking the Auto-Tune trend and Carey's "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel" has been turned into a mini-billboard of high-end advertisements. Next week, Surgarland may top the chart with "Live on the Inside." It'd be a nice score for the rising country duo, but it's a retail exclusive at WalMart -- a combo CD/DVD selling for a low price of $12 -- and another slap-in-the-face to the remaining mom-and-pop record stores.
Meanwhile, Warner Music Group today posted a wide third-quarter loss of $37 million, with CD sales dropping 8.3% from a year ago. Overall, sales are down close to 20% from the same period a year ago, according to Billboard. Jackson's post-death CD sales are impressive, sure, from a purely business perspective, but they're not going to reverse a trend, or give the CD a longer leash on life.
Photos, from left: Taylor Swift / Getty Images; Michael Jackson / Associated Press; "Hannah Montana: The Move" / Disney