Beyoncé has earned her fourth solo No. 1 album as her latest disc, “4,” bows at the top spot on this week's Billboard charts.
Despite the album’s leak nearly three weeks ahead of its scheduled release and plenty of doubt from critics as to how it would perform, "4" logged 310,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Though the entry is Beyoncé's lowest opening week tally since her debut, 2003's "Dangerously in Love," opened with 317,000, the disc comes in third as the largest sales week of the year, right after Lady Gaga's “Born This Way,” whose 1.1 million units came largely from being peddled for 99 cents through Amazon, and Adele's "21" (351,000).
It also cements her as only the third artist to have all four of their first four albums debut at No. 1 (Britney Spears and DMX are the other two).
How "4" would perform was being closely watched, considering lead single "Run the World (Girls)" peaked only at No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 -- the first time a lead single from one of her projects has missed the top 10 altogether. Its follow-up, “Best Thing I Never Had,” peaked at No. 58.
Beyoncé's label, Columbia Records, went so far as to release a statement dismissing the rumors that "4" would be shelved due to the lack of radio-ready records. Early reviews of the disc were mixed; The Times' pop music critic, Randall Roberts, wrote that the disc "pushes at the edges of pop."
"All the speculation that gets around is frustrating when it's just not true," Columbia/Epic Label Group Chairman Rob Stringer told Billboard.com last week. "The story about us being unhappy with the record and stuff is just not true. There's never been any doubt or conversations about moving the record or changing it... Those conversations never existed. We're really, really happy with it."
Adele has of course stuck around the top 10. The singer’s breakout disc, "21," moved 92,000 additional copies, taking her to No. 2, while Kanye West’s protégé, Big Sean, debuted at No. 3 with his first album, "Finally Famous," selling 87,000 copies. The disc is the first release under West’s new “long-term worldwide label agreement” for his label G.O.O.D. Music through Def Jam.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Beyoncé performs on ABC's "Good Morning America" in New York on July 1. Credit: Charles Sykes/Associated Press