100 & Single: Late Bloomer Nicki Minaj Scores Summer Smash Off Aging Album
Imagine if People named an actor "Sexiest [Gender] Alive" months before he or she had released a hit movie or TV show. It's not unthinkable, certainlythink back to the '90s and the Julia Ormonds and Skeet Ulrichs who scored Next Big Thing magazine covers before face-planting in a flop moviebut it's damned unlikely. Usually chart-topping, newsstand-blanketing fame comes after the public has gone gaga for the emerging star's wares.
In music, it's a lot easier to be a best-seller without blanketing the airwaves. Generations of quirky rock acts, from Jethro Tull in the '70s to the Arcade Fire in 2010, have topped the Billboard album chart without even scraping the Hot 100. But pop, R&B and hip-hop acts generally live and die by the single; hit songs lead to hit albums, full stop.
Nicki Minaj spans all of these genres; she's a new queen of hip-hop who sings like an R&B diva and aspires to pop domination. If anyone should need a big radio hit to become a best-selling star, it's her. So it's a total head-scratcher that only this week, Minaj scores her first Top 10 pop hita year after she dropped her first major-label single, and more than four months after Pink Friday topped the album chart.
In its seventh week on the Hot 100, the über-catchy, built-for-summer "Super Bass" creeps up one notch to No. 10. The song's rise is fueled by an 8% leap in digital sales to 143,000it's the sixth-best-selling song in the countryand a massive leap in radio airplay. "Super Bass" is now the 14th most-played song in the U.S., up from 31st just one week ago.
It's hard to overstate how odd Minaj's chart pattern is. She was already a late bloomer as 2011 began. It took Pink Friday 11 weeks before it topped the album chart in mid-Februarythis in an era where some 90% of albums debut at No. 1 or never get there at all. When the album dropped in November 2010, Minaj arrived at No. 2, kept out of the top slot by Kanye West's No. 1-debuting My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Finally reaching the penthouse long after Christmas (and ultimately outselling her friend and collaborator West) was sweet, and rare, vindication.
Her new Top 10 hitthe sixth song from Pink Friday to chart as a singleamps up the oddness even further. In all of chart history, there are precious few instances where an act topped the album chart, then went Top 10 on the singles chart more than a quarter-year later.
Usually the pattern goes in the opposite direction: a previously unknown act gets a slow-blooming single or two onto radio playlists, and then their long-dormant album finally begins moving tonnage. Just this year, we've seen it happen to a two-year-old album by Mumford and Sons that's belatedly but rapidly nearing double-platinum. But if an album gets to No. 1 without the benefit of a hit singlerockers and certain major rap acts do it all the timeit doesn't generally produce a tardy first-ever radio smash.
This phenomenon is rare enough that it's fun to run down the list of albums that have done ittopped the Billboard 200 album chart, then spun off an initial Top 10 hit more than three months later.