100 & Single: Answering Questions On Adam Lambert's Historic Chart-Topping Album

Categories: Adam Lambert

I've never been happier to be wrong about something. Two weeks ago, the last line of my column read: "Probably won't happen. But wouldn't it be fun if it did?"

The event I didn't think could happen was Adam Lambert scoring a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 album chart with his second disc, Trespassing. But I sure was wrong, and it sure is fun: By reaching the penthouse, Adam becomes the first out gay artist to have the best-selling album in America. Trespassing did this by selling roughly 77,000 albums last week.

What my early-May column revealed was that every prior well-known gay musician to top the big chart—Elton John, Freddie Mercury, George Michael, Ricky Martin and Clay Aiken, among others—only came out of the closet later. Since I chronicled this odd statistic, I've been (happily) inundated with comments, challenges, debates, rejoinders, retweets and attaboys. And questions—lots of questions.

Since this has been my most-read and most-commented chart column by far, I thought I might address a few of these questions, as best as I can. Some of the most heated questions I received regard issues better addressed by cultural critics like Camille Paglia or Wayne Koestenbaum, not some lowly chart columnist; but I'll do my best to wade into them.

Let me start with the question that is of most interest to my regular readers, who are more chart obsessives than gay-rights activists.

Q. Isn't 77,000-plus in sales for Lambert's Trespassing a pitiful total for a No. 1 album?

It's the lowest total for a No. 1 album in 2012, but far from the lowest in history. As Billboard points out, "Trespassing's 77,000 start is the smallest sum at No. 1 on the chart since the tally dated Aug. 20, 2011, when Adele's 21 sold 76,000 in its 12th nonconsecutive week atop the list."

Here's the good news for Lambert: 77,000 is nearly twice as large as the current record-holder for the lowest sum ever to top the Billboard 200. In early February 2011, folk-soul singer/songwriter Amos Lee's Mission Bell rang the... um, bell with 40,000 in sales.

Here's some even better news: Lambert's sales total doesn't even make the bottom 10 weeks for a No. 1 album in Billboard 200 history; depending on how you round off Soundscan data, it barely even makes the bottom 20. As we all know, the last half-decade on the charts has been particularly anemic for the recording industry, and we've seen some depressing sales lows in the penthouse.

Based on publicly available sources, I have compiled a list of 20 weeks in the last half-decade when the album that topped the Billboard 200 sold less (or roughly the same as) Trespassing. Here they are, ranked in order by their sales total (Billboard chart date in parentheses):

• Amos Lee, Mission Bell (12 February 2011), 40,000
• Cake, Showroom of Compassion (29 January 2011), 44,000
• Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday (9 February 2011), 45,000
• Taylor Swift, Speak Now (22 January 2011), 52,000
Dreamgirls Motion Picture Soundtrack (27 January 2007), 60,000
• Justin Bieber, My World 2.0 (29 May 2010), 60,000
• Alicia Keys, As I Am (2 February 2008), 61,000
• Alicia Keys, As I Am (16 February 2008), 61,000
• Taylor Swift, Fearless (7 March 2009), 62,000
Glee: The Music, Volume 3—Showstoppers TV Soundtrack (12 June 2010), 63,000
• Taylor Swift, Fearless (31 January 2009), 63,000
• Taylor Swift, Fearless (7 February 2009), 63,000
Daughtry (3 February 2007), 65,000
Juno Motion Picture Soundtrack (9 February 2008), 65,000
Dreamgirls Motion Picture Soundtrack (20 January 2007), 66,000
• Alicia Keys, As I Am (26 January 2008), 70,000
• Taylor Swift, Fearless (24 January 2009), 72,000
• Adele, 21 (20 August 2011), 76,000
• Bruce Springsteen, Magic (3 November 2007), 77,000
• Adele, 21 (6 August 2011), 77,000

Winter, man. What a lousy time for album sales! Of the 20 sales weeks above, 14, including the entire top (er... bottom) five, took place in January and February—between the holiday season and the Grammys, the record industry's two big sales-juicing annual events.

This explains the poor weekly sales rang by otherwise strong-selling albums by Alicia Keys and Taylor Swift, each of whom had debuted during the prior holiday season with fat sales totals (more than 500,000 each for As I Am, Fearless and Speak Now) and later, after Christmas, were among the few albums still selling at all during the snowy doldrums.

It is fair to say that Trespassing's total is particularly weak for the springtime, when sales are usually stronger. Then again, the total rang two years ago at this time by Justin Bieber's second album, 60,000, was considerably worse than Lambert's 77,000.

Lambert naysayers can also point to one other statistic in the above data. The two lowest-selling albums, by Amos Lee and Cake, were debuts, but the other dozen-plus albums shown above were all reaching or clinging to No. 1 many weeks after their debuts. That makes Trespassing's 77,000 the third-lowest total for a No. 1 debut.

Nonetheless, Lambert's total is still twice as large as Lee's and Cake's debuts, and it beats crappy sales weeks by such superstars as Adele and Bruce Springsteen. I doubt Lambert and his fans are depressed by the middling sales for Trespassing. A win is a win.

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