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

Categories: Adam Lambert

adamlambert_trespassingcloseup.jpg
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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29 comments
Viv
Viv

And yet Amos is one of the most talented, soulfull and amazing singer of our time!

Guest
Guest

Good example of numerical illiteracy.  It's sad that a blogger for The Village Voice doesn't have better analytical skills.  In fact, they're downright sloppy -- and a disservice to readers of the blog.  Good for Lambert that he can brag about finishing first, but it's really not much of an achievement.  The bottom line:  Lambert barely sold more albums than the artist in second place -- whose album has been on the chart for more than a year!

Chrysalis
Chrysalis

If we are talking about ONLY gay artists, the Stipe should be out of the running. He has always maintained that he is bisexual. Why was this overlooked? As usual, bisexual erasure come into play. When it suits whatever interests are at play, bisexual men are often labeled as gay, even when they insist otherwise. And no, I don't mind if no one applies the bisexual label to Armstrong, because he just isn't. I grew up with Green Day and no one I knew ever considered him bisexual, gay or anything even close to it. He is queer-friendly, like Lady GaGa. I do appreciate the efforts of people like Armstrong & GaGa, but I think their ilk should not be in this discussion. There's a huge difference in Lambert & someone like GaGa. Lambert is GAY. GaGa just plays one on tv. Kinda like calling Bill Clinton our first "black president." Hmmm, should he take that distinction away from Obama? I don't think so. I see someone like GaGa in the same light. She is incredibly popular with the gay or queer community. She does a lot of good work for our community. But she isn't gay, or even bisexual in my opinion, & shouldn't be considered for a groundbreaking achievement. People will always want to downgrade Lambert's success. But years from I think there will no question about it: He will be known far & wide for being the FIRST OUT gay mainstream artist. Haters can hate, while the rest of us celebrate what a seriously overdue & wonderful achievement this is. Lambert has shown over & over again why we should be so proud of him. I can't even imagine having to navigate all the landmines he has had to, all the while having no mainstream role models to follow. 

Anita L
Anita L

It's worth pointing out that Trespassing hit #1 without (as far as I know) resorting to pumping sales numbers with 99 cent sales like a lot of other presumably "popular" artists have done in recent history.  If he had, I'm sure his numbers would have been a lot higher.

Plus, I believe he led in US downloads for the week, and was #1 on Canada's Billboard equivalent as well as in some other countries.  There's no doubt about it, this album is the best pop album out there this year, and it will have legs.  Best thing I've heard since FYE, and I thought that was a fantastic album!

Spadeurass
Spadeurass

I think this superb album has only just begun its journey. To do so at #1, however it happened, is a sign of things to come for a talented man that so many people, across all cultures and lifestyles, adore.

Ali Goria
Ali Goria

Thank you for your ongoing analysis. Gaga was a famous chart busting artist years before she hit her first No 1 with Born This Way. She "declared" her bisexual - I won't even say status but experimentation  AFTER she was famous with The Fame in Rolling Stone saying she had a purely physical attraction to women. Technically the song Poker Face was about fantasizing about women while being with a man, anyway. The most high profile time she talked about it was on Barbara Walters in fact lol. WHEREIN she stated "I have never been in love with a woman and will marry a man". There is no evidence whatsoever that she has been even on a date in public with a woman and has been with a man for years and years. Someone took a photo of her on a boat on a lounge chair next to a woman on another lounge chair once and all of a sudden OMG PROOF PROOF! haha.  Gaga attended an elite prep school in NYC and I can guarantee yo there's plenty of experimentation going on there lol.

So if experimenting with women or recreational sex with women makes someone bisexual, then the numbers of LGBT folks in America is vastly under reported.  

Neither one IMO makes a person truly bi, but of course as you point out, mileage varies. Gaga attended an elite prep school in NYC and I can guarantee yo there's plenty of experimentation going on there lol. And is anybody going to make the argument that a woman occasionally being with another woman is an actual HANDICAP in the male dominated radio business? LOL that's hysterical. 

Orihara Kaoru
Orihara Kaoru

I agree with everything you said. :) As a lesbian, I am so so so proud of Adam's accomplishments. But, also, putting aside that and just speaking as an Adam fan, Trespassing is an amazingly good album by any measure of pop music.

Lisa Walker
Lisa Walker

thanks for the follow up, continues to be a good discussion.

The bottom line is people will always try to discredit Adam and what he has done but certain facts are undeniable:

He has made a very good album which is a critical and commercial success.  This is what was in his control and he acheived what he set out to accomplish.

For this he should be proud and as a fan I am very happy for him.

To be honest the #1 reflects factors outside his control, and the first "out" artist to do so is also out of his control, that is a reflection of where we were as a society and how far we have come. 

But certainly the fact that Adam has always faced challenges others dont makes this a sweeter accompishment for him, he has really persevered and I think he deserves the congratulations he is getting.

I am happy for Adam as the #1 does not get qualified, its #1. 

The message is that we have now seen proud openly gay people not just survive in this industry but thrive.  This is a wonderful message for gay youth but also for ALL people, especially young people forming their own opinions now, the message is that hey a persons sexual orientation doesnt matter, its who you are as a person and what you talents are that will be judged, on equal footing with all others.

Terry
Terry

If you ask anyone around here which artist or artists currently in the charts is gay the only person they think of is Adam Lambert. They might make jokes about Gaga being a male or comment that she likes to suggest she's bisexual but no-one actually thinks of her as gay. As for Greenday - I've had people flatly deny that anyone in that band could possibly be anything but straight. We're talking about someone who is fully embracing their gay lifestyle and image. Publicly appearing with a boyfriend, talking about gay issues and making his art openly gay.  Not just someone who is using mystery about their sexuality to titillate and intrigue or who is married but likes to dabble. They are completely different things. One of the main differences is the STRUGGLE Adam has had to face due to bias and hate from both the mainstream and gay communities. Why do people feel so committed to diminishing Adam's achievements? Are they afraid of something?

Mary Selva
Mary Selva

I'm pretty sure neither Adam nor his fans were actually expecting #1.  If his debut had been a prior week, or the following week, he would have probably landed in a respectable place in the top ten.  Just by chance he landed at #1, so can we just stop harping about the number and be happy for him?  And, as many have suggested, look at others that have debuted at #2 in the Adele era? He's 3 years off Idol, a relative newbie.  He has created a marvelously crafted album, a great listen, and he executive produced it, putting everything on the line.  His voice, charisma and showmanship are a force of nature. He is very appreciated internationally, selling as well or better than in the US, and will have the honor of singing with Queen.  I believe eventually his numbers in the US will catch up with his talent.

PatAfan
PatAfan

Everything Adam does or is involved with becomes a discussion point on blogs.  The naysayers, especially on Idol blogs try to diminish his accomplishments with all sorts of idiocy, but you know what, Adam has struggled, excelled, been sartorially criticized, been shoved aside by the autotune-addicted radio program directors, the whole gamut.  Bottom line, he has a #1 album, it is getting both fan and critical acclaim, his "community" is finally stepping up to the plate, he has a gorgeous, funny, independent boyfriend, and Adam seems happier than I have ever seen him.  He has been working toward this goal since he was 10 years old and, by God, we're all going to celebrate with him, no strings attached.  (The whole syndrome makes me think of the Olympics where even though you are among the world's elite, if you don't win a medal, some will think of you as a loser. How crazy is that?)

lovetheusa1776
lovetheusa1776

Very interesting article with great info - appreciate your putting this together.  Thanks.

randi
randi

I had to laugh at some of the questions you were asked, obviously the idol bubble found your article and took great offense to the idea that Lambert might achieve something of significance and worth. 

That's the thing about Adam, he's being hit from both sides.  On the one side there are the people who dislike and discredit him because he's gay and then on the other side are the people dislike and discredit him because he does better than their particular idol favorite. 

There are no caveats to having the #1 album in the country, no matter what the sales are.  if you sold the most you sold the most, even if it's one more...it's still MORE. 

thanks for an informative and well written piece Chris. 

Susan Bambro
Susan Bambro

Yes, I am so glad the conversation has been started and SO proud of Adam for making it to #1 on release week. Nobody can ever take that away! Thank you for the follow-up article and your coverage of Adam:-)

jadziadragonrider
jadziadragonrider

Loved this follow up. I'm a bisexual woman myself and Gaga declaring that she'd sleep w a woman is hardly a ~blow to the patriarchal power structure and as someone I know noted, if we're gonna count her then Madonna's ~mysterious sexuality is yet another thing that she did 20 years before Gaga ever did it anyway. As far as unambiguous homosexuals are  concerned, Adam is the first solo act to reach #1. Is that enough of a qualification for folk??? Dang.

buffynut2001
buffynut2001

Loved both your articles about this, Chris. Well researched and thought out. As not only a Glambert but also an Idol "nut!" let me add some numbers to those comparisons. Both Carrie's(2007) and Kelly's(2004) 2nd albums came out before the current slump (or as I like to call it "stealing music" phenomenon.) Let's look at Daughtry's numbers first. His first album sold over 5 million, his 2nd album is just over 1 million, and his 3rd album released for 2011 Black Friday week ( the best week to release albums) sold 128,000 first week. That alone should show the music trend. Kelly's album released end of Oct. 2011 sold 163,000 and even with her tremendous singles, has yet to reach platinum. Then there is David Cook, the season 7 winner whose 2nd album came out June 2011 and sold 46,000 its first week.As a full fledged Glambert, I can say I am both thrilled and so proud of this achievement of Adam Lambert. He's the right guy at the right time to do this! And to make it even more rewarding, it is for a really great album! It's my favorite Pop album since Gaga's The Fame and PINK's Funhouse! The one we've been waiting for!

Melissa Pauls
Melissa Pauls

Fantastic follow up article, really comprehensive answers to a lot of the questions this fascinating conversation raised. I can't thank you enough for the eye opening articles. Sure there may be some caveats, but when I think about young gay kids reading the headlines or simply seeing Adam's picture right there at the top of the chart on Billboard's site, someone just like them achieving his dream, it's a pretty powerful milestone.

I am really curious about one thing chart-wise. Is it possible that the incredibly impressive selling power of Adele for the last year suppressed some debuts that would have otherwise been #1 at around the same level as Adam? I love her, and her album was my life's soundtrack for months, but she has dominated the Billboard 200 chart for what seems like forever, a beautiful thing but also a bit of an anomaly. I wonder what some of the sales totals for those that debuted their first week on the charts at #2 to her in the last year were?

melody kramer
melody kramer

Great article... I'm not sure why some people are a bit OT about wanting proof of Adam's achievement, but hey you gave it to them.

I just want to say that IMHO Trespassing is the best pop album I have heard in a decade and Adam is one of the best male pop singers ever.

To the doubters..Just wait, you ain't see nothing yet .. This album is going  to be a hit around the world.

To add, Queen and Adam for 6 shows in Europe...Come on people Adam Lambert is a superstar.. get used to it.

margery
margery

In the Adele era, you may want to look at the #2's that were debuts for a comparison, too.

Cathy M
Cathy M

With the change in consumer tastes for just downloading singles , even since Adams original album in 2009 , many people DO NOT download or purchase full Albums.

satosp
satosp

In the past few months Tim McGraw, Jason Mraz and Norah Jones have all debuted at #2 behind Adele.  And Adele has sold more than Bieber and Gaga.   Are you saying all of them haven't acheived much?

mxaxrxyx
mxaxrxyx

And you've managed to miss the point entirely, haven't you?

rod
rod

I AGREE - TRESPASSING IS SPECIAL.  I REALLY LIKE NEVER CLOSE YOUR EYES. NAKED LOVE, AND OUTLAWS OF LOVE.

Jason
Jason

I am a fan and i definitely expected Trespassing to be #1 and IT IS. Please don't try to diminish this accomplishment. #1 is #1 period. Congratulations to Adam for making an amazing beautiful album.

satosp
satosp

Exhibiting your "hit from both sides" description, I have a conservative Christian friend who knows Adam has an incredible voice (from watching Idol) but won't buy a cd because he is gay.  And I have a very liberal friend who dismisses Adam because he was on Idol.  The guy can't win.  Hopefully with a Billboard #1 and great critical reviews Adam can get some radio play and he will win fans from people like my liberal friend.    

Rabbit
Rabbit

I have the same question as what the music landscape would look like without the 21 juggernaut.  If it was out of the equation, what would have been the top selling albums each week? I suspect, but don't know, that they would have skewed lower in line with lower overall industry sales.

magsmagenta
magsmagenta

The reason for that is the determination by some writers including Billboard themselves to devalue Adams achievement by pointing out the low sales figures as if that will prove that he hasn't really achieved anything special. I'm sure I haven't seen any other artist have to put up with that when people should be congratulating them.As you say Adam is a Superstar whether the music establishment likes it or not.Maybe if they promoted people with actual talent the way they promote all the talentless auto tune lip syncers they may be able to sell more records overall.

Jason2
Jason2

There is no need for ANY comparisons. A number 1 is a number 1 PERIOD. Bravo Adam!

Wendy Jackson
Wendy Jackson

if RCA is his label hasn't anyone figured how big that is. The people lining up to work on this album is incredible. Why do we as Americans have to HIGHLIGHT the fact that Adam is gay ALL THE TIME - what the heck is wrong with us. I grew up with David Bowie. Come on anyone in that era did not care what he did in the bedroom. My niece is a lesbian. That's not the first thing I tell people when I talk about her. I say what a terrific person she is. Stop the hate and stop everyone having to know everything including shoe size about an artist.

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