Do hit singles sell records? Conflicting messages from a recently released rapper on fire and a British soul singer on a roll

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

Adele scores her second No. 1 this week as the heartfelt “Someone Like You” bounds 19-1, but her triumph has been nearly drowned out by news that Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV sold an impressive 964,000 copies in its opening week. The record industry has been used to bad news and declining record sales for a decade now, but this week represents a major bright spot.

Weezy’s sales figures are astonishing. Sure, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way might have outsold Tha Carter IV when it topped a million in its first week earlier this year, but Lil Wayne didn’t have the benefit of Amazon hawking digital copies of his album for 99 cents. He also didn’t have the benefit of a blockbuster hit single piquing public interest which raises some interesting questions. Just how important is a monster single to spurring album sales?

In 2008, Weezy sold over a million copies of Tha Carter III in its first week, a feat aided by his first No. 1 single, “Lollipop” feat. Static Major. This time around, Lil Wayne might have plenty of hits on his hands, just not one as big.

In this week’s Hot 100, Lil Wayne is listed 11 times. That puts him him behind only the Beatles and tied with Taylor Swift and American Idol winner David Cook in the record books for most songs to chart on the Hot 100 in a single week. Most of these “hits” will fall off the chart next week because they charted on a flash of digital downloads alone, but having 11 songs on the chart at once is nothing to roll your eyes at.

In terms of first week album sales, however, one big hit single would seem to be a better indicator of success than several lower charting songs. Lil Wayne’s top song this week is “How to Love,” which slips 7-14, so a hit single obviously wasn’t the reason Weezy almost sold a million records in a week again.

In many cases, consumers are eager to pay $1.29 for a single song, but unwilling to fork over $10 for an entire album. Consider the No. 1 song the week Lil Wayne sold a million copies of Tha Carter III in June 2008 – Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl.” Perry got our attention by singing about girls who kiss girls for attention and had the fourth most downloaded song of the year, but her album didn’t even make the end-of-the-year top ten, being outsold by everyone from Kid Rock to Jack Johnson. Even in 2011 with five No. 1 hits spun off of Teenage Dream, Perry has only sold more than 1,700,000 albums, a figure Lil Wayne could reach in a matter of weeks.

So Lil Wayne doesn’t need hit singles to sell albums and Katy Perry can’t sell albums even with hit singles, but what about Adele?

Adele has the biggest selling album of the year and will likely end 2011 with the crown. 21 has sold an incredible 3.3 million copies so far, and I predict it will be even more of a monster. There are many reasons the British soul singer is doing so well. Her honesty and talent is refreshing to many consumers, and she also appeals to both older and younger record buying demographics. A lot of her sales can also be attributed to “Rolling in the Deep.” Her first No. 1 hit is among the year’s top downloads, selling well over five million copies.

So if Adele can sell more than 3 million albums on the strength of her first single, what can she sell now its follow up is not only out, but fire hot and sitting atop the Hot 100?

Adele’s ascent to the Hot 100 penthouse is not too surprising. Following her goosebump-inducing performance of the song at the MTV Video Music Awards, she brought Britney Spears to tears and convinced America she was more than a one-hit wonder. “Someone Like You” made its first appearance on the Hot 100 nearly two months ago, making its way up the bottom half of the chart until last week when the first signs of the impact of her VMA performance were seen. The song leapt 34-19 before its 18 space jump this week.

Like “Rolling,” , “Someone” is in a position to settle in and rule the No. 1 spot for a nice long run. Digital sales totaled 275,000, an incredible 191 percent increase from last week, and will remain high for the next few weeks as radio airplay catches up. And it will catch up. “Someone” currently ranks as the 19th most played song on American radio stations, a huge surge from last week where it ranked 42nd. And barring Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” it doesn’t even have much competition as summer jams simmer down and record companies have yet to launch the lead singles from the holiday season’s big albums.

21 hasn’t left the top three of the Billboard album chart since March (including 12 weeks at No. 1), and with the success of “Someone,” it seems like it could stay there for quite a few more frames and end up becoming one of the biggest albums in years. But it still leaves us with one question: How did Lil Wayne sell nearly a million albums this week without a hit single? I mean, the guy blew Watch the Throne, the heavily anticipated album with not one, but two of the biggest rappers today, out of the water.

The answer could be as simple as brand name. Tha Carter series has become an important brand name to Lil Wayne and rap fans the same way The Blueprint is to Jay-Z fans. With the fourth title in the series, consumers were confident they were getting an album well worth their money.

So maybe Adele should title her next album … 21 II.

Probably not.

Here’s what’s happening on the rest of the Hot 100:

  • Adele can thank the Video Music Awards for her surge this week, but so can Lady Gaga. “You and I” made a jump into the top 10 at No. 6, becoming her 11th top ten hit – or every song she’s released so far.
  • As I wrote above, Lil Wayne has 11 songs on the Hot 100 this week. Only the Beatles are ahead of him with 14. The Beatles managed the accomplishment in April 1964 as Beatlemania was sweeping the country and record companies that had accumulated Beatles singles while they were unsuccessfully shopping around for a label realized what an unforseen treasure they had and released them, flooding the market with Beatles songs. American Idol winner David Cook and Taylor Swift each had 11 songs of their own on the chart, Cook in 2008 the week after winning the show and Swift earlier this year the week Speak Now was released. The advent of digital music has made feats like this possible, and the Beatles’ record beatable.
  • Beyonce debuts at No. 20 with “Love on Top,” the song she performed at the Video Music Awards before rubbing her belly bump. Could this be the song that finally gives 4 a top ten hit?

Here’s this week’s top ten:

  1. “Someone Like You” – Adele (first week at No. 1)
  2. “Moves Like Jagger” – Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera
  3. “Pumped Up Kicks” – Foster the People
  4. “Party Rock Anthem” – LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock
  5. “Super Bass” – Nicki Minaj
  6. “You and I” – Lady Gaga
  7. “Lighters” – Bad Meets Evil feat. Bruno Mars
  8. “You Make Me Feel…” – Cobra Starship feat. Sabi
  9. “Give Me Everything” – Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer
  10. “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” – Katy Perry
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