The Weeknd accomplished something that no other R&B album has accomplished in 2015 – it sold six-figures. Not only did The Weeknd sale six-figures, he sold a robust six-figures at that. Last time yours truly checked, moving 412,000 units in 2015 is shocking – almost ‘the second coming.’ Of course with “units” representing a mix of sales, streams, and tracks, what is the real number that The Weeknd sold? 326,000 copies! That number is still mouth agape impressiveness at it’s most impressive, particularly considering the characterizing genre is R&B. Is this a blueprint for future R&B success or what?
Prior to the release of Beauty Behind The Madness, the best debuting R&B album in 2015 was Tyrese’s Black Rose, which moved 81,000 units. Black Rose marked the first R&B album of 2015 to debut atop the Billboard 200. Jill Scott would follow Tyrese’s triumph with her second career #1 album Woman, though the numbers were substantially less than Tyrese’s and her own former chart topper, The Light of the Sun. Woman moved just 62,000 units and slightly less in pure sales. So what does this mean you ask? It means that The Weeknd has crossed a huge hurdle for R&B in the new normal of so-so sales.
Now the naysayers will be quick to say that The Weeknd isn’t the perfect savior for R&B. I wouldn’t disagree with them (don’t throw stones at me). While Beauty Behind The Madness was indeed an enjoyable album, it wasn’t quite the ‘second coming’ as the numbers suggest. Arguably, the best material – save for a couple of songs – already graced the public from Beauty Behind The Madness before its release (“Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey),” “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills”). While it’s true the aforementioned are the crème de la crème, isn’t it brilliant promotion, something R&B is starving for?
No, The Weeknd isn’t Michael Jackson reincarnated, though he certainly has a sick set of pipes. What he is, at least in 2015, is the formula to follow to commercial success. Better albums have blessed my ears this year and in years past, but if there’s a winner in the promotional department, The Weeknd wins it hands down.
Bragging even more on the numbers themselves, Beauty Behind The Madness outperformed the previous week’s number one, Disturbed’s Immortalized in overall impact more than four times (412,000 versus 98,000)! In pure sales, the album trumped Immortalized more than three times (326,000 versus 93,000)! The runner-up album this week, Halsey’s Badlands moved 115,000 copies this week; The Weeknd tripled her up in both impact and sales (326,000 versus 97,000). One last stat – The Weeknd impacted more than the rest of the top10 albums combined (412,000 versus 376,000 for albums two through ten).
So how do R&B artists implement this? They must be proactive in pushing their own work. This means with label management/A&R as well, which seem to be sleeping on nearly every R&B album rolled out. If labels don’t try to truly promote and put some money behind the R&B artists on their roster, how do they possibly have a chance to sell? If I were a label and saw the numbers that The Weeknd was delivering, I’d be trying to copy the formula. These aren’t just exceptional R&B numbers – these are exceptional mainstream numbers regardless of the genre.
Another way of implementation is the material. Yes going commercial can mean selling out, but boy doesn’t “Earned It (50 Shades of Grey)” sure sound like a tried and true R&B record in its overall sound. It peaked at #3. Sure, you don’t have to amplify sex like The Weeknd, but there’s definitely something there. Maybe even tweaking the sound can land you that unexpected hit that sets up or reinvigorates one’s career – or at least one album. Hey, didn’t Robin Thicke achieve success that had eluded him with Blurred Lines in ’13?