Sales Duel – Will Justin Bieber or One Direction Win The Race for No. 1?


Justin Bieber, Purpose © Def Jam

November 13 happens to be Friday the 13th. For those who are superstition, Friday the 13th is a nightmare – totally not a good day. For the music industry however, they aren’t the least bit concerned about Friday the 13th. If you naïve of the slate of releases, they include one British boy band sensation and one comeback pop star. That would be One Direction and Justin Bieber. As jam-packed as the release date is, also welcoming new offerings from Jeezy, Logic, Chris Young, Ty Dolla $ign, and Kirk Franklin, everybody seems to agree that the race for the top spot on the Billboard 200 is a dogfight between Justin Bieber and One Direction. The question is, who will win if this is indeed the case?

Let’s examine the chart history of both. We’ll start with Justin Bieber. He has tallied an impressive five number one albums in his young career. How big is that? Well, there are veteran artists who can’t lay claim to such a feat. His 2009 debut My World missed the mark, debuting at #6 with 137,000 copies. Despite missing the top five all together, the album would be certified platinum.

Beyond My World, Bieber’s career was truly catapulted to superstar status. My World 2.0 would debut at #1, selling 283,000 copies. My World 2.0 went on to spawn notable hits in “Baby” and “Somebody to Love.” More notably, My World 2.0 was certified multiplatinum – triple platinum to be precise.   The success would continue with holiday album Under the Mistletoe, Believe, and Believe Acoustic all landing in the penthouse. The numbers? – 210,000 copies for Mistletoe, 374,000 copies for Believe, and 211,000 copies for Believe Acoustic. Under The Mistletoe and Believe were certified platinum.

One Direction, Made in the A.M. © Sony

One Direction has released four studio albums prior to 2015’s Made In The A.M.: Up All Night (2011), Take Me Home (2012), Midnight Memories (2013), and Four (2014). All four have debuted at #1. Up All Night sold 176,000 copies, and went on to be certified double platinum. Sophomore album Take Me Home debuted much more robustly with 540,000 copies sold, also eventually being certified double platinum.

Things only improved on third effort Midnight Memories, which sold 546,000 copies, earning yet another platinum effort for the British boy band.   Finally, Four broke the “increase in sales” trend, tallying the then quintet’s second-lowest opening with 387,000 copies, and of course another platinum plaque. The big takeaway from the British boy band – they know how to sell albums.

So, if you compare the sales for both, the answer would seem obvious who should win the battle – One Direction. One Direction has accomplished something that Bieber hasn’t – two albums that have sold more than a half-million copies. Bieber’s high watermark came for Believe with its impressive 374,000 copies, but that doesn’t best 546,000 copies (Midnight Memories). Even if the significantly lower sales of Four are considered, it still trumps Bieber’s best week. Pit debut album sales against each other and who comes out on top? One Direction. If this is the rationale, then One Direction wins every time.

As aforementioned, note that “if” was used. While One Direction sells albums better than Bieber, there are some pros that bode well for him this round. One is that his singles are more potent than 1D’s. “What Do You Mean?” debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 – a feat that hasn’t happened for 1D – while “Sorry” debuted at #2, thanks to Adele’s “Hello” taking top honors. Go back even farther, and Bieber’s single within Diplo and Skrillex, “Where Are Ü Now” was kind of a big deal as well, hitting #8. In a singles dominated market, not to mention the new Billboard 200 calculation formula (tracks, sales, and streams), Bieber might have the right combination to stop the streak for 1D. It also might help that Bieber’s ‘anticipated’ due to a three-year hiatus.

One Direction aren’t slouches in the singles department, but currently don’t have any singles in the top 10 of he Billboard Hot 100. While “Drag Me Down” landed at #3, in its 13th week (at the time of publication), it sits at #24. Another single, “Perfect,” also hit the top 10, but in its second week, slips from #10 to #29, again at publication time. Singles don’t appear to be the calling card, so advantage Bieber if that facet comes into play.

Ultimately, you can crunch numbers until you’re blue in the face, but only time will tell. If I had to pick, I’d pick One Direction by a smidgen. Why? While Justin Bieber’s comeback is fascinating, is it any more fascinating than how One Direction will sound as a foursome. Also with Bieber, a question is how much irreparable damage he’s done to his persona during his “Wild’n Cuz I’m Young” phase. Furthermore, whether 1D fans want to hear this or not, what if this is potentially the final One Direction album considering the forthcoming break? Yes, the drop from 546K to 387K is a potential red flag, but it seems like JB would need the biggest selling album of his career to halt 1D.

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