So Was Lil Wayne's Rebirth a Modest Success Or a Total Commercial Failure? Maura Johnston Reads the Charts

"Billboard's 'Tastemakers' chart is the one we should all paying attention to, don't you think?"
"Billboard's 'Tastemakers' chart is the one we should all paying attention to, don't you think?"

This week's Billboard 200 is headed once again by Lady Antebellum, the milquetoast country trio whose second album Need You Now moved 481,000 copies in its debut week, and 209,000 copies in the sales week ending Feb. 6 (Sunday). That was enough to hold off Lil Wayne's Rebirth, which bowed at No. 2 on the big board and No. 1 on the digital board (it sold 42,000 virtual copies).

Wayne's rock project either had surprisingly massive sales or excessively disappointing numbers, depending on whom you talked to. Its 176,000-copy first-week tally startled some in my cohort, who were pretty surprised that a long-delayed album that was not very good cracked the six-figure mark. (And let's not even talk about the oopsie made by Amazon in December.) But the people writing the checks at Universal Music Group are probably pretty gobsmacked at the relative nosedive in first-week sales, given that back in June of 2008, Tha Carter III moved a million copies in its first week of release.

Perhaps they can take heart in the fact that Lil Wayne is burning up the cash registers among those members of the music cognoscenti who are still inclined to pay for their music? Billboard's "Tastemakers" chart was described in 2006 as "a core-panel chart driven by sales from about 300 stores, including independent coalitions and small chains." So it takes the big boxes out of the equation -- bye bye, Wal-Mart, Target, et al - as well as Trans World's semi-zombified FYE chain. Although one wonders if there are even 300 stores left to be on the panel, what with the great music-retail drying-up of the last decade's waning years.

Either way, the "Tastemakers" chart is a neat little curio that reveals the broadly sketched purchasing habits of people who want to delve a little deeper than the increasingly bereft Target music department. The chart isn't as idiosyncratic as the Local Top 10s SOTC collected over the course of last year; it's pretty evenly split between darlings of the cognoscenti (Spoon, Vampire Weekend) and artists who appear on Target endcaps (Wayne, Mary J. Blige). (Rob Zombie is in his own category.) Here's how the 15-entry chart shakes out, and for comparison's sake, current positions on the Billboard 200 and Top Digital Albums are in parentheses:

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1. Lil Wayne, Rebirth (No. 2 on BB200; No. 1 on Digital) 2. Rob Zombie, Hellbilly Deluxe 2 (No. 8 on BB200; No. 13 on Digital) 3. Spoon, Transference (No. 51 on BB200; No. 25 on Digital) 4. Vampire Weekend, Contra (No. 33 on BB200; No. 11 on Digital) 5. Midlake, The Courage Of Others (No. 94 on BB200; DNP on Digital) 6. Beach House, Teen Dream (No. 128 on BB200; DNP on Digital) 7. Lady GaGa, The Fame (No. 4 on BB200; No. 5 on Digital) 8. Charlotte Gainsbourg, IRM (No. 139 on BB200; DNP on Digital) 9. Crazy Heart OST (No. 50 on BB200; DNP on Digital) 10. Lady Antebellum, Need You Now (No. 1 on BB200; No. 2 on Digital) 11. Gucci Mane, The State vs. Radric Davis (No. 45 on BB200; DNP on Digital) 12. Patty Griffin, Downtown Church (No. 99 on BB200; DNP on Digital) 13. The Magnetic Fields, Realism (DNP on BB200; DNP on Digital) 14. Mary J. Blige, STRONGER withEach Tear (No. 16 on BB200; DNP on Digital) 15. Them Crooked Vultures (No. 66 on BB200; DNP on Digital)

By that metric, if not by Universal's, Rebirth is a smash. Elsewhere, note that the Magnetic Fields' not placing on the Billboard 200 means that its overall numbers were somewhere below the 2,500-sold mark. And on the flip side, here are the albums on the big board's top 10 that aren't found on the Tastemakers chart: Who I Am by the New Power Generated Jonas Brother Nick; the compilation of Grammy nominees that inexplicably shoots up the chart after the awards air; the Black Eyed Peas' The E.N.D.; Taylor Swift's Album Of The Year Fearless; Simon Cowell-assisted songbird Susan Boyle's I Dreamed A Dream; and the Zac Brown Band's Chicken Fried. Could it be that even now, as the music-retail industry withers away, people are still afraid that a cast-off from High Fidelity's extras pool will mock their interest in's body of work?

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