Explaining the Success of Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Which Has Sold More Copies Than 50 Cent’s Before I Self-Destruct and That Joanna Newsom Record Combined


A small shift at the top of the charts this week — snoozy country act Lady Antebellum retakes the top spot, with Need You Now selling 126,000 copies to the smoky Sade album Soldier Of Love‘s 79,000 — is followed by a slew of debuts from artists of varying notoriety. Polarizing American Idol finalist Danny Gokey (No. 4, 65,000), the still-kicking Lifehouse (No. 6, 54,000), and the Cornel West-assisted Raheem DeVaughn (No. 9, 45,000) made three of the six albums that bowed in this week’s top 10, although given recent chart patterns, it’s likely that all will probably tumble out during their second week.

Ah, longevity. Does anyone have it these days aside from strip-club-ready mook-rockers? Well, actually, one group does, and it’s a ragtag bunch of scruffy moppets who have been putting out records since before I was born.

As of Sunday, we live in a world where the soundtrack to the Christmastime film Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel is a for-real gold album — it sold 16,000 copies last week, bringing its to-date total to 512,000. Which means it’s outsold the following full-lengths that were released around the same time:

*The self-titled debut from last year’s American Idol Kris Allen (279,000);
*Them Crooked Vultures (252,000), the inaugural album from the rock supergroup;
*Before I Self-Destruct (416,000), 50 Cent’s long-delayed attempt to reassert his chart dominance;
*Shock Value II (160,000), Timbaland’s second album of collaborations (although one wonders if Timba’s releasing a single that features Justin Timberlake will help goose public awareness of the project — the fast-food-metaphor-laden song is pretty terrible and JT looks like he’s doing an excruciating favor for a kinda-annoying pal throughout the attendant video, but it’s been long enough since FutureSex/LoveSounds came out to get kinda nostalgic for it; and
*R. Kelly’s Untitled (285,000), which sure got a lot of pre-release hype for something that achieved such a soft landing.

This is the second time that an album related to a Chipmunks live-action sequel has proven to be one of the more durable albums commercially available. Back during the doldrums of early 2008, the soundtrack to the first movie starring Alvin & Co. — an album that served as the 43rd entry in the animated threesome’s catalog — was a chart fixture, selling more than a million copies and peaking all the way at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. Among its tracks were the F2K-shortlisted “Get Munk’d” and a high-pitched cover of Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day,” which peaked at No. 85 on the Hot 100.

The soundtrack to the original flick, which brought together “family friendliness” and “coprophilia” in a way that few films have attempted, also got a big boost when its associated movie was released on DVD — no doubt that the merchandise displays touting said disc’s availability were filled out with CDs that have been hanging out in big-box stores’ back rooms. The Squeakquel‘s DVD release is scheduled for March 30, so don’t be surprised if all of a sudden this soundtrack, which features helium-voiced renditions of “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” and “Hot & Cold,” makes a comeback of sorts on the charts in early April.

But still, a one-week sales tally of 16,000 copies is sorta impressive for an album associated with a movie that was out of theaters weeks ago. (Just ask Joanna Newsom.) Could the Chipmunks be stealing some of the kiddie-friendly thunder possessed by the moppet-filled Kidz Bop franchise? The last installment of that series, which contains kiddie-friendly renditions of Lady GaGa’s “Paparazzi” (??) and Kings Of Leon’s “Use Somebody” (?!??!), is at No. 45 this week, having sold 126,000 copies since its release in January.

It’s hard not to think that there isn’t at least some correlation. As the Kidz Bop song selections have gotten more bizarre (perhaps you remember the frenzy surrounding the KB take on “Float On”?), the Chipmunks soundtracks have, in terms of covers, played it ridiculously safe. In addition to “Single Ladies” and “Hot & Cold” the Squeakquel soundtrack has squeaky versions of the inexplicable American Idol staple “Put Your Records On” and “So What.” Sure, “So What” has all those bits about bar fights, but it’s probably more palatable to your average parent than the extended Princess Diana metaphor that is GaGa’s dance-pop gem.

And then there’s the whole idea of how a record gets promoted, which has become ever more tricky in this relatively music-video-free era. Sure, I was among the demographic of people who rolled their eyes when the Chipettes got in the “Mexican Breakfast” line during the movie’s trailer, but using “Single Ladies” in the film and said promo is canny on multiple levels, as far as the way it both seizes on one of the past 18 months’ most popular memetic experiences and promotes the fact that, hey, this album about musical groups has music that one might be able to purchase in stores! The general uptick in television commercials for albums lately leads one to believe that major labels are slowly starting to notice that this tactic might actually be helpful to their bottom line. At least as long as Target and Wal-Mart deign to keep music stocked in their stores at all, anyway.

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