Four weeks ago, Kanye West stood on a Bowery Ballroom stage and, in a far ranging and now thoroughly documented speech, cited “perfect scores across the board” for his album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and made an ill-advised prediction: “To be slated to do 600,000 in the first week–and I don’t talk about the numbers, but what that number says is that people want me to keep making music, and for me to not give up.” A week on shelves proved that number wrong: MBDTF bowed at 496,000, an underperformance reinforced by the following week’s plummet to #7 after his sales dropped by 78%, for a second week total of 108,000. Now, a week after that, he’s out of the top 10 entirely, falling to #13. His numbers through three weeks? Only 72K higher than his initial first week prediction. What happened?
Well, for starters, nobody besides Taylor Swift (two million and counting!) is selling records. Even Christmas gift titan Susan Boyle (our country’s #1 record for the fourth non-consecutive week) is doing about half what she was doing at this time last year. We know this and yet every week there is something new to remind us how bad it all is.
But you know who is still in the top ten? Nicki Minaj, whose inferior Pink Friday came out alongside My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This week she’s at #6, for a three-week total 561,000, a mere hundred thousand and change off Kanye’s mark. Her smash success thus far and the relative underperformance of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy probably tell two versions of the same story. One, and yes we know, critics don’t matter–ask Animal Collective what all that critical acclaim did for them, sales-wise, last year. Two, and more importantly, public perception really is everything.
We shrugged off Kanye’s Matt Lauer flame-out. We watched with skepticism as he was virulently booed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We applauded, more or less, his decision to do basically no interviews in promotion of his new record. And yet, all evidence points to a public that has yet to forgive him, or flock to record stories with anything near the conviction one might expect the wonderful My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to invoke. Meanwhile Nicki, while she seems perhaps a bit difficult one on one, has said all the right things in public, usually with a smile on her face. Ditto for Susan Boyle, Lou Reed-brouhaha aside, and especially ditto for Taylor Swift, the person over whom Kanye got himself into trouble in the first place. She’s just waved and nodded and been breathless and, oh yeah, has just happened to do more than triple Kanye’s numbers so far.
That’s probably not a coincidence, and it probably doesn’t say much about the worth of their respective records–Kanye, after all, has proven he can sell records with the best of them. The fact that he’s not now suggests something else–something extracurricular–is up. Perhaps he abandoned his endlessly charming Twitter account too soon?
Boyle’s ‘Gift’ Keeps Giving on Billboard 200, ‘Tron’ Hits Top 10 [Billboard]
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 15, 2010