Patrick Ryan, USA TODAY 11/2013
At the end of the day, do the flying dresses and golden semi-trucks pay off?
Lady Gaga, Artpop
Released: Nov. 11
What she did: Invited a group of dedicated fans to graffiti her track list on the side of a building, performed a Wizard of Oz-inspired rendition of Applause on Good Morning America, and hosted an art showcase in Brooklyn, where she debuted a flying dress and a towering nude sculpture of herself, created by Jeff Koons.
Expert opinion: “It’s what you expect from her, but I feel like there’s a tinge of desperation,” Drew says. “She’s pulling out all the guns, where she probably wouldn’t feel like she needed to if the record could speak for itself.”
First-week sales: 258,000 copies; predecessor Born This Way sold 1.1 million its first week in 2011.
Arcade Fire, Reflektor
Released: Oct. 29
What they did: Performed a number of secret shows under the name The Reflektors, and aired a bizarre, star-studded 30-minute concert special on NBC, in which band members appeared with painted faces as audience members danced around in masquerade and bunny costumes. Arcade Fire also tweeted out a requirement for concertgoers to wear formal attire or costumes to its surprise Montreal show in September — a policy just extended to the upcoming North American tour, drawing the ire of writers such as Slate’s Megan Wiegand and Stereogum’s Michael Nelson.
Expert opinion: “They just have a larger net over the hipster crowd (than they did before),” Drew says, referring to the following the group gained after winning the Grammy Award for album of the year in 2011 for The Suburbs. “Their music is still not going to appeal to soccer moms or the top 40 crowd.”
First-week sales: 140,000 copies, slightly less than The Suburbs in 2010, which sold 156,000 copies its first week.
Katy Perry, Prism
Released: Oct. 22
What she did: Announced the album with a giant golden semi-truck that drove cross-country. She also hosted a contest for high-school students to make their own Roar video, for a chance to get a free concert at their school the week of Prism’s release.
Expert opinion: “(She) did very little press leading up to the release, and that’s because she knew … she had a pretty strong record,” Drew says. “She also had a big hit (Roar) leading (the album).”
First-week sales: 286,000 copies, a sizable step up from the 192,000 copies Teenage Dream sold its first week in 2010.
Miley Cyrus, Bangerz
Released: Oct. 8
What she did: Made seemingly endless headlines with an infamous performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in August, and ignited much hand-wringing over her provocative We Can’t Stop and Wrecking Ball music videos. Twerked with little people at iHeartRadio Music Festival in September. Engaged in a cyberspace “war” with Sinead O’Connor, and released NSFW pictures taken by photographer Terry Richardson, in which she appears half-naked and smokes marijuana.
Expert opinion: “It was brilliantly calculated,” Drew says. “They let her run wild but not too much. … She has Larry Rudolph as her manager, and he used the exact same moves with Britney (Spears) to make her a star. It’s textbook.”
First-week sales: 270,000 copies, nearly tripling the anemic sales of 2010’s Can’t Be Tamed (102,000 copies its first week).
Jay Z, Magna Carta Holy Grail
Released: July 7
What he did: Gave away a million free copies of his album to Samsung subscribers three days ahead of its release on July 4, allowing users to download the record using a mobile app.
Expert opinion: “Jay Z was this person everyone was rooting for, and then he puts out this album that a lot of people thought was lackluster,” Drew says. “People started to see him as a sellout, so the album actually caused people to not see him in such a favorable light.”
First-week sales: 528,000 copies, not counting the freebies; his last solo album, The Blueprint 3, sold 476,000 albums its first week in 2009.
Kanye West, Yeezus
Released: June 18
What he did: Projected his New Slaves music video on the sides of 66 buildings around the globe in May.
Expert opinion: “Kanye made a masterful album that critics loved, and promoted it in a very cool way, but he’s become such a divisive, polarizing figure,” Drew says. “There are a lot of people that didn’t buy his album just because they don’t like him or think he’s a bit too brash for their tastes.”
First-week sales: 327,000 copies, his lowest sales debut to date.
All first-week numbers from Nielsen SoundScan