The Biebs just got bigger. As expected, tween idol Justin Bieber’s fourth studio album “Believe” slid into the top spot on this week’s album chart with all the ease of a tub of pomade. Sales of 374,000 were significantly below expectations, but lofty enough to deliver the biggest debut of 2012 on the Billboard 200, trumping the 359,000 start of Madonna’s “MDNA.”
There are plenty of other accolades for “Believe.” First, the set gives Bieber his own personal best sales week, beating the 291,000 in second-week sales for “My World 2.0” in April 2010. It’s his fourth No. 1 album, following “My World 2.0,” 2011’s “Never Say Never: The Remixes” and “Under the Mistletoe” (his two other sets, “My World” and “My Worlds Acoustic” both hit the top 10, at Nos. 5 & 7, respectively). That makes the 18 year old the first artist in history to land four No. 1 albums while still in his teens.
He’s also only the second Canadian act ever to score four No. 1 albums, after Neil Young’s solo and Crosby, Stills Nash & Young efforts. (Michael Buble has three.) And Bieber is the youngest artist ever to have an album reach No. 1 in both the U.S. and the U.K., according to Paul Grein’s Yahoo! Music “Chart Watch.” He erases previous record-holder Avril Lavigne, who was 19 when she topped both charts in 2004.
Around much of the world, “Believe” is a chart-topping sensation, debuting at the summit in 30 nations, including the U.K., Canada, Australia, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Sweden.
And a rather obvious factoid: Bieber delivers the No. 1 Top Digital Album, where 139,000 of its 374,000 total were downloaded. It’s the biggest one-week sales total in history here for a teen act, beating Taylor Swift’s “Fearless.”
Not to pooh-pooh the accomplishments, but one can’t ignore industry projections last week that predicted a debut in the range of 400,000-440,000. That forecast was based on huge first-day sales and a bounty of pre-orders, which obviously eased during the chart tally week. But tie into that the fact that almost 3.5 million tracks from “Believe” have already sold—an extraordinary number for a brand-new record—and detractors really have little ammunition.
Perhaps the more interesting debate is just how long the Bieber juggernaut will maintain its fervor. Few teen acts are able to make the kind of transition to respected adult artist, a la Justin Timberlake or Michael Jackson. For reference, Biebs’ first hit “One Time” introduced the U.S. to the singer when it debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 July 25, 2009—fewer than three years ago. Justin Bieber was 15 years old at the time.
Among the cascade of young acts that pervaded the single charts at the beginning of the millennium—Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Hanson, Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, 98 Degrees, Jessica Simpson and the like—only Spears continues to be a formidable music force today (despite various train-wrecks in her pop culture memoir). Aguilera has arguably become a reality TV star, as a judge on “The Voice” (along with her fine co-starring performance with Cher in 2010’s flop flick “Burlesque”), while the rest have settled into hawking various products or hosting B-level TV shows. Among them, Simpson is the exception, having created a multi-million-dollar brand empire—without the benefit of current hit records.
Certainly, no one is expecting Bieber to equal the sales figures of his predecessors, who thrived in a very different industry landscape (pre-iTunes, no single sales, for one). The biggest sales week ever still belongs to ‘N Sync’s “No Strings Attached,” which sold a magnanimous 2.4 million copies in the U.S. in its March 2000 launch week. Even Adele can’t muster that, and it’s likely no artist ever will again.
Bieber’s “Believe” accomplishes what it needs to: his subtle metamorphosis into a slightly more adult sound and lyrical signature, with songs like “Love Me Like You Do,” where he teases, “Hop up in the bed… if you like to snooze”—suggestive but hardly explicit. “Catching Feelings” hints at blossoming young love, albeit sweet and sugar-coated: “Could it be a possibility?/I’m tryin’ to see what’s up,” he sings. And in “Out Of Town Girl,” the most sensual song on the set, Bieber gets his swagger on: “Girl don’t be shy, you won’t know if you never try/When you walk by you’re the only one that catches my eye.” It’s not bumping and grinding, but does amp the sexuality… just enough to hold the interest of his core audience without frightening their moms.
And remember, Bieber also recently appeared on the cover of “Fortune,” where he and his business partners discussed the young entrepreneur’s investments in tech start-ups and the worth of his brand. Dressed in a business suit for the pictorial, that whole affair was certainly a deliberate allusion to Justin’s coming into manhood.
Meanwhile, on the radio side, the spanking new “Believe” has already muscled five tracks on the Hot 100—a feat worthy of the “Glee” franchise. First single “Boyfriend” debuted and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Bieber’s biggest hit to date, with 2.5 million downloads, 60 million YouTube views and 5.5 million on-demand streams. It also became his first top 10 at Mainstream Top 40—after nine previous singles. In its 13th chart week, it dips from No. 10 to No. 18. It also peaked at No. 9 on Pop Songs and No. 11 on the all-format Radio Songs chart.
In addition, Bieber garnered the Hot 100’s top new entry for three consecutive weeks before “Believe” was released: Last week, “As Long as You Love Me” (featuring Big Sean), launched at No. 21 (debuting at No. 5 on Digital Songs); previously “All Around the World” (featuring Ludacris) crashed in at No. 22; and the week before, “Die in Your Arms” came to life at No. 17. And this week, “Beauty And A Beat” (featuring Nicki Minaj), becomes the fifth song to appear on the list. The official next single is “As Long As You Love Me,” which begins promotion at radio July 9.
Stepping away from Bieber fever, let’s take a glance at the rest of the chart week: On the Billboard 200, all four top slots are debuts—ironically the first time this has occurred since November 2011, when Justin Bieber’s “Under the Mistletoe” launched at No. 1. After “Believe,” Kenny Chesney comes in at No. 2 with “Welcome to the Fishbowl,” his 10th top 10 album on the Billboard 200. It starts atop the Top Country Albums chart, his 11th leader there.
After seven years, folkie Fiona Apple returns with her highest-charting album ever at No. 3, “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser.” The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Oceania” is No 4, after the group last appeared on the chart in 2007. And moving up four to No. 5 is the “Rock of Ages” soundtrack. Last week’s No. 1 from Usher—Justin Bieber’s muse—plummets to No. 6.
And on the Billboard Hot 100, Carly Rae Jepsen logs her third week at No. 1 with “Call Me Maybe.” She’s Canadian, you know—just like Bieber. See, there really is no escape. You may as well give in… and “Believe.” *