The Week In Pop

Don’t Underestimate Pink — Or The Power Of Album/Ticket Bundles

Pink is having the last laugh. This past summer, when MTV awarded its Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award to the singer born Alecia Beth Moore, there was much social media cackling; surely they weren’t serious about elevating this durable and reliable hitmaker to the same iconic level as Beyoncé, Kanye West, and Justin Timberlake?

When this year’s VMAs broadcast drew pathetic ratings, those of us who had ridiculed Pink and MTV felt validated. A true superstar, we figured, would have inspired a media frenzy and created a must-see moment, whereas Pink’s admittedly impressive performance didn’t generate any significant buzz. And yeah, maybe MTV was desperate for a household name upon which to foist their lifetime achievement award. And yeah, maybe the honor did fall to Pink because she was the only available veteran pop star with a new album to promote. But two months later, now that the album has racked up the biggest sales week of 2017, it suddenly doesn’t seem so crazy to suggest Pink belongs in the icon conversation.

You read that right: Beautiful Trauma, Pink’s seventh LP and first in five years, did 384,000 in traditional album sales last week. No album has sold that many copies in a week since April 2016 blockbusters Views and Lemonade. When you factor in streaming and individual track sales, Beautiful Trauma’s 408,000 units still represent this year’s biggest debut by a woman and fourth best after Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., Drake’s More Life, and Ed Sheeran’s ÷ — massive releases from three of the most popular figures in music today. The numbers suggest that 17 years after her debut, Pink still belongs among their ranks — and to borrow a lyric from her album, “I honestly never thought we’d get this far.”

It’s not a bad album, either! It’s even quite moving in its interrogation of aging pop-stardom and troubled romance. Pink worked with a fleet of pop’s most reliable hit-makers including Max Martin, Greg Kurstin, Julia Michaels, and Jack Antonoff and came away with a bunch of enjoyable, deeply conservative, mostly trend-averse pop songs. The Antonoff-assisted title track kicks things off, powered by digital drums, his signature pounding piano, and a gargantuan hook; it’s basically “Out Of The Woods” crossed with “We Are Young.” Up next is the Eminem collab “Revenge,” a playfully bouncy Martin/Shellback production that feels like it could have been released when both Pink and Em were fresh new faces (or any time since then). Martin and Shellback are back to produce “Whatever You Want,” which essentially reinvents Radiohead’s “High And Dry” as an impeccable MOR anthem with some surprising melodic twists.

Lead single “What About Us” seems capable of sending your trip to the department store into emotional overdrive. Ditto “But We Lost It,” a Kurstin cowrite that convincingly taps back into his Adele “Hello” vibes, and “Barbies,” a wistful acoustic where-did-the-years-go lament that counts Michaels among its many authors. Many of the same names return on side B, all of them contributing to an ear-catching canvas for Pink’s commanding vocal presence. She’s a true professional who knows how to deliver home-run vocal takes, replete with charming asides and powerful glory notes. Her personality shines through as much as it possibly could against such polished but anonymous production.

Pink has never stood out as a visionary or a trendsetter, but she can be counted on for these sorts of well-crafted inspirational anthems and party tracks (more so the former than the latter these days; there’s no real equivalent to “Get The Party Started” on Beautiful Trauma). Her success has been as remarkably consistent as her output, with #1 singles in 2001 (“Lady Marmalade”), 2008 (“So What”), 2010 (“Raise Your Glass”), and 2013 (“Just Give Me A Reason”) signifying an out-of-time staying power that must be the envy of her peers. Like Sia, her songs succeed in spite of their generic flavor thanks to expert craftsmanship and her considerable charisma. They’re the musical equivalent of Hollywood movies you don’t necessarily care about seeing in the theater but might spring for on VOD when you and your significant other can’t seem to agree on what to watch.

Except sometimes those movies do insane box office receipts, just like Beautiful Trauma did. If the album’s first-week numbers seem impossibly high, that might be because you’re among those of us who’ve been underestimating Pink. But it’s also because she took advantage of an increasingly common tactic in high-stakes pop music, the album/ticket bundle. Quite a few big-name acts have employed this strategy to secure themselves a #1 debut this year, among them Katy Perry, Shania Twain, the Killers, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Kesha, and the Chainsmokers. As Billboard’s Keith Caulfield explains, it works like this:

Like so many other albums, Beautiful Trauma’s debut frame was boosted by a concert ticket/album sale redemption promotion. The cost of the CD edition of the album was bundled into the purchase price of each ticket sold online to P!nk’s upcoming 40-date U.S. and Canada tour. After purchasing a ticket, customers received (via email) a redemption offer for the album, where they could choose to redeem the CD and have it mailed to them. The only sales that count towards the charts are those albums that are redeemed by customers. Many ticket buyers never redeem the offer.

Nielsen attributed 249,000 of Pink’s total to Internet Sales, and as Caulfield explains, “one can assume most of that number is from the ticket bundle — minus a smallish amount (perhaps in the low five-figures) for traditional sales from Amazon and other web-based retailers.” In other words, more than half of Pink’s total units resulted from this scheme. And more power to her, I say! At a time when streaming is overtaking album sales and retailers are stocking fewer titles, why not magnify the already significant leverage that comes with a lengthy career? It’s a win-win for veteran artists: Fans who might have merely streamed the album or ignored it entirely end up purchasing it instead, familiarizing them with the artist’s newest work and fueling superior chart placement. Plus, as Andrew Unterberger points out (also at Billboard), even if Pink’s sales total is artificially inflated by album/ticket bundles, it says something that she benefitted more from the tactic than most of her competition:

It’s worth pointing out that for whatever sales advantage this strategy gives P!nk, it’s the same strategy dozens of other artists have used in 2017 alone — including Kesha and Katy Perry, by the way — and still, she’s dangling over all of them, “Glitter In The Air”-style, in terms of first-week numbers. If the early figures for Beautiful Trauma owe a portion of their extraordinariness to their attachment to P!nk’s upcoming live show, then that’s largely a testament to what a formidable touring attraction the pop star has grown into.

If the rest of the bundle-inflated sales figures have taught us anything, Beautiful Trauma will probably plummet on next week’s chart. It happened to Kesha, Arcade Fire, LCD, and all the rest. Meanwhile artists who accrue big streaming numbers, such as Khalid and Lil Uzi Vert, linger in the top 10 of the album chart for months on end even though relatively few people are buying their music. So who’s more popular: the acts who land a #1 album by giving it away for free with concert tickets, or the ones who get there by essentially giving it away for free on streaming services? Establishing some sort of all-encompassing metric is becoming increasingly difficult — just ask our friends at Billboard, who continue to tinker with their formulas in an effort to make sense of today’s ridiculous music industry landscape. The picture seems to get blurrier with each passing year. Yet as the undeniable success of Beautiful Trauma indicates, Pink’s position among pop music royalty is becoming ever clearer.

CHART WATCH

As explained above, Pink’s Beautiful Trauma rules the Billboard 200 album chart this week, becoming her second #1 album (following 2012’s The Truth About Love) with one of the biggest debuts of the year. Billboard reports that her 408,000 equivalent album units are fourth best this year behind Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Ed Sheeran, and her 384,000 in traditional album sales represents the best pure sales week by any artist this year, the best sales week by a woman since Beyoncé’s Lemonade 18 months ago, the best sales week by any artist since Drake’s Views (also 18 months ago), and Pink’s personal best sales week. As also explained above, many of those sales originate from the increasingly common practice of including a copy of the album with the purchase of a concert ticket. Still, even if that means the numbers are somewhat inflated, it’s a remarkable start.

At an extremely distant #2 is Gucci Mane, whose Mr. Davis enters with 70,000 units and 21,000 in sales. Beck is up next with a #3 debut for Colors via 46,000 units/41,000 sales. Most of the rest of the top 10 comprises familiar recent titles from Post Malone (#4), Lil Uzi Vert (#5), Ed Sheeran (#6), Imagine Dragons (#7), A Boogie With Da Hoodie (#8), and Lil Pump (#9). And closing out the top 10 is St. Vincent, whose great MASSEDUCTION enters at #10 with 29,000 units/25,000 sales. It’s her best career chart placement following a #12 debut for 2014’s self-titled LP.

Post Malone and 21 Savage’s “Rockstar” holds onto #1 on the Hot 100 singles chart for a second straight week, and even if they had to use a cheap, user-unfriendly YouTube strategy to juice their numbers it’s hard to deny both artists’ surging popularity right now (particularly Malone, whose late 2016 debut LP Stoney only just reached its peak popularity in the past two weeks; you can’t chalk that up to YouTube trickery). Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” remains at #2, while Logic’s “1-800-273-8255″ featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid hoids at #3.

Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still” continues its shock rise, reaching a new #4 peak. Then comes Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder” at #5, also a new peak; per Billboard it’s the first time two rock songs by separate artists have been in the top 5 together since Gotye and Fun. did it way back in 2012 (though there were two rock songs by Twenty One Pilots in the top 5 simultaneously last year).

J Balvin, Willy William, and Beyoncé’s “Mi Gente” stays at #6, while Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry” — already her best charting single ever — soars to a new #7 peak. Rounding out the top 10 are Sam Smith’s “Too Good At Goodbyes” (#8), French Montana and Swae Lee’s “Unforgettable” (#9), and Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do (#10); the latter fell from #1 to #7 on the Pop Songs chart and #5 to #20 on the Radio Songs chart, marking the steepest fall in either chart’s history.

POP FIVE

Taylor Swift – “Gorgeous”
Not sure I’m here for this intentionally primitive computerized production, but construction-wise, this is another example of Swift’s excellence within her wheelhouse. She’s so good at flipping self-effacing journal entries into pop music.

Selena Gomez – “Wolves” (Feat. Marshmello)
Gomez recently logged one of the best songs of her career, “It Ain’t Me,” by teaming up with tropical house crossover baron Kygo. EDM sensation Marshmello has been making similar crossover moves — his song with Khalid is a deserving Spotify smash — and this one sounds like another winner. It may not have the cool cachet that comes with sampling Talking Heads, but you don’t really need good taste when you have a monster hook like this. (By the way, how wild is it that Marshmello released a pop-punk song this week too?)

Maroon 5 – “Help Me Out” (Feat. Julia Michaels)
Adam Levine and friends wrangled themselves yet another respectable guest star, and once again the results have me wondering why I ever hated this band so much. These songs are too pleasantly inoffensive to get mad about.

Liam Payne – “Bedroom Floor”
As part of a running gag in last week’s column, I pretended not to know the difference between One Direction alumni Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson. In fact I am aware Payne has a big hit on his hands with “Strip You Down” whereas Tomlinson’s bids for a massive single haven’t really connected yet. This new one from Payne seems primed for maximum radio exposure, too, but it’s so devoid of personality that I think we should keep the Liam/Louis bit going indefinitely.

Naughty Boy – “One Chance To Dance” (Feat. Joe Jonas)
Why would an aspiring pop superstar set himself up for so many burns with a hook like “I ain’t no Michael Jackson”? Seriously, why would Joe Jonas do that to himself? It would be one thing if his talent actually compared to MJ’s and he was just being self-deprecating, but as it stands, he’s just begging a zillion people to make the same obvious joke. Because after hearing a song this torturous, how could we as a society not zing Jonas with such comic-insult low-hanging fruit?

(Get ready…)

This guy really ain’t no Michael Jackson!

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Lady Gaga made a surprise appearance at Saturday’s One America Appeal benefit for hurricane victims, an event that featured all five living former U.S. presidents. [The Hill]
  • Nicki Minaj commemorated the 7th anniversary of “Monster” by revealing that she had to convince Kanye West to keep it on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. [Instagram]
  • Julia Michaels appears on a remix of Justin Bieber and BloodPop®’s “Friends.” [Stream It]
  • Ed Sheeran told Jonathan Ross that substance abuse was a factor in him taking a year off: “All the pitfalls that people read about, I just found myself slipping into all of them.” [People]
  • Demi Lovato and Luis Fonsi shot a video for a new collab. [Direct Lyrics]
  • Bleachers released a live tour video for “I Miss Those Days” and announced the release of their MTV Unplugged album out 11/10. [YouTube]
  • Katy Perry crashed a St. Louis wedding when her Witness Tour came to town. [TMZ]
  • The CMA Awards next month will feature live pairings of Maren Morris with Niall Horan, Brad Paisley with Kane Brown, Reba McEntire with Kelsea Ballerini, and Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatts. [Rolling Stone]
  • Drake had a Bar Mitzvah themed 31st birthday party. [Page Six]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

HOLD ON, WE’RE STILL GOING HOME

#2017

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OK, WE’RE ACTUALLY GOING HOME THIS TIME