Katy Perry's disappointing first-week album sales: Is she overexposed?

katy-perryImage Credit: Ari MichelsonNo matter how they try to spin it, Katy Perry and her label are surely feeling a certain letdown this morning. After dominating airwaves for much of the summer, Perry was only able to move 192,000 copies of her sophomore album in its first week on sale. That’s enough to make Teenage Dream the country’s biggest album in this sleepy late-August frame. It’s much better than her previous album managed in its first week, and it’s obviously worlds away from an all-out, retire-in-shame flop. But it’s also nowhere near the kind of first-week numbers that other radio staples like Drake (447,000) and Usher (329,000), let alone Eminem (741,000), have put up in recent months. Perry’s “California Gurls” is widely considered a front-runner for this year’s Song of the Summer, with her own “Teenage Dream” single not far behind. How come those major hits didn’t translate into equally strong album sales?

The simple answer is that Perry is overexposed. By now, just about every member of the buying public has heard “California Gurls” enough times to commit it to memory. If you’ve grown tired of that song or you never liked it in the first place, of course you’re not going to buy Katy Perry’s album. But even if you love “California Gurls” with all your melted-popsicle heart, chances are you already bought it as an MP3 weeks or months ago. You probably went along and grabbed “Teenage Dream,” too. This week alone, that second single sold 259,000 digital copies. When Teenage Dream the album came out last Tuesday, you had to ask yourself, did you really need to own the whole thing? For 192,000 fans, the answer was yes. Still, it’s easy to see how that purchase might not make sense for everyone else.

Yet dismissing Perry as overexposed risks redundancy. Songs like “California Gurls” and “Teenage Dream” are engineered for maximum exposure. That’s the whole point. Perry led an elite team of songwriters, producers, and assorted studio wizards whose job it was to make sure that hearing these songs once or twice wasn’t enough for most people. Radio programmers couldn’t resist putting these songs on the air over and over again. Kids walking down the street couldn’t help humming them for weeks on end. These songs were perfectly designed advertisements for themselves — and that’s where their pitch ended. In a sense, “California Gurls” and “Teenage Dream” worked exactly as intended. They were too effective for the album’s own good.

This puts Perry in the dreaded “singles artist” category. Compare her first-week sales to those of Rihanna (181,000 last December) or Ke$ha (152,000 in January). This isn’t a category that most singers want to be placed in. They’re legitimate pop stars, with big hits and lots of fans — but not the kind of unconditional fans who will drop double-digit cash for an album out of loyalty. Is it sheer coincidence that so many (though not all) of these “singles artists” happen to be young women? Probably not. Some level of unacknowledged sexism may make consumers more likely to view the work of twenty-something female pop singers as disposable product instead of serious art.

That said, the “singles artist” label doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Rihanna, for example, spun off several more hits from Rated R and ended up going platinum. With the right follow-up singles, Perry might be able to accomplish the same in time. Today, Teenage Dream is looking like a commercial disappointment, but the long game is just beginning.

Why do you think Katy Perry’s album didn’t sell more copies? Do you think there’s another smash hit lurking within that track list? Sound off in the comments section.

(Follow The Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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Comments (202 total) Add your comment
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  • The Internet

    Pretty spot on. I just bought the singles.

    • anthony

      disappointing? she debuted number one, and tripled her previous career sales high. the writer of this post is clearly misinformed with the music industry

      • Chris

        Boy, Kathy Griffin looks weird as a brunette.

      • ries

        did you read the article anthony? they were expecting superstar numbers, so yes, they were disappointed. i think you are “misinformed with the” english language.

      • Trey

        Anthony, I don’t think you understood the article at all. Katy was expected to sell in the 200 to 300K area. While it is a number 1 album, it is disapointing in sales to the record company.

    • Rush

      Albums are dead.

      • Rush

        To wit, the only people who care about album sales are the record companies. Perry makes more money from touring and selling digital singles than she does with album sales.

      • Brian

        Please. Albums are only dead to people with sh*t taste in music.

      • Jane

        Albums are dead? The 741,000 who bought Eminem’s album during it’s first week on the shelves would definitely disagree with you. Sure, album sales aren’t like they used to be nor will they ever be due to the invention of mp3s and iTunes which allow you to buy a song by itself instead of the entire album. But albums are not nor will they ever be DEAD.

      • Elena

        People keep forgetting that the whole “Why buy the album when I can just get the single mp3″ argument is not a new phenom. Have people forgotten 45s? In the Eighties, Madonna could go to # 1 for 6 weeks with the Like A Virgin single, which also happened to be the # 2 selling single of the entire year, and still sell over 7 million copies of the entire album. And Madonna was not the only artist back then who did that. Conversely, the eighties also had artists like Taylor Dayne and Rick Astley, who despite of having multiple hit singles, could not sell albums to save their life. For whatever reason, some artists just don’t resonate with the public in a way that will “convince” them to buy albums.

      • Craig

        @ Brian: I agree with that. True music lovers want to have a physical copy of an record and they appreciate well crafted albums, not just a good single and a lot of filler. And some things you just have to listen to in a proper CD (and sometimes vinyl) not a soulless digital file.

      • ZuriichHottie

        I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, “Gay followers are the ticket to high first week sales.” Katy, my lady, put up a rainbow in your next video and call it a day.

      • lvc

        @ZuriichHottie “Gay followers are the ticket to high first week sales.” Huh? I highly doubt Eminem has many gay followers and Katy has always been very gay supportive. I think it’s bcuz Katy has a young teen audience who only buy singles. But Obviously that is what she was going for with the whole teen theme, which I find kinda creepy since she is far from a teen herself.

      • Nicki

        I think so, to..

  • Michael

    Had Katy come out with her album in the middle of summer, instead of the end, she would have sold double, at least. Her album’s timing was retarded.

    • Bill

      Agreed. She should have released the album at least a month ago. Not to mention, she released 5 singles off the album before it came out.

    • katy

      Exactly. The album should have come out at the beginning of July with Teenage Dream being released as a radio single a few days before. That probably would have doubled sales.

    • Badger31201

      Yep. Biggest mistake. The album shoulda come out easily a month ago. It’s not like they were still working on it.

    • Jay

      Katy Perry flopped hard! LOL

      • Ignacio

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    • ZuriichHottie

      Agree, but let’s not use that word. “It was misguided,”–Micheal Bluth.

      • Jared

        they weren’t pink floyd were imo. Genesis is probably my sonecd favorite though I love the lamb lies down on broadway it’s such an awesome album. Selling england by the pound, foxtrot and nursery cryme are great too but lamb lies down on broadway has a special place for me. my ranking would be1.pink floyd2.genesis3.rush4.yes5.king crimsonI hate how the genesis most people think of are their terrible pop days.

  • John

    I think she’ll be just fine. It’s not really about the album sales anymore anyways. Touring is where the money is at.

    • Rush

      It always has been, especially for artists only on their second album without the clout to ask for more of a percentage from mechanical royalties.

  • Drew

    Lady GaGa’s album looked like an epic flop when it first came out and look what happened to it. Give Katy a few more singles and the album will do fine. Honestly most people dont have huge album sales anymore. Especially women it seems. Britney, Taylor, and probably Beyonce are the only woman who can still move a ton of copies in the first week.

    • Badger31201

      ummm.. which album? Certainly not “Fame Monster”. And no one had heard of her when she released “The Fame”.

      • Erick

        The Fame Monster charts as a re-release of The Fame. Together they’re certified Diamond.

      • Jorge

        No, they are not certified diamond ‘together’. First, if you add both albums together they do not equal diamond status. Second, there is no such thing as adding two separate albums together in order to equal a particular status whether gold, platinum or diamond.

    • Phil

      They are adding the albums together as “The Fame Monster” in other countries, just not the U.S. So Erick may be commenting froma country where thats been the case. Please don’t be quick to judge when you’re not certain of all the facts…

    • Preston

      I remembered hearing Lady Gaga’s album The Fame when it came out in Oct. 2008. But not everybody was ready for her kind of sound,the RedOne dance pop sound yet. They finished hearing their round of other pop artists and then they gravitated to her immediately. I knew that Just Dance, Poker Face and LoveGame would be hits the time I first heard the album. And since her singles and album exploded, everybody now wants to copy her sound! It takes time for artists to build and grow.Katy Perry’s album will have many hits, maybe be just as much a success as Gaga’s.

  • graeme

    Yeah, Perry is a “singles artists”. She’s got 2 more potential singles on the album (Last Friday Night, Firework), and the rest is crap.

    • Anonymous

      Katy Perry… love her singing and voice so much. Hate the electro-mainstream crap she sings it to. Liked her first album. This one, not so much.

    • Iceis

      she’ definitely not a singles artist. get your head out of your ass.

  • S.O.

    I totally not into Katy Perry at all. But 192K+ in the 1st week a let-down? Any artist/band would be thrilled to have that for opening #s in the album chart.

    • Rush

      500k sales = gold status, so no reaching that goal in the first week given how popular the singles have been would be disappointing to the record label.

  • cheese

    I don’t know about overexposed…after her first album’s singles finished ruling the airwaves a couple of years ago…she practically disappeared until this summer…at least from the radio station I listen to.

    • Ron

      Overexposed in the sense that since May she’s been on the radio constantly. Even with the 2nd single doing well California Gurls is still in heavy rotation. Not to mention the singles have been downloaded over 5 million times. There’s not as much to make people want to go out and buy/download the whole album. With that being said artists like Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga have been very overexposed yet their album sales have certainly not suffered.

      • Rush

        This is why albums are dead. There’s no longer a reason to buy an entire album just to listen to the one or two songs you might like off of it.

      • Brian

        Unless you listen to a quality artist who puts out an entire album of quality music.

  • Craiggers

    Well, Usher and Eminem have been around how long and have loyal fans.. plus they make good music and this gurl sux..

    • mk

      her music really is terrible. i’d drive off the road if i had to listen to her entire album. i can’t change the station fast enough when her songs come on.

  • George

    Yeah I agree with Michael. Given the early success of California Gurls, her label should have bumped the album up and given it an earlier release. I bought it, though, and hope it does well.

  • Don’t give me the sexism argument. Jason Derulo, Taio Cruz, and B.o.B all have had several top 10/5 singles and neither of the three is even gold right now. The younger your fan base skews, the more of a “singles artist” you are and it doesn’t matter about your gender.

    • Drew

      This is totally true. Katy/Rihanna/Kesha/Derulo, their core fan base is teens and people in their early 20’s. I.e people who download music (legally or not). A lot of Eminems fans are people who were buying his albums in 2000. Same with Britney,Beyonce, and Justin. Their albums will sell better cuz they still have fans old enough who appreciate full albums.

      • Jethro

        and I love Tony Bennett!!

      • Preston

        The Eminem fans have stayed loyal through the successes and flops, hits and misses of his albums since 2000. Same with Britney and Beyonce. They have continued to follow their careers.

      • To

        You are spot on, its only older artist with older fan base and/or rap artist with phenomenal sales…pop artist struggle not because there music is bad, its cuz they are designed to be single artist essentially

    • Phil

      Racism?? I only kid :) but really just horrible timing..the album screams summer fun and all that good stuff, but by now summers and all that fun is practically over :(

  • HoneyB

    I’d say overrated more than overexposed. She cannot sing without her very odd vocal ticks. As a songwriter, she has some catchy singles, but she doesn’t make cohesive albums. In today’s market, who does, really? Since we can pick and choose the songs we like, does it matter if the album is cohestive?

    • Brian

      Plenty of musicians still release cohesive albums. They’re just rarely played on the radio, aka, Crap-Town Central.

    • Jethro

      Sounds exactly what Ke$ha does, which brings us to the same conclusion, you don’t need talent when you have great engineers!!

    • Don

      Have any of you heard her acoustic? Obviously not. Check out her MTV unplugged performance, or one of her acoustic songs at a concert. She’s a great singer. The engineering is actually stifling her imo.

      • Jorge

        Any time I have seen her singing live on TV she has been awful, so she must have been having a really good day.

  • DW

    I agree that the album’s timing was way off. Since “California Gurls” was released I’ve heard it enough times to go from hating it, to kinda liking it, to getting it stuck in my head, to being totally sick of it and never wanting to hear it again. That was all before her album was even released.

    • Jackal

      I never heard the song. Thank God for Sirius Radio.

      • UGH

        Ha-ha!

  • whatevs

    I do agree with the disposable product comment. If you’ve heard one song, you’ve heard them all.

  • Brian

    She’s not an artist (“artist”) whose fans listen to albums, or even know what albums are. She sells songs.

  • Your bed

    Pop fans would buy Usher and Eminem, but I doubt urban fans would buy Katy Perry.

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