Cee Lo: Why wasn't his album a hit?

cee-loImage Credit: Frank Micelotta/Getty ImagesThe great Cee Lo Green limped on to the Billboard 200 chart this week with just 41,000 copies sold of his new album The Lady Killer. That got him to No. 9, but it’s hard to see this as anything but a  weak opening number, especially considering how much Cee Lo had going for him in the year of “F— You.” What went wrong?

The simple fact is that all the buzz around “F— You” didn’t translate into album sales. That isn’t entirely surprising. Thanks in part to the profanity in its chorus, it was only a medium-sized chart hit, peaking at No. 17 on Billboard‘s Hot 100, so it never achieved measurable ubiquity. Still, it certainly felt like “F— You” and its inferior sanitized version, “Forget You,” were everywhere this summer and fall. Just in the last few weeks, Cee Lo performed the song on Late Night With David Letterman and The Colbert Report. Unfortunately for him, the episode of Glee where guest star Gwyneth Paltrow sang it didn’t air until this Tuesday, too late to affect his first-week Nielsen SoundScan tally. Still, this was a pretty well-run media campaign. Cee Lo worked hard to keep himself in the public eye as his album release date approached, and none of it seems to have mattered.

Compare the case of Kid Cudi. His single “Erase Me” had an even smaller chart presence than “F— You” (it only reached No. 22), but he ended up selling four times as many albums as Cee Lo last week. Four times as many! What does Cudi have that Cee Lo doesn’t? A vocal co-sign from Kanye West, for one thing, and a single with less prominent curse words. Maybe he also has a more loyal fan base, or at least one that includes way more people who actually pay money for albums. But with all due respect to Kid Cudi, whose Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager is a fantastic record, that doesn’t quite add up. Cee Lo is a veteran artist who’s paid dues for a decade and a half. He has the respect of hip-hop heads from his years in Goodie Mob and pop listeners from his Gnarls Barkley project. Didn’t any of those people care enough to buy his album?

In this day and age, no one can count on huge first-week sales. That’s a given. I wasn’t expecting Cee Lo to put up Taylor Swift numbers. Still, I can’t help being a little disappointed that he didn’t even break the 50,000 mark in week one. How about you? Did any of you buy The Lady Killer? Speak up in the comments.

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

More from EW.com:
EW’s A– review of The Lady Killer
Cee Lo Green tells us all about “F— You,” his new album, and more

Comments (95 total) Add your comment
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  • Phil

    It’s a great album. I’m hoping it’ll gain some traction in the coming weeks & once the holiday rush picks up…”Bright Lights Bigger City” has the potential to be a HUGE smash, and hopefully pop radio will be more supportive than it was on “F**k You”. Thats why Cee Lo never peaked higher than #17. Most stations that added the “Forget You” version never gave the song massive spins, since it sounded awful with that chorus, and most likely didn’t test well.
    Sidenote, Simon, iTunes just began selling the Michael Jack & Akon “Hold My Hand” duet. #1 by the end of the day….

    • Brenda Barrett

      This is definitely a head-scratcher, as this is a marvelous album. And it truly is an ALBUM — these catchy, cohesive tunes are best enjoyed start to finish, rather than $1.29 at a time. And come on, despite the expletive, “Eff You” is an instant-soul classic.

      • Sharon

        This is getting a bit more sibuectjve, but I much prefer the Zune Marketplace. The interface is colorful, has more flair, and some cool features like Mixview’ that let you quickly see related albums, songs, or other users related to what you’re listening to. Clicking on one of those will center on that item, and another set of neighbors will come into view, allowing you to navigate around exploring by similar artists, songs, or users. Speaking of users, the Zune Social is also great fun, letting you find others with shared tastes and becoming friends with them. You then can listen to a playlist created based on an amalgamation of what all your friends are listening to, which is also enjoyable. Those concerned with privacy will be relieved to know you can prevent the public from seeing your personal listening habits if you so choose.

    • Delon

      It simply isn’t a great album. I got it, but i only managed to listen to it once and then went back to listening to new Bilal (which i bought on the same day) who i think has made the best R&B album of the year along with Janelle Monae. I thought Cee-Lo’s album would be inventive and groundbreaking like Janelle’s, but gave me a very generic first impression. Fantasia’s Back to Me feels generic too, but at least the girl sings her heart and ass off. I love his duet with Fantasia on The Thrill is Gone from her album (he actually uses the same lyric “it was real, but the thrill is gone” in song #8 on his album). The album is retro like Raphael Saadiq’s 2008 effort The Way I See It. It’s sweet and bubbly, although Cee-Lo’s voice is better suited for gritty material. The retro element doesn’t hook you up like Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black.
      He can’t quite achieve the balance between retro and modern. “Wake Up” John Legend’s collaboration with The Roots is superior in that aspect. If you are looking for an inventive R&B album you should buy Bilal’s Airtight’s Revenge or Janelle’s Archandroid.

      • Daphnelicious

        Yea, Fantasia’s voice is front and center on her album, but Cee-lo’s voice is buried under the mix. He’s like a guest without a character on his album. Besides, the production is nothing special or inventive. It’s a failed attempt at a full-on soul revival. Pity.

      • Phil

        I respect both of your opinions, but honestly, I think you’re way off base in your comparisions. Fantasia’s album is for the R&B base solely. There is no pop hits on there. Cee Lo made a diverse, genre-spanning album, which is far better than any solo material he’s ever released. “Bright Lights Bigger City” will be a HUGE pop hit around the world. And comparing Cee Lo’s latest to Bilal’s new one is almost like comparing N.E.R.D.’s new cd “Nothing” to Kanye’s new cd..just because they’re categorized under the same genre doesn’t mean they are in the same vein.
        And sadly, I hope this doesn’t become a weekly thing..the holiday shopping season goes into overdrive next week with a slew of new releases, and with such a bloated release schedule, of course there are going to be losers EVERY week since album sales aren’t what they are used to be. Writing pointless pieces undermining brilliant albums that have yet to be discovered by diehard fans outside their fanbase seems sad & desperate, and not the kind of publicity any new release needs in the coming weeks.

      • Delon

        what’s truly pointless is your sentence: “…that have yet to be discovered by diehard fans outside their fanbase…” The album sadly is not brilliant. I was hoping that it would be. I’d love to see Cee-Lo selling more and if this was really all that i’d be championing it til i lose my voice. Sadly, it’s not. “Bright Lights” has not much going for it except for the Billie Jean bassline. Cee-Lo’s album sold exactly the amount it deserved. HIS VOICE SHOULD’VE BEEN FRONT AND CENTRE NOT THE PRODUCTION BY SOME SOUL FETISHIST HIPSTER PRODUCER.

      • Shayla

        If you couldn’t get into The Lady Killer, then maybe you should download his mixtape album entitled Stray Bullets. Stray Bullets is probably what you expected The Lady Killer to be… Just a suggestion

  • JRWolfe

    A terrible song,yet a turntable hit.Not a first in the music biz,its sales reflect its real popularity.

    • Kevin

      That must be why everyone I knew was obsessed with the song before I ever heard it on the radio or at a bar. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean no one does.

  • pat

    does it make you crazy that he didn’t sell more?

  • Pete

    I bought it and it’s an incredible album. People just don’t know good music it seems.

    • Clete

      No, based on your comment, the one who doesn’t know good music is you.

      • Pete

        clete, have you heard the album? if not, than you probably shouldn’t speak on it.

    • KRibbons

      I think other than his mainstream songs, Cee Lo is an acquired taste. His other album Cee-Lo Green…is the Soul Machine took a few listens for me to start to like it. He’s a weird dude, with some weird songs and interesting beats, but give him a chance and you’ll find he’s more than just Chart Topping fodder.

    • Clete

      Last album I bought was by the Jazz singer Diane Krall, someone who can really sing.

      • Natalie

        I’m sure that she would appreciate the praise if you actually knew what her name was…

  • Kate

    I must confess, as the song didn’t actually make it to the Top 40 station I listen to at work, I didn’t hear of the song until a couple weeks ago and it isn’t the kind you can just listen to at work. And then I heard Forget You first. But the first time I heard any full verison was the Colbert Report.

  • ns

    Cee Lo is an amazing singer, but facts are facts: he’s really only hit it big with “Crazy,” and the average man in the street doesn’t even associate the name Cee Lo with that song.

    • Pete

      yup, you always have to say “cee-lo…the guy from gnarls barkley” ha

      • uhh really

        The average man on the street also thinks you guys are douchebags for acting like you’re “in the know”

  • Ashley

    F*ck You forever!

    Seriously, that is such a great song and d*mn catchy. Forget you just didn’t have the same ring to it.

  • nodnarb

    “Crazy” was the ONLY good song by Gnarls Barkley. The rest of that album was terrible. Once bitten, twice shy.

    • Kevin “Koko” McClumpington

      I thought that the album was awful too. Their 2nd album is much better.

    • sheg79

      First of all, Gnarls Barkley put out two albums, so you can’t judge just one and say they have only one good song. Secondly, if you paid any attention to the lyrics instead of just the beats smart guy you would know every song off of their first album is actually them singing about a different type of mental disorder. Second album wasn’t quite as good as the first i admit, but it’s definitely worth a look. So i suggest anyone who hasn’t looked @ it in that light, try again.

      • nodnarb

        So singing about mental disorders automatically makes it good? Ooookay. From what I can remember (and I deleted most of that crap from my computer), the songs were about Inspector Gadget, Feng Shui, and necrophilia. So just what mental disorder was the Inspector Gadget song about? Bipolar?

  • scatx

    Bought it. Love it.

  • reb

    I totally missed the song this summer somehow, but I heard it a few weeks ago, and bought the record (okay, downloaded it from Amazon.com) over the weekend. It’s been all I’ve been able to listen to since, and I can’t imagine why it’s not a bigger hit. It’s accessible and still smart, which is a hard combo to come by in the music world.

  • John

    There use to be a time when an album would come out low on the charts and build up momentum over time. I plan to get it but I am not running out right away.

    • rerun

      Really? Maybe for an artist’s first album. But not for established acts. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think the Beatles, U2, REM, Chili Peppers, etc start at #80 and move up the chart.

  • ATLien

    I’m a big Outkast, Goodie Mob, Gnarls Barkley, and Cee-lo fan. I had no idea the album was released. That’s probably the real issue.

    • Krystal

      I agree. I had originally thought the album would come out in December.

  • Buddy

    He needs a follow up hit. “It’s OK” would make a great sequel to “F You”

  • joseph t

    I enjoyed the song F You but that song alone didnt make me super interested in the album. I guess I should revisit the idea of getting it.

  • Daw Johnson

    This article acts like this is the first time someone with a radio hit didn’t sell albums.

    Jason DeRulo, Taio Cruz, Jay Sean, Far East Movement, and many of similar acts all had far bigger mainstream single hits (I believe all have had a #1), and their album sales were comparable, if not less, to Cee Lo’s.

    Yes, he has more critical acclaim, but we all know that means sh*t for record sales, especially in the world of R&B/pop/dance.

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