Based on current projections, Mariah Carey's new album, Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse, will sell about 55K copies in the week that ends Sunday night. That would be the lowest first-week tally for a regular Carey studio album since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking music sales in 1991. Carey's previous low for a regular studio album in this period was set when her last album, Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel, sold 168K in its first week in October 2009.
It's a given that most albums don't "open" like they used to, but some do. Just last week, Coldplay's Ghost Stories sold 383K copies in its first week. In 2013, albums by seven varied artists each sold more than 500K copies in their first weeks. (Those artists were Justin Timberlake, Jay Z, Luke Bryan, Drake, Eminem, One Direction and Beyonce). So it can still happen.
So what's the problem? Here are six possible reasons that Carey's album is having a disappointing launch.
1. The album has yet to spawn a top 10 single. Carey has struggled to land a hit single in recent years. Just two of her last five singles have cracked Billboard's Hot 100. Two 2012 releases, "Triumphant (Get 'Em)" (featuring Rick Ross and Meek Mill) and "Almost Home," failed to hit chart (and were left off the album). "#Beautiful," a (very good) collabo with rising R&B star Miguel, reached #15 in June 2013. (It's on the album.) "The Art Of Letting Go" failed to chart. (It's a bonus track on some editions of the album.) "You're Mine (Eternal)" reached #88 in February. (It's on the album.) Me… seems destined to become Carey's second non-holiday studio album to fail to produce a top 10 hit. The first was 2002's Charmbracelet. That album's biggest hit, "Through The Rain," stalled at #81.
2. Carey is by now a veteran artist. Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse is Carey's 11th regular studio album (excluding two Christmas albums and the Glitter soundtrack). It's natural for sales to taper off over time, for even the biggest superstars. (By comparison, Coldplay in on its sixth studio album. Of the seven artists named above, only Jay Z has had as many studio albums as Carey. Magna Carta Holy Grail was his 12th solo studio album.)
3. Fresh competition has come along. In the nearly five years since Carey's last studio album, many artists have debuted (Ariana Grande) or broken through to superstardom (Adele). Grande, whose 2013 hit "The Way" (featuring Mac Miller) sounded a lot like Carey, is a rising star. Her current hit, "Problem," is the #2 song in the country. (Grande is 20, the same age that Carey was when she hit #1 with her debut single, "Vision Of Love.")
4. The album has a bad title. The title of the new album, Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse, is pretentious, clunky and off-putting. The album, in effect, has three titles. Carey should have settled on one and kept it simple. Incidentally, this is Carey's third album out of her past four regular studio releases with a self-referential title. It follows The Emancipation Of Mimi and Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel.
5. Carey may have stayed away too long. The nearly five year gap between studio albums is Carey's longest. Her previous longest hiatus was three years and one month.
6. American Idol didn't help matters. Carey didn't do herself any favors by agreeing to be a judge on American Idol in 2013. She wasn't really in her element. It's never a good idea to be seen doing something you don't do especially well. (By contrast, the current judges, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr., are good at this sort of thing.)
Even with a disappointing first-week sales tally, Carey's album is expected to enter The Billboard 200 at #3—the same position that her last studio album reached. The top two albums for the second week in row will probably be Coldplay's album (which will sell about 75K) and country star Brantley Gilbert's Just As I Am (which will sell about 60K). The Frozen soundtrack and teen heartthrob Austin Mahone's The Secret will probably round out the top five.
This will be Carey's 17th top 10 album. She's in third place among female solo artists, trailing only Barbra Streisand (32) and Madonna (20).
Carey had her biggest first-week sales tally five years ago when E=MC2 sold 463K copies in its first week. The album included the #1 hit "Touch My Body."
Carey has sold 54,280,000 albums in the U.S. since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking music sales in January 1991. That's more than any other female artist. Celine Dion is second among women, with sales of 52,234,000. Among all artists, Carey is fourth, following Garth Brooks (69,544,000), The Beatles (65,730,000) and Metallica (54,365,000). Metallica pushed ahead of Carey on this running tally in March.
Carey's first album, Mariah Carey, was released in June 1990. That was six months prior to the start of the Nielsen SoundScan era, so it's impossible to know how many copies it sold in its first week. It entered The Billboard 200 way down at #80, so it probably didn't have a big first-week sales number.
Carey's second album, Emotions, was released in September 1991. That's within the Nielsen SoundScan era, but weekly sales for 1991 aren't posted on the tracking service's site. It entered The Billboard 200 at #4, and it was the follow-up to an album that logged 11 weeks at #1, so it probably had a big first-week tally.