The number one album in the country this week is Arcade Fire’s Everything Now. That’s despite the fact that other records may have performed better, notably Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN, which is in the number two spot. Arcade Fire’s chart success is due to the fact that the band sold more actual copies of their record (94,000, to be precise) than other artists, many of whom are reliant on streams.
The Billboard charts calculate 1,500 song streams as equivalent to one album sale, meaning it would take 141 million streams to match Arcade Fire’s 94,000 “pure” sales. Even so, Kendrick Lamar’s album, which has been out for four months, was streamed 45 million times, compared to Everything Now’s 7.8 milion streams. Arcade Fire’s album received the least streams of any number one record since Bon Jovi’s 2016 album This House Is Not for Sale, which landed at the top of the charts with only 315,000 streams.
But adding a layer of intrigue to Arcade Fire’s surprising chart performance is the fact that the band was aided by a promotion that bundled the album with concert tickets for an upcoming tour, meaning every fan that bought a ticket to see Arcade Fire also purchased the album. The shows on the band’s upcoming Infinite Content tour spans 40 dates at large-capacity venues like Madison Square Garden in New York and the Oracle Arena in Oakland. This means that it is possible that a significant portion of Everything Now sales came from this promotion.
A spokesperson for Billboard could not offer a determination of how many of Arcade Fire’s sales were due to the promotion and directed me to the announcement of this week’s charts: “Everything Now’s sales start of 94,000 (the sixth largest sales week for a rock album in 2017) was aided by a concert ticket/album bundle sale redemption promotion with the act’s upcoming tour.”
The album charts are becoming increasingly susceptible to manipulation.
Plenty of artists have made similarly intentional moves to manipulate their albums’ chart performance. Arcade Fire isn’t even the first to bundle albums with concert tickets this year. In March, Linkin Park bundled tickets to its tour with the band’s album, One More Light, The Chainsmokers’ did the same with Memories… Do Not Open, and Katy Perry included copies of her album, Witness, with tickets to her shows around the country. All of these album and concert ticket bundles have boosted the acts’ chart presence, and raise questions about how much weight album charts should hold if artists, especially big-name artists, can finesse the system. (Jay-Z and Rihanna have both struck deals with Samsung to sell copies of their albums to the company directly, generously padding the respective records’ overall sales figures).
It’s not just sales, either. Last week, amidst a delayed Billboard chart announcement, Tyler the Creator voiced his disapproval of Tidal’s strategy of offering Meek Mill’s latest record, Wins & Losses, for free in front of their paywall as a means of ginning up streams to potentially send the record to the top of the charts. “DAMN TIDAL GOT ALBUMS PLAYING BEFORE A PAYWALL WHICH MAKES ME THINK NIGGAS CAN HAVE BOTS SPIKING UP PLAYS FOR BILLBOARD ON FRIDAY HMM,” he wrote on Twitter.
As streaming continues to dominate the way fans consume music, the album charts are becoming increasingly susceptible to manipulation, particularly from big players. But what relevance does a number one album hold in 2017 anyway? Streaming has not only made listening to music more convenient, but it’s also personalized the experience. Fans don’t have to go to the radio for their favorite music, and they likely don’t pay much attention to the charts either. Which means that the honor of a number one record is more of a vanity than an honest reading of what the country is listening to.