Music biz is just looking for a summer hit

[10 August 2007]

By Kevin C. Johnson

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

This summer was supposed to be a “three-peat” for Kelly Clarkson and 50 Cent.

Much the way “Spider-Man 3,” “Shrek the Third” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” were titles slated to keep this season’s movie box office afloat, pop star Clarkson’s third CD, “My December,” and rapper 50 Cent’s third disc, “Curtis,” were titles considered to be surefire summer saviors.

A few undeniable summer hits were certainly needed. During the first half of the year, sales of digital tracks rose almost 50 percent from the same period last year. But CD sales fell 15 percent, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

“American Idol” finalist Chris Daughtry’s “Daughtry” is the best-selling CD of the year so far, and that’s actually a 2006 release.

Clarkson’s and 50 Cent’s track records looked like the right remedies, or at least Band-Aids, for an ailing music industry. Then things fell apart for both artists.

Clarkson, coming off a blockbuster, hits-laden CD in 2004’s “Breakaway” and a couple of Grammy Awards, had this summer’s most troubled CD. All the news leading up to the release of “My December” was bad, and that’s not good.

She fought with label head Clive Davis over songwriting control, parted with her management, her tour crumbled and her single “Never Again” nearly tanked.

Still, Clarkson’s CD sold well its first week but was topped by Miley Cyrus’ “Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus.”

Coming in behind a star as dubious as Cyrus wasn’t how things were supposed to go. Clarkson has since fallen from the Top 10 after a mere month.

And 50 Cent, who had the second-best-selling CD of 2005 with “The Massacre,” released two singles this spring, “Amusement Park” and “Straight to the Bank.” Both flopped, as did his performance on the BET Awards.

His “Curtis” CD subsequently was moved to Sept. 4 from June 26, then to Sept. 11. The official spin has something to do with synchronizing his worldwide release, but who’s buying that?

Now, the industry finds itself looking for other summer CD champions, another Daughtry, another Carrie Underwood, another “High School Musical” (the latter two are on the way). Hits and misses are popping up in unexpected places:

“Now Vol. 25” isn’t selling like other installments of the long-running series, but it still sits atop the Billboard 200 for two weeks and counting as fans continue to show their transition to stand-alone hit singles over albums. No matter that the hits are slightly moldy. The latest set includes Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend,” Beyonce and Shakira’s “Beautiful Liar,” Huey’s “Pop, Lock and Drop It” and Fergie’s “Glamorous.”

Say what you will about the state of rock today, but Linkin Park’s new “Minutes to Midnight” holds the record for the biggest debut week of the year. And other new rock albums—Bon Jovi’s “Lost Highway,” Maroon 5’s “It Won’t Be Soon Before Long,” White Stripes’ “Icky Thump” and Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zeitgeist”—aren’t looking too shabby.

Most impressive is the continued Top 10 status this summer of Nickelback’s “All the Right Reasons,” released in 2005.

In need of real help are Wilco’s “Sky Blue Sky,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Year Zero,” Marilyn Manson’s “Eat Me, Drink Me” and Enrique Iglesias’ “Insomniac.” Iglesias might be wishing he’d stayed up more nights.

Nickelback’s not the only one with legs extending into this summer. Consider:

Fergie’s debut solo CD, “The Dutchess.” Buoyed by the single “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” it is closing in on nearly a year on the chart and remains in the Top 10.

T. I. never got the memo on rap music’s down spin. His “T.I. vs. T.I.P.” this summer had the year’s second-biggest opening, surely aided by a clearer path after 50 Cent got out of the way. T.I. is faring much better than Shop Boyz’ “Rock Star Mentality,” Timbaland’s “Timbaland Presents Shock Value,” Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Strength & Loyalty” and Young Jeezy Presents U.S.D.A.‘s “Cold Summer: The Authorized Mixtape.”

Amy Winehouse may be a mess with her highly publicized drinking and carrying on, but she’s delivering the soulful goods musically on her consistently selling summer sleeper “Back to Black.” But new albums by fellow soulful young Brits—Joss Stone’s “Introducing Joss Stone” and Lily Allen’s “Alright, Still”—aren’t doing as well.

R&B stars, such as R. Kelly and T-Pain, are doing respectably with their “Double Up” and “Epiphany” CDs, respectively. But other R&B CDs, such as Ne-Yo’s “Because of You,” Tank’s “Sex, Love & Pain,” Lloyd’s “Street Love” and Bobby Valentino’s “Special Occasion,” could use a push if they’re going to last past summer.

Former Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland shares a lot in common with her onetime group-mate Beyonce—except when it comes to CD sales. Rowland’s second solo CD, “Ms. Kelly,” is experiencing the kind of fate Beyonce’s has never seen: “Ms. Kelly” is sliding out of the Top 40 after only a few weeks.

Country has encountered a few bumps, as CDs such as Brad Paisley’s “5th Gear,” Toby Keith’s “Big Dog Daddy” and Big & Rich’s “Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace” debuted well but failed to generate much momentum.

Reggaeton’s top ambassador, Daddy Yankee, isn’t making much noise with his latest, “El Cartel: The Big Boss.”

National artists with St. Louis area roots aren’t selling as well as they might have liked. Gretchen Wilson’s third CD, “One of the Boys,” is posting her worst numbers yet. And rapper Huey’s “Notebook Paper” is looking like a fast fade as well, despite a hit single in “Pop, Lock and Drop It.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/music-biz-is-just-looking-for-a-summer-hit/