First week out, you comfortably debut at #1. Second week--uh-oh.
Sales of Madonna's MDNA fell by 87% in just its second week in the stores. EIGHTY-SEVEN FREAKIN' PER CENT! That makes it the second-worst second-week drop in chart history.
What happened? Some theories:
1. First week sales were inflated by the practice known as "bundling." People who bought tickets to Madonna's upcoming tour received a coupon for either a download or a physical copy of MDNA. Chart manipulation? You bet. But now it's come back to bite her on her ass. All the people who want to see on this tour--her hardcore constituents--now have the album, too.
2. Madonna's act is getting old. She's 53 yet continues to act like she's 21. No amount of plastic surgery and attitude can cover that up. Those who grooved to "Express Yourself" in the summer of '89 when they were 18 have long since grown up, bought minivans and are more concerned about taking little Dakota to ballet class than they are about the fact that one of the musicial heroines of their youth has a new album. Meanwhile, today's 18 year-olds aren't interested in someone their grandma's age pretending that she's still young and hip. Their bullshit detectors can't be circumvented. Hey, when you were 18, how many 53 year-old pop stars did you care about? (Don't answer that if you're 18 now; my point will fall flat, especially if you've discovered classic rock. Or U2.)
3. Madonna is still making mass-market pop music, chasing airplay on Top 40 radio stations aimed at kids who have never known MTV as a place to go for music videos. Perhaps Madonna should have decided to grow with her audience and do something crazy--and mature.
4. Mass-market pop music has changed. There are no big home runs anymore. Think MDNA is going to sell the 15 million that Like a Prayer did? Yes, Confessions on a Dance Floor sold 10 million in 2005, but that given the changes in music, that might as well be a century ago. Look at Hard Candy. It managed just 4 million worldwide three years later--and it was supported by a massive world tour. No one--not even Madge--can fight the fact that music has segmented and fragmented so much that outside of a flukes like Adele, we're never going to see album sales figures like she used to see ever again. No one in the industry wants to admit it, but the mainstream is dying.
Still, it's early and there's a possibility--a very, very, very slim one--that this past week was only some kind of sales stutter. And I can pretty much guarantee you that this world tour is going to be a massive moneymaker. But when Madonna struggles to sell a new album, you know that things have really, really changed for the music business.