As we have less than a quarter of the year left to go, it’s scary to report that, according to an article on Forbes.com, there hasn’t been a single studio album certified Platinum by the RIAA in 2014. According to the website, “By this time last year, five different CDs had hit one million units sold or more…”, with former *NSYNC member Justin Timberlake‘s resurgent album The 20/20 Experience being the best-selling album of 2013 at over 2.4 million copies sold.
However, it’s pretty easy to see how we got to this point. Despite Timberlake’s pretty solid return LP being the most sold album of 2013, The 20/20 Experience also happens to be the lowest-selling best-selling album of the year of all time. 2,430,000 copies might sound like a lot to have sold, and it is, but it’s 444,000 copies less than the second lowest best-selling album of the year throughout history, New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne‘s Tha Carter III, which was the best-selling album of 2008 at 2,874,000 copies sold.
As the Forbes article states, only one album has been certified Platinum in 2014, which is the soundtrack for the wildly-successful Disney movie Frozen, which obviously contained one of the year’s most inescapable smash hits “Let It Go”, performed by Idina Menzel. However, both the soundtrack and the movie it’s from were both released in 2013, meaning not a single album released in 2014 has gone Platinum. If the Frozen soundtrack goes on to be the best-selling album of 2014, it will be the first soundtrack to be the best-selling album of the year since the High School Musical soundtrack took the throne back in 2006.
This all begs the question: Will we see a single studio album (other than the Frozen soundtrack, which is comprised of various artists) break the 1,000,000 mark in the United States this year? As it stands, the two best-selling albums of the year so far besides the Frozen soundtrack are Lorde‘s breakthrough smash Pure Heroine and Beyoncé‘s self-titled fifth studio album, both of which also came out in 2013, and are around the 750,000 mark, breaking Gold certification, at the very least.
It really makes you wonder if there is still a chance that we could have an album come along in the future to be pushed over the top and rekindle interest in popular album sales. From 1992 (the first year that specific album sale stats were released publicly) to 2005, there wasn’t a single best-selling album of the year to sell less than 4 million copies. Mariah Carey‘s The Emancipation of Mimi was the best-selling album of 2005 at almost 5 million copes, but every single year since then, there has not been a single best-selling album of the year to sell 4 million copies or more. The closest was the High School Musical Soundtrack at 3.7 million copies sold.
That is, until 2011, when Adele‘s album 21 dominated the popular consciousness, being the best-selling album of both 2011 and 2012 with over 10 million aggregate sales over those two years alone, the first time a single album had been the best-selling two years in a row since Thriller in 1983 and 1984. But why was this? On top of being a ridiculously successful album sales-wise, 21 was lauded by music fans and critics alike en masse as being a meaningful and long-overdue mainstream alternative to the more vapid and oversimplified pop music that dominated the airwaves around this time.
However, since then, we’ve seen several artists come along to dominate the airwaves with equally compelling alternatives to the average pop smash. Seattle’s Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Lorde, Daft Punk‘s “Get Lucky”, Ellie Goulding, etc. However, none of these artists’ albums came anywhere near the level of 21 or even The 20/20 Experience. The Heist and Random Access Memories both went Platinum, but despite both having #1 singles on the Hot 100 (The Heist having two), neither have sold nearly as well as The 20/20 Experience, which didn’t have any #1 singles under its belt.
Why is that? No one can really say for sure. Are album sales just currently at an all time low from which we can never recover? Will our best-selling albums of the year be restricted to just records that went gold? Does this say to the record industry that whole albums are meaningless as far as the mainstream consciousness is concerned, and that they should just stick to releasing songs one single at a time and leave full studio albums up to more underground consumers and artists? It’s definitely something to think about.