There comes a time in every pop diva’s career when it’s clear that she’s surpassed that finite window of time when everything she touches turns to gold. Sometimes this seems unfair—Janet Jackson cranked out six singles that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1993's janet., while The Velvet Rope, which many a diehard considers to be her masterpiece, spawned a mere two. Sometimes this seems overdue—at her height, Paula Abdul scored six No. 1 singles in a row. (Could the average millennial even name one?) Something I think about regularly is how it must feel when your massive popularity wanes, since it is inevitable that said popularity makes up a considerable part of your public persona (if not identity). What’s left of you when the people who helped make you you are no longer showing up?
Anyway, it seems like Katy Perry’s hot streak has cooled—maybe permanently, maybe not. The world, as Vanessa Williams noted, is a crazy place. Last year’s “Rise,” which was marketed as an anthem for the 2016 Summer Olympics, was a non-event. “Chained to the Rhythm,” the first single from her upcoming album Witness, debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February but slid down the chart from there. It never quite managed to find the momentum that first singles from A-list acts often do, despite Perry’s not-so-subliminal lyrical plea (“Turn it up, it’s your favorite song,” she sang, and few agreed). The follow-up, “Bon Appétit,” debuted on the most recent Billboard Hot 100 at a ho-hum No. 76. We’ll see if the cannibalism-themed video, which has racked up about 30 million views on YouTube since debuting on Friday, can do the heavy lifting.
Regardless, expect robust first-week figures for Witness after its June 9 release. The album and a major North American tour (currently scheduled from September 7 to February 5 of next year) were announced today, as was the fact that a copy of the album will be included with each purchased ticket. Such bundling has helped otherwise ignored recent Madonna albums debut high on the Billboard 200 album chart (2012's MDNA bowed at No. 1, while 2015's Rebel Heart came in at No. 2). It’s been used by legacy artists like Metallica and Barbra Streisand, as well as new, potential flashes in the pan like the Chainsmokers, who rode this... scam? chart-hack? to No. 1 last month.
At Spin, former Gawker alum Andy Cush wrote about the Chainsmokers’ road to No. 1, which is based on a ticket-bundling model originated by Prince for 2004's Musicology. After Prince sold 633,000 copies of that disc in a little over a month (with about 25 percent of the sales coming from ticket-bundling), Billboard revised its chart policy. The L.A. Times reported: “To have CDs distributed at concerts counted as sales, musicians will now be required to offer fans different ticket prices, one including the album and one not.” But that’s not exactly how it’s shaken out in the ensuing 13 years. Cush writes:
Rather than giving an album out with every ticket and counting that as a sale, artists and labels now can follow one of two options. The first is to continue to bundle tickets and albums together, but to ask fans to opt in to redeeming their free album when it becomes available, rather than handing them out to every single ticket-holder. Under this option, which is what the Chainsmokers chose, musicians and labels have to perform a bit of jujitsu to prove that their fans actually want the copies of the album they’re being given. If you bought tickets online to see the Chainsmokers when they come to your city, you probably got two emails: one with your tickets, and another with a link to download the album. It’s only after you click that link, signaling your active interest in hearing Memories…Do Not Open, that the sale gets logged. (There are other specifications, too, such as a prohibition on bundling albums into tickets to festivals and other large multi-artist shows and on offering deluxe or special editions of the album to those fans who purchase tickets.) The second option is to offer two ticket prices: one price that does not include a copy of the album, and another, slightly higher price that does.
This seems like a lot of work for the glory of a No. 1, especially because that glory is reduced by tricks like these. When it comes to the album chart, even as anemic as sales are in 2017, accrued sales reflect the actual cultural impact of an album far more than peak positions. An album can debut high and slide quickly down the chart—by February 2015, Madonna’s MDNA had sold 539,000 copies in total. That means in almost three years after its big debut, it only managed to move an additional 180,000 copies. But hey look: It went to No. 1.
Katy Perry’s Witness will likely also go to No. 1, and Katy Perry will be fine even if it took ticket-bundling to get there. Remember, this is the singer who scored five U.S. No. 1 singles from one album (2010's Teenage Dream), making her only the second act of all time to do so (Michael Jackson did it with Bad). And then she reissued the album, “Part of Me” went to No. 1, and technically speaking, Perry snatched that record. Katy Perry has chart tricks for days.