Beyonce‘s Renaissance, out Friday — her seventh solo studio album and her first since 2016 — is shaping up to be a huge success for the singer and Columbia Records. But how well the album does in the US in its first week depends on whether Beyoncé can still rally fans to buy vinyl and CDs like an old-school “album artist” rather than streaming a hit track or two. In this decade, an album doesn’t usually release a great first week without fans buying albums.
Billboard‘s analysis of 14 other superstar albums since 2020 reveals that the top-performing titles had a potent combination of strong physical and digital sales in their first week, in addition to exceptional streaming numbers. To Renaissance to compete with the top albums of the last two years, it would need to debut with around 500,000 album-equivalent units, combining album sales, track sales and streams. That goal would likely require hundreds of millions of streams in addition to more than 100,000 in album sales and tens of thousands of track sales. It would probably reach #1 on Billboard 200 chart with half that number.
“At this point, it seems like a strong release,” said Steve Harkins, vice president of sales and marketing at Ingram Entertainment, a wholesale distributor. Laura Provenzano, senior vice president of acquisitions and marketing at Alliance Entertainment, believes Renaissance could sell 100,000 CDs in its first week alone. Both Harkins and Provenzano think so Renaissance would perform better if vinyl was made widely available at retail – it’s only available on Beyonce.com. But “good anticipation” in the market means some vinyl retailers are even considering carrying them Renaissance CD, says Harkins. “The fans will grab it no matter what,” Provenzano says.
Still, one industry source’s forecast can’t see Renaissance hits 500,000 units. They predict the album will debut with 300,000 total album-equivalent units in its first week.
In comparison, Beyoncé’s last album, Lemonade, released on April 23, 2016, moved 657,000 album-equivalent units in its first week: 485,000 digital albums, 908,000 digital tracks and 121.3 million on-demand streams. All 12 tracks reached Hot 100. A physical version of the album was not available until May 6, 2016.
But Beyoncé’s previous albums are imperfect guideposts for performing Renaissance. The year Lemonade was released – 2016 – was a generation ago in terms of music consumption habits. There were an average of 22.6 million subscribers to music streaming services in 2016, according to the RIAA. That jumped to 84 million in 2021 and is likely close to 95 million today. Streaming rose to dominate music consumption during that period, with on-demand streams jumping 162% from 431 billion in 2016 to 1.13 trillion in 2021. And while download sales were a significantly larger portion of an album’s consumption, overall sales fell by digital albums and tracks. 68% and 72% respectively from 2016 to 2021, according to Luminate. Vinyl LPs, meanwhile, rose 218% from 2016 to 2021, as CD sales fell 63% and their overall sales fell 33%. What’s more, 2016’s Lemonade was released exclusively on Tidal for streaming, bypassing more popular platforms such as Spotify, until three years after its release. That will not be the case in 2022.
Few artists can sell hundreds of thousands of albums in a single week in 2022. Taylor Swift‘s Folklore sold 615,000 digital albums in the first week of release in July 2020 – no physical product was on sale in the first week. (Folklore also benefits from sales it racked up through ticket and merchandise packages on Swift’s website, which was disqualified from Billboard chart calculations for albums starting in October 2020.) In November 2021, Swift’s RED (Taylor’s version) sold 261,000 physical albums and 108,000 digital albums. Only two other artists this decade have had similar first-week physical sales: last November, just weeks after Swift’s RED release, Adele‘s 30 had first week sales of 487,000 physical albums and 205,000 digital albums. And in May Harry Styles‘ Harry’s house sold 306,000 physical albums on its way to 523,000 equivalent album units in its first week.
Columbia Records casts a wide net Renaissance. In contrast to Lemonade‘s Tidal exclusive, Renaissance will be available on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music and other leading music streaming platforms upon release. That’s very important in 2022, when streaming is the de facto method of music consumption for Americans. Lemonade still managed 120 million streams in its first week of release – impressive for a Tidal exclusive. Today, a successful first week will range from 252 million (achieved by Drake‘s (Honestly, never mind) to 305 million (Swift’s RED (Taylor’s version)).
Renaissance will also be available in multiple physical formats. The CD is sold at retailers such as Amazon, Target and Urban Outfitters. (From 28 July the pre-order is off Renaissance was ranked #8 on Amazon in CDs and Vinyl.) The album is also sold as a digital album at online retailers such as iTunes and Amazon. And as for vinyl, the online store at Beyonce.com is selling four different box sets (with a collector’s box, a T-shirt and a CD) for $39.99 and a limited edition vinyl LP that ships on the album’s release date – all five releases are already sold out and will begin shipping on July 29, according to Beyonce.com.
Beyoncé helped write the current album marketing book with the surprise release of her self-titled album. The album was dropped without warning on iTunes on Dec. 12, 2013 – along with an accompanying full-length visual album – as her response to today’s new music marketing. “Now people only listen to a few seconds [a] sang on iPods and they don’t really invest in the whole experience,” she lamented in a video posted to her Facebook page after the set’s release. “It’s about the single and the hype.” Lemonade took a similar tack by teasing the album’s release just a week before the street date in two Instagram posts. The shock announcement created a media blitz across television, online outlets and radio. A day before the HBO premiere, Beyoncé commercials took over Times Square in New York City.
Beyoncé exists among an elite class of musicians who can take six years between proper album releases and still garner just as much — or even more — interest when she returns with a new album. Adele achieved a similar feat last year with 30; but unlike Adele who was relatively silent in the six years between the 2015s 25 and 30Beyoncé has remained a mainstream cultural presence, keeping creatively busy in between Lemonade and Renaissance. That period’s mixed commercial results make foreboding Renaissance difficult though. She released Everything is love with Jay-Z as The Carters in 2018, debuts at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with 123,000 album equivalent units. (The set, which has sold 836,000 album-equivalent units to date, was limited as a Tidal exclusive and won’t be available for less than a full week.)
The following year, Beyoncé produced and recorded The Lion King: The Giftthe soundtrack to the remake of the 1994 animated film – as well debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, with 54,000 album equivalent units, and has achieved a modest 322,000 album equivalent units to date. In addition, the independent singles “Black Parade” (2020) and “Be Alive” (from King Richard2021) garnered acclaim, with the former making several year-end lists, and the latter earned an Oscar nomination – but neither achieved much commercial success, with “Parade” peaking at No. 37 on the Hot 100 and “Alive” missing the chart entirely.
Perhaps in a reflection of how much the industry has changed since 2016 – especially how important a physical release is producing robust first-week numbers — Beyoncé has built up to Renaissance over the course of months, rather than weeks or days, in what amounts to essentially her most traditional rollout since 2011’s 4. The album was first teased in early June before being announced with a Vogue UK cover story — the kind of extended media look that Beyoncé mostly avoided while promoting her last two LPs — on June 16. Lead single “Break My Soul” followed four days later and has since climbed to No. 7 on the Hot 100, her highest-charting single as a lead artist since “Drunk in Love” (No. 2) in 2014.
While people will be watching closely Renaissance‘s first week performance, the true test will come over the next two years. But as Billboard explained in April, popular tracks have an increasingly longer shelf life on streaming platforms. Success for albums is now defined by the number of songs they can generate that stay in the top streaming tracks for more than 18 months. Tracks such as Dua Lipa‘s “Levitating” and The Weeknd“Save Your Tears” and “Blinding Lights” have remained popular more than two years after their release and have given legs to their albums, The nostalgia of the future and After hours. Longevity, not the number of units sold in a single week, is the difference between a modest hit album and an undeniable blockbuster.