It’s mid summer and the record business sales are so-so. Even Jay Z’s heavily hyped “4:44” hasn’t moved as many units as previously announced.
But “4:44” is sort of where the latest controversy– between Lana del Rey and Meek Mill– starts. Jay Z gave away digital copies of his album to Sprint subscribers during his first week of release, and offered the album exclusively as a stream to Tidal subscribers. No one really knows what the Sprint numbers were. This happened with his last album, “Magna Carta,” which went to Samsung phone owners.
Now rap star Meek Mill’s new album “Wins & Losses” has been on Tidal (which Jay Z owns), but in front of their paywall. In other words, Tidal subscribers have been getting free streams of “Wins & Losses.” Do those count as sales? They’re free. Apparently Billboard has been persuaded they do count. Their rivals, Hitsdailydouble and BuzzAngle, say they shouldn’t. (I agree.)
So on hits, the number 1 album for the week is likely to be Lana del Rey’s “Lust for Life.” Hits and Buzz Angle count actual sales. Hard numbers. Using that math, Lana del Rey wins the week. But Hits is incensed that Billboard– famous for giving “bullets” to pop records in the past based on personal relationships– is doing this.
Billboard– famously full of you know what– has published a defense.
So what’s really going on here? Lana del Rey is on Universal’s Interscope Records. Meek Mill is signed to Warner Music’s Atlantic Records. A casual observer of the charts will tell you this: Universal is the giant of the record business. Warner was decimated long ago by previous owners. If Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington hadn’t committed suicide last week, the actual Warner Bros. label would have no records in the top 50 at all. The Atlantic label is hanging in there, but they sure want to be number 1 for their parent company’s sake. (They had a long run earlier this year with Ed Sheeran’s “Divide.”)
Free streaming shouldn’t count toward sales. But the chart is already so historically corrupted, the argument is kind of funny.