Beyonce Makes History With Fifth No. 1 Album

No. 11: Beyonce Hones the Art of the Album Stunt

Yes, the singer broke iTunes records when her secretly recorded album, released without warning Dec. 12, sold 828,000 downloads in three days. But album stunts weren't limited to pop acts in 2013. David Bowie released his first studio effort in 10 years with no warning, as did U.K. noise-rockers My Bloody Valentine. ( headline: "Band Crashes Internet.") The strategy shows how direct the relationship has become between popular acts and their fans.

The singer's surprise self-titled release makes her the first woman to take the top spot with her first five studio albums.

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It's official: Beyonce's new self-titled album debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, making her the first woman to hit No. 1 with her first five studio albums.
It follows the chart-topping Dangerously in Love (2003), B'Day (2006), I Am…Sasha Fierce (2008) and 4 (2011). All five of her albums also debuted at No. 1.

The two other acts that have taken their first five studio sets to No. 1: rapper DMX and folk group the Kingston Trio. (DMX also happens to be the only other act, aside from Beyonce, to debut at No. 1 with his first five studio efforts.)

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Beyonce was released on the morning of Dec. 13 -- exclusively via the iTunes Store, without any pre-release announcement -- and it sold 617,000 copies through the week ending Dec. 15, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That's a record high sales week for Beyonce, as the diva's previous best week came when B'Day bowed with 541,000.

iTunes is the exclusive seller of the album, released on Columbia Records, through Dec. 18. The physical version of the album should start to reach U.S. retailers sometime between Dec. 18 and Dec. 20. (The arrival day varies, depending on how far -- and fast -- the CDs travel from Sony's distribution center to retailers.)

Beyonce also notches the largest sales week for a woman in 2013 and the year's fourth-biggest sales week overall. It follows the No. 1 debuts of Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience (968,000), Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (792,000) and Drake's Nothing Was the Same (658,000). The last largest week for a woman was when Taylor Swift's Red debuted with 1.2 million at No. 1 upon its release in October 2012.

As previously reported, iTunes announced that Beyonce tallied the largest sales week for an album in its U.S. iTunes Store and was its fastest-selling title ever globally (828,773 sold worldwide through Dec. 15).

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(Note: The music industry tracks weekly sales on a Monday through Sunday basis, the reason Beyonce's feat is being measured after only three days on sale.)

Beyonce's launch is also the second-largest digital sales week overall, counting all digital retailers. It's second behind the debut frame of Lady Gaga's Born This Way, which sold 662,000 downloads in its first week. (That number was enhanced by Amazon MP3's decision to sell the set for 99 cents for two days during its first week. Billboard has estimated that Amazon MP3's 99-cent version resulted in 440,000 copies sold.)

Beyonce is only the second digital-only album to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200, following the 2010 all-star live charity album Hope for Haiti Now. It debuted at No. 1 with 171,000 downloads sold, after no more than two full days on sale. (It was released on an off-cycle Jan. 23, while the tracking week ended on Jan. 25.) It spent a second week at No. 1, shifting 143,000 downloads in its first full week on sale.