Following the successes of her last three albums, Beyonce’s ‘4’ LP was expected to be yet another multi-platinum hit for the entertainer. However, although it has been ranked as the seventh best-selling release of 2011 to date in the US, the sales of the record have been dismal compared to its predecessors.
The platinum-certified ‘4’ has sold 941K copies in the US since being released in June 2011 and is currently ranked as the 7th highest-selling album of 2011 as well as the top-selling R&B album of the year. Yet, the sales of the record represent a stark decline from the 2.99 million copies of Beyonce’s ‘I Am…Sasha Fierce’ that have been sold in that territory since 2008.
In fact, even the sales of both those albums are compared during similar time spans, ‘Sasha Fierce’ vastly outperformed ‘4’ in every regard as it debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 with 482K copies sold in its first week compared to the latter’s 310K. Furthermore, ‘Sasha Fierce’ quickly surpassed 1.46 million units in sales after its first six weeks of availability – a total that ‘4’ has yet to match after more than five months.
So why exactly did ‘4’ fail to attract the hoards of buyers that helped her to become Billboard’s 4th most successful artist of the 2000-2009 decade? Well, there are two main reasons: direction and promotion.
Beyonce had built her career by servicing her fans with an ample supply of radio-ready singles and dance floor jingles yet rarely provided them with any thought-provoking content that depicted artistic depth. On the other hand, the direction of ‘4’ represented a general departure from her formula and it confused her fanbase.
Tracks such as ‘I Was Here’ and ‘Rather Die Young’ were clearly targeting the Adult Contemporary market instead of the 18-30 age bracket of persons who were eager for receive another repetitious anthem similar to ‘Single Ladies’ so that they coud flock to YouTube to show the world how quickly they could learn the accompanying routine. Still, Beyonce clearly attempted to satisfy that dominant segment of her fanbase with the lead single from ‘4’, ‘Run the World (Girls)’, but instead of appeasing all of her supporters, she simply deterred the Adult Contemporary buyers who woud have otherwise purchased the album if that song was not included.
Therefore, Beyonce alienated her formerly loyal fans by crafting a sound to which they were not accustomed and instead of replacing those persons with Adult Contemporary buyers – who helped to make Adele’s ’21’ the top-selling album of 2011 in the US with 4.67 million copies sold – she dampened their interest with ‘Run the World’. Conversely, some people might wonder why ‘Run the World’ wasn’t at least a hit Beyonce’s regular fanbase. Overlooking the fact that the song entailed an grossly hackneyed sample, we are leads to our second point – promotion.
Rather than swiftly returning to the US to promote ‘Run the World’ after the tune leaked ahead of schedule, Beyonce remained in France to continue celebrating her wedding anniversary. Moreover, by the time the song was finally serviced to radio, various versions of the track were already circulating on the internet. In fact, even Ryan Seacrest, who had scored the rights to debut the record on his radio show, premiered the wrong version of the song.
However, the mismanagement did not end with that fiasco. None of the seven music videos from ‘4’ were released on schedule and Beyonce’s team regularly used the excuse that she was still “editing” the clips. As a visual artist who relies on a string of videos to help market her material, those delays simply deterred consumer confidence in Beyonce’s cause, especially when there were several other viable acts – Rihanna and Lady Gaga – who were readily providing alternatives to her fickle supporters. Of course, the multiple plagiarism claims that plagued Beyonce’s campaign when those videos finally premiered also did not help to boost her fans morale.
Therefore, by confusing her fans and failing to attract a new audience to replace those who had abandoned her, Beyonce’s ‘4’ resulted in relatively commercial disappointment. Yes, the sales of the album were impressive when compared to those of her peers but by Beyonce’s standards, they were lukewarm at best.
On the bright side, at least she scored a Grammy Award nomination for the project. After all, one is better than none.