A new album from "Hannah Montana" star Miley Cyrus fell short of No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts in its first week of release, raising the question: Are the tween star's fans ready for her to go a little bit country?
Only a year ago, Cyrus' 3-D concert film set records, and scalpers were charging thousands for tickets to her live concerts. Her last three major releases debuted at the top of the charts. But the new record's sales were a fraction of her previous studio albums' first-week sales.
The album is the soundtrack to the singer-actress' upcoming "Hannah Montana: The Movie," which opens April 10 and takes the Disney Channel series' character from her home in Malibu to her family's roots in Tennessee. The accompanying album draws from the movie's setting, showcasing Cyrus as more of a country performer alongside songs by country stars Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift.
Walt Disney Records' senior vice president and general manager, Jim Weatherson, said the soundtrack was in line with projections, considering that it was released two weeks before the movie will hit theaters.
"The movie promotion didn't start in earnest until essentially this past weekend," he said. "We felt that with the success that 'The Climb' was having at radio, we had an opportunity to sell records in front."
Cyrus performed at the recent Grammy Awards with Swift, and it is perhaps Swift's career that is serving as a model for Cyrus' move beyond tween pop. Other young female country singers, including Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler, are some of the genre's fastest-rising stars.
Cyrus, whose father, Billy Ray Cyrus, is a country music singer as well as an actor who plays her father on the Disney series, is scheduled to appear Sunday on the Academy of Country Music Awards to sing her country-pop single "The Climb."
"The Climb" may indicate that Cyrus could see some success as a country artist. The song has sold 583,000 digital downloads since its release in early March. It's her first solo single to breach the top 50 on Billboard's country songs chart, and it has given Cyrus her highest position on the U.S. pop chart, where it debuted at No. 6 and currently rests at No. 11.
Repositioning Cyrus as a country singer is not Disney's intention, Weatherson said.
"I think Miley has a heck of a career right now, whichever direction she wants to take it," he said. "All of her stuff to date, including this song, are pop-driven. I think you'll see that moving forward. This is just one of those songs everyone can relate to, and country radio gravitated toward it."
Outpacing the soundtrack to "Hanna Montana: The Movie" was the 30th volume in the compilation series "NOW That's What I Call Music!" which opened with 146,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Cyrus' record landed at No. 2, with 139,000 copies.
She sold 371,000 copies during the first week of release of her summer 2008 album "Breakout," the first album she released under her name instead of "Hannah Montana." The soundtrack's sales results also reverse the upward trend of the previous albums under the "Hannah Montana" name. A 2006 soundtrack to the Disney Channel series sold 281,000 copies in its first week, and a double-disc effort in 2007 bowed with 326,000 copies.