What does Susan Boyle have in common with Taylor Swift, Josh Groban, Shania Twain and the Beatles?
The unlikely British talent show winner-turned-pop megastar has delivered the perfect storm of a year-end album with her debut, "I Dreamed a Dream," one that is showing signs of turning into 2009's biggest seller.
FOR THE RECORD:
Susan Boyle: An article in Monday's Calendar section about the success of Susan Boyle's "I Dreamed a Dream" album identified Keith Caulfield as director of charts for Billboard. He is the publication's senior chart manager. The article also said Boyle was the winner of the talent show "Britain's Got Talent." She was the runner-up. —
In doing so, she's following the lead of other acts this decade in releasing fourth-quarter albums that became runaway hits by providing consumers with music that has cross-generational appeal -- making it ideal for gift-giving -- and that draws music fans who still favor CDs over downloads.
"In the last six weeks of the year, if you can find the right kind of artist who appeals to the consumer who still purchases albums in great quantities, then you can hit that sort of sweet spot," said Keith Caulfield, director of charts for Billboard. "You've found something that's the perfect Christmas gift for mums, grandmas, aunts and so forth."
Last year, that was Taylor Swift's then-new "Fearless," which is still the top seller of 2009. Swift's album has sold 2.7 million copies this year, while Boyle's has piled up a three-week total of 1.8 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan. In the sales race, Boyle also trails Michael Jackson's 6-year-old "Number Ones" hits collection, which has sold 2.2 million copies this year.
Recent history shows how powerful year-end sales can be.
Two years ago, pop classical tenor Josh Groban ruled the holidays with his "Noel" CD of seasonal songs, selling 3.7 million copies in the 12 weeks before year's end. Earlier in the decade, Canadian country-pop powerhouse Twain went to the top of the charts and stayed there for most of the final weeks of 2002 with "Up!"
And the year before that, the Beatles' "1" collection far exceeded virtually all expectations. It put the Fab Four back atop the national charts for much of the end of that year and well into 2002 and was just crowned by Billboard as the biggest-selling album of the decade in the U.S., with a total topping 11 million copies.
Boyle's out-of-the-box success this season surprised some in the music business, with first-week sales of more than 700,000 copies spurred by tens of millions of YouTube hits for her appearances on "Britain's Got Talent," the U.K. version of "American Idol."
What's even more eye-opening is how strong sales of her CD have remained, topping 500,000 in each of the two succeeding weeks.
"The album was released on Nov. 24, later in the year than any album that has wound up as the year's bestseller in the 18 years that Nielsen/SoundScan has been tracking sales for Billboard," veteran chart analyst Paul Grein noted in his Chart Watch blog for Yahoo! Music. "The current record is held by Josh Groban's 'Noel,' which was released on Oct. 9, 2007. Both albums appeal to adult contemporary fans, who remain loyal album buyers."
That also applies to Andrea Bocelli's "My Christmas," at No. 2 last week behind SuBo and also continuing to post impressive sales figures: upward of 300,000 to 400,000 per week.
"Everyone's trying to figure out how they can sell," Caulfield said. "Conventional wisdom says that if you have a perfect mass-market artist who appeals to many demographics in stores between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you can do extremely well."
There's no question that "I Dreamed a Dream" has become the defining pop moment of the 2009 holiday season. The big question is how long Boyle's appeal will extend after all the gifts have been unwrapped.
"I wonder whether the bottom will drop out after Christmas week," Caulfield said. "Will everyone have bought it, or will it be one of those 'Titanic'-type things? . . . When people went and saw 'Titanic,' people went to the movies who hadn't been to the movies in a long time. And with Susan Boyle, a lot of people who are buying the album are people who don't normally buy much music. She's one of a kind."