Seven days in May: Britney Spears does it again!

The bubbly teen phenom storms the charts with a massive No. 1 album, but will nasty rapper Eminem cut her down to size? The record industry scores a record-setting week.

Topics: Britney Spears,

It’s official: href="http://www.peeps.com/britney/">Britney Spears owns the record
business.

This week, at least.

With her new release “Oops! … I Did it Again,” Spears has made commercial
history. The fleshy
teenage dance queen
now holds the record for biggest first-week sales
by a female singer, easily lapping previous champ Mariah Carey, whose
“Daydream” (1995) sold 760,000 copies in its first week.

According to industry scorekeeper SoundScan, “Oops” has moved an
amazing 1.3 million units in seven days. It will debut next week at No. 1 on
the Billboard album
chart,
which should make her 17 credited producers proud.

“Oops!” follows Spears’ nine-million selling 1999 debut href="/ent/music/review/1999/08/27/spears/index.html">“… Baby One More
Time.” Not bad for a former Mousesketeer whose solo career began less
than eight quarters ago on a mall tour, singing to blue-haired shoppers at
food courts.

Once upon a time, these numbers might have ensured a lengthy stay in the
No. 1 slot.

Incredibly, Britney must watch her back. In a twist straight out of a WB
high-school drama, a pot-smoking derelict who sneaks peaks of cheerleaders
under the bleachers is about to ruin her big night out. White bad-boy rapper
Eminem is
poised to evict Spears from the top spot with his own putative blockbuster,
the aggressively violent and demented “The Marshall Mathers LP.”

According to music retailers nationwide, the “Marshall Mathers LP” (a
follow-up to Eminem’s triple-platinum 1999 debut, href="/ent/music/review/1999/04/27/sharps/index.html">“The Slim Shady
LP”) will also break the million sales mark next Wednesday. “It may be
the biggest rap record we’ve ever sold,” reports David Lange, owner of New
Jersey music chain Compact Disc World.

Which means Eminem (born Marshall Mathers) will almost certainly evict
Britney — whose sales numbers are bound to dip during the second week –
from the No. 1 slot after seven days. “I’m expecting ‘Mathers’ to do between
1.2 million and 1.4 million,” says John Grandoni, vice president of purchasing
for National Record
Mart
, which owns 181 record shops nationwide.



Regardless of who ultimately wins the Britney vs. Eminem event, it’s the
music industry — justifiably nervous about a future filled with online
predators — that will be the big winner. If Eminem meets expectations and
sells one million copies by week’s end, it will mark the first time in history that
the industry has enjoyed back-to-back one-week million-sellers.

In fact, only five albums have hit that seven-day plateau since SoundScan
began scanning countertop data in 1991: the soundtrack to “The Bodyguard”
featuring Whitney Houston, Garth Brooks’ “Double Live,” the Backstreet Boys’
“Millennium,” and ‘N Sync’s “No Strings Attached” (which sold an
unsurpassed 2.4 million units in its first week). And now, Britney’s “Oops.”
The last three titles were all released by href="http://www.peeps.com/jiverecords/index.html">Jive Records — all
within the past year — much to the consternation of other labels.

Britney vs. Eminem continues an epic battle between the twin engines
driving today’s music business: innocence and evil. Behind these
front-runners, shoppers continue to line up for Christina Aguilera and Mandy
Moore or hard-knocking porn lovers like Kid Rock and href="/ent/music/review/1999/08/05/limp_bizkit/index.html">Limp Bizkit.

Falling between the cracks are the acts formerly known as alternative. Pearl
Jam, a band that once flirted with a million-selling week, saw its latest album,
“Binaural,” debut at No. 2 behind Britney’s “Oops!” Problem was it sold 1.1
million copies less. The new No Doubt CD, “Return of Saturn,” is languishing
at No. 24. And how fitting that Billy Corgan, lead singer of the Smashing
Pumpkins, announced the band’s official demise (“The way the culture is and
stuff, it’s hard to keep trying to fight the good fight against the href="/people/col/reit/2000/05/02/nptues/index.html">Britneys.“)
a day before Spears’ record-setting numbers were posted.

With all due respect to Mr. Corgan, it may simply be that Britney works a bit
more. A leading candidate for Hardest Working Post-Pubescent in Show
Business, Spears has become an industry unto herself. A partial list of her
recent and upcoming TV and magazine-cover appearances: “Late Night with
Conan O’Brien,” “The Rosie O’Donnell Show, “The View,” “Nickelodeon’s All
That,” “The World Music Awards,” “Britney in Hawaii on Fox,” “Today,” “The
Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “MTV’s Total Request Live,” “MTV’s Beach
House,” “MTV’s Britney Weekend,” TV Guide, Rolling Stone, Cosmo Girl and
Allure.

“As hard as she works, I’m surprised she hasn’t lost it,” jokes Tom
Calderone, MTV’s senior vice president of music and talent programming.
“Her manager had her touring during the month of March when her album
was still being tweaked.” MTV clearly profits from Britney and Co. The cable
giant’s ratings are up 20 percent during the first quarter of this year
compared to ’99.

With the help of Jive Records labelmates Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync,
Britney’s influence extends to other arenas in the music business. At Top 40
radio, where Spears has been a daily fixture for the past 19 months, times
are good. According to Billboard’s quarter ratings analysis, listener share has
increased from 8.8 percent during the summer of ’98 to 9.9 percent in
summer of ’99. (This year’s figures are not yet available.) During that same
period, all-important teen listening jumped from 29.9 percent to 35.2
percent. Meanwhile, the stations are getting crowded: The number of
mainstream pop broadcasters in top markets has increased from 126 in ’97
to 168 last year.

Concert promoters — along with her corporate sponsor, the California
milk-processor “Got Milk?” campaign — are salivating for Britney’s sold-out
summer arena tour, even if the singer is guaranteed to pocket a cool
$400,000 per night. (If Mariah’s wondering why Britney just trumped her, the
diva might compare their href="http://www.pollstar.com/tour/searchall.pl?By=Artist&Content=britney+spears">touring
schedules
: Mariah agreed to half-a-dozen concert dates this spring;
Britney is scheduled to do sixty North American shows between June and
September.)

The Britney juggernaut continues: Her recent hosting duties on “Saturday
Night Live” delivered the show’s second-highest ratings for the season. Even
McDonald’s franchise owners love her: The chain is hosting a Britney Spears
concert vacation contest. (Rival Burger King’s already signed on to sponsor
the Backstreet Boys’ fall tour.)

Such is the bubble-gum backdrop that Eminem must contend with. But his
unfolding sales success is perhaps even more startling. Eminem’s
record-breaking numbers will come despite the fact that some retailers
refuse to stock his R-rated album (even though a so-called ‘clean,’ stickered
version is available).

Eminem’s secret weapon is his unusually strong crossover appeal. Thanks to
producer Dr. Dre’s instant credibility, Eminem enjoys Top 10 status at hip-hop
radio; meanwhile, his (white) outlaw image earns airtime on alternative-rock
radio. And thanks to a killer chorus that tests well in listener research,
Eminem can be heard on Top 40 stations. In fact, just three weeks after its
release, Eminem’s middle-finger anthem “The Real Slim Shady” is already
racing past Britney’s single on mainstream pop stations. (Her one
advantage? She’s No. 1 on nationally syndicated href="http://disney.go.com/radiodisney/radiofeed.html">Disney Radio,
where Eminem doesn’t make rotation.)

Four weeks from now, the dust will settle, and it will be clear which formula
brings bigger sales. For the industry, the dream scenario is that all those
Britney fans open their wallets for Eminem.

“I’m pretty sure 12-yeard old girls who buy Britney will buy Eminem,” says
Kevin Engler, senior music buyer for the discounting Best Buy chain. And
what happens when new, unsuspecting fans bring home “The Marshall
Mathers LP” and journey beyond Eminem’s Top 40 single to discover the rest
of his defiantly foul-mouthed world? Says one label president: “They’re going
to shit their pants.”

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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