Arts and Entertainment

The Truth About Album Flops

What does an album flop mean for the artist and the entertainment industry as a whole?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Almost every time a studio album is released, the goal is to sell as many copies as possible. Often, this is the case. Copies are sold, people enjoy the music, and the album is deemed a success. Some albums, like Post Malone’s “Beerbongs and Bentleys” (2018), sell incredibly well, with 461,000 copies sold in just the first week. Other albums aren’t so lucky, and every once a while, an album will come around that disappoints in sales enough that it is deemed a “flop.”

Flops differ from artist to artist, and there is no one way to define a flop. For example, some people would consider Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” (2018) a flop, despite having sold 1.22 million copies in just the first week, because it did slightly worse than most other Taylor Swift albums. On the other hand, Lorde’s most recent album called “Melodrama” (2017) only sold about 100,000 copies in its first week and was considered a flop. Lorde was supposed to be the next Katy Perry after her debut album “Pure Heroine” (2013). Her album was then deemed a flop by many people, even though it contained the hit song “Green Light,” and was nominated for best album at the Grammys. The album even received rave reviews on sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

So what exactly does an album flop cost an established artist like Lorde or Taylor Swift?


The most terrifying prospect for the label, and often the artist as well, is having simply less money made. When an album sells fewer copies than the artist expects, their paycheck might be slightly lower than usual, but for someone like Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, or Lorde, this shouldn’t be too much of a big deal. However, Justin Timberlake’s album “FutureSex/LoveSounds” (2006) sold 684,000 copies in its first week, while his most recent album called “Man of the Woods” (2018) only sold 293,000, which is a lot for a small time artist on the come up, but not for Timberlake. Half the album sales, according to my intense calculations, would likely yield about half the profits. Also, with a less popular album, tour tickets might be less important for fans to buy, so the artist could lose money on that front as well.


Going back to Justin Timberlake, “Man of the Woods” (2018) was generally panned by critics. Pitchfork said the album is a “huge misstep for the pop star,” and USA Today said that “Timberlake is far from the pop music innovator he once was.” In the album, Justin tried to blend country, pop, disco, RnB, rock, and electronic sounds, which ended up scarring fans and critics, and blinding them slightly from the pop star he used to be: a full fledged, authentic pop star. An even bigger example of this, though, is international pop star Katy Perry. Her album “Witness” (2017) seemed to have removed her from her place as a ruler of the pop scene. She “struggles to come up with lyrics that aren’t plain cringeworthy,” according to Pitchfork, and Spin magazine even went as far as to call the album a “spectacular failure.” She no longer is the hit making machine she used to be, and it’s showing. Only one song from the album went into the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. Compare this to her album “Teenage Dream” (2010), where five songs from that album alone went to the number one seat.


There has been a trend amongst the aforementioned albums that flopped: they are almost all entirely pop. As hip-hop quickly takes over the radio, streaming services, and charts, pop is getting pushed to the sidelines. This could mean the death of a genre as we know it. If you want to have a pop smash hit in 2019, chances are you have to be an established, well-known name that’s been around for years, or perhaps your song got caught up in some sort of trend, but otherwise, it’s going to be hard. It’s very possible that pop just isn’t what it used to be, but this complete genre switch is on par with the rock and roll takeover of last century, in my humble opinion. It will be incredibly interesting to see how this shift presents itself in the coming years, and if pop will make a comeback any time soon. As rapper Logic puts it in his song “44 More,” “Sold more albums my first week than Harry Styles and Katy Perry / If that ain’t a sign of the times, then I don’t know what is man this s*it is scary.”

While these descriptions might have presented a grim view of the music industry, it is important to remember that just because an album flops doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to it. In fact, instead of mourning the artist who flopped, we should support them and listen more, because if we want to keep the music industry from becoming a boring and dry place full of albums that are made only to appeal to popular radio, we need to start celebrating the albums that don’t fit that description.