It was the moment of the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards. Beyonce took the stage and announced, “I want you to feel the love that’s growing inside of me,” before tearing the roof off of Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre with her performance of “Love on Top,” a much-loved non-single (so far) track from her acclaimed album 4. As she wrapped up the song, Queen Bey unbuttoned her retro sequined purple jacket to reveal a baby bump, and the crowd went wild.
The camera panned quickly to B’s hubby Jay-Z, who was beaming alongside friend Kanye West in the audience. That evening, Beyonce set the record for the most mentions on Twitter per second with 8,868, and helped this year’s VMAs become the most-watched broadcast in MTV history, pulling in 12.4 million viewers.
The performance also did something else – something Beyonce was no doubt hoping for all along. It drew a massive amount of attention back to her album and pushed “Love on Top,” a song many had never heard before the VMAs, into the iTunes top 5. It’s not even an official single and it is already the highest charting song from 4 on iTunes and the album has returned to the top 10 and is currently, perfectly, sitting at No. 4 on the iTunes album sales chart.
Will Beyonce’s baby news provide the attention necessary to push 4 back up the charts, help it go platinum and give her a hit single? It looks like it may, and that’s a very good thing.
While 4 has been lauded by critics as Beyonce’s most mature album to date, it’s also her weakest selling solo set by far. The album has moved less than 700,000 copies since its June 24 release. That’s a big number for sure, particularly in today’s weak record sales climate, but it’s far from the kind of sales Beyonce is used to.
Beyonce’s three previous albums all went multi-platinum. Her 2003 debut, Dangerously in Love, sold a staggering 4.6 million copies, her sophomore set B’Day shifted 3.2 million copies and her third album, I Am … Sasha Fierce, went triple platinum with 3 million in sales. And those are just her sales as a solo artist – let’s not forget she was the frontwoman of the biggest girl group of all time.
She’s been such a consistent success for so long that it’s hard to assess where 4 stands respective to her previous efforts. The album has only been out for two months and Beyonce has always been a long-term sales artist, which is to say that she’s never had a million-selling debut week but has often ultimately outsold artists that have.
And, of course, it bears repeating that full albums do not sell the way they used to – with the exception of Adele’s 21, 2011 hasn’t produced any true blockbuster records (and yes, that includes Lady Gaga, whose Born This Way debuted to an impressive 1.1 million in sales but has only moved 1.7 million total, a big number that is less impressive when you consider that nearly two-thirds of it came from its opening frame). So it’s unfair to compare 4 to Dangerously in Love because even if any of 4’s singles had taken – and they mostly haven’t – it’s unlikely it would have ever matched the sales of her past efforts anyway.
But things may be looking sunnier for 4 post-VMAs. Beyonce smartly opted to not perform one of the album’s weak-charting singles, “Run the World (Girls)” and “Best Thing I Never Had,” and went for the upbeat album track “Love on Top. While the pregnancy reveal was certainly the big news from the performance, everyone is watching and re-watching “Love on Top,” and it seems people are loving it.
And why wouldn’t they? “Love on Top” is our favorite track on 4, an album that has grown on us to the point of obsession. We’ve long been Beyonce fans – she is one of only a handful of artists whose records we are sure to buy the day they are released. And maybe it’s because we are around the same age as Bey and we’re maturing with her, but it’s become our favorite of her albums (a big statement considering we had to buy a replacement copy of B’Day because we wore out our first one).
If people were underwhelmed with the first few singles, it’s their own fault for not buying the album because 4 is packed with hits. (Personally, we love “Girls” – it works better in the context of the album – and “Best Thing,” but maybe she’s saving the best stuff for fans who buy the album?) In addition to “Love on Top,” there’s “Countdown,” “Party” and the Prince-like “Schoolin’ Life.” It’s an addictive, soulful record, start to finish.
So it looks like Beyonce’s VMA performance may have worked on a variety of levels and for a variety of people. Not only was the performance itself fantastic viewing for those watching the VMAs, it debuted a great song few had heard and has inspired renewed interest in Beyonce’s terrific album. It also saved the ultra-private singer and her rap superstar husband the annoyance of having to issue a press release or sit for an interview to talk about their personal life, something neither is comfortable doing. In just under five minutes on the VMA stage, Beyonce took care of a lot of business.
Now she gets to go quietly enjoy this blessed time in her life while more and more people discover the blessing she already released on the world – 4