Last week, returning pop hero Justin Timberlake topped the charts with The 20/20 Experience, only his third album in a decade-long post–’N Sync solo career. No one was surprised when he debuted at No. 1.
Clearly, a sizable chunk of pop-loving Americans just had to hear what Timberlake had been up to all this time. Six and a half years after his world-conquering album FutureSex/LoveSounds, people really wanted to hear the follow-up — many, many more people than the industry expected.
In my writings as an analyst of the Billboard charts, I’ve coined a term to describe this phenomenon as it applies to music. I call it The AC/DC Rule: Initial sales of an album, particularly a blockbuster, are a referendum on the public’s feelings about the act’s prior album, not the current one.
What does the puerile Scotch–Australian hard-rock act known for a schoolboy uniform have to do with a former boy-bander’s sales? I could have named the rule after any number of chart-topping acts, but AC/DC possesses one of the biggest discrepancies in chart performance between a classic album and a chart-topping follow-up.
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