Bob Lefsetz sent an e-mail to his many subscribers last week lamenting the eye-popping chart success of Susan Boyle, the I Dreamed a Dream singer who was discovered earlier this year via YouTube.
Lefsetz, the popular music industry analyst behind the Lefsetz Letter, argued that despite its success, Boyle's debut record, I Dreamed a Dream, has "the nutritional value of Fruit Loops." Fair enough. Fruit Loops might not be good for you, but millions sure do like them nonetheless.
Boyle's debut sold 701,000 copies during its first week, the best six-day total for an album in the U.S. this year. Boyle also notched the best opening week for a debut album by a female artist since 1991 and the best opening week for a debut artist in nearly a decade. Hers is now the fastest-selling U.K. debut album of all time.
How does Boyle's debut stack up sales-wise against the competition? Don't expect miracles, Boyle boosters; sales normally drop off considerably during an album's second week. And I don't need to tell you that consumers don't buy records at the rate they used to, which means she'll be hard-pressed to match her fellow female singers with star-making debuts.
The race is on. Here's who she'll have to beat, with U.S. sales totals provided by www.riaa.com.
1. ALANIS MORISSETTE, JAGGED LITTLE PILL (16 million). Morissette, a Canadian, set all sorts of U.S. sales records with her first international release, a rock-inspired offering that was noticeably different from her earlier Canadian pop records. Jagged Little Pill, which won four Grammy Awards, remains a rare achievement. It is the third biggest seller by a female in U.S. history, and joins select company -- Michael Jackson's Thriller and CÃ©line Dion's Falling Into You -- as one of only three recordings in history to spend an entire year in the Top 10.
2. BRITNEY SPEARS, ...BABY ONE MORE TIME (14 million). The record that introduced Britney Spears to the world was the decade's teen-pop pace-setter. If the self-titled debut by the Backstreet Boys, released two years earlier, was a monstrous success, 1999's ...Baby One More Time was a lightning bolt. But would ...Baby One More Time have the same impact today? Not likely.
3. WHITNEY HOUSTON, WHITNEY HOUSTON (13 million). The debut from one of Clive Davis's biggest discoveries will celebrate its 25th anniversary in January with a deluxe edition aimed at re-introducing Houston to those who've forgotten how great she once was. It was full of pop hits (Saving All My Love for You, How Will I Know, and Greatest Love of All for starters) that also straddled soul and R&B, a killer combination that made it tough to beat. Whitney Houston was the first of many successes: Only three female artists (Barbra Streisand, Mariah Carey and Madonna) have sold more records than Houston.
4. JEWEL, PIECES OF YOU (12 million). Jewel Kilcher never came close to matching the success of her debut, Pieces of You, which turned the Alaskan folk singer into a superstar overnight. She struggled with the limelight at times, which is to be expected. The album was a surprise hit, and many of the highlights rode onto the charts with a uniquely naive delivery that later came to be Kilcher's undoing. Pieces of You was a hit in the North America only, which meant it wasn't built for the long haul.
5. DIXIE CHICKS, WIDE OPEN SPACES (12 million). Despite the group's moderate success early on as a bluegrass outfit, the move in 1998 to a major label and switch to a poppier sound (thanks to the pipes of new singer Natalie Maines) seemed like a natural course of action for the Dixie Chicks. The results reinforced the new direction: Wide Open Spaces won two Grammy Awards, and made superstars out of the trio, who were able to notch appearances on both the pop and country charts.
6. NORAH JONES, COME AWAY WITH ME (10 million). Want to know how unanticipated Norah Jones's success was? The sweet-singing pop singer and pianist was booked to play Victoria's jazz festival prior to her debut album, a date that was later scuttled once Come Away With Me took off like a shot. It went on to sweep the Grammy Awards, which put fuel on an already-sizzling fire. Jones's 2002 debut remains one of the best-selling efforts of the current decade.
7. MARIAH CAREY, MARIAH CAREY (9 million). Stardom was not pre-determined for Mariah Carey. Despite an obvious abundance of talent, her 1990 debut, after opening quietly at No. 80, took almost a year to reach the top of the charts. It would eventually become a juggernaut thanks to four No. 1 singles, and remains the third biggest seller in Carey's catalogue.
8. ACE OF BASE, THE SIGN (9 million). I don't know what's weirder -- that Ace of Base's North American debut, The Sign, overtook Soundgarden's Superunknown for top spot on the charts, or that it was later unseated from its peak by Pantera's Far Beyond Driven. Food for thought. The public face of the Swedish quartet were sisters Jenny and Linn Berggren, whose ice-cool vocals on two catchy singles, All That She Wants and The Sign, propelled the album to No. 1 in 14 countries.
9. LAURYN HILL, THE MISEDUCATION OF LAURYN HILL (8 million). These days, the former Fugees singer is well out of the public eye; friends and bandmates in recent years have called Hill "way out there," among other things. That doesn't do any harm to her auspicious debut. Hill was on-point back in '98, racking up a record 10 Grammy nominations (she won five) and generally killing the competition.
10. CHRISTINA AGUILERA, CHRISTINA AGUILERA (8 million). In terms of teen-pop, Aguilera always placed second to Britney Spears, but it was Aguilera who beat her nemesis for Best New Artist at the 2000 Grammy Awards. Worth remembering. Almost a decade later, Aguilera's career is still in fine shape, despite the staleness of her debut.