“I create from places where I personally don’t even want to go to sometimes, like on ‘Erotic Heat’. Many people think that because of the title it’s an erotic song, but it’s actually from a very dark place – I was in a very painful place at the time I made it. That was just the title I gave it.” -jlin
From my tumblr bubble, I thought Harry was killing it with critics & sales. But when I checked for myself, it does not seem exactly superstar level? I mean the level that would justify his marketing budget & hyperbolic launch. If you look at Metacritic, his album is well outside the top 100 best reviewed albums in the last 90 days. If you look at album sales, he's dropped 80%. Both of those things are fine, but I was just shocked at the difference between SM & hype vs actual numbers.
Thank you for the question.
My answer is going to break the question down into several parts, and will include some conjecture on my part.
First, by any metric, Harry’s album has done very well. To debut as a solo artist in the #1 album position (in the U.S., with immense competition), and with a #1 single, is a PR victory in and of itself. I don’t mean “PR victory” as in the album was not deserving, just that there is so much great music out there, that one has to have a huge PR push to be noticed. And Harry did. Was the PR overhyped? Was it worth the outcome in sales and critical reception?
Columbia/Sony is counting on Harry as a sure thing. Harry’s PR has been well-strategize and meticulous; he has played the U.K. and American shows with the largest audience numbers, and the timing couldn’t have been better. It’s the envy of any artist to have his management devote 90% of their time to him, especially when they are arguably one of the most powerful in the music business. It’s not a matter of overhype– there’s no such thing for an artist that has a huge fanbase and who wants to launch as a solo artist into the ranks of A-list musicians.
Now, the longevity of the album’s sales, and the ultimate numbers, will have to wait a few months. Selling over 200,000 units over the first week in the U.S. is a very respectable start. I fully expect the album to go platinum.
As for the drop in sales after the initial push, I think it’s not unexpected, with promo ending, the large number and quality of new artists releasing music, and the fact that Harry’s music is very different from the trend at the moment. The only single released so far is SOTT. It isn’t the most radio-friendly, although it has been included in multiple media playlists as a “song of summer.” I think Harry will release another single within the month, either Carolina or Kiwi, which are much more in tune with summer hits. Singles and music videos help drive sales.
I also think the SOTT music video was a misstep. Despite the flight gimmickry, it was bland and incoherent, and didn’t draw many more listeners to the song. At two weeks after release, it has 31 million views, compared to Kendrick Lamar’s DNA, released a month ago, with 85 million views.
As for critical acclaim… sigh… if I had a nickel for every time I read, “despite his boyband beginnings.”
I see several reasons for Harry’s album to have mixed critical reception, and some of these are contradictory, so I’ll just list them.
1. The album’s sound was unexpected. Critics have always used the words “generic” and “bland” to describe One Direction’s sound– pop aimed at unsophisticated ears. I feel like this is the genre that Harry was expected to fall into– pop but a bit slicker, shinier, sexier and more adult (like Justin Timberlake). The range and confessional quality of the songs on the album were unexpected; critics could not use the history of One Direction (not that they bothered) to evaluate the songs… but still tried. It will take a while to think of Harry other than as the frontman for One Direction, and even his virtues– the beauty of his voice, for instance– will be viewed negatively, as something “cultivated on a reality television competition.” Unclench your anal sphincters already, critics. His voice is unlike any other, and a bad voice/ edgy sound isn’t the sign of creative originality. Get over yourselves.
2. His audiences is still predominantly female. The fact that Harry would not repudiate his audience, when presented with a chance to, immediately lowered his cool quotient.
3. The albums with higher critical ratings tend to be from independent artists with fewer reviews. These are the top ten best rated albums on Metacritic right now (the number in parenthesis is the number of professional critical reviews):
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band– remix
Damn - Kendrick Lamar (37)
Lovely Creature, the Best of Nick Cave (12)
Kicking Child - Dion (5)
A Crow Looked at Me - Mount Eerie (18)
Black Origami - Jlin (10)
Singles, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (7)
Eternity, In Your Arms - Creeper (8)
A Hair of Purpose - Pile (4)
The Order of Time - Valerie June (10)
Compare these with Harry’s album, with 23 critical reviews. The fact is, indie artists, reviewed by fewer professional reviewers, have a biased critical audience. The reviewers are ones who actively seek out indie music to review, & are already favorably disposed to this type of music. Statistics is not a science but an art. It can be bent multiple ways.
I don’t expect the whole world to love Harry, of course. His PR is imperfect. His lyrics can be more poetic and specific, his tropes about sex and women feel derivative (watch better movies, Harry). But compared to other artists, Harry is still young, and hasn’t really lived in the real world, either. Better songs will come.