Good news, Robin Thicke haters: you are even less alone than you thought. Today’s SoundScan numbers show that Thicke’s Paula sold 23,754 copies in its opening week, coming in at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 album chart — and that’s 23,224 more than his UK sales of a mere 530 copies opening week.
You may be thinking, “Wait, what, how can the dude who ruled the airwaves last summer only sell 530 albums? I could sell 530 albums!” Perhaps you could — how big is your family? Now, obviously the United Kingdom has about a fifth of the population of America, but for a guy with the most-downloaded song in UK history, 530 copies is not great. His July 2013 album, Blurred Lines, sold 25,981 copies in its first week across the pond, largely on the back of the single that launched 1,000 thinkpieces. Stateside, Blurred Lines moved a respectable 177,000 units and charted at No. 1 opening week — by far the biggest sales week Thicke has had (and will likely ever have) in his 11-year, seven-album career as a performer.
At some point last summer, the tidal shift in the public perception of Thicke seemed to make “Blurred Lines” an even bigger hit, “rapey” allegations be damned. The claims of misogyny pelted at the “Blurred Lines” video — showing naked models parading around Thicke, Pharrell, T.I., and farm animals with foam fingers in what its director called “meta” commentary — only fueled the song’s 12-week reign atop the Hot 100 chart, thanks to Billboard’s then-recent incorporation of YouTube data into their charting formula. Some would say Robin Thicke successfully trolled us all the way to the top song honors of 2013, at least as far as ubiquity was concerned.
At first the narrative surrounding Paula seemed like it, too, could benefit from trolling. Thicke had written the album to win back his estranged wife, actress Paula Patton — a move he pulled in less extreme circumstances with 2011’s excellent Love After War. His pleas on awards shows and the “Get Her Back” video’s recreation of the couple’s text fights appalled the peanut gallery (myself included, though I mostly object to how hackneyed the songs are), who claimed he’d gone too far in violating Patton’s privacy. Outrage abounded once more! Thicke seemed sincere in his quest, creepily asserting the album was “just the beginning.” But surely he and his team figured that, as a bonus, courting controversy in the form of emotional manipulation could serve as an effective promotional tool once more, right?
Turns out they were wrong and ended up with a flop. See, hate-listens could feasibly translate to Spotify streams of the album and YouTube views for a single video — which could in turn help a song race up the charts and fuel its own popularity. But consumers view an album purchase as a big commitment in this day and age when they can listen to the album — legally — for free. They have to want to support an artist, or they have to be exceedingly infatuated with a hit single. Thicke had the latter advantage when he released Blurred Lines and benefited from the former when he released Love After War, which sold 41,000 copies opening week thanks to an R&B fanbase Thicke built up over the course of four albums. With lead single “Get Her Back” peaking at a paltry No. 82 on the Hot 100 and Thicke’s violation of Patton’s privacy inspiring fan outrage, Paula has neither.