When Pop Albums Flop: 19 Career Lows of Music Icons
The music business is a fickle old world. One minute you’re on top. The next… well, you’re a flop. Sometimes even the biggest stars release albums that fail to live up to expectations (or their own hype).
The word “flop” is, of course, relative. Some of these albums still sold by the millions and got rave reviews from critics and fans alike. But when you look at the bigger picture, well, they could definitely have done better. These album “failures” prove that even the biggest music stars in the world don’t always get it right.
Guns N’ Roses: ‘The Spaghetti Incident?’
Guns N’ Roses’ 1993 album “The Spaghetti Incident?”, which was predominantly cover songs, didn’t match the success of the band’s previous releases, including “Appetite for Destruction” and “Use Your Illusion I and II,” which had all peaked at No. 1 or No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and sold at least 5 million copies in the U.S.
By comparison, “The Spaghetti Incident?” reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200, sold only 1 million copies, and of its two singles, only one of them (“If I Don’t Have You”) made it into the Hot 100; it reached No. 69.
On a separate note, it also made Kerrang!’s list of the 30 dumbest album titles in rock history. FYI, the band claimed it was a reference to a food fight between singer Axl Rose and drummer Steven Adler, but “spaghetti” was Adler’s code word for his drug stash, which he stored in the refrigerator of his hotel room next to takeout containers from an Italian restaurant. He was fired from the band in 1990 for his drug use.
Lady Gaga: ‘Artpop’
Remember when Gaga dressed as a baby and sucked on a pacifier? Ah, the “Artpop” phase. Probably not her finest. Her third studio album, released in 2013, was a definite comedown from the highs of “The Fame” (2008) and “Born This Way” (2011). Critical reviews were mixed, and the response from the public was lukewarm, resulting in significantly fewer sales than previous albums.
“Artpop” still shifted around 2.3 million copies worldwide, but that’s only around a third of “Born This Way”’s total sales.
Smashing Pumpkins: ‘Adore’
Following the massive success of the 1995 release “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and became the best-selling double album of the decade, hopes were high for 1998’s “Adore.” But although it peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, it fell off the charts within weeks and had only sold about 830,000 copies in the U.S. by the end of the year.
When asked about the “tepid public response to ‘Adore’” by Rolling Stone, frontman Billy Corgan said, “Maybe it’s like a Lou Reed, ‘Berlin’ kind of record, where it’s got to sit for a while, be digested and maybe get away from the politics of a certain time.”
U2: ‘Songs of Innocence’
Being one of the biggest bands of all time doesn’t guarantee huge success every time you put new music out into the world. U2’s 2014 album “Songs of Innocence” is a prime example. The intentions were good (keep the fans happy) but misguided. Joining forces with Apple CEO Tim Cook, the band made the unconventional decision to release “Songs of Innocence, free of charge, to everybody who had an iTunes account. So on Sept. 9, 2014, every iTunes user received an unrequested — and, in many cases, unwanted (because not everybody is a U2 fan) — album in their library.
When the Entertainment Retailers Association reported that U.K. sales of U2’s back catalogue were minimal in the week following “Songs of Innocence”’s release, their chairman Paul Quirk said, “This vindicates our view that giving away hundreds of millions of albums simply devalues music and runs the risk of alienating the 60 percent of the population who are not customers of iTunes… Giving away music like this is as damaging to the value of music as piracy.”
Beyoncé: ‘The Lion King: The Gift’
Think Beyoncé can do no wrong? That common sentiment had more weight before “The Lion King: The Gift” was released in July 2019. The soundtrack album for the remake of Disney’s classic animated feature film, produced and curated by Beyoncé and featuring performances from Jay-Z, Blue Ivy Carter, Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino, sold only 50,000 copies in its first week, most of which were streamed.
To date, no hit singles have come from the album. The first track released from the album, “Spirit,” charted at No. 98 on the Billboard 200, while the follow-up “Brown Skin Girl” fared slightly better, reaching No. 76.
Christina Aguilera: ‘Bionic’
After taking a step back from the music scene in 2006, Christina Aguilera came back, all guns blazing, in 2010, with her sixth studio album, “Bionic.” Unfortunately, things had changed a little while she’d been on hiatus, and a certain star named Lady Gaga had taken over as the new Queen of Pop.
“Bionic” got mixed reviews from critics. The Guardian described it as “occasionally brilliant and brave, occasionally teeth-gritting and stupid.” To add insult to injury, Aguilera was compared unfavorably with Gaga and criticized for trying to take advantage of the electro-pop sound and imitate the image and sound of her counterpart.
“Bionic” didn’t match the chart position of her previous releases (it debuted and peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and became Aguilera’s worst-selling album on record), and “The Bionic Tour” to support its release never materialized. All in all, not a great career point for Aguilera, then.
Katy Perry: ‘Witness’
Katy Perry’s fifth studio album, “Witness,” was her third in a row to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, but it fell out of the chart almost as quickly as it arrived and — unlike its predecessors — failed to spawn a No. 1 single. Lead single “Chained to the Rhythm” did break into the top five on the Hot 100, but dropped soon after, and neither of its follow-ups (“Bon Appetit” and “Swish Swish”) secured a top 40 spot.
Critical reviews of “Witness” were mixed. Rolling Stone compared the sound to Halsey and Camila Cabello, but not in a good way, complaining that the songs blended “into the rest of the radio,” while AllMusic awarded it two stars out of five, describing it as “relentless and a shade desperate.”
Nicki Minaj: ‘Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded’
Nicki Minaj’s 2010 release “Pink Friday” was a huge success and, ultimately, too tough an act for her next album, “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded” to follow. Reviews of the 2012 release were mixed, and some were scathing. NME described the record as “a royal mess,” while Slant called it “a mediocre rap album” with “a ghastly and desperate bid for a hit single” (“Starships”).
Not to be deterred, Minaj released another album later that year, “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded — The Re-Up.” Yes, as the title suggests, it was a reissue of “Pink Friday,” which goes some way to explain why her fans didn’t buy it: they already had it.
But according to Minaj, the blame for relatively poor sales lay at the feet of certain retailers. She called out Target and Walmart for refusing to stock the record, telling radio station Power 105.1, “It’s hard to get the album because the stores basically said that the last few re-releases they had put out did not do well and they didn’t want to take a chance [...] it kind of sets you up to fail.”
Selena Gomez & The Scene: ‘Kiss n Tell’
Unlike a lot of artists who start their music career on a high, Selena Gomez’s debut album (as Selena Gomez & The Scene) was a flop. “Kiss and Tell,” released in 2009, got a “D” rating from Entertainment Weekly. DigitalSpy gave it two out of five stars, declaring that many of the songs come off “as saccharine, forgettable Miley/Avril/Pink hybrids.”
However, Gomez turned it around with her later albums. With 2015’s “Revival,” her second studio album without backing band The Scene, marking a critical high point. “Former Disney princess comes into her own with a cool, sexy, confident pop album,” wrote Rolling Stone.
Nelly Furtado: ‘The Spirit Indestructible’
“The Spirit Indestructible,” the 2012 fifth studio album from Nelly Furtado, failed to make much of an impact. It saw Furtado miss the U.K. Top 40 for the first time in her career. In the U.S., it debuted at No. 79 on the Billboard 200 and notched a paltry 9,000 sales in its first year of release.
However, Furtado was philosophical about the album’s relatively poor performance in North America, telling The Huffington Post, “I’ve had kind of everything happen to me commercially and at different levels. I’ve had different scenes and I’ve dabbled in a lot of markets so I see the music world as very global and I’m always looking for new avenues and opportunities, so one chart of anything doesn’t necessarily [mean anything].”
Spirit indestructible, indeed.
No Doubt: ‘Push and Shove’
After a decade-long hiatus, Gwen Stefani and co.’s 2012 comeback album “Push And Shove” got pretty decent reviews but failed to make much of an impact on the charts on either side of the Atlantic. It debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, but its lead single, “Settle Down,” only reached No. 34 on the Hot 100. In the U.K., the album debuted at No. 16 on the albums chart, and the single limped in at No. 85. The second single release, “Looking Hot,” marked a new low point for the band when it charted at No. 397 in the U.K., despite a guest appearance on “The X Factor.”
Stefani didn’t sugarcoat her feelings. “I have to say it’s no fun,” she said. “Completely pissed off.”
Britney Spears: ‘Britney Jean’
Britney Spears’ eighth studio album, “Britney Jean,” debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 upon its 2013 release and sold 107,000 copies in its first week. This secured its place as both Spears’ lowest-charting and lowest-selling album in the U.S. to date. It fared even worse in the U.K., entering the album chart at No. 34 and shifting a mere 12,959 copies in its first week.
In terms of critical response, “Britney Jean” wasn’t much more successful. The Guardian gave it only two stars out of five, stating that “it fails to rivet.” “Beneath the gleam lie banal lyrics and a lack of personality,” declared The Telegraph. And Slant dismissed it as “flaccid midtempo pop.”
Justin Bieber: ‘Journals’
Overall, 2014 wasn’t a great year for teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, and it didn’t get off to a great start when “Journals,” his digital-only compilation album, failed to make it into the U.K. top 40. It didn’t rank in the Billboard 200 either, due to its first-week sales going unreported.
The press quickly speculated that the 19-year-old’s recent controversies were to blame for the lack of interest in “Journals,” but the unconventional digital download release program (one new song was released every Monday night from Oct. 7, 2013, through Dec. 9, 2013, before the entire album was made available on iTunes and other online platforms on Dec. 23) was instrumental.
On Christmas Day, Bieber caused a mighty stir on Twitter, ruining the festivities for many a fan when he announced his retirement.
Meghan Trainor: ‘Thank You’
Meghan Trainor’s second album, 2016’s “Thank You,” failed to live up to her debut, “Title,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and featured the global hit “All About That Bass,” which peaked at No. 1 in 58 countries.
“Thank You” debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, and the first single release, “No,” reached No. 3 on the Hot 100, but follow-up single “Me Too” only peaked at No. 13.
Reviews of “Thank You” were mixed. USA Today wrote that it “tries to be a little bit of everything, and unfortunately doesn’t amount to much.” A common response from critics was that Trainor was still trying to work out who she was as an artist. “Trainor is still finding her groove,” wrote ABC News, while Knoxville News Sentinel suggested that “maybe her third release will give a clearer picture.” In other words, “Thank you… but no thank you.”
Fergie: ‘Double Dutchess’
Black Eyed Peas badass Fergie enjoyed big success with her first solo album, 2006’s “Dutchess.” It spent 94 weeks inside the Billboard 200 (peaking at No. 2) and produced three No. 1 singles: “London Bridge,” “Glamorous” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”
Fergie’s second solo album, 2017’s “Double Dutchess,” wasn’t worth the 11-year wait for anyone besides her most hardcore fans. It debuted at No. 19 on the Billboard 200, sinking to No. 131 in its second week on the chart and falling out of the chart in week three. Its singles didn’t fare any better: “L.A. Love (La La)” reached No. 27 on the Hot 100, while the follow-up “M.I.L.F. $” made it no higher than No. 34. Time to reunite with the Peas, perhaps?
Welsh singer Duffy was catapulted to stardom by her debut album “Rockferry,” which sold more than 2 million copies in 2008, spawned a worldwide No. 1 hit with “Mercy” and grabbed a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album.
This set the bar impossibly high for Duffy’s second release, “Endlessly,” which failed to reignite “Rockferry”’s spark. It reached No. 72 on the Billboard 200, and its only single release, “Well, Well, Well,” was only modestly successful in Europe.
Some of the critics were scathing, such as Slant’s Matthew Cole, who wrote that “the bigger problem with ‘Endlessly’ is that Duffy compensates for her lack of a star persona by overdrawing her syrupy rasp, already noted for its acquired tastiness, into a cartoonish oddity.” Ouch.
Michael Jackson: ‘Invincible’
Most artists would be pretty happy to sell 6 million records, but Michael Jackson wasn’t most artists. Compared to “Thriller” (the biggest-selling album of all time with 65 million copies sold), “Bad” (45 million copies sold), and “Dangerous” (32 million copies sold), 2001’s “Invincible” — his final studio album — simply didn’t reach those colossal numbers.
It also received mixed reviews. Rolling Stone gave it a 3-star rating, calling Jackson out for “merely treading water on generic tracks” and describing the album as a whole as an “excruciatingly self-referential place.” However, it still debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, made the top spot in several other countries, and was one of the best-selling albums of the year.
Kelly Rowland: ‘Talk a Good Game’
After a promising start to 2013 that included a Super Bowl appearance with her former Destiny’s Child band members and a spot on the U.K. “X Factor” judging panel, it all went a little pear-shaped for Kelly Rowland when she released her fourth album, “Talk a Good Game.” It became Rowland’s lowest-charting album in the U.K. when it debuted at No. 80. It fared better in the U.S., debuting at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, but sold 9,000 fewer copies than 2011’s “Here I Am.”
“Talk A Good Game” sold a mere 176,000 copies in its first six months of release. By comparison, Rowland’s debut solo album “Simply Deep” sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide.
Madonna: ‘Rebel Heart’ (and ‘Madame X’)
Madonna’s next album after “MDNA” was 2015’s “Rebel Heart,” which sold one million copies and was her first studio album not to debut at the top of the Billboard 200 since 1998’s “Ray of Light.” It also missed the top spot in the U.K. — her first album to do so since “Bedtime Stories” in 1994.
Madonna’s most recent studio album, “Madame X,” was released in July 2019. So far, it’s only sold 90,000 copies in the U.S., and divided critics. The Independent summed it up pretty well, saying it was “intriguing, often brilliant [and] occasionally awful.”
Related: Most Valuable Vinyl Records