BLACKPINK’s Number One on the Billboard 200 is a Major Milestone
Their album BORN PINK by the numbers.
BLACKPINK’s second studio album, BORN PINK, came out on Friday, September 16. Per Billboard chart procedure, the seven-day span from the 16th through the 22nd is reflected on the chart dated for the week of October 1. Let’s take a look at how the album has performed so far, focusing on the chart in the week following its release.
BORN PINK entered the Billboard 200 at number one on October 1. This is BLACKPINK’s first number one on the chart; in 2020, their debut album, The Album, peaked at number two. BORN PINK is the third K-pop album, along with BTS’s Proof and Stray Kids’ Oddinary, to top the list this year. It’s also the first album by a group composed entirely of women to hit number one since Welcome to the Dollhouse by Danity Kane did so in 2008, and the first time it’s happened in the era of streaming music.
BORN PINK sold 102,000 album equivalent units in the first week; for the purposes of the Billboard 200, one full album, 10 individually purchased tracks, 1,250 paid streams and 3,750 free streams all amount to one album equivalent unit each. Looking closer, sales of the album were made up of 76,000 actual albums, 37.49 million streams (equating to 25,000 units) and a small handful of individual track sales. Now let’s compare that to other K-pop albums that have done well on the same chart—not to see who did best, but to see how BLACKPINK stacks up.
In the same week, the number two album, Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti, sold 93,000 copies. Since first entering the chart on May 21, the album has never dipped below this ranking, and has spent 11 of those weeks at number one. The album has consistently sold 100,000 copies every week thanks to strong streaming figures. Put another way, Un Verano Sin Ti has become a benchmark for the strategies it has used to chart on the Billboard 200 for the past few months. For BORN PINK, that means it had to get 25,000 album equivalent units from streaming on top of the 76,000 real albums it sold if it was going to hit number one. Nearly 40 million streams of eight songs is a feat worthy of the title. Un Verano Sin Ti has 23 tracks, which together racked up a total of 130 million streams that week.
Let’s look at some examples from other groups. When Oddinary sat at number one, Lil Dirk’s 7220 was just below it with 81,000 copies sold. Here, streaming had little effect on the rankings, as is usually the case. By contrast, when TWICE’s Between 1&2 was at number three, it sat behind DJ Khalid’s God Did and Un Verano Sin Ti, which ranked number one and two with 108,000 copies and 106,000 copies sold, respectively. In this case, a bump from some streaming would have gone a long way to bring them up to second or even first place.
BORN PINK’s success, of course, is thanks to the 76,000 actual albums it sold. That’s seventh among any album sold so far this year. As with most K-pop releases, the album comes in different versions with unique cover art, limited-edition packages and randomized goodies inside. The standard edition was sold at a discount and digital copies were at some point during the week as well. Digital versions of the album with differing cover art were released as well. Altogether, they used several different strategies to promote the album, and it clearly had an influence. There’s no need to doubt this idea of using a sales strategy—all the top artists use them, but even then, it doesn’t guarantee success.
Most number-one albums find their success by leaning heavily into either album sales or streaming, but BLACKPINK reached the top of the Billboard 200 through a combination of both. Such success has its roots in the K-pop world, but that alone isn’t enough to explain things. The “Pink Venom” and “Shut Down” music videos quickly exceeded 300 million and 100 million views, respectively, and they have the most YouTube subscribers of any musical artist in the world. This naturally leads streaming services to recognize the group’s importance when making their playlists. Each of the members of the group has more followers than any other individual celebrities in Korea, too, and the fact that each of them is either an ambassador, muse or model for a global brand drives home the status they enjoy. When they say, “it’s not a comeback since we’ve never left,” that’s just a fact.
It might, therefore, be more useful to look at BLACKPINK outside the lens of K-pop. There’s a market for music put out by Internet personalities like Bella Poarch and Lil Huddy, for example. BLACKPINK has long been a pioneer in this still newly rising sphere, boasting incomparable status and exception sales power. It’s not easy for anyone in this market to reach the top of the Billboard 200 and the Artist 100 and have their song debut in the top 30 of the Hot 100. BLACKPINK has made a name for themselves in the US in a way that defies traditional the K-pop formula and separates it from other K-pop groups. Language barriers have to be overcome to be influential, and it’s not surprising to hear so much English on their album. But more importantly, their success derives from the combination of style, influence and music they have and put out into the world. This is a unique group, and it’s hard to find any parallel.