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Kendrick Lamar's 'Black Panther' album is a hit - and it could change the music industry

"Black Panther" is a bonafide box office smash, and its soundtrack is tearing up the charts, too."Black Panthe...

Posted: Feb 21, 2018 9:33 AM
Updated: Feb 21, 2018 9:33 AM

"Black Panther" is a bonafide box office smash, and its soundtrack is tearing up the charts, too.

"Black Panther: The Album" debuted atop the Billboard 200 this weekend after selling 154,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen Music.

That number understates the success of the album, a collection of songs curated by Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar. Billboard hasn't yet factored in the additional 61,300 copies sold over the weekend after the film came out.

To determine the number of copies sold, the music industry uses a formula that incorporates physical albums, digital albums, digital singles and song streams.

The album has been particularly big for streaming: Nielsen's data shows that the songs combined have been streamed nearly 190 million times since the album was released February 9. About 50 million of those streams were this weekend alone.

"This is much bigger than just a music release. It's much bigger than just a compilation album," said David Bakula, senior vice president of analytics at Nielsen Entertainment.

It's not a surprise that the album is doing so well. "Black Panther" has been described as not just a movie but a cultural movement.

The film has shattered the norms of black representation in Hollywood by featuring a mostly black cast and having a black superhero. It's already one of the biggest blockbusters in Disney's Marvel franchise.

The album was curated and produced by one of the most electrifying and socially significant performers in entertainment. And the album itself is a nontraditional soundtrack that could change the music industry.

Related: 'Black Panther' crushes box office records in opening weekend

Lamar and artists like SZA and The Weeknd recorded songs that were inspired by the groundbreaking comic book superhero. And only a few of the 14 tracks on "Black Panther: The Album" appear in the film.

Many stand on their own. "All the Stars," "King's Dead" and "Pray for Me" are singles that were promoted heavily in the weeks before the album dropped. Nielsen says those three songs have been streamed a combined 132 million times.

"Kendrick's one of the most streamed artists out there," Bakula said. "You do have an artist who's at the absolute top of his game."

Bakula added that the album's success could help some of the artists who aren't as well known as Lamar and The Weeknd. Moviegoers who are introduced to the album because of the film may discover someone like Jay Rock or Anderson .Paak for the first time.

"This comes with the addition of this gigantic $200 million box office opening," Bakula added. "The movie sort of brings an additional element of exposure - a little bit like if you had a no-name artist that appeared on the Grammys."

Related: More than a movie, 'Black Panther' is a movement

The success of the album and others like it could also have repercussions for the rest of the music industry, said Zach Fuller, a music analyst at MIDiA Research.

Three of the top five albums on Billboard's chart this week are movie soundtracks. Along with the Black Panther album, "The Greatest Showman," which includes tracks from the musical drama, and "Fifty Shades Freed," a collection of pop songs from the erotic romance, are also performing well.

"You could say that this is indicative of streaming bringing people back to this model that the album's become very soundtrack-centric," Fuller told CNN late last week.

One possible reason: The movie tie-in helps create a sentimental attachment for fans to latch on to.

"There are parts of the movie, the visual experience of the movie, that are made more complete by the music, and that has an additional emotional effect," Bakula said.

Fuller also predicted that the film industry's influence on music producers could continue to grow.

In a blog post Tuesday, he described Lamar's production and curation of the Black Panther soundtrack as the model for what could become "the holy grail for artists." It's a practice not unlike how India's Bollywood industry drives the country's music, he wrote.

"Given its influence on the film industry and considerable presence in music, The Walt Disney Company would also thrive in such a world," Fuller added. "Video kills radio stars, but it may well be the film industry that leads the way in preserving the album as an artistic medium."

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