Third Album Success Stories: 10 Measuring Sticks For Katy Perry & Lady Gaga

We’ve all heard of the sophomore slump. You know, the dreaded second album that often shows diminishing returns or, in drastic cases, completely unravels an artist’s career. The good news for pop titans Katy Perry and Lady Gaga is that they have already successfully navigated that hurdle. As the dueling divas prepare to release their highly-anticipated third LPs (The Fame Monster registers as an EP), we’ve rummaged through the pop history books — ok, Googled wildly — to see what the gold standard for pop superstardom is.

Interestingly, the third album often represents a commercial and critical high-water mark for music’s elite. The shackles of expectation (from both label and fans) have largely been shed by that stage and many acts hit the ball out of the proverbial park. Shania Twain‘s third project sold 40 million copies, Beyonce‘s netted five Grammy awards and Madonna‘s produced five top 10 hits. How will Prism and ARTPOP compare to these success stories? Time will tell. In the meantime, see how the pop heavyweights that went before them measure up after the jump.

Janet Jackson — Control (1986)

Chart Position: 1

Certification: 5 x Platinum

Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 singles: 5

Grammy Awards: 1

Janet Jackson‘s first two albums were so unsuccessful — at least by her lofty standards — that Control is often assumed to be her debut. Like exquisite sister La Toya, the then 20-year struggled to find her own identity in the long shadow of legendary brother Michael Jackson. Teaming up with production house Jam & Lewis did the trick. They honed Jan’s slick urban-dance sound and soon she was breaking records of her own. Nasty girls, bow down.

Nelly Furtado — Loose (2006)

Chart Position: 1

Certification: Platinum

Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 singles: 2

Grammy Awards: 0

Folklore is one of my favorite albums of all time but it almost sunk Nelly Furtado as a commercial entity. The Canadian diva wasn’t taking any chances with third LP Loose. She joined forces with super producer Timbaland and tapped into the zeitgeist effortlessly with slick urban-pop tunes like “Promiscuous” and “Say It Right” (both of which topped the Hot 100). Interestingly, she still stayed true to her folk leaning on songs like “In God’s Hands” and “All Good Things (Come To An End)” — international hits that helped the disc sell 10 million copies.

Britney Spears — Britney (2001)

Chart Position: 1

Certification: 4 x Platinum

Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 singles: 0

Grammy Awards: 0

While Britney Spears experienced diminishing returns as far as copies sold on her third LP Britney (admittedly, she set the bar extraordinarily high with her first two albums), it was still a massive international success and showed the first signs of her experimenting as an artist on R&B-infused pop tracks like The Neptunes-produced “I’m A Slave 4 U” and still bouncy Goldmember soundtrack contribution “Boys”.

Madonna — True Blue (1986)

Chart Position: 1

Certification: 7 x Platinum

Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 singles: 5

Grammy Awards: 0

Lady Gaga has a rather large mountain to climb if she’s to match the success of (her hero) Madonna’s True Blue. The grande dame of pop was unstoppable in the ’80s and her third LP plays like a greatest hits compilation. There’s the camp title track, iconic teen pregnancy anthem “Papa Don’t Preach”, soaring ballad “Live To Tell”, Latin-infused “La Isla Bonita” and my personal favorite “Open Your Heart”, which boasted a peepshow-themed music video with her love interest played by a toddler. Talk about art-pop!

Celine Dion — The Colour Of My Love (1993)

Chart Position: 4

Certification: 6 x Platinum

Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 singles: 1

Grammy Awards: 0

Celine Dion released more than a dozen albums in French before embarking on an English language pop career. Her soaring ballads took a while to take hold but by the release of her third LP The Colour Of My Love she was on her way to becoming a household name. Covering Jennifer Rush‘s “The Power Of Love” turned out to be an insanely wise move, while tracks like “Think Twice” and “To Love You More” matched its success in various territories around the world. Well played, Celine.

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