What's more elusive than The Elusive Chanteuse? Sales of Mariah Carey's latest, Me. I Am Mariah, which have totaled a mere 97,000 copies since the album's May 27 release.
But Mimi's not the only diva on the block facing sorry sales. Jennifer Lopez, who has been on an all-out media blitz in recent weeks to promote A.K.A. — performing onGood Morning America, gracing the cover of Billboard magazine and scoring a viral video with Jimmy Fallon — has only managed to move 47,000 copies of her newest album since June 17.
"The secret is just getting the lead single right," says Andrew Hampp, a senior branding correspondent at Billboard. Like other music veterans Shakira, Britney Spears and Enrique Iglesias — who have all seen diminishing returns on their latest efforts — Mariah and J.Lo, both 44, "didn't have a top-10 hit leading into their releases. If you want a good first week these days, you need a hit."
Of the four singles released so far off Me. I Am Mariah, only one has managed to crack the top 40: the Miguel-assisted #Beautiful, which peaked at No. 15 last summer on Billboard's Hot 100. She's now pushing You Don't Know What to Do with rapper Wale (the two performed the song on Today in May), which has failed to chart.
Pair lackluster singles with an awkward album title, multiple delays in releasing the record, and the fact that it's been five years since she released a non-holiday album (2009's Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel), and low sales are "not surprising really or hard to imagine," says Paul Grein, pop music writer at Yahoo Music's Chart Watch blog.
Though she has pulled off multiple comebacks in the 24 years since she released her self-titled debut, it could be unrealistic to presume that Mariah will have another. After all, her albums aren't expected "to sell as well as they used to," Grein says. "It's just the natural way of things, because new stars are coming along all the time. Ariana Grande is very much in Mariah's sort of wheelhouse, and she has that new-car smell.
"I'd be surprised if Mariah was able to come back. I just don't know where you go from there."
Although she may have been at her hit singles peak more than 10 years ago, J.Lo has proven she's still more than capable of creating a winner — after all, she had a No. 3 smash with the Pitbull-featuring On the Floor just three summers ago. Off A.K.A., there's the Max Martin-produced First Love (which she performed on the American Idol finale), No. 93 on the Hot 100, with other strong candidates Booty (also with Pitbull) and Acting Like That (featuring Iggy Azalea) ripe for the picking, Hampp says.
J.Lo could also pump new life into the album through touring. As evidenced by a successful world tour with Iglesias in 2012 and her recent free show in the Bronx that attracted thousands, "she's a bigger draw than ever on the road," Hampp says.
Whether she and Mariah are able to course-correct or not, lackluster sales could actually prove to be quite freeing for both, Grein suggests.
"They've both been hit-dependent their whole careers. Maybe they should say, 'OK, forget about hits, what do I want to do?' " he says, adding that they could choose to pursue passion projects or concept albums next. "I'm sure it's hard for artists who are starting to find resistance at hit radio, and trying to overcome that resistance must be difficult. But you can just say, 'Let's not even worry about that,' and do what's in your heart."