(CNN) — Album sales, meet your new prince.
Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience” hit it big this week around the world. In the United States the album came in at No.1 on the charts, selling 968,000 copies, according to SoundScan. It also hit No. 1 in multiple countries including New Zealand, Canada and Switzerland, topped the charts on iTunes in 89 countries, and is the biggest debut in the United Kingdom so far this year.
“The 20/20 Experience” also ranked 19th in overall sales for an album since SoundScan debuted in 1991. Given his golden touch, it should come as no surprise that JT’s former band ‘N Sync holds the No. 1 spot for 2000’s “No Strings Attached.”
Not too shabby in an era when experts have long decried the slow death of the album.
“A lot of artists are not known for albums, they are known just for singles,” said Steve Stoute, a friend and former music executive who recently worked with Timberlake on the Bud Light Platinum ad campaign. Ordinarily, he said, “If you put out singles and you don’t follow up quickly enough, unfortunately you are going to be forgotten.”
“But when you are an artist like Justin who has put out great album after album after album, whether as a part of ‘N Sync or as a soloist, his body of work is so great that people will buy in.”
In fact, it seems that the seven year wait for new music from the former boy bander turned actor turned favored “Saturday Night Live” host ratcheted up fans’ anticipation even more. His last two albums, 2002’s “Justified” and 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds debuted more modestly, at 439,000 and 684,000 respectively.
When Timberlake returned to the music scene, he did so with a vengeance and, Stoute said, a perfectionist’s eye, trained on everything from music videos, the aforementioned commercial that aired during the Grammys, his fifth “SNL” hosting gig, a Grammy performance and a weeklong residency on the “Jimmy Fallon Show.” That’s not even to mention his upcoming joint tour with Jay-Z, who guest raps on the album’s first single “Suit & Tie,” and the second volume of “The 20/20 Experience,” which is expected to come in November.
“I think it’s one of the best marketing plans I’ve ever seen put together period, even outside of records,” Stoute said. “Just one of the best product launching marketing plans I’ve ever seen.”
Joe Levy, the editor of Billboard, said Timberlake’s approach leading up to the debut is an example of “secrecy in the age of transparency.”
Like David Bowie, who recently dropped an album no one was even expecting, Timberlake played it close to the (double) vest. Levy said it’s unusual because fans these days are used to “artists telling us a record is coming, delaying the record when the first single doesn’t work, pushing the record back when the second single doesn’t work.”
“The secrecy with which the record was made, and the careful way in which it was delivered was all part of it,” he said. “We will see what he has up his sleeve from here.”
Levy said there are still fans who appreciate a good album and there is a reason “The 20/20 Experience” is the biggest seller so far in 2013.
“(Fans) are buying it because the singles are great, he’s great, it’s been a long time since he’s put out a record, it’s brilliantly marketed and all that’s come together to propel him to a very impressive first week of sales,” he said.
Billy Johnson Jr., a senior editor at Yahoo! Music, said Timberlake is very cognizant of the three things he needed to do to ensure his album’s success: “promote, promote, promote.”
In contrast to his relatively low profile over the last few years, “Justin Timberlake has made himself as accessible as he can,” Johnson said. “So the awareness of his album is at a peak.”
He also managed to snag superstar rapper Jay-Z to perform with him not only on the record, but also at key events including “SNL,” a party during Super Bowl weekend and the Grammy Awards. That’s a feat Johnson said not even Jay-Z’s wife, Beyonce, can claim, as he didn’t perform with her during this year’s Super Bowl Halftime show.
“It’s like (Jay-Z) and Timberlake are like the new ‘Watch The Throne’ 2013,” Johnson said, referring to the hit album and tour from Jay-Z and fellow artist Kanye West in 2011.
Timberlake told the New MySpace (a site he co-owns) that he envisioned a few legends when he started thinking about touring with the man who is arguably one of the biggest stars in music. The singer said he remembers when “artists like Billy (Joel) and Elton (John) went on tour together and you just see them mash up their songs together, and I said, that’s what it has to be.”
“We have to just go out on stage for two hours and just nonstop, kill it and then go have a beer or whatever,” Timberlake said.
Stoute said he is sure Timberlake will continue to connect with fans because he is one of music’s stars whose talent has earned him the privilege to be able to take some time away from the industry and still come back strong. Not everyone can, Stoute said.
“If I was Katy Perry I would not stay away too long,” he said.
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