Madonna’s Rumored Split From Guy Ritchie: It Could Help Her Music Career! (Maybe!)

You’ll have to forgive us for wondering, in passing, whether the reportage that Madonna is (supposedly) splitting up with husband Guy Ritchie might be in some way a ploy to get people to buy her latest album that no one really cares that much about, Hard Candy. That’s just celebrity fatigue. But it did lead us to a serious question: has a divorce–like an arrest, or a sex scandal–ever really helped a record’s popularity?

One example leaped to mind immediately: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. As rock-history buffs are all aware, the album’s explicit subject was the group’s three songwriters’ breakups–in two cases, with one another. Even more so, the album’s press played up the angle, including the Rolling Stone overhead cover shot of the band’s five members laying on a mattress together. The songs’ naked candidness gave the audience the chance to reconstruct its own version of the backstage shenanigans. So in that case, divorce (in Christine and John McVie’s case, though not the unmarried Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham) certainly did help the record’s success.

You could probably say it of Sonny & Cher as well, though they weren’t making records together by the time they went back on TV together following their divorce. Still, they were musicians, and their second variety hour, while not a huge success, certainly owed some of its popularity to their ex-couple status. We are, after all, a nation of rubberneckers. So what say you? Are there any other examples worth mentioning? Who are we missing here? Comments, comments, who’s got the comments?

Reports: Madonna and Guy Ritchie to divorce [AP]

  • Anonymous

    What about Paul McCartney’s newish records and his recent divorce? Chaos and Creation was a pretty great little record and what I heard of Memory Almost Full was meh, but I’d be interested to know which sold better. Course, you have to factor in Starbucks distro and all…

  • Chris Molanphy

    I dunno if this counts, but Usher’s well-reported relationship troubles in 2003-04 both inspired the lyrics of and seemed to help the sales of Confessions, the No. 1 album of 2004.

  • Michaelangelo Matos

    Usher is a good example insofar as we’re just talking about breakups. I’m curious about actual full-on divorce. And of course the most obvious friggin’ example of all time only now comes to me: Richard & Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights. Though that’s not exactly a marketplace barn-burner, is it? Still, the mystique certainly has helped it along. (I have not yet read the new 33 1/3 on that album; I probably will eventually.)

  • Al Shipley

    @Chris Molanphy: Yeah, and then Usher went through many well-reported relationship issues in 2007 that didn’t seem to benefit his 2008 album at all. Controversy sells magazines, not records.

  • Al Shipley

    Also, let’s not forget that Britney Spears’ released her lowest selling album to date after 2-3 years of constant media coverage of her divorce and personal life.

  • Michaelangelo Matos

    I don’t know the numbers on Blackout, but I’m curious if the dropoff is enormous or just what you’d expect from 2008 and 1999 being very different years. I’m guessing a combination.

  • Anonymous

    The White Stripes certainly got some mileage over their “divorced or siblings” years.

  • elvissinatra

    Dang. I logged in to add Richard/Linda Thompson, but you beat me to it.

    Did John Lennon’s “Lost Weekend” from Yoko get played up by the publicity for those albums?

  • Maura Johnston

    @Michaelangelo Matos: Blackout reappeared on the Billboard 200 for the Sept. 14 chart week (thanks, VMAs) — it had scanned 897,000 copies through that date.

  • Rob Murphy

    Breaking: Madonna’s people confirm. It’s happening.

  • Mike P.

    @elvissinatra: Re: The Lost Weekend. It’s possible. I believe Walls and Bridges and “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” were John’s first number one album and single.

  • Michaelangelo Matos

    People, I’m a complete idiot for not thinking of this in the first place: George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

  • Sara Sherr

    People seemed the most interested in Nick Lachey’s solo thing after he divorced Jessica. Not sure if it worked for her stuff too. Even if it doesn’t always translate to sales, it does create good songwriting material.

  • Anonymous

    Marvin Gaye Hear My Dear… the album fulfilled a divorce settlement from Anna Gordy

  • Tauwan

    @Rob Murphy:

    Yep. Saw it on the news this morning. I’m gonna go ahead and blame A-Rod just for shits and giggles.

  • Anonymous

    ABBA, The Visitors?

  • Maura Johnston

    @Tauwan: You’ll hurt his feelings!

  • Michaelangelo Matos

    Not just divorces that inspired music: divorces whose story helped spur record sales.

  • elvissinatra

    K-Fed. Oh wait, even his divorce couldn’t attract more than 40 people per show to his post-Britney tour…

  • Adairdevil

    What about my favorite Bruce album, Tunnel of Love? I know, I know, it was the follow-up to Born in the U.S.A. and interest was high. But I still remember being like 9 years old, watching Baba Wawa pressing an incredibly uncomfortable Springsteen for details about his disintegrating marriage. Perhaps the publicity around his personal life helped keep the album in view?

  • Lucas Jensen

    @andrialisle: That record is amazing, but it was a disaster for Motown.

  • Tauwan

    Also, though her whole album isn’t about her divorce per se, Solange’s Would’ve Been the One off her latest solo LP is pretty stellar and open with the emotions and the details.

  • NoTimeBeforeTime

    No divorce, but … “Cry Me a River”? And the notoriety from Eminem’s divorce/reconciliation cycles helped to boost his sales.

  • MrStarhead

    Yeah, I’d go with Nick Lachey. His big hit single was all about moving on after the divorce with Jessica.


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