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

Aug 21st, 2013 // 8 Comments

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.

Shania Twain — Come On Over (1997)

Chart Position: 2

Certification: 2 x Diamond

Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 singles: 3

Grammy Awards: 4

Perhaps the ultimate third album — at least as far as copies sold are concerned — Shania Twain’s Come On Over sold more than 15 million copies in the US alone. It also produced timeless singles like “You’re Still The One” and “From This Moment On”. What would weddings be without those gems? How would drag queens have survived the ’90s without “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!”? These are questions I’d rather not ponder. This has been the crowning achievement of Shania’s career thus far.

Mariah Carey — Music Box (1993)

Chart Position: 1

Certification: Diamond

Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 singles: 3

Grammy Awards: 0

Mariah Carey was already a superstar by 1993 but Music Box made her a legend. One of the highest-selling albums of all time, the hit-heavy opus was diamond-certified in the US and houses signature tunes “Hero” and “Dreamlover”. The fact that an LP synonymous with pop excellence won no Grammys is a crime against music. Mimi strived to free herself from this mega-successful formula of big ballads and mid-tempo numbers on later offerings but there’s no denying the impact Music Box had on her career.

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.

Taylor Swift — Speak Now (2010)

Chart Position: 1

Certification: 4 x Platinum

Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 singles: 3

Grammy Awards: 2

Talk about not having a sophomore slump. Taylor Swift‘s second album Fearless went six times platinum and won a Grammy for Album Of The Year. The pressure was on for an equally successful third LP and she delivered the goods with Speak Now — an opus that showcases the country diva’s first humble steps towards a more ‘pop’ sound. It also has the best wedding-ruining song of all time and brought banjos back to the Hot 100 with “Mean”. Winning all around.

Beyonce — I Am… Sasha Fierce (2008)

Chart Position: 1

Certification: 3 x Platinum

Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 singles: 4

Grammy Awards: 5

Beyonce broke all the rules with sublime urban-pop masterpiece I Am… Sasha Fierce. She split the songs by personality, pioneered the trend of releasing dual singles for different markets and sang about videophones before everyone had one. The mix of fierce R&B with pared-back acoustic pop was an unmitigated success, producing four top 10 hits and scoring Queen Bey five Grammys. She nabbed another one for her cover of “At Last” that night, giving her a record haul.

Justin Bieber — Believe (2012)

Chart Position: 1

Certification: Platinum

Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 singles: 3

Grammy Awards: 0

It’s not only ladies who deliver the goods the third time around. Justin Bieber more than held his own with 2012′s Believe. It shot straight to number one and delivered era-defining pop hits like “Boyfriend” and “As Long As You Love Me”. And who can his epic Nicki Minaj duet “Beauty And A Beat” with its stunning lyrics and Justin’s “buns and wiener”? A classic.

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.


  1. RtA1913

    I can’t take this list seriously when you are including Bieber, Swift and Furtado (I love her though) BUT you’re excluding Rihanna’s Good Girl Gone Bad. As 3rd albums go that is a perfect example! 2X Platinum in the US (over 9M copies sold WW), it contained 5 top 10 hits (Umbrella, Hate That I Love You, Don’t Stop the Music, Take a Bow, Disturbia), it was the album that catapulted Rihanna into stardom and made her a household name in the industry and represents her complete makeover! And well it’s true it got re-released but that was due to the original success! So I woulld re-think this list and add GGGB, cause without it we wouldn’t have the same RiRi we have now.

  2. This list isn’t definitive. Of course there are other acts that had successful third albums. Rihanna is a great example. So is Justin Timberlake.

  3. Matthew

    And you left off Rhythm of Love. One of the best pop albums ever.

  4. And Back To Basics. I need to make another list :(

  5. sapril

    Technically, Mariah’s third album was MTV Unplugged. Sold six million worldwide, scored her sixth #1 Hot 100 single, nominated for a Grammy, won two American Music Awards for the album and single.

  6. Indi


    You are incorrect. MTV Unplugged is NOT considered a studio album, so Music Box is indeed her 3rd studio album. Read the criterion!!!

  7. Rihanna’s Album didn’t come as No. 1 in Billboard because of lack of personality. MTV said so. Maybe that’s why it isn’t here.

  8. kyle

    You list is not complete without Christina aguilera’s Back to Basics .

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