Ed Sheeran Is a Streaming Giant, but ‘Collaborations’ Is a Modest Hit

Ed Sheeran is the most popular streaming artist in the world. But how much of a hit is his latest album, the guest-heavy “No. 6 Collaborations Project”?

On Spotify, 71 million people around the globe listen to at least one Sheeran song every month — making him, by that metric at least, the biggest on the platform by a fair margin. Songs from his new album were featured on more than 800 official Spotify playlists.

With such a vast audience, and Spotify’s promotional muscle behind the album, one would expect blockbuster opening-week numbers for “No. 6 Collaborations Project,” whose list of special appearances includes Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars, Cardi B, Eminem, Camila Cabello, Chris Stapleton and more.

Yet while the album opened at No. 1 on Billboard’s chart, giving Sheeran his third chart-topper, its numbers were modest for a high-profile project. “No. 6 Collaborations Project,” released by Atlantic, had the equivalent of 173,000 sales in the United States, the seventh-biggest opening of the year.

According to data from Nielsen, its total number included 70,000 copies sold as a complete album and 121 million streams — a number barely higher than last week’s No. 1, J. Cole’s “Revenge of the Dreamers III,” and less than the opening for Sheeran’s last album, “÷,” two years ago. To Sheeran’s credit, he largely refrained from giving away copies of his music with sales of merchandise, a tactic that is widely used these days to gain a higher chart position.

Close watchers of Billboard’s charts, however, saw the anticlimax coming. The first single from Sheeran’s album, “I Don’t Care,” with Bieber, opened at No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, blocked by Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” The next one, “Cross Me,” with Chance the Rapper and PnB Rock, went to No. 34. Two others failed to crack the Top 20 as well.

“Old Town Road,” meanwhile, continues its historic run. It has now notched 16 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s singles chart, tying the record with Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” (in 1995 and 1996) and “Despacito,” by Luis Fonsi with Daddy Yankee and Bieber (2017).

Also on this week’s album chart, Billie Eilish’s “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” holds at No. 2, J. Cole’s “Revenge of the Dreamers III” project falls to No. 3, Lil Nas X’s “7” EP is No. 4 and Chris Brown’s “Indigo” is No. 5.

Ben Sisario covers the music industry. He joined The Times in 1998, and has contributed to Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Press and WFUV. He also wrote “Doolittle,” a book about the Pixies. @sisario

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