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U2 to 'O Brother Where Art Thou?': Winners and Losers

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About the only thing more troubled than Mariah Carey in 2001 was the music business itself. Album sales were down 2.8 percent, the first dip since SoundScan began tracking figures. Musicians and labels teetered on the brink of war over artists’ rights. File-sharing kids and collegians had contests to see who could rack up the biggest completely gratis collections. Layoffs? A given. And overpriced tours played to half-empty halls, ticket prices having skyrocketed right before the onset of a recession.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like Coldplay?

Once you tossed out the business page, there were bright spots for the industry. A weary world turned to musicians to provide comfort and joy through existing songs that became makeshift 9/11 anthems, like U2’s ”Walk On,” Enya’s ”Only Time,” and P.O.D.’s ”Alive,” or through new material like Alan Jackson’s ”Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” No one could complain about a surfeit of predictability — not when stars like Carey, Macy Gray, and Lenny Kravitz failed to cross the half-million mark, while newcomer Alicia Keys’ old-school soul topped the charts and octogenarian Ralph Stanley’s walls were plastered with platinum records. It was the winningest of times, it was the losingest of times…

WINNER
HICKS
It got no airplay, boasted no stars, and featured songs predating the birth of T—not to mention MTV—by decades. Is it any wonder O Brother, Where Art Thou? became the first blockbuster soundtrack since Titanic? This Depression-era revivalism, along with the posthumous success of Eva Cassidy, confirmed that word of mouth can be even stronger than the corporate stranglehold on the national airwaves, and that almost anything can—and should—happen.

LOSER
HICKEYS
The bloom was definitely off teen pop. LFO and Willa Ford failed to ford waters higher than the 200,000-unit mark. Jessica Simpson crawled just past a half million; by the time the self-proclaimed virgin tried reviving the album by posing like an inflatable doll on Maxim‘s cover, Irresistible had long since disappeared from Billboard‘s Hot 200. The news wasn’t so dire for ‘N Sync and Britney Spears, who enjoyed the first-and third-highest debut weeks of the year. But even these titans look on pace to sell only about half of what their previous blockbusters managed.

WINNER
PIETY
While sales of rap took the hardest hit, the Christian/gospel genre got the biggest boost. Vaguer spirituality also thrived. P.O.D. ruled hard-rock airwaves with a veiled God anthem, while former church band Lifehouse claimed the most-played radio song with their debut single. Bono recited psalms and fronted electronic scrolls of the Sept. 11 victims as part of U2’s Elevation arena tour, which earned $109.7 million, the second-best gross ever logged by Pollstar. Creed’s Weathered is on track to eventually emerge as the best-selling album to have come out in ’01. Taking top sales honors for now are Linkin Park; though rowdier, even these guys are no Fred Dursts, having studiously avoided cussing throughout their debut.

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