Eminem! U2! Gwen Stefani! Sound like a blockbuster lineup? It is. Too bad it's last year's list of superstar fall releases. This year, well, let's just say Ashlee Simpson ain't gonna save the CD biz. With new discs from OutKast and Pharrell getting bumped to 2006, fall has been something of a bust. ''The holiday season is disappointing,'' says Lon Lindeland, director of music purchasing at Best Buy. ''I had optimism there'd be some exciting releases that would bring consumers into stores...but there weren't any.''
It's been a grim year, with album sales down nearly 10 percent from 2004. But it's not all bad news. There were some notable winners, like rapper the Game (whose debut sold 2.3 million copies), pop-punk band Fall Out Boy (who came out of nowhere to sell more than a million CDs), and System of a Down (with two chart-topping albums in 2005). A few other notable winners and losers:
WINNER: Mariah By shifting focus to The Voice and the sort of hooks that made her a '90s pop queen, she scored the comeback of the year. ''Mariah has never been given enough credit for songwriting,'' says Universal Records prexy Monte Lipman. ''She's sold over 100 million records and suddenly she's an underdog.'' Guess Glitter served her well after all.
LOSER: J. Lo March's Rebirth only sold 700,000 (less than a third of 2002's This Is Me...Then). ''It's hands down the brick of the year,'' says one major-label exec. ''But don't count her out,'' says VH1 general manager Tom Calderone. After all, Lopez could always make a Mariah-style comeback herself.
WINNER: Rock-Pop Green Day, Coldplay, and the Killers weren't the only acts making noise (and money) with guitars. From newly amped-up Top 40 staple Kelly Clarkson to emo-punks Fall Out Boy, the TRL set was all about rocking out. Says Calderone, ''Even Hilary Duff wants to be a rocker.''
LOSER: Dance-Pop O Justin, where art thou? With Xtina and Britney taking a time-out and Usher concentrating on films, no one stepped up. ''Pop artists were trying to come off as more real, more singer-songwritery,'' notes Tom Poleman, Clear Channel Radio's senior VP of programming. Reality may work for TV, but clearly not for dance-pop.
WINNER: Interscope Boasting megasellers by 50 Cent, Gwen Stefani, the Black Eyed Peas, and the Game, Interscope Geffen A&M hit enough home runs to make George Steinbrenner jealous, and to make them the market-share leader for the year. ''They don't let crap through the system,'' says Michael Chase, music director of Atlanta pop station Star 94. Huh. No crap. Why didn't we think of that?
LOSER: Virgin How do you know your label's in trouble? Your biggest hit is a sleeper electronic disc by a bunch of cartoon characters. With Gorillaz representing in the absence of fading stars Janet Jackson and Lenny Kravitz, the imprint had little to celebrate. ''Virgin desperately needs to be rebuilt,'' says one radio exec. ''They've done the right thing by hiring [former Atlantic prez] Jason Flom.''