Following three consecutive albums from Michael Jackson which sold well over a million each – a record for an international artist – HIStory was hugely anticipated. Priced two times the average and weirdly packaged with one half compilation and one half studio album, repeating the feat seemed a tough target.
What wasn’t a difficult target was debuting at #1. Even this feat wasn’t as much a given as one may yet of thought since it faced the biggest album of all-time in France – D’Eux by Celine Dion. From April 1995 this latter album totally stole the show charting at #1 for 44 weeks out of a 49 weeks span. The first album that was able to dislodge it, and the only one that pushed it out of the top spot for two weeks in a row was none other than HIStory.
Indeed the album still debuted at #1, for two weeks, in June. The second week was also strongly relevant as Jackson blocked the newly debuting Johnny Hallyday album titled Lorada. Ironically, in 2001 and 2002 respectively, those two acts were going to set biggest debuts for an international album (Invincible, 166,000, topped by 4,000 units in 2015 by Adele‘s 25) and local album (A La Vie, A La Mort, 306,000, a record that still remains).
While the lead single from HIStory, Scream, a duet with his sister Janet, was moderately successful. However, the following three singles went on to become big hits. First was the #1 hit You Are Not Alone that helped the album to remain strong by charting its first 16 weeks inside the Top 5.
Second came Earth Song that pushed the album back from #13 in October to #2 in December, giving it large selling weeks during the Christmas season. Those results were rewarded with the #3 position in the 1995 year end chart for the album, behind only Celine Dion and the Cranberries. Sales were over 800,000 units.
The album wasn’t done yet though as it was still #2 and the third big hit, They Don’t Care About Us, was still to come. With this single released in early 1996 to radio stations, HIStory remained Top 10 for 13 additional weeks and 11 more in the Top 20. In early September Sony Music audit revealed unsurprisingly the album was already over a million, his fourth album in a row doing so.
When it left the Top 40 in September and October, the album appeared to be over. As it turned out, it wasn’t. It climbed all the way up to the Top 10 to benefit from a second Christmas season thanks to TV commercial support. Close to 450,000 copies were sold that year.
Time to slow down again, HIStory left the top 50 by March 1997. A never-ending success story, the release of remix album Blood On The Dancefloor in June sky rocketed the 1995 set again to as high as #3. In total, the album had seven spells inside the Top 10 over a span of two full years. It sold more than 200, 000 units during 1997. Selling an estimated 75,000 units from 1998 to 2002, the album was over 1,4 million (close to 1,5 million) by 2001.
GFK figures from 2003 to 2008 show only 23,000 copies sold for the period, while not that bad, this is a figure well short of Jackson‘s earlier albums, mostly due to the extensive price of the album. It recovered some of his earlier brilliance after his untimely passing, selling an impressive 68,000 copies during 2009. The following years were good as well with 50,000 sales from 2010 to 2015.
Those total sales make HIStory the 3rd best selling English-speaking album of the last 20 years, only beaten by 1997 Titanic Soundtrack and 2011 Adele album 21.
Net shipment as of the end of 2015 is estimated at 1,675,000 copies.
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Sources: SNEP, IFOP, GFK, Le Parisien, Le Télégramme.