Daft Punk’s fourth album, Random Access Memories, outperformed even the most optimistic industry estimates for sales in its first week, selling 339,000 copies since last Tuesday. This is a huge achievement, mainly because Daft Punk have never attained anything close to this level of chart success in their nearly two-decade career. This is their first No. 1 album, and “Get Lucky,” the record’s lead single, is their first Top 10 hit. (It is right now parked at No. 10, but is poised to climb higher, as it’s a frontrunner for “song of the summer” status.) Prior to this, the French duo’s biggest U.S. hits, 1997’s “Around the World” and 2001’s “One More Time,” both peaked at No. 61.
To get a perspective on the success of Random Access Memories relative to Daft Punk’s previous albums, consider this: RAM, in just one week, sold two and a half times as many copies as their previous album, 2005’s Human After All, has sold in total. Their breakthrough albums, Homework and Discovery, have both been certified gold, meaning that 500,000 copies have shipped. (RIAA certifications are based on shipped copies, not sold copies. It’s weird.) Daft Punk managed to not only drastically increase the size of the audience willing to pay for their music in the eight years since Human After All, but also put themselves on track to outsell albums that came out during boom years for record sales.
Daft Punk’s late career surge may seem baffling if you look only at sales figures and radio airplay, but it makes perfect sense when you consider how well they’ve branded themselves since debuting their now legendary “pyramid show” at Coachella in 2006. The duo’s 2007 tour built on the ecstatic word-of-mouth hype generated by that performance and went a long way toward proving EDM as an arena-filling genre in the United States. Their robot costumes, elaborate light show, and extremely joyful live set was an unforgettable experience for nearly everyone who saw them on that tour. Everyone lucky enough to have seen one of those gigs raved about it, and everyone who didn’t see it desperately wanted to experience a Daft Punk show for themselves. And Daft Punk? They stayed off the road and built up anticipation for something, anything, for six years.
Random Access Memories is perfectly timed. Electronic dance music is firmly established as a mainstream genre, Daft Punk have willed themselves into legit stardom, and they’ve released a great single and an event album at a time when nearly every A-list star is off cycle. It’s a great achievement, for sure, but it will be interesting to see if they can keep this success going through the rest of the summer. Though no full sales breakdown is available, it’s reasonable to assume that a good chunk of the album’s numbers come from advance sales before the record leaked in full. The response to Random Access Memories among fans has been mixed — though it’s been the subject of rave reviews and “Get Lucky” is widely beloved, the album’s emphasis on ’70s-style soft rock over dance tunes has turned off a portion the duo’s audience. There’s also a question of whether or not the duo can score another major chart hit, even with this amazing momentum — aside from “Lose Yourself to Dance,” their other collaboration with singer Pharrell and guitarist Nile Rodgers, but aside from that, there’s not much on the record that would fit in with anything on the radio right now. One thing is certain, though: Whenever Daft Punk announces a new tour, it’s going to be a very, very hot ticket.