‘Experience’ Pays for Justin Timberlake with Big Debut Numbers

Media blitz with Grammys, 'SNL' and 'Fallon' appearances sets up 968,000-unit launch

After an absence of more than six years, Justin Timberlake made a huger-than-expected re-entry to the music stage, as the singer’s new “The 20/20 Experience” leaped to No. 1 behind a 968,000-unit debut week.

According to Nielsen SoundScan data for the week ending March 24, Timberlake’s heavily promoted set made the biggest chart splash since Taylor Swift’s “Red” hit the top with a 1.2 million-unit week last October. The RCA album’s first-week total nearly doubled initial projections of around 500,000 copies.

The “20/20” release was preceded by a rarified blast of ballyhoo that included Timberlake’s Grammy Awards duet with Jay-Z, a “Saturday Night Live” guest host shot, a week of performances on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and an iHeartRadio special.

The set’s numbers far outstrip the former N’Sync member’s earlier solo scores: “FutureSex/LoveSounds” bowed at No. 1 with 684,000 sold in 2006, while “Justified” arrived at No. 2 in 2002 with 439,000 shifted.

Timberlake’s mammoth tally left the rest of the week’s top 10 in the dust. Country phenom Kacey Musgraves’ “Same Trailer Different Park” (Mercury/Nashville), the frame’s only other major debut, moved in at a distant No. 2, with 43,000 sold in its first week.

The top five was filled out by Bruno Mars’ “Unorthodox Jukebox” (No. 3, 41,000 sold, down 3%), Luke Bryan’s “Spring Break … Here to Party” (No. 4, 38,000, off 37%) and Pink’s “The Truth About Love” (No. 5, 36,000, up 26%). Latter title gained traction behind the vocalist’s current No. 1 hit “Just Give Me a Reason,” a duet with Nate Ruess of Fun., which sold 241,000 digital copies last week.

Imagine Dragons’ “Night Visions” (No. 6, 29,000, up 3%), Bon Jovi’s “What About Now” (No. 7, 29,000, off 71%), the “Les Miserables” soundtrack (No. 8, 28,000, up 221%), Mumford & Sons’ “Babel” (No. 9, 27,000, down 11%) and Rihanna’s “Unapologetic” (No. 10, 26,000, down 5%) rounded out the top 10. The big boost for “Les Mis” came off an augmented edition of the hit movie album.

Though Timberlake will likely prevail at the top in the coming week even with a steep sales decline, new titles from Depeche Mode, Blake Shelton and the Strokes will also be in the running for top 10 real estate.