Welcome to The Contenders, a midweek column that looks at artists aiming for the top of the Billboard charts, and the strategies behind their efforts. This week (for the upcoming charts dated March 18), Morgan Wallen’s One Thing at a Time crashes the Billboard 200 like an asteroid, with its impact likely to be felt for many weeks to come.
Morgan Wallen, One Thing at a Time (Big Loud/Republic/Mercury): When Morgan Wallen announced the release date of his new album in late January, every artist with an album scheduled for March probably screamed at their phone. Not only is Wallen’s previous album — the 30-track Dangerous: The Double Album – still sitting in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 a full two years after its 2021 release, but this album was going to be even longer: a whopping 36 tracks, six of which ranked on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of One Thing’s March 3 release.
Unsurprisingly, the album’s streams have been eye-popping. Billboard reported on Wednesday that the set’s collected tracks had scored 315 million official on-demand U.S. streams in its first four days (March 3-6) of release – already the biggest week for any 2023 album, the biggest week for any country album (passing Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version)’s debut week in 2021), and a significantly bigger week than Dangerous achieved in its full first week (240 million). Perhaps more impressively, despite not yet being available on vinyl, the set has already sold well: 90,000 copies in its first three days, also more than the 74,000 total Dangerous sold in its debut week (with vinyl available).
As of Tuesday, the album was up to over 350,000 equivalent album units – again, both the best of any 2023 album and better than Dangerous’ full debut (265,000). That means it’s already eclipsed the 318,000 units of the first week of SZA’s 23-track SOS in December, and is not far away from the 404,000 of Drake & 21 Savage’s 16-track Her Loss from that set’s November debut — though it should still fall well short of the 1.578 million posted by Swift’s Midnights earlier that month. (A closer battle will be with the 605,000 units of Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version) for the biggest first week for any country album of the equivalent album units era, which replaced pure album sales as the Billboard 200’s ranking metric in 2014.)
Then it’s a question of how long the album will hold atop the Billboard 200. It will face a worthy competitor next week with the debut of Miley Cyrus’ 13-track Endless Summer Vacation, led by the six-week Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 “Flowers,” and sets are expected later in the month from big names like Fall Out Boy, Lana Del Rey and fellow country superstar Luke Combs. But Dangerous reigned for its first 10 weeks with a shorter tracklist and a much slower start than One Thing, so any challengers to the throne have their work cut out for them.
IN THE MIX
Kali Uchis, Red Moon in Venus (Geffen/EMI): Red Moon marks acclaimed R&B singer-songwriter Kali Uchis’ first album since crossing over with her TikTok-driven 2021 hit “Telepatía.” First-week album sales for the set should be boosted by a variety of available variants, with three different vinyl LPs (including a salmon-colored vinyl exclusive to Urban Outfitters), a signed CD sold exclusively in her official webstore and four different deluxe boxed sets (two with a T-shirt and a CD, two with a hoodie and a CD).
NCT 127, Ay-Yo – The 4th Album Repackage (SM): Korean pop boy band NCT 127 had a top five hit on the Billboard 200 last fall with their fourth album 2 Baddies – which was repackaged and retitled with three new bonus tracks and released to streaming services and digital retailers in January as Ay-Yo. The set should see big gains this week with its physical release, including three different collectible CDs with randomized elements packaged inside.
Macklemore, Ben (Bendo): For veteran Seattle rapper Macklemore’s first album since 2017’s No. 2-peaking Gemini, he’s pulling out all the stops with the physical variants: different-colored vinyl exclusive to his website and to Urban Outfitters, six boxed sets (with such goodies as posters, hoodies and signed CDs) and even a cassette version. The album has been discounted to $3.50 for the CD and digital version on his webstore.
De La Soul, Three Feet High and Rising (AOI): After a decades-long battle over their catalog, legendary New York rap group De La Soul finally brought their full discography to streaming services last Friday (though, sadly, just weeks after the death of co-founder Trugoy the Dove), along with physical reissues of their six albums on vinyl, CD and cassette. Unsurprisingly, the best-performing of their sets looks to be 1989 debut 3 Feet High and Rising – one of the most acclaimed rap albums ever, thanks to classics like “Me, Myself & I,” “Eye Know” and “Buddy,” — which is available in multiple vinyl variants, and may surpass its original Billboard 200 peak of No. 24.
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