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: Lil Baby aims for his second straight No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, while Red Hot Chili Peppers try to go two for two in 2022, and Backstreet Boys try to get ahead of the game with their first-ever Christmas set.
Lil Baby, It’s Only Me (Quality Control/Motown)
When his sophomore set My Turn debuted at No. 1 in March 2020 and reigned for five nonconsecutive weeks, it cemented Lil Baby as one of the pre-eminent rappers of the young decade. The ATL star hopes to continue rising with It’s Only Me, which has been preceded by a steady stream of singles — most don’t appear on the set, but the biggest one does: Billboard Hot 100 No. 14 hit “In a Minute.”
As with My Turn, which debuted with 261.6 million on-demand streams for its collected songs — at the time of its release, the highest total for any album that year — It’s Only Me is expected to dominate streaming services. The set includes a whopping 23 tracks, and high-profile guest appearances from Future, Young Thug, Pooh Shiesty and more. (Even without a new album last year, Lil Baby still finished at No. 8 on Billboard’s Year-End Streaming Songs Artists chart.)
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Return of the Dream Canteen (Warner)
The recent reunion of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers with longtime guitarist John Frusciante led to a productivity overflow, in the form of two new albums. The first, April’s Unlimited Love, debuted atop the Billboard 200 with 97,500 equivalent album units, and spawned the year’s longest-running No. 1 on the Rock & Alternative Airplay chart with “Black Summer.”
Last Friday, RHCP returned with their second new album of 2022, Return of the Dream Canteen, another 75 minutes of melodic punk-funk. As with Unlimited Love, which sold a then-2022-high 38,500 copies on vinyl, Dream Canteen should see robust sales numbers powered by a dozen different-colored LP options, as well as four CDs (and a box set that includes a shirt). The set also boasts a Rock & Alternative Airplay No. 1 of its own in “Tippa My Tongue,” which has crowned the chart for three weeks and counting.
The 1975, Being Funny in a Foreign Language (Dirty Hit)
The Manchester alt-pop quartet has been one of the most consistently successful U.K. bands of the past decade on both sides of the pond. The group has topped the Official Charts in their home country with each of their first four albums, and made the Billboard 200’s top five with each of their last three – including the 2016 No. 1 I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful, Yet So Unaware of It. This month, they look to continue both streaks with the release of fifth studio set Being Funny in a Foreign Language, featuring co-production by pop-rock whisperer Jack Antonoff.
The group is off to a good start in the U.K., and three songs released in advance from the set have already reached the top 30 of Billboard’s Rock Songs chart in “Happiness,” “I’m in Love With You” and “All I Need to Hear.” Two advantages the band had with their past set won’t help them this time, though: 2020’s No. 4-peaking Notes on a Conditional Form came with a ticket bundle, which are no longer counted towards Billboard 200 consumption, and it also goosed its streaming totals with a 22-song track list, twice as many as the 11 featured on Being Funny.
IN THE MIX
Bailey Zimmerman, Leave the Light On (Warner Music Nashville): Few country breakout stories this year have excited as much as Bailey Zimmerman, who largely bypassed the Nashville machine to score three Hot 100 top 40 hits (“Fall in Love,” “Rock and a Hard Place” and “Where It Ends”) before he ever had a top 10 Country Airplay hit. All three of those TikTok-boosted streaming smashes are featured on Leave the Light On, Zimmerman’s nine-track debut EP.
Noah Kahan, Stick Season (Mercury/Republic): The indie-pop singer-songwriter has steadily built a cult fandom since signing to Republic a half-decade ago, which should culminate in his first Billboard 200-charting effort with this month’s folkier and more personal Stick Season. Credit the set’s title track, a breakout success on streaming and radio, and a career-best No. 11 hit for Kahan on the Rock Songs chart this August.
Backstreet Boys, A Very Backstreet Christmas (K-BAHN): The Boys-turned-men enter the seasonal music game this month with A Very Backstreet Christmas, featuring BSB covers of 10 holiday standards and a trio of group originals. Holiday music is often a reliable seller for catalog pop favorites like Backstreet, and the quintet has a streak to protect here: Each of their 10 Billboard 200-charting albums to date has made the top 10.