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 Billboard 200 albums chart dated Nov. 12): Taylor Swift’s record-setting Midnights enters its second frame, facing competition from rap star Kodak Black, rising country singer-songwriter Lainey Wilson, and a quartet of up-and-comers from Liverpool.
The Beatles, Revolver: Special Edition (Apple)
It was No. 1 for six weeks in September and October 1966, and 56 years later it could top the Billboard 200 again. The Beatles’ Revolver, widely regarded as one of the greatest rock albums of all time, was reissued on Oct. 28 in a new Special Edition, centered around a stereo remix of the album from Giles Martin (son of original Revolver producer George Martin) and Sam Okell.
The set comes in a variety of different packages: a five-CD (or four-LP plus one 7-inch vinyl) super deluxe version featuring dozens of bonus demos and sessions, a two-CD/LP deluxe version with 15 bonus “Revolver Sessions Highlights,” and a one-CD/LP version with just the original remixed album. (All versions of the album, old and new, are combined for tracking and charting purposes.) The Beatles have already released ambitious box sets dedicated to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles (The White Album), Abbey Road and Let It Be — all of which returned to the Billboard 200’s top 10.
Kodak Black, Kutthroat Bill, Vol. 1 (Atlantic)
Billboard reported last week that hip-hop star Kodak Black will head to Capitol Records when his current deal with Atlantic is through — but he still owes the latter label two albums. The first of them dropped Friday: Kutthroat Bill, Vol. 1, the Florida rapper’s second 2022 release, following February’s Back for Everything.
Kodak is familiar with the Billboard 200’s top spot, as his 2018 album Dying to Live reigned for one week, while Back for Everything debuted at No. 2 behind the Encanto soundtrack. Kutthroat doesn’t have a crossover single as massive as those sets’ “ZEZE” and “Super Gremlin,” respectively — both of which reached the Billboard Hot 100‘s top five — but it does have a streaming-friendly 19 tracks, and a recent Hot 100 debut with the woozy advance single “Walk.”
Lainey Wilson, Bell Bottom Country (BBR)
“Lainey Wilson is the next superstar for the format,” proclaimed Charlie Cook, vp Country Format at Cumulus, to Billboard in September. Wilson will show how close she’s gotten to fulfilling that prediction with the release of Bell Bottom Country, her second album since signing to BBR. The set — which like her previous release is produced by Jay Joyce — is preceded by two hit Wilson duets from earlier this year: “Never Say Never” with Cole Swindell (a Country Airplay No. 1) and “Wait in the Truck” with HARDY. Neither cut appears on Bell Bottom Country, but her own “Heart Like a Truck” does — hitting a new peak of No. 23 on Country Airplay this week — as does a cover of ’90s rockers 4 Non Blondes’ karaoke classic “What’s Up?”
IN THE MIX
Baby Keem, The Melodic Blue (pgLang/Columbia): Best new artist Grammy nominee Baby Keem’s debut album has been on the Billboard 200 since it debuted at No. 5 in Sept. 2021, sitting at No. 105 on the current week’s chart. Expect it to climb higher next week, thanks to a deluxe reissue with seven new bonus tracks, including guest spots from streaming fixtures Don Toliver, PinkPantheress and Lil Uzi Vert.
The Grateful Dead, Dave’s Picks Vol. 44 (Rhino): The legendary jam band is a regular on the Billboard 200 with the Dave’s Picks series, which features live shows selected by Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux. The most recent set, July’s Vol. 43, was the highest-charting on the Billboard 200 to date, reaching No. 11; if Vol. 44 makes the chart’s top 10, it would be the first Dead album to score that high since In the Dark hit No. 6 in 1987.
Smino, Luv 4 Rent (Zero Fatigue/Motown): The acclaimed R&B singer-songwriter’s third album is also his first since announcing the new partnership between his indie/collective Zero Fatigue and the iconic Motown label. The 15-track set includes collaborations with R&B sensations Lucky Daye and Ravyn Lanae, as well as rap superstars J. Cole and (again) Lil Uzi Vert.
Michael Jackson, Thriller (Epic): The best-selling original album in pop music history remains a Billboard 200 fixture; it’s No. 61 this week, in its 545th week on the chart. But it’s also a Spooky Season perennial, thanks largely to its eerie, Vincent Price-narrated title track. Last year the set jumped to No. 25 on the chart following Halloween, and it should be due for another big leap this November.