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 chart dated Nov. 5: Taylor Swift’s Midnights laps the rest of 2022’s full-length releases in its first couple of days, while the Arctic Monkeys aim for their first top five entry on the chart and YoungBoy Never Broke Again plans his sixth (!!) top 20 album of 2022.
Taylor Swift, Midnights (Republic)
Soon after its Oct. 21 release, Taylor Swift’s Midnights was no longer competing with the rest of the albums released in the past week, or even in the past year — Billboard reported it as the first album of the 2020s to cruise past the 1 million-equivalent album units mark after just three full days. At this point, Swift’s main rival is her own history: The 1.3 million units it had moved as of Monday (Oct. 24) just passed her reputation and its 1.238 million first-week units moved back in Dec. 2017 for the biggest debut of the past half-decade. (After that, she’s getting into Adele territory.)
Swift pulled off this blockbuster bow by finding a happy medium in between the surprise-release strategy of her 2020 Folklore and Evermore sets and her more traditional rollouts of the 2010s. Though the album was announced months in advance (at August’s MTV Video Music Awards), no singles came out before Midnights did; instead, Swift gradually unveiled song titles and themes of the set, building up anticipation for the set while still keeping its actual sound under wraps. Then, when the 13 tracks finally debuted at once at (of course) midnight on Oct. 21, Swift also teased an additional surprise for the true insomniacs among the Swifties — which ended up being the album’s 3am Edition, a deluxe version with seven bonus cuts.
Swift also boosted her first-week numbers the old-fashioned way: by releasing tons of physical products. Midnights has already set the single-week record for vinyl copies sold in the modern era (since Luminate began tracking music sales in 1991) with over 500,000 records — more than most artists can now manufacture, let alone sell. Her sales are also boosted by a standard digital album, an iTunes-exclusive version with a bonus track, four standard CD and vinyl editions (each with a different cover, and different-colored records; the CDs are available in explicit and censored versions), a cassette tape, and even a Target-exclusive “Lavender” edition of the album on CD and colored-vinyl LP, with three bonus tracks on the CD. For good measure, she sold autographed versions of the four explicit CDs and the four vinyl LPs on her web store.
Arctic Monkeys, The Car (Domino)
In a universe without Swift, this week’s Billboard 200 talk might be about whether or not the Arctic Monkeys would finally score their first No. 1. The U.K. indie quartet, superstars in their home country for the better part of two decades, have claimed six straight No. 1s on the U.K. Official Charts without getting higher than No. 6 on the Billboard 200, with 2013’s A.M.. But the group has only grown in stateside popularity since that album’s release, with several tracks from both that set and their older catalog becoming streaming perennials after finding popularity on TikTok.
This week, the band releases its seventh album, The Car, preceded by the dreamy singles “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball” and “Body Paint.” Neither song has found the same streaming success as lusty old hits — “505,” from 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare, remains their lone entry on this week’s Rock Streaming Songs chart. But the album has received rave reviews, and the band is preparing for its biggest tour so far, including arena headlining dates in Chicago and Boston, and two nights at New York’s Forest Hills stadium.
YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Ma’ I Got a Family (Atlantic): Another week, another Billboard 200 contender from New Orleans rapper YoungBoy Never Broke Again. After hitting the chart’s top 20 with each of his first five full-length releases this year (including a collaborative set with DaBaby) – most recently with mixtape 3800 Degrees, which debuted at No. 12 just earlier this month – he’s now looking to go six for six with Ma’ I Got a Family. (Given the rapper’s recent decamping from Atlantic to Motown, some insiders have speculated that his particularly prolific release schedule of late has been at least partly motivated by contract fulfillment.)
If the market isn’t too crowded for another YoungBoy album, this one might get a warmer reception on streaming than his previous one. While 3800 Degrees ran just 13 tracks and featured no big-name guest stars, Family boasts 19 tracks and includes marquee features from Nicki Minaj and Yeat. It’s also hosted by DJ Drama in the style of his classic Gangsta Grillz mixtapes – a throwback framework for the 23-year-old MC that also helped propel Tyler, the Creator’s Call Me If You Get Lost set to No. 1 in 2021.
IN THE MIX
Jeezy & DJ Drama, SNOFALL (YJ/Def Jam): Speaking of DJ Drama – he’s had a busy week, also co-headlining the Snofall set with southern rap great and frequent collaborator Jeezy. The 17-track set features appearances by next-generation streaming stars Lil Durk, 42 Dugg and EST Gee.
Carly Rae Jepsen, The Loneliest Time (School Boy/Interscope): It was 10 years ago that Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” first swept the U.S., topping the Billboard Hot 100 and introducing a new karaoke standard to the masses. The Canadian singer-songwriter has found more modest crossover success in the years since, but remains a cult favorite among pop fans – a status re-confirmed with her well-received sixth album, The Loneliest Time, and advance singles “Western Wind” and “Beach House.”
Le Sserafim, Antifragile (Source) After making their EP debut in May with Fearless, Korean quintet Le Sserafim returns this October with sophomore EP Antifragile, which arrives with eight different varieties of CD packages box set (including randomized paper-good inserts like photocards and posters). The set’s title track has already made an international impact, debuting at No. 79 on Billlboard’s Global 200 listing this week.