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 Dec. 17): As holiday titles and heavy hitters vie for the top of the December charts, new albums from a star hip-hop producer and a couple of K-pop hitmakers join in the merriment.
Metro Boomin, Heroes & Villains (Boominati Worldwide/Republic): You might have thought the big album releases were starting to wind down for 2022, but Metro Boomin begs to differ. The Atlanta-via-St. Louis producer has been one of the biggest behind-the-scenes names in hip-hop for a decade, and new album Heroes & Villains shows off his Rolodex, with enough star collaborators — Future, Young Thug, Travis Scott, The Weeknd, 21 Savage, Gunna, even narrator Morgan Freeman — to justify an accompanying short film.
After dominating streaming charts on Spotify and Apple Music over the weekend, the set appears due for a big debut on the Billboard 200 — perhaps even one to challenge the producer’s Republic label-mate Taylor Swift and her five-week No. 1 Midnights for the chart’s top spot. (He hit No. 1 in 2020, with 21 Savage full-length team up Savage Mode II .) Though its consumption is mostly digital, Metro did release a CD version of Heroes & Villains to select physical retailers — and also debuted a deluxe “Heroes Version” of the album to streamers and digital retail on Monday, adding instrumental versions of each track.
RM, Indigo (Big Hit): Singer/songwriter/rapper RM released his solo debut, Indigo, on Friday, a varied album that features marquee R&B names Erykah Badu and Anderson .Paak, as well as veteran Korean hitmakers Tablo and Park Ji-yoon. BTS, the world-conquering group which RM previously achieved stardom with, scored five No. 1 albums over the past half-decade, from 2018’s Love Yourself: Tear to this June’s Proof.
His chart bow for Indigo this week will have to come without help from a physical release, as the set’s CD packages — which often move big numbers for Korea’s biggest pop acts — are not due until Dec. 16. Earlier this year, RM’s bandmate J-Hope entered the Billboard 200 at No. 17 with his own solo album debut Jack in the Box, also only from the support of a streaming and digital retail version of his album. (Jack has yet to be released on CD in the U.S.)
ITZY, Cheshire (JYP Entertainment/Dreamus/Republic): Korean pop quintet ITZY hit the Billboard 200’s top 10 for the first time in July with their sixth EP Checkmate. This week, they aim to return to the top tier with sixth EP, Cheshire, featuring advance English-language single “Boys Like You” — though technically it’s already in its second week of release, since the streaming and digital retail version of the set dropped last Wednesday (Nov. 30).
Cheshire’s chart performance will depend mostly on sales of its physical editions, which went on sale Friday. Like many K-pop releases, the CD came out in collectible deluxe packages (13 total, including versions exclusive to Barnes & Noble, Target and the group’s official webstore), each with a standard set of items and randomized elements (such as photocards and a poster).
IN THE MIX
Backstreet Boys, A Very Backstreet Christmas (K-BAHN/BMG): The classic boy band’s first holiday set made its Billboard 200 debut back in October, but should surge on the chart this week following its Dec. 2 vinyl debut (and the approaching season). It’s only reached No. 17 so far, making this week its best chance of keeping alive Backstreet Boys‘ double-digit streak of consecutive top 10 albums.
Arcangel, Sr. Santos (Rimas Entertainment): Veteran reggaetón and Latin trap hitmaker Arcangel made a splashy return last Wednesday alongside perhaps the biggest male pop star on the planet with the Bad Bunny collab “La Jumpa.” That song should give Sr. Santos, the single’s 18-track parent album released on Friday — which also features appearances from Myke Towers, De La Ghetto and Bizarrap — a nice head start in consumption for this week.
Ivan Cornejo, Dañado (Manzana Records): Regional Mexican star Ivan Cornejo charted at No. 149 on the Billboard 200 in June with sophomore set Dañado, which has since climbed as high as No. 64 thanks to its stellar streaming performance. The seven-track mini-album received a deluxe reissue on Friday, with three new bonus tracks, which should give it a big boost from its current chart perch of No. 145.