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 Jan. 14): SZA’s SOS kicks off 2023 as the album still to beat, while sets from ATEEZ and Fuerza Regida freshen up the chart.
SZA, SOS (Top Dawg Entertainment/RCA): After five years, SZA’s second album had a blockbuster No. 1 debut in December, with 318,000 equivalent album units. The album, which built on SZA’s accelerating momentum over that layover period (including viral solo hits and appearances on radio smashes from Kendrick Lamar and Doja Cat), is still putting up huge numbers in early 2023, just spending its third week at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with over 100,000 units. SOS seems likely to spend winter 2023 how Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti spent last summer and Taylor Swift’s Midnights spent last autumn – as the chart’s default No. 1 for any week where there isn’t a major new release to depose it.
When might that first major new release come? Star rapper YoungBoy Never Broke Again announced this week that his I Rest My Case album would come out Jan. 6 as the first release from his new Motown home – though releasing seven full-length projects in 2022 seems to have slowed his chart momentum. Still, 2022’s first two major releases (Gunna’s DS4ever and The Weeknd’s Dawn FM, both released Jan. 7) were both announced mere days before release, so the first big bow of 2023 may well be an album we don’t know about yet.
ATEEZ, Spin Off: From the Witness (KQ Entertainment/RCA): Eight-member K-pop boy band ATEEZ scored a major chart breakthrough last summer with The World EP.1: Movement, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. New set Spin Off: From the Witness may follow Movement to the chart’s top tier – boosted, of course, by at least six different collectible CD variants (including one signed by the group), each containing a set of standard branded paper goods and randomly chosen items (like photocards and posters).
Fuerza Regida, Sigan Hablando (Rancho Humilde/Street Mob): Regional Mexican quintet Fuerza Regida landed its first Billboard Hot 100 hit this week with the TikTok-boosted Grupo Frontera collab “Bebe Dame,” which debuts at No. 91. That song is found on the quintet’s latest album, Sigan Hablando (released Dec. 28), which should ride the “Bebe” bump to the group’s first entry on the Billboard 200 – though the band has already reached the Top Latin Albums chart five times and spent 18 weeks atop the Regional Mexican Albums chart in 2022 with Del Barrio Hasta Aqui.