The Contenders is 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 dated Dec. 2), a South Korean group hopes to get the early holiday gift of its first No. 1 album
, with the debut of its fourth studio LP.
ATEEZ, The World Ep.Fin : Will (KQ/RCA/Hello82): Eight-piece South Korean boy band ATEEZ has been swelling in stateside popularity since its 2019 debut. Though it has yet to find major airplay or streaming success in the U.S., the group has scored three top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 — most recently reaching No. 2 on the chart with July’s The World EP.2 Outlaw, held off only by Morgan Wallen’s One Thing at a Time blockbuster in the midst of its non-continuous 16-week run atop the chart.
Next week, the group may get its chance at the top spot. Ep.Fin is available for purchase in a whopping 33 different physical editions — 26 CD packages and seven vinyl packages – all with collectible branded merchandise inside. Among the 33 iterations are exclusive CDs and vinyls for Barnes & Noble, Target and Walmart,
— all with retail-exclusive randomized photo cards inside. – Of the seven vinyl LPs, six are color vinyls (four “bone” colored, one magenta and one light blue, while one is a picture disc).
The group will again face stiff competition from a strong reigning champion: Taylor Swift, whose 1989 (Taylor’s Version) has spent three of the last five weeks atop the Billboard 200, and which is still posting weekly unit totals well into the six digits. Still, the time is now for ATEEZ. With a long-anticipated Nicki Minaj album due this Friday (Dec. 8) and the holiday season kicking into full swing shortly after, this upcoming chart week is likely its best remaining chance of finishing the year with a No. 1 album.
Michael Bublé, Christmas (143/Reprise/Warner): Bublé’s holiday perennial always starts to make noise on the charts around this time of year — and indeed, on the current week’s Billboard 200 (dated Dec. 9), the album pokes its head into the top 10 for the first time, jumping 24-9. Bublé leads the Christmas rush of albums expected to storm the chart in the weeks to come – but unlike on the Billboard Hot 100, where Mariah Carey (and now Brenda Lee) have ruled each year since 2019, a holiday album has not actually reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 since Pentatonix’s A Pentatonix Christmas reigned for two weeks in January 2017.
Speaking of Pentatonix, along with some of the usual returning suspects – Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas, Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song, Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas – there’s also a new collection from the a cappella group, The Greatest Christmas Hits, which may challenge its usual holiday contender, The Best Pentatonix Christmas. (The former rates at No. 23 on this week’s chart.) There’s also Cher’s new Christmas album, up 66-46 this week, which should benefit from perhaps the closest thing this holiday season has to a new breakout hit: “DJ Play a Christmas Love Song,” which has performed well on streaming
, while also topping both radio and sales charts.
Peter Gabriel, I/O (Real World): Peter Gabriel’s days as a major pop hitmaker are now about 30 years in the rearview, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (both solo and as part of Genesis) still commands attention with his new album releases – and I/O is his first since 2011’s New Blood. The album is available in 2CD, digital download and 2CD/blu-ray editions, as well as separate vinyl LP offerings of its “bright-side” and “dark-side” mixes. Gabriel also employed the unusual strategy of releasing a new song from the album every full moon in the 11 months leading up to its release – ultimately releasing all 12 tracks in advance.
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