How Should Kacey Musgraves and Justin Timberlake Feel About Their Albums’ Top Five Debuts?

While Ariana Grande’s Eternal Sunshine spends a second week atop the Billboard 200 albums chart this week, a pair of new releases check into the top five below it: country star Kacey MusgravesDeeper Well, and Justin Timberlake‘s Everything I Thought It Was.

Musgraves’ latest debuts at No. 2 on the chart, with 97,000 units moved — the best first-week performance of her career in units, and her highest debut on the listing since debut LP Same Trailer Different Park also hit No. 2 in 2013. Meanwhile, Timberlake’s first set in six years bows at No. 4 with 67,000 units, making it his first official album since 2002’s Justified not to take the top spot.

How are the two artists most likely feeling about their respective albums’ debut performances this week? And which of the two sets are we most likely to return to throughout the rest of 2024? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.

1. Kacey Musgraves’ Deeper Well debuts at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 – below Ariana Grande’s Eternal Sunshine in its second week, but tied for Musgraves’ best-ever chart placement, and with her best first-week tally to date (97,000). On a scale from 1-10, how excited do you think she is with that debut-week performance?

Hannah Dailey: I’ll give it a 9. A No. 1 album would’ve been an exciting first for Kacey, but debuting as high as No. 2 while in competition with Eternal Sunshine and Everything I Thought It Was is still excellent, especially six albums deep into her career.  

Kyle Denis: It’s gotta be a 10, right? Kacey is the biggest winner of the week in my eyes. She’s spent years toiling outside of the Nashville apparatus and her returns have gotten more and more impressive with each subsequent release. If the success of Deeper Well tells us anything, it’s that Kacey has cultivated one of the most loyal fanbases in contemporary country music. There was no hit single – or as close to a “hit” as a Kacey track can be – nor was there an accompanying music film or flashy awards show performance

Deeper Well sold almost solely off the back of fan loyalty and good music. Moreover, the new LP is the follow-up to Star-Crossed, another Billboard 200 top 10 effort that was met with decidedly more mixed reactions than Golden Hour or Deeper Well. Star-Crossed and its film of the same name employed an aesthetic closer to mainstream pop than any of Kacey’s previous records, and she was able to retain the new fans she earned from that era and fold them into her larger fan base, resulting in the best first-week unit total of her career with Deeper Well. And for what it’s worth, Deeper Well and Eternal Sunshine had a very close race – this is a win for both ladies. 

Jason Lipshutz: A 7. A couple points get knocked off for getting so close-but-not-quite-there to her first No. 1 album and six-figure equivalent albums unit showing, but for Musgraves, this debut — with a relatively muted project, and nothing resembling a crossover hit single on it — demonstrates her continued commercial power as a genre-straddling singer-songwriter. The top of the Billboard 200 was crowded this week, and for Deeper Well to cut through the competition and earn the top debut should be a very encouraging sign for Musgraves. 

Jessica Nicholson: 8. When she previously earned No. 2 album debut on the Billboard 200, it was for her debut project Same Trailer, Different Park, which was led by her top 10 Country Airplay hit single “Merry Go Round.” She earned her first Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper with the Zach Bryan collab “I Remember Everything” last year and the song has had impressive staying power on the chart, further elevating her visibility in the leadup to the Deeper Well release. But none of the songs released leading up to Deeper Well quite reached that same bell-ringing chart height, and she has strong competition from Grande on the albums chart. Given all of the above, she’s had a stellar debut week for Deeper Well.

Andrew Unterberger: Probably an 8. To still be going up in numbers not just more than a decade after her debut but now a half-decade after her album of the year Grammy win for Golden Hour indicates that Musgraves’ audience is both impressively wide and absolutely in it for the long haul. Would’ve been nice to finally get that No. 1 though.

2. Musgraves has long bucked the system when it comes to going the traditional routes of promotion for a country artist – but over a decade into her career, her popularity still seems to be growing. What do you think the biggest factor is behind Deeper Well scoring her best first-week debut yet?

Hannah Dailey: I think that Kacey is simply a really authentic person and a truly gifted storyteller, which keeps people curious about the ever-changing perspectives she offers in her music. I also think that Golden Hour, especially after winning AOTY, solidified her as an “album artist,” so people are always going to be hyped to see how she crafts a full-package experience with each LP. 

Kyle Denis: I’ll reemphasize that Deeper Well landed as a return to form of sorts. Where Star-Crossed found her flirting with legitimate pop stardom (visual album, headlining arena tour, VMAs performance), Deeper Well is sonically and aesthetically closer to the earthier vibe of Golden Hour and Same Trailer Different Park. When you combine the new Star-Crossed fans with an already fervent home base secured from the country star’s first three LPs, you’re left with a large audience that is invested in Kacey’s world-building. There’s also something to be said about the new fans she may have courted thanks to her and Zach Bryan’s Billboard Hot 100-topping “I Remember Everything.” 

Jason Lipshutz: One could point to Deeper Well sounding a little like a course correction back to the comforts of Golden Hour following the more urgent Star-Crossed, or to the fact that “I Remember Everything” with Zach Bryan gave Musgraves her first Hot 100 chart-topper while undoubtedly expanding her audience. I think it’s simpler than that: at this point in her career, Musgraves has developed a loyal listenership that transcends traditional country lines and is going to show up for her songwriting when she returns with a new project every few years. As long as Musgraves continues at the quality and release rate she’s been at for a while, she’ll be an artist that a lot of music fans will want to grow old with.

Jessica Nicholson: As music audiences have become increasingly niche, Musgraves hasn’t wavered from knowing who she is as an artist and has a keen sense of what her audience wants. A key part of Musgraves’ brand has always been her complex, introspective, vivid style of songwriting, which also happens to fall right in line with what has been popular among mainstream listeners over the past year, as evidenced by the success of Noah Kahan and Zach Bryan — both of whom Musgraves has collaborated with recently. She also smartly sees the continued resurgence of vinyl, and released nine vinyl variants of Deeper Well, including eight different colors of vinyl variants, which also boost those sales numbers.

Andrew Unterberger: It is indeed good timing for Musgraves, who is benefitting not only from vinyl’s increased value as a collector’s item among fans, but from country’s and folk’s ever-growing slices of the streaming pie — and from her recent allegiances with two of the biggest beneficiaries of the latter boon, Zach Bryan and Noah Kahan. She’s a thoughtful artist with a savvy sense of how to connect with her fans, and those are the artists who usually last the longest at her current level.

3. Justin Timberlake’s Everything I Thought It Was bows at No. 4 this week, with 67,000 first-week units – less than a quarter of the 293,000 units moved by his previous effort, Man of the Woods, in its debut frame. Are those numbers higher, lower, or about where you would’ve expected for Timberlake’s latest?

Hannah Dailey: They’re lower than I expected, but not that much lower. I assumed that his most dedicated fans, plus his appeal to *NSYNC nostalgia with “Paradise,” would carry him a little bit more than it did. At the same time, performers can only last so long at the top without changing things up artistically, something he seems either reluctant or incapable of doing. 

Kyle Denis: Lower. I wasn’t expecting anything all that impressive – given that no one seems to really care about “Selfish” and that his reputation is in the gutter right now – but Justin Timberlake not being able to clear at least 100,000 units in any circumstance is still a shocker. 

Jason Lipshutz: Lower. A drop-off in units compared to Man of the Woods was expected, considering that it’s been more than a half-decade since Timberlake’s last album and that Everything I Thought It Was wasn’t preceded by a particularly big hit single. Yet after all the press that JT completed rolling out the album, the new *NSYNC song on its track list and surprise reunion ahead of its release, the arena tour coming soon and the fact that it’s still Justin freakin’ Timberlake… maybe the album rebounds a bit as the tour picks up, but 67,000 units couldn’t have been the expectation for Week 1. 

Jessica Nicholson: Everything I Thought It Was comes six years after Man of the Woods, which earned two top 10 hits on the Hot 100, while the lead up to Everything only saw one top 20 hit on the Hot 100. Still, given that Man of the Woods debuted at No. 1 (and given Timberlake’s history as one of pop music’s biggest artists through his time with ‘NSYNC and his solo work in the early ’00s), his first-week numbers for the new album came in lower than I would have expected.

Andrew Unterberger: About where I would have expected, which probably tells you all you need to know about how Justin Timberlake’s last decade has gone.

4. After a very bad half-decade of press that reached a new low with the revelations from Britney Spears’ recent memoir, Timberlake desperately needed an album that at least changed the conversation about him or moved him out of his past somewhat. Do you think this album accomplishes that? 

Hannah Dailey: No. If anything, I think JT was trying to say, “Look at me, I can still deliver all the same things you loved about me 20 years ago!” with this era. The problem is that people don’t love or even want those same things anymore. The approach backfired in that it solidified him deeper as the persona people have grown less tolerant of in recent years.

Kyle Denis: Absolutely not. The album would have accomplished that if people engaged with the music, but it’s clear that nobody really cares about it. “Selfish” — which was nearly overshadowed by a decade-old Britney Spears song of the same name – has yet to surpass the No. 19 Hot 100 peak it notched in its opening week, and none of the album’s tracks have emerged as a potential second single. Even Man of the Woods squeaked out two top 10 hits!

This is all coming after songs with Calvin Harris (“Stay with Me”), SZA (“The Other Side”) and Nelly Furtado & Timbaland (“Keep Going Up”) that went nowhere. People haven’t been connecting with JT’s music for some time now. In the case of this specific album, there’s certainly good material on it, but “good” just isn’t enough for his current situation. 

At best, the Forget Tomorrow tour – which, arguably, wouldn’t be possible without Everything I Thought It Was – will do more to change the conversation around JT than the music. With a total gross rumored to end up somewhere around $140 million and challenge for his most successful tour yet, JT will have plenty of time to redirect the public conversation with some good press. Barring a one-off surprise hit, it might be time to say that JT is entering his legacy act era as an artist who can sell tickets, but not necessarily new albums. 

Jason Lipshutz: Yes and no. While Everything I Thought It Was is a solid reminder of Timberlake’s pop panache and showmanship, the new album really needed a new hit or huge chart bow to fully transcend the recent negative headlines. Credit to JT for looking inward a few times on Everything I Thought It Was, as well as serving up the type of disco-funk grooves that loyal listeners can enjoy, but the narrative here is going to be less about the art and more about its commercial returns.

Jessica Nicholson: Including his ‘NSYNC bandmates on the album, and reuniting with them for a performance during his one night only show at The Wiltern in Los Angeles certainly sparked a social media frenzy. But overall, this album doesn’t seem to shift things forward — sonically or narratively. Instead, it seems to rely heavily on the mid-2000s pop and R&B sounds he’s known for, and barely seems address his personal life at all (with a notable exception in the album opener “Memphis”), when nodding to personal events now seems de rigueur for so many artists.

Andrew Unterberger: Nope. I feel for Timberlake a tiny bit because I’m not totally sure what he even could have done to change people’s perceptions of him on this album, short of a jarring sonic left turn or a harrowingly introspective lyrical focus. Maybe a greater artist would’ve at least attempted one of those, but Timberlake clearly wasn’t ready to close the door yet on his days as a central force in pop music, which is understandable. Nevertheless, this album may end up closing it for him.

5. Which of the two albums do you think you’ll be revisiting more as the year goes on? 

Hannah Dailey: Deeper Well. 100%.  

Kyle Denis: Deeper Well. Kacey’s new record will be evergreen for life’s quieter, more introspective moments. JT’s record has several strong songs, but they ultimately feel forgettable because his performance across the album is tragically devoid of the sauce that made LPs like The 20/20 Experience such triumphs. 

Jason Lipshutz: Deeper Well, although the best moments on Everything I Thought It Was have been enjoyable to revisit in the first couple of weeks since its release (and I am a well-documented Man of the Woods defender, who has returned to that one quite a bit). But as we enter springtime, I am ready to listen to Musgraves’ cozy tales of Saturn returning, lazy days and dinners with friends, birds chirping around me all the while.

Jessica Nicholson: Musgraves has always crafted music that feels intimate, relatable, timeless — even groovy when called for (see “High Horse” and “Justified,” among others). The laid-back, centered vibe and folky instrumentation of Deeper Well, along with the themes of peace, self-improvement and dismantling old habits that no longer suit her, make this a comfort-filled, if slightly sleepy at moments, listening experience — one that will warrant returning to repeatedly.

Andrew Unterberger: Probably neither, in truth — can’t say I’ve found either album to be particularly resonant so far. But Musgraves’ album is pleasant, and significantly shorter, so I guess that one.

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