Will Ariana Grande Have the Year’s Biggest Debut With ‘Eternal Sunshine’?

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 March 23), Ariana Grande’s first album since 2020 may end up having the biggest immediate impact of the still-early calendar year. 

Ariana Grande, Eternal Sunshine (Republic): For a minute there, it looked like Ariana Grande might get lost in the shuffle a little bit. Not that one of the biggest pop stars of the last decade was ever gonna get totally overshadowed, but between the time she announced the release of Eternal Sunshine and when the album actually dropped last Friday (March 8), a whole lot of stuff happened elsewhere in pop’s A list. Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Ye all also announced new albums for February and March, and the latter two scored Hot 100-topping breakout hits from them – both of which were much bigger in the culture than Grande’s own No. 1 lead single “Yes, And?,” which fell out of the top 10 in just its third week and has yet to return to the region.  

But Grande is more of a full-albums artist now – arguably has been since at least Sweetener in 2018 – and so far, it seems that the positive reception to Eternal Sunshine from fans and critics is helping the album get off to an impressive start. The album of course debuted with all of its tracks littering the real-time charts on Spotify and Apple Music, but more impressive than its first day is how well the set is still doing four days later, with six of its songs still in the top 15 on Spotify and three in Apple — led by second single “We Can’t Be Friends,” which has risen since its release and has been duking it out with Ye & Co’s “Carnival” for the top spot on both charts.  

Grande’s very busy and visible weekend – following several years of mostly being out of the spotlight — helped her get the word out about Eternal Sunshine (and “We Can’t Be Friends” in particular) in its first few days of release. On Friday, she released the video for “Friends,” which drew attention for its co-star Evan Peters and for its take on multiple scenes from the classic 2004 surrealist rom-com Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that the album gets its name from. Then on Saturday, she made her first appearance of the decade on Saturday Night Live, performing “Friends” and late-album highlight “Imperfect for You,” and also appearing in multiple sketches. Then on Sunday, she presented (alongside her Wicked co-star Cynthia Erivo) at the Oscars – not actively promoting her new set, but generally adding to the Weekend of Ariana with her presence on the weekend’s most-watched event.  

Helping her first-week numbers even more than all the heavy cultural exposure should be the multiple variants in which the set is available for purchase. That includes six different vinyl LPs, five with alternate covers (including a Target-exclusive cover; the other four being exclusive to her webstore), as well as five different CDs, four with alternate covers, and one signed CD (all CDs being exclusive to her webstore).  In addition, a “slightly deluxe” digital version of Sunshine dropped over the weekend with four additional tracks — all remixes and alternate versions of songs on the standard album, including the previously released Mariah Carey-featuring remix of “Yes, And?” and a version of “Supernatural” with her former “Dance to This” collaborator Troye Sivan. 

As easily the biggest new release of the week, this should all be enough to secure Grande her sixth Billboard 200 No. 1 album in seven tries. (Dangerous Woman was her lone official LP to fall short, debuting at No. 2 behind Republic labelmate Drake’s Views in 2016.) Sunshine’s consistent performance on streaming throughout the week may also help nudge it past the 174,000 units that its predecessor, 2020’s Positions, posted in its first week, and will likely help it easily clear the 148,000 units moved by Ye & Ty Dolla $ign’s Vultures 1 in its February debut week, making it the best-performing album bow of the year thus far. 


Judas Priest, Invincible Shield (Columbia/Epic): The week’s biggest non-Grande debut may come from metal legends and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Judas Priest, who dropped the 19th album of their 50-plus-year career with Invincible Shield. The album will not likely have much of a presence on streaming, but should sell fairly well – helped by five vinyl variants, including an indie retailer exclusive red-color vinyl and an artist-webstore-only picture disc, as well as three CD editions, including exclusives for both Target and Amazon.  

Norah Jones, Visions (Blue Note): Two decades ago, Norah Jones sold over a million copies in the first week of her sophomore album Feels Like Home, coming off the RIAA multi-platinum-certified success of her blockbuster Come Away With Me debut. Her commercial returns should be significantly more muted 20 years later for ninth album Visions, but the album has received strong reviews for its rawer, more rock-oriented sound, and is available for purchase in both three CD versions and four vinyl variants, including exclusives for indie retailers and for Barnes & Noble. 

Bleachers, Bleachers (Bleachers Band Recording/Dirty Hit): Jack Antonoff has been a writer and producer on some of the biggest albums of the 2020s so far – particularly multiple from increasingly close artistic partner Taylor Swift – but has yet to see that type of crossover success translate to his own primary artistic project, Bleachers. He tries again this week with the self-titled Bleachers, the outfit’s first release since moving to U.K. indie label Dirty Hit (home of recent Antonoff collaborators The 1975) — which has at least seven different vinyl variants (in assorted colors, with alternative covers and four bonus tracks), as well as a signed CD, three CDs housed in deluxe packaging and a pair of deluxe CD boxed sets, both shaped like pizza boxes with a branded T-shirt inside.  

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