Will Zach Bryan’s ‘The Great American Bar Scene’ Be the Album to Unseat Taylor Swift Atop the Billboard 200? 

The Contenders is a midweek column that looks at artists aiming for the top of the Billboard charts, and the strategies behind their efforts. Next week (for the upcoming Billboard 200 dated July 20), Taylor Swift aims to secure her longest run at No. 1 to date, but may be interrupted by another star’s new set.  

Zach Bryan, The Great American Bar Scene (Belting Bronco/Warner): The 2020s have marked one long rise to superstardom for singer-songwriter Zach Bryan. The country and Americana artist’s presence on streaming and as a live draw grew from project to project, with his mainstream breakthrough coming in 2022 with his American Heartbreak album and its hit single “Something in the Orange,” and then hitting a new peak in 2023 with his Billboard 200-topping self-titled set and its accompanying Billboard Hot 100-topping Kacey Musgraves collab “I Remember Everything.” Now, in the midst of an arenas-and-stadiums U.S. tour, Bryan releases his first album as a no-doubt A-lister: The Great American Bar Scene.  

The 18-track new set already boasts one major hit in lead single “Pink Skies,” which debuted at No. 6 on the Hot 100 in June and is still hanging around the chart’s top 15 this week, and a second Hot 100 entry in “Purple Gas,” which features Noeline Hofmann (and is a redo of a song she originally wrote and recorded). The record also features first-time collaborations with a pair of artists who have extensive chart histories of their own — John Mayer on “Better Days” and Bruce Springsteen on “Sandpaper” — and already has something of a new breakout hit of its own in shuffling ballad “28,” which is still in the top 10 on both Spotify’s Daily Top Songs USA chart and Apple Music’s realtime listing. (If the Springsteen track debuts on the Hot 100, it will mark his first entry since 2009, and if it goes any higher than No. 95, it will be his highest-charting hit in nearly 20 years (since 2005’s “Devils & Dust” reached No. 72).)

The set should stream in highly robust numbers – but it does have a couple factors working against its chances of a No. 1 debut. For one, Bryan pushed to have the album released on July 4 – last Thursday – rather than the usual Friday drop, meaning that its first day of stats count towards this week’s chart, not next week’s. (Its opening-day numbers were still big enough on their own for the album to debut at No. 17 on the Billboard 200 dated July 13.) More pressingly, the LP is currently only available for sale in digital form, with its release on CD and vinyl not due until Oct. 11. And while “28” is off to a good start, it’s not a real threat to debut atop the Hot 100 like “I Remember Everything” did.  

The album is still expected to follow Zach Bryan – which launched with 200,000 units in its debut week last year – with another six-digit first week, which should make it a real contender for the top spot next week. But since the album’s first-full-week performance was hobbled a little by its off-cycle debut, whether Bar Scene can get to No. 1 may depend on whether it can stay a consistent performer on streaming through the end of the week.  

Taylor Swift, The Tortured Poets Department (Republic): The Tortured Poets Department has ruled atop the Billboard 200 since debuting there back in early April, fending off debuts from Dua Lipa (Radical Optimism), Gunna (One of Wun), Billie Eilish (Hit Me Hard and Soft), ATEEZ (Golden Hour: Part 1) and Gracie Abrams (The Secret of Us), all of which debuted at No. 2 behind Taylor Swift’s blockbuster. Even in its 11th week of release, Poets remains a very strong performer – posting 114,000 equivalent album units this week, as the 31-track set (in its full Anthology edition) continues to put up robust streaming numbers, and also sell well in its various editions.  

More of those new variants may be on their way to fans this week. On July 7, Swift restocked seven previously available CD editions of Poets on her webstore, each featuring a different exclusive bonus track — which were only available to purchase that day, and (according to the webstore) were due to ship on or before July 10, and could impact the tracking week. On Monday, Swift also released two new versions of the album’s lead single, the Post Malone-featuring “Fortnight,” to DSPs and digital retailers: a new Cults remix of the song, and an acoustic version of it. (The latter had previously been available via a limited edition CD version of Poets, and is currently in the top 10 on the iTunes chart.)  

Taylor Swift has fought hard to maintain the chart’s pole position for over two months now, and will certainly make Zach Bryan earn the spot if he is to take it from her with his new album. What’s more, Swift has particular reason to be motivated to go for the 12th frame at No. 1 for her new set: With one more week on top, Poets would break a three-way tie with 2008’s Fearless and 2014’s 1989 to become the longest-ruling album on the Billboard 200 of the pop superstar’s entire storied career.  

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