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 Mar. 30), Kacey Musgraves and Justin Timberlake both have much-anticipated new albums – but will they be well-received enough to take down Ariana Grande’s 2024 pace-setting set?

Ariana Grande, Eternal Sunshine (Republic): In its debut week, Ariana Grande’s seventh studio album moved an impressive 227,000 units in the U.S. March 8-14, according to Luminate. That’s not just up more than 50,000 units from Grande’s most recent first-week performance (for 2020’s Positions), but nearly 70,000 units higher than the previous best single-week performance of 2024 (the 149,000 posted by Ye and Ty Dolla $ign’s Vultures 1 in its first frame). Needless to say, it landed at No. 1 last week by a decisive margin, and may not be moved from the top spot all that easily in its second week.

In its second week, Eternal Sunshine will undoubtedly see a heavy drop-off in sales – it sold 77,000 copies in its first week – but its streaming activity should be considerable. As of Tuesday (Mar. 19), the album still had six songs in Spotify’s Daily Top Songs USA’s top 40 and four in the Apple Music real-time top 40, led on both by “We Can’t Be Friends (Wait for Your Love),” which bowed atop the Billboard Hot 100 and will remain one of the top-streamed songs in the country this week. It should be enough to ensure that a new album will need to post first-week units in the high five digits to unseat it at No. 1 next week.

Kacey MusgravesDeeper Well (Interscope/MCA Nashville): Despite being one of the most acclaimed artists in country music for over a decade – and now an arena-touring, album of the year Grammy-winning crossover star as well – Kacey Musgraves has still yet to score a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200. Each of her four non-holiday studio albums has reached the chart’s top five, with her 2013 debut set Same Trailer, Different Park even getting to the runner-up spot. But she’s never quite gotten over the top – with her most recent charting effort, 2021’s lukewarmly received Star-Crossed, only making it to No. 3.

Musgraves no doubt hopes that the fifth time is the charm with the release last Friday (Mar. 15) of her new set, Deeper Well, which pulls back a little on the multi-media (and multi-genre) ambitions of Star-Crossed for a lower-key, more gently introspective singer-songwriter vibe. The album should stream respectably – though not quite as well as Eternal Sunshine, even in that album’s second week – and should sell well, with nine vinyl variants of the LP currently available, including eight different-colored versions and exclusive variants for Target, Walmart, Spotify and Amazon, as well as four different CD versions, three different digital editions and a cassette.

Justin TimberlakeEverything I Thought It Was (RCA): Unlike Musgraves, Justin Timberlake has visited the Billboard 200’s top spot – four times in a row, in fact – most recently with 2018’s Man of the Woods. It’s been over 20 years since Timberlake released an album that didn’t reach No. 1: his 2002 solo debut set Justified, which got stuck at No. 2 behind the Eminem-led 8 Mile soundtrack. However, JT’s No. 1 streak is at risk of coming to an end with his latest LP, the Friday-released Everything I Thought It Was.

The album should sell fairly well, helped by four different vinyl LPs (including exclusives for Target, Amazon and his webstore) and three different CD box sets (each with a specific branded T-shirt) — as well as by a fairly successful lead single in the radio hit “Selfish,” which debuted at No. 19 on the Hot 100 and is still in the top 40 six weeks later. But the album’s streaming presence should be fairly minimal, even with an extensive 18-track runtime. Not one of the set’s cuts appeared in either the 200-spot Spotify Daily Top Songs USA or iTunes real-time charts in the day following its release – which may leave Timberlake looking up at Grande and Musgraves on the Billboard 200 next week.


Bossman Dlow, Mr Beat the Road (Alamo/Sony Music): Bossman Dlow has become one of the breakout rappers of early 2024, largely thanks to his viral hit “Get in With Me,” which has crossed over from TikTok to the top half of the Hot 100. That song can be found on the rapper’s new 22-track set Mr Beat the Road, along with still-growing streaming fixtures “Mr. Pot Scraper” and “Piss Me Off,” though whether Bossman can carry over the level of interest in his hits to a full album remains to be seen.

Black Crowes, Happiness Bastards (Silver Arrow): The Brothers Robinson are back together again as co-pilots of Southern Rock staples the Black Crowes on new album Happiness Bastards, the duo’s first together in over a decade. It’s been three decades since the bros’ early-’90s commercial peak, but modern-day country gold-spinner Jay Joyce is behind the boards for the new set — which is available in three vinyl variants, as well as on standard and indie-exclusive CD.