Could Kanye West land the second-biggest debut of the year after his eagerly anticipated Yeezus hits shelves next week? The album, due out Tuesday, has had one of the most unconventional roll-outs in recent memory and, according to reports from a listening party earlier this week, it's a more complicated listen than some of 'Ye's previous efforts.
Like Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience, Yeezus kind of appeared out of nowhere and went from a rumor to retail in rapid succession. And, like Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, West has blazed new trails in his promotional activities hyping the album.
With all that said, it appears that when the June 26 chart is revealed, he'll fall somewhere in between JT's nearly million-selling opening frame and DP's career-best 339,000 bow last month. Either way, he's on the road to the second biggest week and second biggest debut of 2013 so far.
"Kanye West is rolling out his album in a very unconventional way," said Keith Caulfield, Associate Director of Charts/Retail for Billboard magazine. "The element of surprise and mystery helps. And people just want to hear what he has to say. As we've seen with various artists this year, unconventional rollouts can work."
But given that West hasn't released an official single, or video to date and has pledged not to, is it possible he could reach the same heights as 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which sold 496,000 copies during Thanksgiving week of that year? Basing predictions on early orders from retailers, the first-week performance of comparable releases and the amount of media exposure on radio, YouTube and other media, Caulfield said West is a lock for #1 with sales in the 500,000 range.
HITS Daily Double Editor-in-Chief Lenny Beer also felt confident that West would debut at #1, though he thought 500,000 seemed a bit inflated. "I'm thinking it will debut at #1, but my guess is around 350,000 because he's big, but I don't think he will get those extra buyers who need to have a particular song," he said.
MTV News also asked Kevin Bradley, sports book manager for Bovada.lv to lay odds on Kanye having a #1 debut. "Putting odds to something like this is quite a challenge since we have never done this before and it is pretty unique having four big albums coming out the same day," he said of the Kanye debut, as well as albums by J. Cole and Mac Miller and country heartthrob Hunter Hayes.
Bradley put Kanye's odds at taking the top spot at 1-to-1, which makes it pretty much an air-tight bet. While Kanye will almost certainly land a #1 debut — based on a similar formula that looks at the artist's history and a look at the iTunes pre-order system — Beer said his concern is what kind of legs Yeezus will have, because without a certified radio or viral hit song at radio it might struggle to pull in fans in week two. Beer noted that having a buzzed-about track has always been important and if you want to stay on the charts, he said, you have to score some hit singles.
"The label has to get behind it, but great artists are entitled to do what they want to do," he said about 'Ye's unique path with Yeezus. That said, if a single does get released and get some traction at radio, Beer said it could be a whole different story.
It's clear Kanye will win the week, but both men said a seeming lock for #2 is Cole's Born Sinner. "It's interesting how he purposely put himself in direct competition with Kanye," said Caulfield, referencing a recent Billboard cover story in which Cole said he specifically moved up the release of Sinner up by a week because he wanted to compete with one of the greats. "Sometimes other artists follow [a bit release] and it turns into a great day for music where a lot of interesting albums come out on the same day," he said.
Beer and Caulfield said Cole seemed poised to fall into the 150,000-200,000 range with the latter saying a #2 open is pretty much a lock. "He's a very well-respected artist at an early stage in his career and I think he's built up a lot of fans," Beer said, also anticipating a #2 debut. Bradley put Cole's odd at seven-to-one.
Beer was less bullish on Mac Miller's Watching Movies With the Sound Off, which he thought might top out at 50,000, enough for a top-five debut. Caulfield, though, pegged Miller as a #3 contender, though he said it might be hard to beat the 144,000 figures for the rapper's major-label debut, Blue Slide Park. Hell, even Mac predicted that Cole and West would probably crush him next week! Bradley agreed, putting the odds on Miller's #1 debut at 15-to-1.
Both men were of one mind that while Hunter Hayes is clearly on the come-up, his Hunter Hayes -- Encore, Deluxe Edition doesn't feel like a guaranteed big first-week seller. "It's just a reissue with additional tracks, not a stand-alone EP with a new, separate release," said Caulfield. Bradley put Hayes' odds at hitting the top at four-to-five.