This past summer, Taylor Swift became the first act to ever score a #1 Billboard Hot 100 song and #1 Billboard 200 album debut in the same week. Her “cardigan” started atop the former chart, while her album “folklore” ruled the latter.
This week, BTS becomes the second. The group tops the Billboard Hot 100 with “Life Goes On,” while ruling the Billboard 200 with “BE.”
Why is this feat so elusive? Consider the mechanics of industry strategy and chart tracking.
Artists adhering to a traditional album campaign will release their lead single(s) prior to the full album. Given their existing familiarity and momentum, this/these single(s) will typically be the top-performing track(s) during album release week. As a result, there is no opportunity for one of the artist’s new songs to debut atop that week’s Billboard Hot 100.
A surprise album drop helps artists avoid this scenario, but it creates another challenge. New releases never receive as much airplay as established hits, which means they will be at a disadvantage in the chart calculation. It takes massive sales and streaming numbers to compensate for lesser radio.
Surprise releases also remain rare, particularly among superstar artists.
Swift took the surprise approach, and her “cardigan” did generate the requisite sales and streams (as an official single, it did receive a solid, though not earth-shattering, amount of airplay).
BTS’ model, on the other hand, falls in between the two. The group did release a (chart-topping) lead single in “Dynamite,” which still had plenty of momentum and radio activity during the album’s release week (it is #3 on this week’s Hot 100). But the group and its fans also enthusiastically embraced “Life Goes On” as a release-day focus track. As a result, the song posted the requisite sales and streaming numbers.
The compensation challenge was particularly big for “Life Goes On,” since it is not being promoted as an official US radio single. As a result, it received very little opening week airplay.
And, of course, let’s not forget that simultaneously topping the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 – even ignoring the “debut” part of the equation – is an incredible feat in its own right.