While last week brought with it the No. 1 debut of the first official runaway smash single of 2021 — with Olivia Rodrigo’s instantly Hot 100-topping “Drivers License” — we also got the first blockbuster album of the year, in country star Morgan Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album.
The two-LP, 30-track set debuted atop the Billboard 200 albums chart last week with a whopping 265,000 equivalent album units moved — including a staggering 240.18 million on-demand streams, according to MRC Data, more than doubling the previous record for a country album in a single week, previously held by Luke Combs’ What You See Is What You Get. In its second week, the album holds strong at No. 1, this time moving 159,000 units — the first time a country album has spent its first two weeks atop the chart since Luke Bryan’s Kill the Lights in 2015.
How is Dangerous still performing this well? And how much bigger can Morgan Wallen still get from here? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. The first-week performance of Dangerous was historic with its 265,000 units moved, but its holding with 159,000 units in its second week is also fairly notable, making it the first country album in over five years to spend its first two weeks at No. 1. Which of the two totals do you think is more impressive?
Katie Atkinson: The second week, for sure. You only have to look at the previous month on the Billboard 200 to see what a big number that is: The two artists to hit No. 1 in the last month who aren’t named Taylor Swift had much smaller first weeks to claim the top spot (Shawn Mendes’ Wonder moved 89,000 units to crown the Dec. 19-dated chart and Playboi Carti’s Whole Lotta Red moved 100,000 units to top the Jan. 9-dated chart).
Jason Lipshutz: That second-week total represents strong staying power for Wallen (albeit during a very sleepy month for new album releases), but we shouldn’t discount its massive No. 1 debut as a coronation for the country star, after snowballing momentum expanded his profile beyond Nashville in 2020. Less than three years ago, his debut album, If I Know Me, failed to crack the top 10 of the Billboard 200 chart upon its release, peaking at No. 13; a lot has happened since then to ensure a No. 1 debut with a quarter-million equivalent album units in 2021, and the relatively quick level-up is quite impressive for Walden.
Joe Lynch: Gotta be the second week total. Any album notching 200k+ in its first week is an impressive total these days, but the fact that a country album hasn’t spent its first two weeks at No. 1 on the overall album tally in five years speaks to the fact that the Wallen of Sound is extending bridges well past country listeners. While we’ve seen a lot of country songs make mainstream headway in the last decade, an album doing the same is pretty rare.
Melinda Newman: The first, not only because of the high number of units moved, but also because of it landing 19 songs on the Billboard Global 200, the most any artist of any genre has charted so far. The statement that makes at a time when Wallen is trying to establish himself as the next international country star is huge.
Andrew Unterberger: The second week is the one that really made my jaw drop — only superstars still move six figures in their second week these days — but the fact that Wallen not only eclipsed Luke Combs’ previous country streaming record but doubled it up (and then some) is certainly staggering in its own right.
2. What do you think the biggest reason is that the album has been able to maintain such high performance in its second week?
Katie Atkinson: The biggest reason has to be January being a relative ghost town when it comes to big music releases. No. 2 to Morgan this week is the posthumous July-released project from late rapper Pop Smoke, so anyone looking for new music is probably still digging into the double album’s 30 tracks (or 32, on the deluxe edition). Plus, offering up 30 new songs for fans to dig into at one time can’t hurt its staying power on streaming.
Jason Lipshutz: One by-product of releasing a 30-song album is that it takes fans a little while to discover and sink into their favorite tracks. The best quality of Dangerous is its consistency: instead of being front-loaded with hits and back-loaded with filler to round up its double-album length, the LP hums along, with highlights sprinkled across its nearly 100-minute running time. With both diehards and casual fans still perusing the project’s hidden gems, Dangerous could be racking up high equivalent album unit numbers for weeks to come.
Joe Lynch: Having 30 tracks undoubtedly helps, but I don’t want to understate his success – people could just as easily stream 2-3 standouts from Dangerous and ignore the rest. This means people are returning to a lengthy album in the streaming era – which is normal for hip-hop, but new territory for Nashville. I can see next-gen country superstars replicating this success, but I’m having a harder time picturing fans of honky-tonk A-listers who debuted 10-15 years ago convincing their fans to stick with a 30-song album.
Melinda Newman: People are still discovering Wallen, so it’s likely that many folks didn’t start listening to the album until they heard about the historic first week and were curious to check him out. Also, it takes a lot of time to get through 30 tracks. People who started when the album came out may still be digesting and working their way through or streaming it continuously, which would keep the second week numbers high.
Andrew Unterberger: It helps to have five tracks (“7 Summers,” “Heartless,” “Cover Me Up,” “More Than My Hometown” and “Somebody’s Problem”) that were already proven streaming smashes prior to release! Those songs are probably still getting play on playlists from folks who never bothered to check out the entirety of Dangerous, while plenty of new and returning fans of Wallen’s are also finding new favorites from throughout the two-LP set.
3. In its first week, Dangerous swiped the record for best single-week streaming total by a country album from Luke Combs’ What You See Is What You Get, which set the mark upon its deluxe 2020 reissue. Whenever Combs releases his next album, do you think he’ll steal it right back?
Katie Atkinson: Probably! Morgan is definitely benefiting from being popular among a younger, more streaming-inclined crowd, but country fans in general are turning to streaming now more than ever. So when Luke comes back, an even bigger audience will likely greet him on streaming services than when he first set the record.
Jason Lipshutz: After Wallen’s “7 Summers” made a breathtaking No. 6 debut on the Hot 100 last year — a rare top 10 bow for a country act in the chart’s upper region — Combs one-upped him when “Forever After All,” from the deluxe reissue of What You See Is What You Get, started at No. 2 on the Hot 100. Both debuts offered proof that Wallen and Combs have broken through at streaming in a way that few, if any, other country artists have at this point, and if Combs returns with the right type of project, I’d expect that new country streaming record to fall pretty easily.
Joe Lynch: It really depends how many tracks he makes that deluxe reissue, L-O-L – presuming, of course, that Luke’s album comes locked and loaded with a handful of radio hits. But those seem to come effortlessly to him, so Combs should be able to brush past Wallen.
Melinda Newman: Chances are good that Luke will reclaim the crown, but only if his next album already comes super-sized with 18 tracks or more instead of waiting for a deluxe edition.
Andrew Unterberger: Probably, but it will be interesting to see if Combs follows Wallen’s pattern here with the double album just to make sure his numbers on par — I’m sure he and his team would hate to see his new album stream better per song than Wallen’s, but still fall in total number. Either way, the two are clearly in a class of their own compared to the rest of country right now when it comes to putting up such stats.
4. Wallen still has 10 entries on the Hot 100 this week from the 30-track set. Which do you think will end up as the defining song from the album?
Katie Atkinson: The trajectory of “7 Summers” from buzzy demo in April to top 10 Hot 100 debut in August is the perfect analogy for Wallen’s skyrocketing career. Not to mention the song’s easy-listening sound is just as breezy as the summer Morgan sings about on the nostalgic number, making for a memorable hit.
Jason Lipshutz: “Wasted On You” started at No. 9 on the Hot 100 upon the release of Dangerous — in part because the song was positioned on New Music Friday playlists and at the top of the Dangerous track list, but also because the song most effectively utilizes Wallen’s juxtaposition of rustic crooning and modern production elements, his twangy cries ringing out over trap beats on the hook. I wouldn’t be shocked if “Wasted on You” becomes one of the biggest country hits of the year.
Joe Lynch: It’s a testament to this album’s strength and diversity that this isn’t an easy question. My inclination is to say “More Than My Hometown,” which focuses on a number of country’s favorite topics – losing a girl, hometown pride, with shout-outs to beer, the Lord and fishin’ for good measure – and also holds the distinction of being the Wallen song that roped in listeners who may have slept on his debut If I Know Me. But the beat-laden “Wasted on You” has more crossover appeal, and the sing-song “Somebody’s Problem” feels like a karaoke shout-along classic in the making.
Melinda Newman: The line about being “that boy from East Tennessee” in “7 Summers” seems so autobiographical that it will resonate whenever Wallen sings it live, but the song that stays in my head and could be even bigger is “Sand in My Boots.” It opens the album for a reason: It’s one of the most melodic songs on the set and the chorus makes me want to raise my cell phone with the flashlight on and wave it in my living room, so I can only imagine how it’s going to take off live. “Now I’m dodging potholes in my sunburnt Silverado/like a heart-broke desperado.” C’mon….
Andrew Unterberger: I’ll go with “More Than My Hometown,” which seems like the crystallization of just about everything that makes Morgan Wallen special: The relatable specificity of the songwriting, the unusual spin on a classic lyrical trope, the passion and grit in the performance, and the sheen of the production to tie it all together. But there’s at least 20 other good options that could conceivably end up the correct answer here.
5. Finish this prediction sentence: By the time he hits his commercial peak, Morgan Wallen will be the biggest male country star since ____.
Katie Atkinson: I’m going to go with Eric Church. He’ll be a super reliable country hitmaker – and maybe even take home the entertainer of the year trophy at the CMA Awards someday, like Church did last year for the first time – but I don’t see him going the Luke Bryan or Blake Shelton route and vying for a mainstream audience via a major TV show, or teaming up with pop stars for a crossover play. It feels like he’ll happily stay firmly in the country world, drawing massive crowds to arenas and even stadiums while making no apologies for being a big fish in a genre-specific pond.
Jason Lipshutz: I’ll go with Luke Bryan, who was absolutely dominant in the early-to-mid 2010s and could pull summer stadium crowds with relative ease. Wallen is quickly headed in that direction too — in 7 summers or less.
Joe Lynch: Jason Aldean, who has released blockbuster albums since 2005 and could just as well call the Hot Country Songs top 10 his home away from home — he’s been there 33 times.
Melinda Newman: Luke Combs.
Andrew Unterberger: Garth Brooks.