Five Burning Questions: Juice WRLD’s ‘Legends Never Die’ Posts the Best First-Week Numbers of 2020

Five Burning Questions: Juice WRLD’s ‘Legends Never Die’ Posts the Best First-Week Numbers of 2020

For the second consecutive week, a rapper tragically lost to the world in the past year has seen their legacy recognized with a massive debut for their posthumous album. Last week, it was Pop Smoke’s Shoot For the Stars Aim For the Moon debuting atop the Billboard 200 with huge opening numbers. This week, it’s Juice WRLD’s Legends Never Die.

The third full-length album from the late artist marks his second to bow at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, following last year’s Death Race For Love. What’s more, Legends enters with 497,000 equivalent album units moved — not only the best single-week mark of his career, but the highest single-week total for any artist in 2020. The set also places 17 tracks on the Hot 100 this week, including five in the chart’s top ten — a simultaneous feat previously accomplished only by The Beatles and Drake.

Which track seems likely to endure as the biggest hit? And what does the set tell us about where Juice was going as an artist? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below.

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1. Last week we were talking about how unexpectedly enormous the first-week number for Pop Smoke’s Shoot For the Stars Aim For the Moon was. How surprised were you this week, then, to see Juice WRLD’s own first posthumous album nearly double that in its first frame? 

Lyndsey Havens: For me, it’s less about how Legends Never Die nearly doubled the first-week number for Shoot For the Stars, and much more about how Juice WRLD’s album raked in the largest weekly sum so far in 2020. Arguably, there have been fewer major releases this year from typically record-breaking artists — but still, even Lady Gaga’s first-week numbers for Chromatica were under 300,000, while the impressive opening tally for The Weeknd’s After Hours was still about 50,000 short of Juice WRLD’s. So, to put it simply, I’m surprised in general at how Juice WRLD’s posthumous album has shattered expectations (mine, at least).

Bryan Kress: Pop Smoke’s previous posthumous debut maybe softens the headline here, but the first-week numbers for Legends are still cause for some “Lucid Dreams”-style jaw-dropping. Luckily, that image reminded me of who we were talking about here: a growing powerhouse built on the ubiquity of his unlikely 2018 breakthrough single whose major releases were three-for-three landing in the top 5 of the Billboard 200, including one chart-topper. The surprise is only in the scale.

Carl Lamarre:  I think we can all agree on Juice WRLD’s streaming excellence prior to his untimely demise. Last year, he notched a Billboard 200 No. 1 with Death Race For Love with an impressive 165,000 equivalent album units. To see him topple The Weeknd’s After Hours debut and clinch the biggest selling debut since Drake’s Scorpion is unfathomable. I would have guessed around 350,000, but the way he easily exceeded that number speaks to his devoted fan base. 

Jason Lipshutz: While I wasn’t shocked that Pop Smoke’s posthumous LP strode in at No. 1 with an impressive equivalent album units number, the fact that Juice WRLD just scored the biggest album debut of 2020 thus far is pretty astounding. A little over a year ago, his Death Race For Love album started with 165,000 units… and Legends Never Die just tripled that number. The contexts of the two releases are very different, of course, but to see the outpouring of support for this album — and, tragically, to not have Juice with us to celebrate it — has been one of the most interesting pop music stories of the year.

Andrew Unterberger: It’s mostly surprising just because… well, 497k is a pretty big number for anyone right now. Juice WRLD was never quite on Post Malone’s level of crossover popularity during his lifetime, but even Post’s Hollywood’s Bleeding — with its two Hot 100 No. 1s and additional two top 5 hits — came up 8k short of that first-week number. It’s a triumphant but sad reminder of just how sky-high Juice’s star potential really was.

2. As Shoot For the Stars did last week, Legends Never Die places every eligible track on the Hot 100 this week. Which song do you think has the best chance of sticking around as a long-term hit? 

Lyndsey Havens: The obvious answer is “Come & Go” with Marshmello, since it currently sits at No. 2 on the chart — though I think there’s something so eerie about “Righteous” that it might keep bringing listeners and fans back, for a moment of closeness to a star-in-the-making gone too soon. And also, even though it ranks lowest of all the Legends Never Die tracks on this week’s Hot 100, I have to voice my fandom for “Man of the Year.” I love the more rock-leaning production and get chills every time I hear the line: “I know my lyrics saved you.”

Bryan Kress: It’s going to be a battle between the two genres that Legends as a whole bridges very well; there’s the pop/hip-hop confection of “Wishing Well” or the intoxicating rock star smash “Come & Go.” Although the latter garnered the higher Hot 100 debut, the former showcases the tried-and-true aspects of Juice’s skill set which might connect more with fans in the long run.

Carl Lamarre: I’m so attached to the sequence beginning at “Blood on My Jeans“ to “Tell Me U Luv Me” to “Hate the Other Side.” I think the latter has the strongest shot to eclipse his other tracks because of the robust lineup with Juice, Marshmello, Polo G and Kid LAROI. To a novice listener, this combination might appear jarring, but it works so well. Polo is a lyrical technician who is destined for rap superstardom, while Kid LAROI is primed for a huge explosion any minute. He’s really a baby Juice and Post hybrid with his emo-leaning swagger. This mashup of all their personalities is such a goodie.

Jason Lipshutz: I keep returning to the urgency of “Hate the Other Side,” which pairs Juice WRLD’s anthemic vulnerability with Chicago standout Polo G’s typically detailed introspection, and gives newcomer The Kid LAROI a sizable stage in which to operate. Marshmello features on both this and “Come & Go,” and while the latter scored a higher Hot 100 debut, “Hate the Other Side” sounds like it will persist at hip-hop radio and on streaming playlists.

Andrew Unterberger: I’m attached to the set’s proper opener, “Conversations.” The plink-plonk synth hook sounds as out-of-this-world as something off Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake, and the chilling hook (“The devil hit my phone, he wanna talk/ But I’m not really up for conversations”) is quintessential Juice: clever, despairing, relatable and unshakably melodic.

3. Juice WRLD places five songs on the Hot 100’s top 10 this week, two of which — “Come & Go” (No. 2) and “Hate the Other Side” (No. 10) — also feature masked producer Marshmello. From those two collabs, is that a teamup you would’ve liked to hear more from?

Lyndsey Havens: I mean, yes and no. Too much of a good thing can become… a bad thing. I think Juice and Marshello did it right with “Come & Go” (clearly, judging by its chart position) and “Hate the Other Side” (though Marshmello’s imprint is softer on this track). And while I would have been curious to see what else they could deliver together — especially with the addition of a pop or rock vocalist, too — I feel pretty content in these two tracks that we do have.

Bryan Kress: Absolutely, this partnership clearly brought something fresh out of both parties. Though Juice’s versatility is on full display throughout the album, it’s also impressive to hear the divergence in Marshmello’s production, not only between the two tracks but from his catalogue as a whole.

Carl Lamarre: Going back to my answer at No. 2, hell yes! Marshmello previously said he has an entire project with Juice WRLD on deck. If those two tracks are any indication of what they have cooked up, I’m here for it entirely. Marshmello is a bad boy on the dance scene. If he gallops over to the hip-hop side with Juice, who already proved he can tip-toe between genres, this would be a game-changer.

Jason Lipshutz: It would have been nice to hear Marshmello and Juice WRLD check in with each other for years to come — maybe if not on a collaborative project, but on more one-offs as part of each other’s ongoing releases. These two songs definitely hint at an artistic chemistry that I would have liked to hear explored in the future.

Andrew Unterberger: Much to my surprise, yeah, this teamup really works. I’ve never been much of a fan of Marshmello’s genre-bending collabs — too often they end up playing to neither’s strengths — but I have enjoyed his less radio-ready party-rock solo material, which Juice WRLD proves a natural fit over on “Come & Go.” Mello’s presence is less obvious on the trappier “Hate the Other Side,” but it’s still one of the album’s strongest cuts, and a sublimely melancholy beat for Juice. It’s awesome to hear the masked producer finally finding the pop collaborator with whom he can make hits that are more than the sum of their parts — and heartbreaking that their partnership will ultimately be so limited.

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4. Does Legends Never Die feel like a worthy closing chapter of Juice WRLD’s musical legacy to you? What’s the final impression that it leaves on you in terms of where the singer/rapper was headed as an artist? 

Lyndsey Havens: I’m consistently taken aback by how much this album surprises me in its self-awareness and unsettling foreshadowing. In many ways, mostly lyrical, I do feel like Legends Never Die is almost too fitting as a closing chapter to Juice’s still-forming legacy, but in terms of where he was headed as an artist and essential voice… I still think this was only scratching the surface.

Bryan Kress: If this is the final word we’ve heard from the Chicago rapper-singer, then it’s successful in leaving the people wanting more. Legends not only upholds Juice’s legacy but expands its range. Predicting his next step would just be guesswork, but it’s certain that his progression as an artist would continue to influence the next generation as his latest release undoubtedly will.

Carl Lamarre: I think so. The album was so morbid and finite because you can’t help but think of how he died. Then, you hear songs like “Can’t Die,” “Stay High” and “Fighting Demons,” which tell the story of a forlorn figure. As an artist, I think he finally found his voice as the leader of the broken souls and troubled youth. Compared to his previous albums, his lyrical depth increased exponentially. His textures on the production side also would have separated him from the pack if he’d stayed alive. Like, he made such a dark but vibrant record with “Tell Me U Luv Me,” where he flaunted both his rapping and singing abilities.

Jason Lipshutz: The most interesting quality of Legends Never Die to me is that it unwittingly completes Juice WRLD’s transition from a singles artist, marked by crossover hits like “Lucid Dreams” and “All Girls Are The Same,” to an album artist, whose thoughts and reflections are best expressed across a full-length that successfully incorporates guest artists with solo musings. Death Race For Love began that change last year, and while it’s impossible to speculate how differently Legends Never Die would have been arranged had Juice WRLD seen its release, the posthumous project succeeds in filling a sprawling album with the full spectrum of his ideas and emotions.

Andrew Unterberger: More and more rappers have begun to dip their toes in, but I think that Legends Never Die shows that Juice WRLD was the most likely candidate to become the first rap artist to cross all the way over into the alt-rock world. The pop-punky “Come & Go” being the best-performing song of the set’s first week — despite not showing up till track 11 on the album — seems like decent evidence that folks were ready for Rock Star Juice.

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5. It’s obviously stark to see two posthumous albums have such a resounding impact in consecutive weeks. Is there anything to take away from their back-to-back successes, beyond how sad it is to lose two talented artists barely beginning to enter their prime?

Lyndsey Havens: Similar to what I said prior, this back-to-back run has made me think about essential voices gone way too soon — and the impact and influence they could have been having right now, at a time when people with platforms who have this natural way of connecting with a generation of doers are so incredibly vital.

Bryan Kress: All I’m left to think is how badly I want Juice and Pop to see for themselves that the momentum was real and their risks and hard work paid off. That two artists with such sharp, natural talents and notably prolific outputs had back-to-back gems released posthumously forces me to encourage every artist to release their stockpiles of loosies as soon as possible, so we can celebrate their work in the moment instead of the too-often post-mortem reevaluation.

Carl Lamarre: To quote Jadakiss on “We Gonna Make It”: “Dead rappers get better promotion.”

Jason Lipshutz: I think it’s just that: instead of two star-making albums that continued Pop Smoke’s rapid ascent and coronated Juice WRLD as one of the biggest artists in the world, these albums now serve as sad reminders of the self-evident artistry that we will now no longer hear more of. During a year that’s generally been a bummer, the coincidence of these posthumous albums in consecutive weeks represents a pair of bittersweet triumphs.

Andrew Unterberger: Aside from how heavy it hits that both of these artists won’t get to see their greatest period of success — especially when you consider that the same could be said for Mac Miller with January’s Circles, and likely Nipsey Hussle if and when he gets a full posthumous release — it’s interesting to me that listeners are still so attached to the full albums from these artists. None of the advance tracks from Pop Smoke or Juice WRLD’s respective sets had hit the Hot 100’s top 10 upon their initial release, but the rising tides of both sets landed a combined six tracks there in their first weeks. Even in the streaming age, fans still look to full albums as artistic statements, and together the two LPs mean more for their creators’ legacy than their collections of songs ever could individually.

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