Five Burning Questions: Post Malone Debuts at No. 2 on Billboard 200 With ‘Twelve Carat Toothache’

Five Burning Questions: Post Malone Debuts at No. 2 on Billboard 200 With ‘Twelve Carat Toothache’

Few artists were as familiar with the top of the Billboard charts at the close of the 2010s as Post Malone, whose 2019 album Hollywood’s Bleeding was such an enduring success that it ended up at No. 1 on 2020’s year-end Billboard 200 albums chart. But this week, he has to settle for being No. 2.

The rapper and pop star’s first new album of the decade, Twelve Carat Toothache, debuts at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 dated June 18, with 121,000 equivalent album units moved. That number is comfortably down from the nearly half a million units posted by Bleeding in its debut week, and is short of the 135,000 put up by Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti set in its fifth week of release — though 121,000 would still have been a big-enough number to reach No. 1 in 16 of the first 17 Billboard tracking weeks of 2022.

What’s responsible for Post Malone’s smaller debut number this time around? And has he moved beyond needing a big first-week performance each time out to maintain his impressive level of superstardom? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.

1. After scoring No. 1 debuts with his prior two albums, Post Malone bows at No. 2 with his first full-length project of the 2020s. How big a toothache do you think this particular start is for Post Malone — or is he smiling just the same? 

Rania Aniftos: He’s smiling his same old toothy grin, I’m sure. He became a dad and dropped an album within a month, so life is probably feeling pretty cavity-free these days, no matter how the album did. Also, a No. 2 debut is still a really, really good placement, even for a bigger artist.

Josh Glicksman: I’d imagine it’s a bit more disappointing than he may let on, particularly given that it’s his first album that doesn’t arrive at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 since his 2016 debut effort, Stoney. Still, as he told Billboard in his January cover story: “I’ve made a lot of compromises, especially musically, but now I don’t feel like I want to anymore. I don’t need a No. 1; that doesn’t matter to me no more, and at a point, it did.” Let’s take him at his word here — he’s surely earned the right to experiment a bit outside of his wheelhouse.

Carl Lamarre: I think Post is fine. As noted in our stellar Billboard cover story earlier this year, Posty doesn’t seem to care about the numbers this go-round. Often, artists seek personal discovery and vow to make music endearing to them versus the fans. I’m sure he’ll probably perform these records with the same joy and zeal as he would singing “Circles,” “Sunflower,” or “Better Now.” Plus, anytime you have your first child, that trumps everything.

Jason Lipshutz: During a week in which he announced his engagement, welcomed a baby girl and unveiled yet another sprawling arena tour itinerary, there’s no doubt that Post Malone is smiling through a No. 2 debut on the Billboard 200 chart. The amount of personal and professional success Posty has achieved in a short period of time remains pretty staggering, and while I’m sure he would have loved another chart-topper, I can’t imagine the new dad is playing Chicken Little and reading the debut as a falling sky.

Andrew Unterberger: Agreed that Post definitely has a lot more important things on his mind this week than his new album’s first-week numbers. If he did have more time and mental energy to devote to them? I don’t think he’d be thrilled — 121,000 is undeniably well below the standard he had set for himself with his last two sets, even with all the usual caveats about suppressed sales numbers in 2022 due to ticket-bundle eliminations and physical release difficulty — but I doubt he’d be hurting too much, either. This clearly isn’t an album made by an artist looking for max debut numbers, and when you can underwhelm with those and still post six digits, you’ve still got plenty of reason to flash those pearly whites.

2. The star’s last set, late 2019’s Hollywood’s Bleeding, moved 489,000 units in its first week with what was then the year’s biggest streaming week, while Toothache debuts with 121,000 units and fewer total streams than Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti album notches in its fifth frame. What do you think is the biggest reason for Post Malone’s lower total this time around?

Rania Aniftos: Timing! The first half of 2022 was so strange with no big music releases, which resulted in a pretty stagnant Hot 100 and Billboard 200 for months. Then, suddenly in May, everybody started dropping music. Post Malone released his album amid all the other huge drops of the year like Harry Styles’ Harry’s House, Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti and BTS’ Proof – without a ton of promo before release. To me, the lower numbers were an expected result.

Josh Glicksman: As I noted the last time I had the honor of joining the Five Burning Questions panel, it’s more telling to me to compare Posty’s numbers with releases from fellow superstars in 2022, as opposed to those from his last album in 2019 (Billboard changed its rules regarding merch and ticket bundles the following year). That adjustment adds a lot to the shock value in the dip, though it’s also worth noting that twelve carat toothache doesn’t have the same seemingly endless number of instantaneously catchy hits that his other releases contained.

Carl Lamarre: I think the biggest miscue was the selection process for singles. Though “One Right Now” squeaked its way inside the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, it wasn’t as the blockbuster hit we thought it would be. Also, while I enjoy “Cooped Up,” I would have slid in “I Like You” as the lead single because that’s a monstrous collab. For me, the record mirrors “Kiss Me More” and has an electric verse from Doja to push the record over the edge.

Jason Lipshutz: Not only was Hollywood’s Bleeding quickly capitalizing upon the success of the previous year’s Beerbongs & Bentleys album, but was preceded by multiple major hits in “Wow.,” “Goodbyes” and “Circles.” On the other hand, Twelve Carat Toothache ends a nearly three-year wait, and arrives without a current crossover hit (“One Right Now” with The Weeknd thrived at radio, but was released way back in November). That set of circumstances would result in a drop-off for any popular artist, and while the Toothache debut number is a commercial disappointment, the fact that Post Malone is still putting up six-figure equivalent album units in spite of them is a testament to his star power and interest in his return.

Andrew Unterberger: The biggest reason to me is Post’s own lack of motivation to maintain those numbers. Not much about the songs he’s released or the sound he’s cultivated so far this decade indicates an artist whose top priority is producing another “Circle,s” or even another “Better Now.” Some artists can go wherever their muse takes them and still put up undeniable blockbuster numbers — we’ve seen a number of them come and go in the past month or so — but that’s not quite where Post Malone is in his career yet. Without big hits and a timely sound, he can still command enough ears to be the envy of 99% of the industry, but he can’t post first weeks to rival Drake and Taylor Swift anymore.

3. Though the set has not yet launched a hit single on the level of past Hot 100-toppers like “Rockstar” or “Circles,” it does notch two singles in the top 15 this week — “I Like You (A Happier Song)” with Doja Cat at No. 9, and “Cooped Up” with Roddy Ricch at No. 12. Do you see either of them growing into the kind of chart-conquering smash that Post Malone has so frequently enjoyed in the past? 

Rania Aniftos: “Cooped Up” reminds me so much of the darker Beerbongs & Bentleys-era hits that everyone loved, which makes me think it’s going to climb up the chart and stay there. The hook is also so catchy and would be fun to hear live. I know everything Doja Cat touches turns to gold, so I wouldn’t be surprised if “I Like You” becomes a smash hit, but I’m personally Team “Cooped Up.”

Josh Glicksman: I could definitely see “I Like You” latching on to the upper regions of the chart over time, with its bouncy production and free-flowing chemistry between Post and Doja Cat. That said, I actually think “Wrapped Around Your Finger” has perhaps the best shot at growing into the all-too-familiar chart-conquering hit for him. It’s the album’s most “Circles”-reminiscent effort, and it feels like just a matter of time to me before it latches on in a big way at radio. Expect “Wrapped Around Your Finger” to be tied up in your head for months to come.

Carl Lamarre: “I Like You” is the one. As I previously stated, it has remnants of “Kiss Me More” when talking pop sensibilities and summery production. The chemistry between Post and Doja is undeniable here and is the perfect soundtrack for a balmy day in August.

Jason Lipshutz: Similar to what Post Malone has enjoyed during his career, Doja Cat is on a Midas-esque run right now, where every project she hops on receives an extra jolt of commercial appeal. “I Like You (A Happier Song)” is top 40 catnip, with both a top-notch Doja feature and one of Posty’s most memorable hooks on Twelve Carat Toothache; part of the reason why I don’t see this album as a major disappointment can be chalked up to the surefire crossover potential of this song in the coming months.

Andrew Unterberger: “I Like You” is definitely the smart bet, as is anything Doja-related in mid-2022. I’m not positive if it quite has that special something to quite get it to No. 1 (or Song of the Summer) contention — again, it doesn’t really seem to me like Post’s whole heart was in hitmaking this time around — but he and Doja are such radio fixtures, and the song should fit seamlessly enough into 2022 top 40 playlists, for the record to hang around for quite some time regardless.

4. We’ve never really seen Post Malone struggle to score easy crossover hits, but Twelve Carat Toothache is clearly an album with other stuff on its mind than simply making it back onto top 40 radio. Do you think he’s the kind of artist who can (or will one day be able to) enjoy star status without the consistent support of regular hits, or will his popularity always be at least partly dependent on that kind of commercial timeliness? 

Rania Aniftos: I’ve been a Post Malone fan for a long time, and most of my favorite songs of his are not the radio hits. I get that feeling among other fans as well, and he strikes me as a musician whose star power extends beyond his art. He’s funny, he’s stylish, he’s unique and he’s fun to watch live. To me, he’s done the work to establish himself as a serious artist, and remains relevant because he’s consistently interesting to entertainment lovers no matter what he’s doing, even without a “Rockstar” or a “Sunflower”-type of hit.

Josh Glicksman: Like many of his fellow superstars in the industry, Post Malone has reached the level where his name is no longer synonymous with just music: he has brand partnerships galore, spanning from alcohol to footwear collaborations that sell out within minutes. His personality has made him a regular on fun late-night TV segments, from eating at Olive Garden with Jimmy Fallon to going day drinking with Seth Meyers. People are going to search for the mega-hits from him with every release, but his star status isn’t reliant on him providing them each time around, at least as of now — he has plenty of those already.

Carl Lamarre: People forget how robust Post’s catalog is. He can survive off being a touring artist if he retires tomorrow because of his laundry list of hits. And let’s not ignore the fact that if Post wants to, he can easily make an entire album full of pop scorchers. Everyone is entitled to make that one album strictly catered to their personal desires and that’s what Twelve Carat was for Post.

Jason Lipshutz: I don’t believe Post Malone is hypothetically finished with notching hit singles, but even if he is, the man’s got a rock-solid setlist to tour off of for the next 30 years already — hit after enduring hit, pop hits and rap hits and alternative hits, the type of songs that parents and kids alike can hum along with effortlessly. His album performances may fluctuate based on how many major singles they carry, and commercial apexes never last forever, but his catalog is already so enviable that his star status is secure in the long term.

Andrew Unterberger: Pretty telling that Post announced an arena trek the day after this week’s charts were announced: He’s too well liked and been too successful for too long to lose his top-tier touring status anytime soon. But can he stay at pop’s center without conventional hits? I’m a little more skeptical about that — at least not without some continued artistic growth, and proof that he’s more of a true albums artist than he’s shown thusfar in his career. And in the meantime, if his next album saw him back in a top 40-friendly mode and made him once again ubiquitous on the charts, I’d hardly be shocked.

5. If you were an executive producer on Post Malone’s next album and looking to re-establish him as a central figure in popular music, who’s a writer, producer or other collaborator you’d recommend him linking up with? 

Rania Aniftos: Speaking of Bad Bunny earlier, I’d love to see Post do a Latin collaboration – and not a remix like the Nicky Jam and Ozuna “Rockstar” remix. A proper collaborative release with someone like Bad Bunny or Anitta would be so fun, and surely become an inevitable hit.

Josh Glicksman: I’d love to see him spend a few songs working with Blake Slatkin and Omer Fedi. The latter is credited on “Wrapped Around Your Finger” — one of the catchiest songs on the album — and both Slatkin and Fedi have a firm finger on the pulse of what makes a huge, long-lasting hit on the Hot 100 today.

Carl Lamarre: I don’t think Post honestly needs anybody. He just needs the mindset of wanting to be that perennial hitmaker. “I Like You” and “Cooped Up” are caliber records. If he wakes up and decides to dole out nothing but heavy hitters, he’ll run “circles” around the competition again.

Jason Lipshutz: While listening to his luxurious new single “Cash In Cash Out” over the weekend, the thought crossed my mind: how incredible would a Pharrell Williams-helmed Post Malone album sound? Skateboard P has been engineering pop-rap tweener hits for decades, with a little bit of rock flair in his hardest beats and N.E.R.D. work, and would no doubt have a field day with Posty’s range. The more I think about it, the more I need it to materialize.

Andrew Unterberger: I also wouldn’t have minded seeing him get in touch with Omer Fedi and his crew of collaborators on this — someone to tap more into the raw energy that Posty has always brought to his live gigs and album tracks (and Nirvana-covering livestreams), but has often toned down for his major single releases. Now that radio’s finally a little more primed for those kinds of hits, it’s unfortunate (albeit understandable) timing that Post wasn’t quite up for bringing ’em this time around.

Five Burning Questions: Post Malone Debuts at No. 2 on Billboard 200 With ‘Twelve Carat Toothache’ Few artists were as familiar with the top of the Billboard charts at the close of the 2010s as Post Malone, whose 2019 album Hollywood’s Bleeding was such an enduring success that it ended up at No. 1 on 2020’s year-end…