Morgan Wallen Has 2023’s Best First Week With ‘One Thing at a Time’ — How Did He Do It?
It’s a historic week for Morgan Wallen on the Billboard charts, as his new album One Thing at a Time tops the Billboard 200 with the year’s best single-week tally, while also storming the Billboard Hot 100.
The album — Wallen’s first new set since coming under national fire for using a racial slur in January 2021 — moves 501,000 equivalent album units in its debut frame, the biggest single-week number for any album since Taylor Swift’s Midnights posted 1,578,000 units in Nov. 2022, and also the biggest for any country album of the streaming era since Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version) moved 605,000 units in Nov. 2021. One Thing also takes over the Billboard Hot 100, notching a record 36 entries on the chart, including his first No. 1 in “Last Night.”
What achievement of Wallen’s week is his biggest? And how did he get quite this big? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. Morgan Wallen’s 498.28 million on-demand official streams for One Thing at a Time this week marks the most streams ever for a country album in a single week — and the biggest streaming week for any album so far in 2023 — while Wallen also becomes the first artist of any genre to notch over 30 Hot 100 hits in the same week. Which of the two achievements is more notable to you?
Jason Lipshutz: The latter, for sure. While debuting with a half-million equivalent album units and nearly half a billion streams demonstrates the commercial stardom that Morgan Wallen has undoubtedly possessed for the past three years, surpassing artists like Drake and Taylor Swift and setting a Hot 100 record by sending all 36 songs from One Thing at a Time onto the chart is truly astonishing stuff. Sure, part of that historic feat can simply be chalked up to the album’s enormous track list, but the fact that there was nary a straggler from the 112-minute project, and that every single song charted in order to gobble up over one-third of the entire Hot 100, showcases listener investment in One Thing at a Time, and in Wallen himself.
Joe Lynch: Without underselling either feat, I would say the former. It’s an uphill battle for any album to notch a half-million copies or a half-billion streams in 2023, and country albums that move this fast in their first week are basically unheard of – until now.
Melinda Newman: The best-ever streaming week for a country album is the most notable, because the numbers are huge no matter what genre. In terms of on-demand official streams, One Thing at a Time‘s 498.28 million is the fifth-largest streaming week ever for any album, so Wallen’s feat shows he is not only leading country artists, but is at the top for all artists (except Taylor Swift, who is her own genre at this point). Also notable is his notching over 30 Hot 100 hits in the same week, meaning one-third of the Hot 100 chart belongs to Wallen. It’s one thing to put out that many tracks, it’s another thing to have fans literally not be able to get enough of what he’s releasing.
Jessica Nicholson: His achievement of becoming the first artist of any genre to earn over 30 Hot 100 hits in the same week is more notable. His 30-track previous album, 2021’s Dangerous: The Double Album was the best-selling album of 2022 and spent 10 weeks atop the Billboard 200, and still topped out at 19 Hot 100 entries in its debut week.
Andrew Unterberger: The Hot 100 entries are the most impressive thing to me — especially that they’re led by a No. 1 in “Last Night,” which is the first country No. 1 by an unaccompanied male solo artist on that chart since Eddie Rabbitt’s “I Love a Rainy Night” in 1981. Simply put, it’s been a really long time since we had a male country star performing at this commercial level.
2. Though Wallen’s prior set Dangerous: The Double Album was already one of the biggest albums of the decade, One Thing nearly doubles that set’s first-week numbers (265,000) with its massive showing. What do you think is the biggest reason the set lands with such a larger debut?
Jason Lipshutz: Although the controversy that embroiled Wallen in the weeks following the January 2021 release of Dangerous: The Double Album may have limited his visibility on platforms like primetime television and Grammy ballots, make no mistake: Wallen is much, much bigger than he was when Dangerous was released. The evidence was rampant leading up to the release of One Thing at a Time, from the arena shows Wallen played last year, to the stadium gigs he scheduled this year, from the re-embrace of country radio (he scored three Country Airplay No. 1s in 2022) to the streaming numbers that few other country artists could even fathom. Everything was teed up for Wallen’s Dangerous follow-up to outpace its predecessor and score the biggest album debut of 2023, and One Thing at a Time delivered.
Joe Lynch: When an artist scores a career-launching blockbuster album that soars on the charts for well over a year (a rarity, certainly), it’s only reasonable to expect the follow-up to get off to a better start – think Adele’s 25 following 21. In addition to pulling in long-time fans, you have the more recent ones ponying up, too.
Melinda Newman: He was a star then, he’s a superstar now. His fans simply can’t get enough of him and they are extremely avid about wanting to show their support. There is nothing passive about their fandom. Plus, his fan base has grown considerably since Dangerous: The Double Album, so there are new fans eager to show their love as well. He is at the stage of his career where he has the Midas touch. He also has become an arena, if not stadium, headliner since Dangerous came out and has increased his audience through touring. His fans feel great kinship with him not only as an artist but as a person.
Jessica Nicholson: One Thing at a Time slightly exceeds the number of tracks of his previous album, which only added to its potential streaming numbers. Meanwhile, just over a month after the release of Dangerous: The Double Album in January 2021, Wallen’s music was pulled from terrestrial radio and top streaming playlists, as he was dropped from his touring agency and also suspended from his label for a brief period, due to the TMZ-released video of Wallen uttering a racial slur outside of his home in Nashville. Additionally, in 2021, tours were still slowly coming back and Wallen didn’t do a full-fledged tour that year. But now, Wallen’s music is back on country radio and streaming playlists. He also wrapped an arena tour in 2022 and is prepping for a world tour to launch this week, which will include a mix of stadiums and arenas.
Andrew Unterberger: While the headlines and narratives of Morgan Wallen’s career have seen some stomach-churning lows over the past half-decade, the commercial returns have just been one long, uninterrupted upward trajectory since his 2018 breakthrough. The biggest reason One Thing is doing bigger numbers than Dangerous is simply that it’s come two years later in his timeline, with millions of new fans jumping on board in the meantime (and remarkably few exiting).
3. Despite running a lengthy 36 tracks, One Thing mostly finds Wallen staying in his radio country lane in terms of sonics and subject matter, with just a handful of obvious detours into different sounds and themes. Are there any tracks that tread new-ish territory that you’d like to hear him explore further?
Jason Lipshutz: The strongest passages of One Thing at a Time focus less on expanding Wallen’s repertoire and more on streamlining his proven approach with sturdier refrains and lyrical detail. A song like “Single Than She Was,” for instance, doesn’t try to reinvent Wallen’s wheel — it’s another song about meeting a pretty girl at a bar, after all — but the vocal delivery, songwriting and titular hook are all a little more thoughtful than those similar themes presented elsewhere on the album, and become memorable amidst and towering track list.
Joe Lynch: Sonically…. eh. “Ain’t That Some” finds him straying into half-rap territory, and the results are not enjoyable to my ears. Lyrically, sure: For someone who made headlines for all the wrong reasons after a drunken night out and then said he toured “mostly” sober, it might be interesting to hear him explore that struggle/journey (whatever you want to call it) in song.
Melinda Newman: The album brings in his hip-hop, rock and traditional country influences, but all in fairly subtle ways and to varying degrees of success. The title track, which is the new single, is heavily pop influenced and is one of the catchiest songs Wallen has ever recorded, so it’s fun to see him veer in that direction so capably without abandoning his vocal twang. Conversely, “Everything I Love” is more old-school, ‘80s country than Wallen has usually recorded. By and large, the hip-hop-influenced tracks are among the album’s weakest, except for the insinuating “Sunrise.”
Jessica Nicholson: He explores some deeper lyrical themes on the new album — mortality on “Dyin’ Man,” forgiveness on “Don’t Think Jesus.” An ode to his mother, “Thought You Should Know,” landed Wallen a three-week Country Airplay No. 1, proving that fans will also relate to more family-centric material from him.
Andrew Unterberger: Like the title track on Dangerous, the title track on One Thing points compellingly towards a poppier, almost ’80s-sounding pocket for Wallen — still with the kind of clever wordplay and oft-weary outlook that fans have come to associate with his biggest hits. Along with the similarly breezy “Single Than She Was,” it’s a much-needed respite from some of the draggier material found throughout the set’s 36 tracks.
4. Though Wallen is far from the only major breakout country star of the streaming era, he is by far the best-performing. What’s something that you think sets him apart from the rest of the Nashville pack for modern audiences?
Jason Lipshutz: The combination of Wallen’s rugged vocals, knack for pop-adjacent hooks and self-styled outlaw (read: controversy-courting) persona has certainly helped turn him into a stadium headliner. Yet I believe the main reason he is now at the top of the genre is due to his understanding of streaming — staying prolific with his single releases, stacking his album track lists to pile up listens and chart records, and bringing country music, which abided by the rules of terrestrial radio long after pop and hip-hop had pivoted towards digital platforms, into a new era of the industry. In both his music and the way it’s released, Wallen carries himself like a new-school star.
Joe Lynch: The hefty tracklists help, but I think it’s selling him short to say “he only does better because his albums have more songs.” I can’t imagine most country A-listers’ fans embracing and returning to 30-plus track albums. Unlike most, Wallen seems commercial and authentically country at the same time. Sure, he flirts with sounds outside of the genre, but he feels and sounds grittier than the bro country singers who dominated for years, while still singing about a lot of their favorite themes (heartbreak, booze, God and mama).
Melinda Newman: The sheer output is the obvious answer, but he also seems extremely relatable to his audience and truly like one of them. When the industry temporarily “canceled” him after he was caught on video using a racial slur two years ago, many of his fans rallied around him and not just forgave him, but were proud to stand by him. Country audiences are notoriously loyal, but this was an unprecedented show of support that felt like it was as much for the man as for the music.
Jessica Nicholson: While several country artists have released multi-part albums, the majority of them have involved various parts of the album releasing over weeks and months, rather than all at once. As Wallen releases his prolific music simultaneously, it allows him to super-serve fervent fans. Several male artists are turning to songs that chronicle their lives—from getting married, settling down and raising children. Though Wallen is himself a father, his music, for the most part, seems to center on a hip-hop-tinged brand of country with a party-love-loss-whiskey rebound cycle that younger audiences are gravitating toward — with only a few key moments on the album, such as “Don’t Think Jesus” and “Dyin’ Man,” that venture outside the lines. He also has a down-to-earth, “everyman” image that audiences seem to relate with.
Andrew Unterberger: I think more than anything with Morgan Wallen, it’s the messiness that fans gravitate towards. At a time when the genre can seem smotheringly buttoned-up, and most of his peers in mainstream country stardom seem to have their s–t pretty well together both inside and outside of their music, Wallen’s cracks are almost always visible and/or audible. Sometimes that can be endearing, and other times it can be extremely off-putting — but it appears that whatever backlash his bad behavior and poor decision-making attracts from the non-country world just results in his fanbase doubling down on support of him. It’s not shocking: Most of the country community loves a (perceived) underdog, and they really don’t love being told what to do or think by folks on the outside.
5. Wallen is putting up pop star numbers currently, but he still doesn’t have a ton of pop world crossover success. Is that something you think he’ll try for in the next year or two, or do you think he sees himself better served simply staying as the biggest star in country?
Jason Lipshutz: Wallen will likely score a pop crossover in the future — I mean, if you’re a fledgling non-country artist who doesn’t care about a little controversy, why wouldn’t you want him hopping on one of your tracks and boosting its profile? But that day is still a little far off, because I’d guess that, outside of the country community, the reverberations of Wallen’s past transgressions still echo too loudly. For now, Wallen seems perfectly content ruling country music and letting his influence take hold of the pop charts, even as he’s not making pop music himself. He’s the king of his format currently, and we’ll see in the coming years where his ambitions lead.
Joe Lynch: Nah — I think it would be, if anything, a misstep, given that part of his appeal is that he seems less polished than some of his country compatriots who make more obvious overtures in the pop world. I could, however, see him notching a hit song akin to what Kid Rock did with Sheryl Crow on “Picture” – a one-off ballad that’s lyrically in his lane but easily serviced to the sonics of AC radio.
Melinda Newman: He is getting crossover play for “Last Night,” and given that pop powerhouse Republic is the label partner with Big Loud, the goal is, undoubtedly, to get him more and more crossover success. It will be interesting to see if pop audiences have any issues with his past or, like most country fans, care mainly about the music. It feels like Wallen is going to keep getting bigger and bigger in country, and also in crossing over.
Jessica Nicholson: Given that he has yet to win male artist/vocalist of the year and entertainer of the year at either of country music’s two most-lauded awards shows (though he was nominated for EOY at the 2022 CMA Awards and won album of the year at the 2022 ACM Awards), he is probably better served by remaining one of the biggest stars in country music for the for the next couple of years. With his juggernaut sales and touring success, he seems a likely winner in the male artist/vocalist and entertainer categories at some point.
Andrew Unterberger: I think Wallen’s team has been wise to not court too much affection from the pop world thus far — his country base is large enough that he (clearly) doesn’t need additional audiences to put up historic numbers, and the more attention Wallen receives from outside of Nashville, the more incidents like his past racial slur usage will be re-attached to his larger narrative. But the biggest artists (and the labels/teams that support them) are always looking to get bigger, and eventually the allure of something like a Grammys performance or a Drake duet will get tough to turn down. (And though it’s mostly a footnote in his career at this point, his Lil Durk collab from late 2021 suggests that the larger music world will be there and willing to open up to him if/when he chooses to walk through that door.)