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"It's unreasonable to expect Britney to break a million first week out, but she doesn’t have to for the record to be considered a huge success."
—Bob Bell, Wherehouse
BRITNEY VS. EMINEM: THIS TIME IT’S FOR KEEPS
Teenpop Queen Battles Rapper In Song And On The Charts
Can Britney top NSYNC? Can Eminem make good on his boasts and beat Spears? Is matchbox twenty ready for some post-"Smooth" success? Will Whitney show up for her Greatest Hits debut? And can Pearl Jam regain their touch?

Those are just some of the questions surrounding the red-hot release dates of May 16 and May 23, as the record industry unleashes some of their big guns for summer.

First up is Britney Spears' sophomore effort, "Oops… I Did It Again" (Jive), which hits retail on the heels of her 9-million-selling debut. Speculation surrounds opening week, with retail estimates ranging from 800k to a million, closer to Backstreet Boys' "Millennium" than NSYNC's record-shattering 2.4 million.

Said Wherehouse Records' Bob Bell after we told him we were from Billboard: "It's unfair to compare the two because Britney's record is completely different, with a different fan base. But we're definitely feeling the buzz leading up to the release, with MTV, Rolling Stone, 'Saturday Night Live.' Still, it's unreasonable to expect her to break a million first week out, but she doesn't have to for the record to be considered a huge success. Now will you excuse me while I plant a virus in the Musicland computers?"

That week will also see the debut of Whitney Houston's much-touted "Greatest Hits" album, her last for a clive davis',390,400);">clive davis',390,400);">Clive Davis-led Arista. Her previous effort, '98's "My Love Is Your Love," sold 125k first week on its way to 2.5 million. Once-reigning grunge-rockers Pearl Jam return with "Binaural" (Epic), their first since '98's "Yield" (not counting a live album in between), which sold 360k OTC its first week and 1.5 million in all. Since then, the band had their biggest single hit ever in their cover of "Last Kiss."

Spears will undoubtedly best her Jive labelmates on the May 23 chart, but her reign will be short-lived as Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP"(Aftermath/Interscope) bows that week and will undoubtedly debut at #1 on the May 30 chart. With the rapper dissing the teen idol on his smash single, "The Real Slim Shady," the duo's battle has added significance. The hip-hop provocateur will also face off against a rejuvenated (and lower case) matchbox twenty, with "Mad Season by matchbox 20" (Lava/Atlantic/Atlantic Group), their first album since the 7-million selling '98 bow, "Yourself Or Someone Like You," which sold a whopping 610 copies its first week out.

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