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‘Now 7’ now ahead of ‘N Sync’s ‘Celebrity’

Teen phenoms sales drop more than 75%

The seemingly unsinkable ‘N Sync met its match in this week’s album rankings, as the teen phenoms ceded command of the top spot to the latest installment of blockbuster compilation series “Now That’s What I Call Music.”

Sales of ‘N Sync’s “Celebrity” (Jive) dove more than 75% in their sophomore sesh to 460,000, blunting the giddy optimism generated last week when the record bowed with sales of nearly 2 million units.

The move mirrors a similar set of second-week tumbles in weekend film grosses recently. Twentieth Century Fox’s “Planet of the Apes,” for example, fell 60% this week from its $60 million opening gross, and last week “Jurassic Park III” (Universal) logged a 56% drop from its bow.

Filling the void on the music charts at No. 1 was “Now 7” (Virgin), the latest in a series that has had a virtual lock on multiplatinum status since its inception. The seventh installment, which features tracks from such proven superstars as Janet Jackson, Destiny’s Child and, ironically, ‘N Sync, scanned more than 620,000 discs.

The last three LPs in the series still linger on the top 200, with Sony Music’s “Now 6” logging the best perf at 2.8 million units to date.

The duel of the hitmakers at the top overshadowed young R&B chanteuse Alicia Keys, who nevertheless managed to sell another 189,000 copies of her J Records debut “Songs in A Minor.” Keys’ sales have so far slipped less than 15% in her six weeks on the charts.

“Now 7” also eclipsed a clutch of other strong debuts in the top 20. “Duces n’ Trayz … Old Fashioned” (TVT/Doggystyle) by Snoop Dogg-fronted group the Eastsidaz landed in fourth place; “So Blu,” the debut from Arista diva Blu Cantrell, came in at eight; and the hip-hop flavored soundtrack to Jackie Chan actioner “Rush Hour 2” (Def Jam) hit the charts in the 11th spot.

“Anthology” (DreamWorks), the debut record from SoCal hard rock outfit Alien Ant Farm, got a nine-spot jump to 18 this week and a 20% boost in sales, as their infectious cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” garnered heavy play on both radio and cable net MTV2.

Among the other newbies making their way into this week’s debut-heavy rankings were “Dirty South” rapper Gangsta Boo’s “Both Worlds *69” (Loud/Sony) at 29, Bilal’s “1st Born Second” (Interscope) at 31, and a surprisingly high bow from electronica duo the Crystal Method with “Tweekend” (Geffen) at 32.

Next week could see yet another pitched battle between pop icons: Industry insiders say “8701” (Arista), the latest offering from R&B heartthrob Usher, stands a fighting chance of knocking “Now 7” out of the top spot. Also on deck are new records from pre-teen popster Aaron Carter and rockers Better Than Ezra.

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