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'N Sync's "Celebrity'' Fleeting As "Now'' Bow Wows No. 1

The seemingly unsinkable ‘N Sync met their match in this week’s album rankings, as the teen phenoms ceded 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 75% in their sophomore session to 460,000 units, blunting the giddy optimism generated the prior week when the record bowed with sales of nearly 2 million units.

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 discs in the series still linger in the top 200, with Sony Music’s “Now 6” logging the best performance 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 AMinor.” 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 No. 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 music cabler 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 No. 29, Bilal’s “1st Born Second” (Interscope) at No. 31, and a surprisingly high bow from electronica duo the Crystal Method with “Tweekend” (Geffen) at No. 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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