Taylor Swift during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on Monday, October 24, 2022
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Taylor Swift’s “Midnights” may have disappointed indie-folk fans of her previous albums, but broke several sales and streaming records in its release week, including taking all of the top 10 spots on the chart. Billboard Hot 100, Swift’s tenth album is her biggest hit to date, breaking the record for biggest overall week for any album, by equivalent album units, in just four days.
“The results speak for themselves. She’s as popular as she’s ever been,” said George Howard, music economics professor at Berklee College of Music. “She’s creating this kind of frenzy among a significant number of fans.”
Five years ago, Swift’s “Reputation” had the biggest sales week in the United States in terms of traditional album sales with 1.216 million copies sold. “Midnights” broke that record in just four days.
It’s not like Swift’s previous albums haven’t been successful. On the contrary, its number of streams has steadily increased over the years as the streaming industry has captured a greater share of the music listener market. Last fall, “Red (Taylor’s Version)” reached 90.8 million streams the day of its release and broke Spotify’s record for the most streamed album in one day by a female artist. The previous record was 78.7 million streams, held by Swift’s “Folklore.” With “Midnights,” Swift once again broke her own record, hitting 185 million streams on the day of its release.
What was it about “Midnights” that made it the pop star’s biggest hit to date, and why did it take Swift four new albums to break her own record?
In her acceptance speech for Video of the Year for “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (of The Vault)” at the VMAs in August, Swift surprised the world by announcing that she released her brand new album “Midnights” on October 21st. Fans expected Swift’s next release to be another re-recording of one of her previous albums, as her last two albums were re-recordings with “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” released in April 2021 and “Red ( Taylor’s Version)” in November 2021. The fact that she broke that release pattern and announced a new album at an awards show, which she had never done before, created a lot of buzz. initial around “Midnights”.
But in several other ways, Swift set a new standard by recalling the past and some of its own past best practices.
Back on social media with ‘Swifties’
Swift disappeared from the public eye for a year following her 2016 feud with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Not only did she stop making public appearances, but she also took a total break from social media. Her absence came as a big shock to fans, who from the release of “1989” were used to Swift logging into Tumblr every night to interact with her fans.
Swift’s social media presence dwindled further before the release of “Reputation,” when she deleted all of her social media posts and unfollowed everyone. Four days later, the singer posted a video of a snake foreshadowing the release of her soon-to-be-announced album. When the “reputation” era began, Swift gradually started posting again, but the social media presence she once maintained was much smaller. The cat photos, fan chats and witty comments that once flooded Swift’s social media accounts were gone. The surprise releases of “Folklore” and “Evermore” received virtually no messages from the star on social media.
Diana Kovalonok, left, and Angelina Damiano sing one of Taylor Swift’s hits at a listening party for her new album, “Midnights,” in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 .
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Swift’s announcement of “Midnights” prompted a shift in this more low-key social media stance. Following the VMAs surprise, Swift made sure not to let the buzz die down in the seven weeks leading up to her album’s release, posting behind-the-scenes looks from the album’s making to “Midnights Mayhem With Me”. TikToks where she revealed track titles one by one. Suddenly it feels like 2015 all over again for fans as Swift is posting virtually every day and interacting with fans.
“She’s a very smart marketer at keeping her distance from her fans while making them feel connected to her by spreading these cues…and it sounds like dialogue,” Howard said.
Merge collectibles and vinyl
Swift also launched a massive line of merchandise leading up to the release of ‘Midnights’, which specifically boosted sales of a category which, at present, is associated more with niche genres than pop stars. : vinyl albums. In addition to the $75 hoodies, four different colored vinyl albums are offered for sale with different covers and a unique record color, ranging from moonstone blue to jade green to mahogany and the blood moon, priced at $30. For fans who collect all four vinyl albums and line them up together, the back covers ring midnight. There’s also the “Taylor Swift Midnights Vinyl Clock”, which when assembled holds the four vinyl albums together to act as a working clock, becoming an essential collectible for its fans, known as the Swifties.
Swift broke vinyl album records by reaching nearly 500,000 copies the day of its release, three times more than Harry Styles’ “Harry’s House” sold in its first week. At a time when vinyl sales are back on a steady rise, Luminate, the entertainment data company that powers the Billboard charts, announced that “Midnights” had the biggest sales week for a vinyl album since it was released. began tracking music sales in 1991.
According to Luminate’s “US Midyear Report for 2022”, current sales of vinyl albums – music releases that are less than 18 months old – are up 27.4%. By contrast, sales of catalog vinyl albums — music releases 18 months or older — have fallen 8.4% since 2021.
The demographics of vinyl buyers also help explain the strong vinyl album sales “Midnights” is experiencing. Gen Z now accounts for 34% of female vinyl buyers, according to Luminate. Audience intelligence platform calculates that around 55% of Swift’s global audience is female and just under 60% are between 13 and 24 years old.
“When you consider that alongside the continued growth of streaming, which is up 11.6% in the first half of 2022 compared to the first half of 2021, and its accessibility, you have millions of fans consuming a very expected from an artist as big as Swift in many ways, leading to week one numbers like the ones we’re seeing,” said Rob Jonas, CEO of Luminate.
back to pop
Winning album of the year at the Grammys for her indie folk and alt-rock album “Folklore” wasn’t enough to keep Swift away from pop music. Swift experimented with this new folk sound throughout 2020 on sister albums “Folklore” and “Evermore” and collaborated with bands like Bon Iver and The National. But with “Midnights,” she’s back in her pop comfort zone.
“She has done a great job of expressing herself through various genres of authentic songwriting and fan engagement. She is as truthful a storyteller and creative artist as she is an authentic person in terms of how she engages with her fans. I think she’s proven that time and time again,” said Larry Miller, director of New York University Steinhardt’s music business program.
All 13 tracks on “Midnights” were produced by Swift and her longtime friend Jack Antonoff, who first collaborated with the singer on her fifth studio album “1989.” Experimenting with an atmospheric synth-pop style with hints of R&B, “Midnights” marks a revival of Swift’s catchy pop-style songwriting from which she has moved away in recent years.
“I’d be surprised if it’s not number 1 or 2 of the biggest records of the year as of December 31,” Miller said.
Swift’s first tour in nearly five years
Announcing her sixth tour, “Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour,” on Tuesday, Swift is ready to hit the road again for the first time in nearly five years. Part of that is due to the pandemic.
Prior to the release of “Midnights,” fans suspected that Swift would soon announce her upcoming tour, after Covid discontinued her typical bi-annual touring pattern developed early in her career. The release of four new albums and two re-recordings since her last tour has also given Swift a much larger discography to support on tour. The upcoming tour, by name, is meant to highlight all the different eras of his career rather than just “Midnights”.
The tour won’t begin until spring 2023, but it’s likely that Swift’s tour announcement will help give “Midnights” streams and sales an extra boost, as the album’s release week coming to an end.
“As someone in her place, she has to have a kind of consistent drip approach to stay in the public eye. Touring is the traditional way to do it. When you’re on the road, it’s not just the live shows, it’s the halo around it,” Howard said.
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