Tag Archives: Taylor Swift

Dollars, Sense and Soundtracks

A word or several about the reported $300-million+ that Bob Dylan reportedly will be getting from Universal Music Publishing Group for his catalog of 600+ songs, songs written from 1962 until now. That is $500,000 per song. Yes, some of them—“Blown’ In the Wind,” “The Times They Are a Changin’,”“Like a Rolling Stone,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”—are certainly well known. One assumes that there are many, many, many others whom only the most dedicated Dylan fan would know or even be aware of (as I am not the most dedicated Dylan fan, I’ll not name any).

While it does make one wonder whether he’d gotten a few more dollars were he to have used the “g” rather than the “’” in the title of some of his tunes, we’ll let that go. Dylan has sold some 125-million records during his career. If we look at this as being a 58-year career (starting in 1962), this would mean that Dylan has sold an average 2.1-million records per year.

The times certainly are changing. For example, according to numbers from Billboard, Taylor Swift’s Folklore has become the first—and only—album to sell more than a million times in 2020.

Since her self-titled album of 2006, there have been nine Swift albums that have sold more than a million copies.

These are:

Taylor Swift: 5.75 million
The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection: 1.08 million
Fearless: 7.21 million
Speak Now: 4.71 million
Red: 4.49 million
1989: 6.25 million
Reputation: 2.28 million
Lover: 1.22 million
Folklore: 1.04 million

That is a total 34.03-million albums during a 14-year period. Which means that Swift has sold an average of 2.4-million per year, just edging Dylan out.

To be fair to Ms. Swift, she is 30 years old. Dylan is 79. She, presumably, has a whole lot more music in her to come than he does. [Correction: Swift turned 31 yesterday. -ed.]

This might lead some of you to think that I am making a comparison between the two musicians, causing a certain level of apoplexy among you. Yes, while I am making a comparison, this is not a comparison of talent.

Rather, it is a comparison of numbers.

Continue reading Dollars, Sense and Soundtracks

Folklore Is Found in the Threads of Despair

…Driving in to Darlington County
Me and Wayne were quarantining since the Fourth of July
Driving in to Darlington County
Looking for any kinda work on the county line
We drove down from New York City
Where the pretty girls wearing’ masks just want to know your COVID history
Driving in to Darlington County
Got a connection for free testing with an uncle of Wayne’s
We drove 800 miles without seeing a temperature checkpoint
We got rock and roll music blasting off the T-top singing…

The hard truths of our American COVID moment are many, maddening, and bitter. Cases spiraling upward and spiking daily in towns, cities, counties and states; a mortality rate in the hundreds of thousands; an economy in tatters and the average person isolated, masked, and desperately shifting their weight on uncertain ground. From barbecues to ballgames, fancy graduations to informal get togethers, the course of everyday life in America has careened off course into unknown territory. The numbers are scary, the danger is real, and the only thing anybody knows for sure is that nothing is for sure, and none of us will ever be the same again.

The fact of the virus as the arbiter of our new American reality is sobering enough. Its effect on our institutions of leisure, the games we watch and play, and the arts that we hold dear has been a bewildering leveling agent. Basketball? In a bubble. Baseball? Getting by, barely. Summer movie release schedules? Decimated. And music — for so many of us, the guiding factor throughout the year, but the brightest of lines in Summer, when traipsing around boffo music festivals, seeing sets outside at street fairs, and reveling in sweaty rock club moments form a kind of idyll — music is facing its own peril as both an economic system and an art form built from shared experience. What does music look like when it wears COVID’s scars?

…It’s a long day, locked down in Reseda
There’s a community testing site out in the front yard
I’m a bad boy, ‘cause I didn’t practice proper distancing
I’m a bad boy, for bringing it here…

On June 23rd, Taylor Swift surprised the world with the announcement of Folklore, her eighth studio album. The set was conceived of, written and recorded entirely in quarantine after the singer and songwriter’s plans for a tour in support of her 2019 record Lover were blown apart by the virus. For Swift, the pandemic’s altering effect on her business model offered a unique opportunity for creativity, one which lent a new intimacy and earthiness to her music, received critical appreciation for her stylistic and economic pivot, and netted positive returns in the all-important social media news cycle. The pandemic sucks, but people still love a surprise.

For the folklorists and musicians Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, the pandemic hit as hard as an early March tornado that nearly destroyed their home base and recording studio in Nashville, Tenn. As performers and gigging musicians whose money is often made on the road, it was natural to drop a new set of demos for the heads (Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs, Vol. 1) and use the lockdown to record the Americana covers set All The Good Times.

“Music has some things that only music can do in a time like this,” Rawlings explained to Rolling Stone. “With folk songs, every person has put a little bit of their DNA into what becomes the bloodstream of that song, and the culture and time period they came out of usually did also.”

“[Playing these songs] in a time of isolation and reflection, it’s almost like all those people are there.”

Exploring the spinal fluid of what makes a folk song live seems especially important in a period like this COVID journey, when our modes of living are realigning and sickness, death, and fear are in too high supply.

In the stark, melancholy and achingly emotive world he created for “Highway Patrolman” from 1982’s bleakly rewarding Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen tells a tale of two brothers torn by loyalties and a love triangle. “Me and Franky laughing and drinking, nothing feels better than blood on blood,” he sings. And the brothers take turns dancing with Maria, as the band plays “Night of the Johnstown Flood.” While no such folk song seems to exist, with the reference Springsteen alludes to a catastrophic 1889 dam failure just upstream from Johnstown, Pennsylvania that killed over 2,200 people and more than $17 million in damages, or nearly $500 million in 2020 money. The Johnstown Flood was the worst loss of civilian life in US history, a grim title it held until the devastating Galveston hurricane of 1900 and, later, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. What will the coming folkloric record chronicle about this tragedy of our time, this unseen flood, and its even more profound toll in lives and destruction?

JTL

Taylor breaks a million for the fourth time

Three years ago this month, we reminded everybody that Selling a Million Albums in a Week is a Big Deal after Taylor Swift released 1989 and sold 1.287 million. At that time only 18 other albums had hit that mark since Soundscan began tracking sales in 1991.

Before Swift’s new album, Reputation, sold 1.216 million last week, only one more album had sold more than a million: Adele’s 25. And 25 crushed all sales records, selling 3.378 million copies in its debut week, 1.112 million in its second week, and 1.157 million in its fifth (Christmas). Which was historically bonkers. Since then, nobody’s come close and nobody probably ever will.

But 1.216 million is still a lot of albums. And those are sales. In just the United States. 709,000 digital albums and 507,000 CDs (no vinyl yet). As Billboard points out, that’s the “10th-largest sales week for any album since Nielsen Music began electronically tracking sales.” In fact, it sold 1.05 million copies in the first four days. That is a dedicated fanbase.

If you factor in streaming and track downloads, it moved 1.238 million equivalent album units (not much more because she’s holding it off streaming services for now).

Continue reading Taylor breaks a million for the fourth time

Number One Records: Look What You Made Me Do

Hey everybody, remember this column? It’s understandable if you don’t. It’s been 16 weeks since we had a new number one record in America.

Who would have guessed that “Despacito” would spend the entire summer at the top of the chart? After all, 16 weeks ties the all-time record for the most weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100. And before that, we had four new number one records in four weeks, which was the first time that had happened since 1990.

It was starting to look like “Despacito” might never be unseated. But then, all of a sudden, new T-Swizz!

Video: Taylor Swift – “Look What You Made Me Do”

Taylor Swift - Look What You Made Me Do

From Reputation, due November 10 on Big Machine.

People have lots to say whenever Taylor Swift does anything. There are a couple of obvious reasons for this. First of all, she is a provocative artist who does interesting things. Additionally, haters are compelled to hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Either way, she is a ridiculously successful artist who guarantees eyeballs and everybody wants a piece of that action. So it goes.

In some ways it doesn’t even matter what the music sounds like. There are plenty of trappings to focus on when it comes Taylor Swift™ (and pop music in general). But how’s it sound?

Pretty cool actually. A sparse 808 beat with spooky piano and strings. It builds up to some drama-drama in the pre-chorus, and then the chorus switches gears with a stripped down interpolation of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy.” Who knows why, but it must have been worth it to give away 12.5% of the songwriting credit (but none of the publishing) to a couple washed up one-hit wonders. She moves in mysterious ways.

Continue reading Number One Records: Look What You Made Me Do

Selling a Million Albums in a Week is a Big Deal

Taylor Swift has sold 1,287,000 copies of 1989 in its first week of release. That’s a lot of albums. Only 18 other albums have managed to move a million copies in a week since 1991 when SoundScan started tracking sales.

And that 1.287 million isn’t even counting everybody in the U.S. who legally purchased 1989. Microsoft was selling the album for 99 cents via its new Music Deals app, but none of those sales are counted. (Billboard’s Keith Caulfield confirmed this to me in a tweet.) We may never know how many additional albums were sold this way. I can personally vouch for one sale.

First week album sales are a measure of true fandom. Real fans get excited to support their favorite artists, and the number of selfies with the 1989 CD on Instagram is anachronistically hilarious. I wonder if half of those kids even own a CD player. Doesn’t matter. They need it.

It’s sometimes tough to remember that even back before Spotify, YouTube, the Pirate Bay, and Napster, it was still rare as hell for an album to break that million/week point. In the first seven years of SoundScan tracking, only one album managed it: The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1993. After that it was almost six more years before another album did it: Garth Brooks’ Double Live at the end of 1998.

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Kanye Sells Less Than Half of Taylor

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted FantasyWhile last month his arch-nemesis Taylor Swift moved over a million units of her new album in its debut week, poor old Kanye West failed to generate even half that much business. This, despite an aggressive Amazon MP3 campaign that priced My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at $3.99 and gave away a $3 coupon, effectively selling the album for less than a buck. Stilll though, half a million is hardly anything to shake a stick at; in fact, it’s the fourth-best sales week of 2010. So congratulations are still in order. Billboard 200:

1. Kanye West – “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” – 496,000 (incl. 224,000 downloads; debut)

2. Nicki Minaj – “Pink Friday” – 375,000 (debut)

3. Susan Boyle – “The Gift” – 263,000 (down 21%)

4. Taylor Swift – “Speak Now” – 241,000 (up 64%)

5. Jackie Evancho – “O Holy Night” – 142,000 (down 41%)

6. Rihanna – “Loud” – 141,000 (down 32%)

7. Justin Bieber – “My Worlds Acoustic” – 115,000 (Wal-Mart exclusive; debut)

8. My Chemical Romance – “Danger Days: the True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys” – 112,000 (debut)

9. Ne-Yo – “Libra Scale” – 112,000 (debut)

10. “Glee” Christmas – 108,000 (down 33%)

Continue reading Kanye Sells Less Than Half of Taylor

Taylor Swift Proves You Can Still Sell a Lot of Records

Taylor Swift - Speak NowA million albums sold. In a week. That’s a lot. Only 15 other albums have sold that many in a week since SoundScan started tracking sales in 1991. Billboard points out that “Speak Now accounted for 18% of all albums sold last week (5.80 million) — or, one out of every sixth set purchased. The album sold more than the Nos. 2-62 albums combined on this week’s Billboard 200 chart.” That’s nuts. Here’s the rest of the Top Ten this week, which looks pretty pathetic in comparison…

1. Taylor Swift – “Speak Now” – 1,047,000 (debut)

2. Sugarland – “The Incredible Machine” – 89,000 (down 56%)

3. Kings of Leon – “Come Around Sundown” – 67,000 (down 63%)

4. Lil Wayne – “I Am Not a Human Being” – 43,000 (down 33%)

5. Eminem – “Recovery” – 38,000 (down 12%; cume: 2.9 million)

6. Elton John and Leon Russell – “The Union” – 37,000 (down 54%)

7. “Glee: Rocky Horror Glee Show” soundtrack – 31,000 (down 35%)

8. Rod Stewart – “Fly Me to the Moon” – 30,000 (down 62%)

9. Darius Rucker – “Charleston, SC 1966” – 27,000 (down 26%)

10. Michael Bublé – “Hollywood” EP – 26,000 (debut)

See below for information on where all of these Taylor Swift fans bought their copy, and how her (independent!) label, Big Machine, convinced a million people to fork over money for this album…

Continue reading Taylor Swift Proves You Can Still Sell a Lot of Records