Taylor Swift's Folklore is No. 1

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift

NEW YORK • A new Taylor Swift album usually arrives with a months-long marketing rollout: radio singles, corporate tie-ins, a string of media appearances - all carefully choreographed to send her to No. 1.

For her latest release, Folklore, Swift threw out almost her entire playbook, yet still rocketed to the top with sales that most artists can only dream of.

Folklore, which came out on July 24 with less than 24 hours' notice, opened at No. 1 on Billboard's latest album chart with a whopping 846,000 sales in the United States, according to Nielsen Music.

That is the third-highest weekly total for any album in four years, beaten only by Swift's last two albums: Reputation (1.2 million in 2017) and Lover (867,000 last year).

By comparison, Canadian rapper Drake's Scorpion, a monster streaming hit, opened with the equivalent of 732,000 sales in 2018, while American rapper Kendrick Lamar's Damn notched 603,000 the year before that.

Selling more than one million copies in a single week - once a Swift speciality - may no longer be possible in the streaming era, but through canny marketing, the 30-year-old singer-songwriter has kept her numbers as high as almost anyone can.

Folklore may also be one of the last blockbuster releases to take full advantage of one of Nielsen and Billboard's most contested rules, over the so-called bundling of albums - selling a copy of an album along with another item, such as merchandise or a concert ticket. Billboard is set to stop counting most of these deals in October.

When her album was announced, Swift's website was fully primed to deliver her album bundled with an array of deals for items such as a US$49 (S$67) cardigan and a US$15 phone stand.

In addition, Swift sold 17 physical versions of Folklore - eight CDs, eight LPs and a cassette tape - that surely lured large numbers of collectors and fans. Her 846,000 sales total is a composite number that includes 615,000 copies sold as a full album.

Yet, her surprise release strategy brought its own momentum and in the days after its release, it was a legitimate sensation online - as well as a critics' favourite, for the most part - that drew 290 million streams. The Folklore single, Cardigan, also debuted at No. 1 on Hot 100.

Swift managed to avoid one piece of potential competition in her opening week.

Most of the things I had planned this summer didn’t end up happening, but there is something I hadn’t planned on that DID happen. And that thing is my 8th studio album, folklore. Surprise 🤗Tonight at midnight I’ll be releasing my entire brand new album of songs I’ve poured all of my whims, dreams, fears, and musings into. I wrote and recorded this music in isolation but got to collaborate with some musical heroes of mine; @aarondessner (who has co-written or produced 11 of the 16 songs), @boniver (who co-wrote and was kind enough to sing on one with me), William Bowery (who co-wrote two with me) and @jackantonoff (who is basically musical family at this point). Engineered by Laura Sisk and Jon Low, mixed by Serban Ghenea & Jon Low. The album photos were shot by the amazing @bethgarrabrant. Before this year I probably would’ve overthought when to release this music at the ‘perfect’ time, but the times we’re living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed. My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world. That’s the side of uncertainty I can get on board with. Love you guys so much ♥️

Rapper Kanye West, her eternal celebrity nemesis, had announced a new album, Donda: With Child, for the same day, but so far, it has not materialised.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2020, with the headline 'Taylor Swift's Folklore is No. 1'. Print Edition | Subscribe