For almost a decade now, Taylor Swift has defined the contemporary blockbuster music release, with four albums — from “Speak Now” in 2010 to “Reputation” in 2017 — that each opened with more than a million sales.
With her latest, “Lover,” charming critics and fans alike, there was no question that Swift would arrive head and shoulders above all else. But with the music world now almost entirely reshaped by streaming, the industry at large has been watching Swift’s sales closely. Could she still sell a million records?
The answer, it turned out, was no. But even so, “Lover” still set a new bar for success in a rapidly changing market.
“Lover” opened at No. 1 on Billboard album chart with the equivalent of 867,000 sales in the United States in its opening week, according to Nielsen, a figure that incorporates both sales and streaming information.
That may have been far from the 1,216,000 opening for “Reputation,” but it was also the largest number since. Its streaming total — 225 million — was also relatively modest for such a high-profile pop release; Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next,” for example, started with 307 million in February.
But in a vastly diminished market of sales for CDs and downloads, Swift was still able to move a remarkable number of albums. Nielsen credits 679,000 sales of “Lover” as a complete album, a nearly impossible sum these days — all 199 other titles on the Billboard 200 this week sold only 361,000 copies combined.
“Lover” is also Swift’s first release since signing to Republic Records, an imprint of the giant Universal Music Group, in a deal that gave Swift ownership of her master recordings — a treasured deal point, as she later revealed.
As usual, Swift was the industry’s most brazen and strategic self-marketer. For months, she gave away downloads of the album with sales of merchandise on her website. She lined up corporate partnerships with Capital One and Amazon. She sold four collector’s editions of the album at Target stores, and tweeted pictures of her fans proudly snapping up all of them.
Tactics like those helped Swift sell 375,000 CDs at a time when young listeners have nearly abandoned the format. According to MusicWatch, a market research firm, just 15 percent of 13-to-24-year-olds listen to CDs, down from 39 percent two years ago.
“The fact that anyone can sell CDs to the younger age segment is a testament to their fanship,” said Russ Crupnick, MusicWatch’s managing partner. “I don’t think there’s another artist out there who goes to the lengths to create engagement and connection with her fan base.”
Also on the album chart this week, Young Thug’s “So Much Fun” fell one spot to No. 2; Brockhampton’s new “Ginger” opened at No. 3, and Jeezy’s “TM104: The Legend of the Snowman” started at No. 4; and Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You” is No. 5.