Swift Kick: For Country’s New Teen Megastar, Every Song’s A Hit
In the annals of popular music, certain albums stand out for their sheer percentage of hit-bound material. Michael Jackson’s Thriller is the most famous, not just because it spun off seven Top 10 singles—the first album to do so—but because the whole disc had only nine tracks. That’s a stunning 78% hit ratio. Shania Twain’s Come on Over, roughly 70% of which charted on the country and pop charts over the course of two years, is nearly as legendary. More recently, Rihanna has mined just over half of Good Girl Gone Bad for a string of hits.
Normally, feats like these are the result of months of patient promotion, as singles are promoted one by one—lined up for release to radio like planes on a slow-moving runway.
When you’re an 18-year-old country-pop phenomenon, however, things move a lot faster.
For the first time in months, the most oft-recurring name on Billboard‘s Hot 100 isn’t ubiquitous rapper Lil Wayne. It’s Taylor Swift, who appears with seven songs this week, six of them brand-new to the chart.
We’ve seen this chart ubiquity happen several times this year—not just with Weezy but with American Idol winner David Cook and the Jonas Brothers. What’s unprecedented is just how much of an individual Swift album has now made the chart.
Eat your heart out, Michael: just one week after it debuted in stores, Swift’s Fearless is 85% hit.
To be clear: 11 out of the 13 songs on Swift’s sophomore disc—which only went on sale two Tuesdays ago—have reached the Hot 100. With the exception of the one song that’s a huge country-radio hit (“Love Story,” No. 1 at Hot Country Songs for a second week), every last one of these “hits” made its chart debut thanks to digital sales, not airplay.
Swift’s Universal Music Group-distributed label Big Machine decided last summer to launch the album with a string of prerelease digital singles, mimicking the approach used to great effect by Lil Wayne and the Jonas Brothers.
For the Jonases, Disney conducted a coordinated battle plan over the summer, issuing a series of prerelease iTunes singles—four in total—every two weeks leading up to their August album debut. But Swift did her ex-boyfriend Joe Jonas one better, dropping five songs between August and late October.
With rabid teen fanbases, both the Jonases and Swift did extremely well on the charts: all four of the boys’ prelease singles, and all five of hers, debuted within the Top 20 of the Hot 100, with first-week iTunes sales totals above 100,000. For Swift, all five of these hits— “Change,” “Love Story,” “Fearless,” “You’re Not Sorry” and “You Belong With Me”—peaked at higher positions than her previous pop-chart high-water mark, set earlier this year by the No. 13 pop crossover hit “Teardrops on My Guitar.” Most of the songs proved to be short-lived “hits,” but the point was to make a splash and set up the album, not score long-lasting hit singles.
The plan worked like a charm: Fearless just debuted on the album chart this week at No. 1, with sales of nearly 600,000, the year’s best total for a country album (and a higher total than the squeal-worthy Jonases pulled with their disc).
But in a sign of how insatiable Swift’s fanbase is for her new diary entries, she’s still scoring insta-hits after her album’s release. Her six debuts this week don’t beat any records; Miley Cyrus alter ego Hannah Montana pulled a similar number of debuts a couple of years ago. But there’s no precedent in chart history for an act to score that many debuts after already scoring five more in the months immediately prior.
So, just for the record, here are all of Swift’s chart hits from the Fearless album, with highest chart position in parentheses (in all cases except “Love Story,” the peak position came in the song’s debut week). This week’s six debuts are listed last:
“Change” (No. 10) “Love Story” (No. 5) “Fearless” (No. 9) “You’re Not Sorry” (No. 11) “You Belong with Me” (No. 12) “White Horse” (No. 13) “Forever & Always” (No. 49) “The Way I Loved You” (No. 72) “Fifteen” (No. 79) “Breathe” (No. 87) “Hey Stephen” (No. 94)
Swift’s 11-for-13 score from a single album was, until this week, unimaginable even for a superstar like Michael Jackson. (Makes me wonder: How lame are those last two songs? I guess “Tell Me Why” and “The Best Day” will go down as Fearless’ versions of “Baby Be Mine” and “The Lady in My Life.”) On the Digital Songs list, 10 tracks from Swift’s new album appear, with download totals ranging from 11,000 for “You Belong with Me” to 124,000 for “White Horse.”
Obviously, as I’ve said here before, the strange song economy created by iTunes—where any song for sale, including an unpromoted album cut, is capable of charting—has upended our entire notion of what a “hit” is.
But I also think this event says something about the fluidity with which a younger generation consumes music. Nearly 600,000 people paid full price for Swift’s album last week, both in stores and online; but in the same period, nearly as many people (about 400,000) spent 99 cents for one of her songs instead. Are they building the album a buck at a time? If they’re under 18, it’s likely that they are. (Although in this freaky economy, it’s also possible some adult fans are buying Fearless on the installment plan).
In the last couple of decades, we’ve seen the album as one-hit-wonder, and its opposite, the album as multi-single aircraft carrier—from Michael to Madonna to Shania. Perhaps Taylor Swift represents another new model entirely: the album as buffet.
Here’s a rundown of the rest of this week’s charts:
• Remember when I said a couple of weeks ago that Beyoncé stood a good chance of scoring another Top 10 hit, the week after her album dropped? Looks like she’s about to do better than that: “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” currently No. 28 on the Hot 100, is poised to leap to No. 1 next week. That would pull it ahead of its sister single, the No. 3–peaking “If I Were a Boy.”
In the weeklong promotional push for her album release, B has been flogging both songs anyplace that will have her, including Saturday Night Live and the finale of MTV’s TRL. The difference is, “Boy” has been available as a digital single for weeks, while “Ladies” only became available this Tuesday, when I Am…Sasha Fierce landed on iTunes.
Just as we saw in September with T.I. and Rihanna’s “Live Your Life,” which surged when T.I.’s album hit iTunes, pent-up demand works like a charm—as of this writing, “Ladies” is already iTunes’ top-selling song. And “Ladies” has “Boy” beat at radio, too: the former is now the eighth most-played song across genres, leapfrogging over the latter, which is stalled in 11th place in spins. As a kind of appetizer for her predicted Hot 100 triumph, “Ladies” this week reaches the top of another major chart: Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, where it becomes her fifth solo No. 1.
You might have expected a torchy ballad like “Boy” to do better at radio and iTunes. What gave the uptempo jam “Ladies” the edge? Was it the Robot-Sasha hand? All things being equal, I have to give it to Samberg and Timberlake.
• By leaping into the Modern Rock Top 10 with “Love Hurts”—a late-breaking single from a two-year-old album—Incubus joins very elite company. This is their 12th visit to the winners’ circle, placing Incubus among the 10 acts with the most Top 10s in this chart’s 20-year history. In case you’re curious, here’s the list as it now stands, with each band’s number of Modern Rock Top 10s in parentheses:
U2 (22) Red Hot Chili Peppers (20) Green Day (17) Smashing Pumpkins (17) Foo Fighters (15) The Offspring (15) Pearl Jam (15) R.E.M. (15) Incubus (12) Linkin Park (12)
The one way Incubus has all the rest of these bands beat? Consistency. Only one of their 13 charting Modern Rock hits missed the Top 10. (That would be 2005’s “Make a Move,” which peaked at No. 17 and appeared on the soundtrack to the summer megabomb Stealth.)
• It’s been available to radio stations for a month now, but the decision to make “Chinese Democracy” available on iTunes finally brings Guns N’ Roses back to the Hot 100, as sales of 57,000 result in a No. 34 debut. As Al Shipley noted, the title track of the year’s most shocking album release has emerged as a solid rock-radio hit, but that airplay isn’t enough to register on the all-genre Hot 100 Airplay list yet.
For the record, “Chinese” is Guns’ first appearance on the big pop chart since 1994, when the band’s ill-advised cover of “Sympathy for the Devil” peaked at No. 55. (That was from the soundtrack to the Tom Cruise–Brad Pitt vehicle Interview with the Vampire.) And by debuting in the 30s, “Chinese” is the band’s first Top 40 hit since 1992, when “November Rain” peaked at No. 3.
Top 10s Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses (Digital Songs chart includes total downloads/percentage change in parentheses):
Hot 100 1. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 1, 8 weeks) 2. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 2, 15 weeks) 3. Beyoncé, “If I Were a Boy” (LW No. 5, 6 weeks) 4. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 3, 16 weeks) 5. Pink, “So What” (LW No. 6, 13 weeks) 6. Kevin Rudolf feat. Lil Wayne, “Let It Rock” (LW No. 8, 12 weeks) 7. Britney Spears, “Womanizer” (LW No. 7, 7 weeks) 8. Akon, “Right Now (Na Na Na)” (LW No. 10, 8 weeks) 9. Kanye West, “Love Lockdown” (LW No. 13, 9 weeks) 10. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (LW No. 9, 31 weeks)
Hot Digital Songs 1. Beyoncé, “If I Were a Boy” (LW No. 4, 170,000 downloads) 2. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 2, 168,000 downloads) 3. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 7, 130,000 downloads) 4. Kevin Rudolf feat. Lil Wayne, “Let It Rock” (LW No. 5, 128,000 downloads) 5. Taylor Swift, “White Horse” (CHART DEBUT, 124,000 downloads) 6. Britney Spears, “Womanizer” (LW No. 6, 121,000 downloads) 7. Kanye West, “Heartless” (LW No. 1, 119,000 downloads) 8. Akon, “Right Now (Na Na Na)” (LW No. 8, 116,000 downloads) 9. Kanye West, “Love Lockdown” (LW No. 11, 112,000 downloads) 10. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 9, 103,000 downloads)
Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (LW No. 5, 6 weeks) 2. T.I. feat. Rihanna, “Live Your Life” (LW No. 4, 10 weeks) 3. Ne-Yo, “Miss Independent” (LW No. 1, 17 weeks) 4. Jennifer Hudson, “Spotlight” (LW No. 2, 27 weeks) 5. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 3, 18 weeks) 6. Jazmine Sullivan, “Bust Your Windows” (LW No. 9, 10 weeks) 7. T-Pain feat. Lil Wayne, “Can’t Believe It,” (LW No. 6, 19 weeks) 8. Lil Wayne feat. Bobby Valentino, “Mrs. Officer” (LW No. 7, 20 weeks) 9. Jazmine Sullivan, “Need U Bad” (LW No. 8, 29 weeks) 10. John Legend feat. Andre 3000, “Green Light” (LW No. 10, 13 weeks)
Hot Country Songs 1. Taylor Swift, “Love Story” (LW No. 1, 10 weeks) 2. Zac Brown Band, “Chicken Fried” (LW No. 2, 22 weeks) 3. Montgomery Gentry, “Roll with Me” (LW No. 5, 17 weeks) 4. Tim McGraw, “Let It Go” (LW No. 3, 18 weeks) 5. Sugarland, “Already Gone” (LW No. 6, 12 weeks) 6. Rascal Flatts, “Here” (LW No. 7, 11 weeks) 7. Carrie Underwood, “Just a Dream” (LW No. 4, 19 weeks) 8. Brad Paisley with Keith Urban, “Start a Band” (LW No. 8, 10 weeks) 9. Craig Morgan, “Love Remembers” (LW No. 12, 28 weeks) 10. Bucky Covington, “I’ll Walk” (LW No. 11, 30 weeks)
Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. The Offspring, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” (LW No. 1, 17 weeks) 2. Kings of Leon, “Sex on Fire” (LW No. 2, 13 weeks) 3. Apocalyptica feat. Adam Gontier, “I Don’t Care” (LW No. 4, 20 weeks) 4. Rise Against, “Re-Education (Through Labor)” (LW No. 3, 13 weeks) 5. Weezer, “Troublemaker” (LW No. 5, 19 weeks) 6. The Killers, “Human” (LW No. 6, 8 weeks) 7. Shinedown, “Second Chance” (LW No. 7, 9 weeks) 8. Incubus, “Love Hurts” (LW No. 16, 5 weeks) 9. Metallica, “The Day That Never Comes” (LW No. 8, 13 weeks) 10. Theory of a Deadman, “Bad Girlfriend” (LW No. 9, 22 weeks)