(October 6, 2019). This was supposed to be Taylor Swift’s autumn.
Her new album Lover came with all the fanfare and media blitzing that new Taylor Swift albums always do.
There were Easter eggs dropped, awards show appearances, newsworthy beefs with former label affiliates, magazine cover stories, and not one but two very high-profile, buzzworthy pre-release singles (“ME!” and “You Need To Calm Down”) with videos that went instantly viral upon their releases this spring.
And Lover itself is a good album, one that returned Taylor Swift to the style of storytelling in music that gained her fame and millions of Swifties from the beginning.
But to say the singles from Lover are underperforming would be putting it mildly.
All eighteen songs from the album appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 after the album’s release five weeks ago, not unexpected given Taylor’s still huge fan base that immediately streams anything new from Taylor on repeat, or who downloads her tracks in droves on Day 1 to populate their own digital playlists (assuming people still even do that).
But as of two weeks ago, the only two Lover songs that remained on the chart were the album’s title track and one of the two pre-release singles.
“Lover,” the single, was touted as the album’s third official release, complete with a multi-color video depicting the various moods of Taylor’s past eras. The song itself is a sweet throwback to a bygone time when romance ruled lyrics and waltz beats could still be found in pop songs.
But after “Lover” peaked in the top ten for one week following Swift’s performance of it on the MTV VMAs, the song has made a swift (pun intended) descent down the charts and has languished in the 40s the past three weeks, moving 49-46 on the latest Hot 100.
The other Lover song still on the chart is “You Need To Calm Down,” Swift’s LGBTQ+ friendly bop that is turning out to be the album’s biggest hit. The song debuted at No. 2 in June and rebounded to No. 4 – the highest ranked of the 18 tracks – following the album’s release in August.
Since then it has remained in the top 30, falling this week from 21-23, after just 15 weeks on the chart.
Neither “Lover” nor “Calm Down” are setting pop radio on fire, either, with “Calm” about to exit the mainstream top 40 radio airplay list (Top Pop Songs) at No. 39, while “Lover” barely peaked into the top 20 on that chart a couple weeks ago and is already slipping at No. 21.
So what gives? Why aren’t fans – or radio for that matter – embracing Taylor’s new songs the way they have in past album release cycles?
The album is still at a respectable No. 4 on the album list, after debuting at No. 1 just over a month ago with the year’s highest sales total to date (and no one else will likely top it). This suggests that people are either still buying the album as a whole, or the tracks are collectively being streamed and downloaded just enough to keep the album afloat, even if the songs don’t have enough numbers to sustain themselves individually.
After Swift’s SNL performance Saturday night, which included a down-key, green room, green piano, green everything performance of “Lover,” plus an interesting live debut of “False God” (will that be the next single?), the album could get a boost and maybe even return to the top.
“Lover” is sure to rebound on the singles charts following the SNL exposure because, well, even though the song has been around for weeks and presumably everyone who wants it already has it, any exposure is good exposure.
Who knows, “False God” might even re-enter the Hot 100 as a result of the late-night performance.
But true smash hits are songs that sustain themselves beyond high profile TV appearances or other event-driven boosts that propel them up the list. For instance, the current No. 1 single “Truth Hurts” by this year’s it-girl Lizzo has remained at the top for five straight weeks – with 13 consecutive weeks in the top ten…a whole month or more after her buzzy performance of it at the VMAs.
Many others of this year’s biggest hits have lasted in the top ten for 20 weeks or more, even 30-plus weeks in some cases (Post Malone and Swae Lee’s “Sunflower,” and Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode” both logged more than 30 top-10 weeks before exiting the region this year).
I’m sure the folks at Taylor’s label Republic Records weren’t expecting this outcome for Lover, particularly that, going on two months after the album’s release, the highest-ranking single is one that’s been around since June, and it’s only in the 20s while the others, sans “Lover,” aren’t doing anything.
The folks at Republic have to be scratching their heads on this one. After all, their highest-profile artist – and arguably the biggest pop star on the planet – just released one of her most critically acclaimed albums (it’s got a 97% favorable Google rating; Rolling Stone called it a career-capping masterpiece) only to have it yield so few hits.
But Taylor may need to look no further than her own Swiftie fan base to find the answer to this musical mystery.
Often the same fans that grow up with an artist grow out of the artist, or at least they grow out of the same music consumption patterns that they had as teenagers or younger adults, when it was nothing to stream the same songs and albums on a loop or download a favorite tune in multiple configurations.
This is especially true of pop teen idols who, like Taylor, collect fans when they’re young and sing about issues they can relate to, often from similar-age perspectives.
But let’s face it, Taylor at 30 doesn’t speak to the tender soul of a 16-year-old the way Taylor at 16 did, despite the lyrical innocence in songs like “Lover” and maybe a few others on the new album. Some have even said that Taylor’s songs are stuck in an adolescence that Taylor should have abandoned years ago, perhaps causing even some of her long-standing fans to bail.
So while the older Swifties may have become more mature in their music consumption habits, Taylor is likely not securing as many new ones to make up the difference.
While that dynamic usually speaks to an artist’s continued relevancy, Taylor Swift is still just as important to the music world as she ever was – maybe even more so. It’s a relevancy that plays out in far more ways than any chart numbers could reflect.
She’s a proven artist with nearly 14 years of superstardom and little left to prove in a music industry that likes to analyze numbers and project data to explain a recent trend or phenomenon, sorta like I’m doing now.
Swift will likely rank as the top artist of the decade in a couple months when Billboard tallies that data (a claim for which only rapper Drake will likely present a realistic challenge).
And if/when that happens, Swift will have yet another marketing tool with which to promote Lover’s latest single, whatever that will be at the time.
It’s just too bad that the songs on Lover aren’t sustaining themselves based on their own good merits.
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
You can also register for free to receive notifications of future articles by visiting the home page (scroll up!).