How Taylor Swift Made “Midnights” Her Biggest Hit Yet
Taylor Swift during an interview with presenter Jimmy Fallon on Monday October 24, 2022
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Taylor Swift’s “Midnights” may have left indie-folk lovers of her previous albums disappointed, but she broke several sales and streaming records within the week of its release, including all the top 10 spots on the Billboard Hot 100, Swift’s tenth album her biggest hit to date, breaking the record for the longest total week for an album in just four days by equivalent album units.
“The results speak for themselves. She’s more popular than ever,” said George Howard, professor of music business at Berklee College of Music. “She creates that kind of frenzy among a significant number of fans.”
Five years ago, Swift’s “Reputation” achieved its biggest ever US sales week by traditional album sales, selling 1.216 million copies. “Midnights” broke that record in just four days.
It’s not that Swift’s previous albums weren’t successful. Rather, their number of streams has grown steadily over the years as the streaming industry has captured more and more market share among music listeners. Last fall, “Red (Taylor’s Version)” racked up 90.8 million streams on the day it was released, breaking Spotify’s record for the most-streamed album by a female artist in one day. The previous record was 78.7 million streams — held by Swift’s “Folklore.” With “Midnights,” Swift again broke her own record, racking up 185 million streams on the day of release.
What made “Midnights” the pop star’s biggest hit yet, and why did Swift need four more new albums to break her own record?
In her acceptance speech for the Video of the Year award for “All Too Well (10 minute version) (Taylor’s version) (from The Vault,)” at the VMAs in August, Swift surprised the world by announcing that she was releasing her brand new Midnights album out October 21st. Fans expected Swift’s next release to be another re-recording of one of her previous albums as her last two albums were re-recordings with Fearless (Taylor’s Version) released in April 2021 and Red (Taylor’s Version) im November 2021. The fact that she broke that release pattern and announced a new album at an awards ceremony, something she had never done before, caused a lot of buzz around “Midnights”.
But in several other aspects, Swift set a new standard, revisiting the past and some of its own past best practices.
Back on social media with ‘Swifties’
Swift disappeared from public view for a year after her falling out with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West in 2016. Not only did she stop appearing in public, but she also took a break from social media. Her absence came as a huge shock to fans, who, since the release of “1989,” have been accustomed to Swift checking into Tumblr nightly to interact with her fans.
Swift’s social media presence declined even further prior to the release of Reputation, when she deleted and unfollowed all of her social media posts. Four days later, the singer posted a video of a snake, anticipating the release of her soon-to-be-announced album. As the “reputation” era began, Swift gradually began posting again, but the social media presence she once maintained was much smaller. The cat photos, chats with fans, and witty comments that once flooded Swift’s social media accounts were gone. The surprise releases of “Folklore” and “Evermore” barely received any social media posts from the star.
Diana Kovalonok, left, and Angelina Damiano sing along to one of Taylor Swift’s hits while attending a listening party for her new album ‘Midnights’ in Old Town Chicago on Thursday, October 20, 2022.
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Swift’s announcement of “Midnights” prompted a change in that more reserved stance on social media. After the VMA surprise, Swift kept the buzz going for the seven weeks leading up to her album’s release, posting behind-the-scenes looks at the making of the album, culminating in the late-night “Midnights Mayhem With Me.” TikToks, where she revealed the track titles one by one. It suddenly feels like 2015 for fans again as Swift is posting and interacting with fans pretty much every day.
“She’s a very, very savvy marketer at keeping her distance from her fans but still making them feel connected to her by posting these cues… and it feels like a dialogue.” ‘ Howard said.
Merging collectibles and vinyl
Swift also rolled out a massive line of merchandise in the run-up to the release of “Midnights,” specifically boosting sales of a category now associated with niche genres rather than pop stars: vinyl albums. Along with the $75 hoodies will be four different colored vinyl albums for sale, featuring different cover art and a unique disc color ranging from moonstone blue to jade green, mahogany and blood moon, at a price of $30. For fans who collect and align all four vinyl albums, the back covers chime a clock that strikes midnight. There’s also the “Taylor Swift Midnights Vinyl Clock” which, when assembled, holds the four vinyl albums together to act as a working clock and becomes a must-have collectible for her fans, known as the Swifties.
Swift broke vinyl album records by selling nearly 500,000 copies on release day, three times what Harry Styles’ “Harry’s House” sold in its entire first week. At a time when vinyl sales are steadily rising again, Luminate, the entertainment data company that powers the Billboard charts, announced that “Midnights” had its biggest selling week for a vinyl album since it began tracking music sales in 1991.
According to Luminate’s US Midyear Report for 2022, recent sales of vinyl albums — music releases less than 18 months old — increased 27.4%. On the other hand, sales of vinyl catalog albums — music releases 18 months or older — are down 8.4% since 2021.
Vinyl buyer demographics also help explain the large vinyl album sales that “Midnights” records. According to Luminate, Generation Z now accounts for 34% of female vinyl buyers. Audiense, an audience intelligence platform, calculates that about 55% of Swift’s global audience is female, and nearly 60% is between the ages of 13 and 24.
“When you consider that alongside the continued growth of streaming, which is up 11.6% in H1 2022 compared to H1 2021, and its accessibility, you have millions of fans watching a highly anticipated release from such a great artist are consuming in more ways than Swift, resulting in first-week numbers as we see them,” said Rob Jonas, CEO of Luminate.
Back to pop
Winning album of the year at the Grammys for her indie-folk-meets-alternative-rock album Folklore wasn’t enough to keep Swift away from pop music. Swift experimented with this new folk sound on sister albums Folklore and Evermore in 2020, collaborating with bands like Bon Iver and The National. But with “Midnights” she returns to her pop comfort zone.
“She has been extremely successful in expressing herself through different genres of authentic songwriting and fan engagement. She is as honest a storyteller and creative artist as she is an authentic person in the way she engages with her fans. I think she’s proven that over and over again,” said Steinhardt’s director of New York University’s music business program, Larry Miller.
All 13 tracks on Midnights were produced by Swift and her longtime friend Jack Antonoff, who first collaborated with the singer on her fifth studio album, 1989. Experimenting with an atmospheric synth-pop style with hints of R&B, “Midnights” marks a revival of Swift’s catchy, pop-tinged songwriting, which she’s strayed from in recent years.
“I’ll be surprised if this isn’t the #1 or #2 biggest record of the year on December 31,” Miller said.
Swift’s first tour in almost five years
With the announcement of her sixth tour, “Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour” on Tuesday, Swift is ready to hit the road for the first time in almost five years. Part of that is due to the pandemic.
Ahead of the release of “Midnights,” fans suspected Swift would soon be announcing her next tour after Covid disrupted her typical touring-every-two-years pattern that had developed early in her career. Releasing four new albums and two re-recordings since her last tour also gave Swift a much larger discography to support on tour. The forthcoming tour is designed to highlight the different eras of her career by name and not just “Midnights”.
The tour doesn’t begin until spring 2023, but it’s likely that Swift’s tour announcement will help give “Midnights” streams and sales an extra boost now that the album’s release week has come to an end.
“As someone in her place, she has to have some kind of consistent drip approach to keep herself in the public eye. Touring is the traditional way of doing this. When you’re out there, it’s not just the live shows, it’s the halo around it,” Howard said.