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Taylor Swift fans don’t always love delayed gratification, but they have embraced it in the case of “Cruel Summer,” a 2019 song they have finally driven to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, four years and two months after it made its first appearance on the chart.
The track from the “Lover” album — or era — first reached the top 10 in early July, and had hovered there since, becoming a consensus pick among many for 2023’s “song of the summer,” even though it came out four autumns ago. But as recently as last week, “Cruel Summer” had fallen to No. 9, after previously reaching a peak of No. 3. So what not only resuscitated it but finally gave it a turbo boost to the top?
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One big factor is obviously the blockbuster theatrical release of “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” lifting all boats. Streaming for her entire catalog rose substantially in the week following the film’s release. But Swift did not leave anything to chance when it came to the fortunes of “Cruel Summer” in particular. On Oct. 18, with just two days left in the chart period last week, she announced she was releasing two new versions of the song: a live recording excerpted from the new movie, “Cruel Summer (Live from Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour),” and a remix, “Cruel Summer (LP Giobbi Remix).” They were bundled together as an EP titled “The Cruelest Summer.”
As might be expected, the boost in sales numbers for the song as a result of those fresh versions was huge. Download sales were up by 1,482%, according to Luminate data reported by Billboard, with 41,000 tracks sold during the week. The streaming bump wasn’t nearly as massive percentage-wise, but still quite considerable in real-life returns — a 35% increase, to 18.6 million streams. With the song holding roughly the same at radio, up 2% for the week to 77.8 million airplay audience impressions, it all factored into “Summer” being unbeatable for the top spot.
If you’re wondering whether alternate versions of a song are counted separately or together for Hot 100 tallying purposes, the answer is: the latter, under most circumstances. If the remix turns it into a radically different song, it’s counted separately. But if the tune remains substantially the same, all versions — live tracks, remixes and acoustic remakes — count toward the same goal. The version that gets the most consumption points of any of them is the iteration that gets the credit on the chart that week.
Billboard reports that the amount of time “Cruel Summer” took to get to the summit — four years, one month and three weeks — is the fifth-longest wait in the history of the Hot 100. The record, of course, is held by Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is you,” which took just shy of 20 years to reach the top spot. (The others that had chart gestations longer than Swift’s are the Weeknd’s “Die for You,” Sheriff’s “When I’m With You” and Ub40’s “Red Red Wine.”)
When Swift announced the two new versions last week, there was no mention of a No. 1 race, of course. But the most hardcore, chart-conscious Swifties were already primed to stream or buy the original song in the kind of numbers that they hoped would get it across the finish line, even before she made any repetition a lot easier by giving fans something fresh to help move it toward the endzone.
For the faithful, it’s been a mission — first, to get “Cruel Summer” released as a single at all, and then to make sure it became Swift’s tenth No. 1 on the Hot 100. When the “Lover” album came out, there was an assumption among fans that it would follow “Me!,” “You Need to Calm Down” and the ballad “Lover” out the door as a single, and that, if anything, it was the most overtly commercial tune on the album, destined to own the warm weather months of 2020. But the pandemic put a crimp in the album campaign in the spring, after “Lover” had been out for a few months, and by summer 2020, she was moving on to “Folklore” and having a No. 1 with “Cardigan.” Nowadays, justice deferred is just fine by the fan base.
“Cruel Summer” hadn’t exactly felt like an underdog in recent months, anyway; it had already topped Billboard’s Radio Songs, Adult Top 40 and Mainstream Top 40 charts. Its enduring popularity at radio over a period of months this year made it clear that the success of the song was due to real popular demand, not just the fandom’s whim or epic quest.
The song did register on the Hot 100 when it first came out in fall 2019, although, as an unpromoted album track with little to no radio airplay, it only got as high as No. 29 at the time.
The superstar hasn’t lacked for hits in the meantime. The leadoff tracks off her next three all-original studio albums — “Cardigan,” “Willow” and “Anti-Hero” — all debuted at No. 1 (and the latter song stayed there for eight weeks). In the last year, the follow-up singles to “Anti-Hero” from the “Midnights” album, “Lavender Haze” and “Karma,” both made it as far as No. 2.
Swift’s song supplants the latest smash from a Republic labelmate, Drake, at the top. His “First Person Shooter,” with a featured appearance from J. Cole, bowed at No. 1 on the Hot 100 last week but fell to No. 8 in its second week. Swift’s nearest competition this week was Doja Cat’s “Paint the Town Red,” which had started to slip but rose two spots to No. 2. (“Paint” had previously topped the Hot 100 for three nonconsecutive weeks.) Bad Bunny has the top album of the week, but the interest was not all consolidated in one song. The highest debuting tune from the new collection was “Monaco,” at No. 5.
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