Evidently somebody forgot to tell Taylor Swift fans that albums just don’t sell anymore.Swift’s fifth studio album, 1989, is on track to top the 4 million mark in U.S. sales in this, its 12th week of release. It’ll be the first album to reach 4M in just 12 weeks since Usher's 2004 blockbuster Confessions.
Swift’s achievement is more impressive than Usher’s because album sales overall were much stronger in 2004 than they are nowadays. Seventy albums sold 1 million or more copies in 2004, compared to just four in 2014. (Sadly, that’s not a typo.)
Each of Swift’s four previous studio albums has also reached 4M.Swift will become just the second artist to top 4M with each of his or her first five studio albums since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking music sales in 1991. The first was Garth Brooks. (Brooks’s first two studio albums were released before the start of the Nielsen SoundScan era, but they have each sold more than 4M copies since the meters were turned on in January 1991.)
1989 sold 3,944,000 copies in the U.S. in its first 11 weeks. It is expected to sell in the 80K range this week, which will bump it up to about 4,024,000.
Swift’s previous studio albums all took much longer to reach 4M in U.S. sales. Her debut album, Taylor Swift, took 125 weeks to reach the plateau. Her sophomore album, Fearless, took 50 weeks. Her third and fourth albums, Speak Now and Red, each took 69 weeks.
So how has Swift been able to defy downward sales trends? It helps that “Shake It Off” and “Blank Space,” the first two singles released from her new album, both reached #1 on the Hot 100. (They logged a combined total of 11 weeks in the top spot.)
And Swift is extremely adept at marketing and promotion. She is not only willing to do interviews and media and awards show appearances, she’s good at it and actually seems to enjoy it.
Also, 1989 is Swift’s first focused pop album. Before this, she was trying to appeal to pop and country fans simultaneously. She was succeeding rather well, too, but she felt she could do even better if she would focus on just one field. “But at a certain point, if you chase two rabbits, you lose them both” is the way she put it to Rolling Stone's Josh Eels in a cover story last September.
Swift may have the Grammys in the back of her mind when she made that comment. At the Grammy Awards in January 2013, Red was nominated for Album of the Year, but lost to Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. Red was also nominated for Best Country Album, but lost to Kacey Musgraves's Same Trailer Different Park. Two years earlier, her previous album, Speak Now, wasn’t even nominated for Album of the Year. It lost Best Country Album to Lady Antebellum's Own the Night.
1989 was released too late for the Grammys that will be presented on Feb. 8, but it will be in play next year. It will probably be nominated for both Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album. “Shake It Off” is nominated for Record and Song of the Year this year. It’s Swift’s third Record of the Year nom; her second Song of the Year nom. Swift is expected to perform on the telecast this year, though that hasn’t been announced.
Look for 1989 to slip to #2 on The Billboard 200 that is released on Wednesday. Meghan Trainor's debut album, Title, is expected to open at #1 with first-week sales in the 180K range.
(Note: All sales tallies in this story are actual sales. They’re not based on Billboard's new hybrid formula which also takes into account digital track sales and streaming activity.)
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