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Taylor Swift on pace for year’s biggest debut without streaming

Lucas Shaw

Bloomberg

| Thu, November 9, 2017 | 10:42 am
Taylor Swift on pace for year’s biggest debut without streaming

This file photo taken on October 21, 2016 shows singer-songwriter Taylor Swift performs her only full concert of 2016 during the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. (AFP/Suzanne Cordeiro)

With just a few days to go before the debut of her latest album, Taylor Swift’s newest songs are absent from the top of the charts.

“Look What You Made Me Do,” the debut single off “Reputation,” has slipped from the top 30 on the Billboard charts that track radio play, streaming and sales. “Ready For It” just climbed into the top 20. Neither song is a major hit on streaming services. The album is scheduled for release Nov. 10.

Yet “Reputation” is poised to score the biggest debut of any album this year -- and may get there without a hit single or much help from Spotify and Apple Music. Swift has again decided to withhold a new album from streaming services, at least initially, even though online play is now the largest source of music industry revenue. That could be a risky move, given some critics’ comments about the new release.

“Her greatest asset was always her relatability,” said Simon Perry, chief creative officer of ReverbNation, a management and marketing company that works with emerging artists. “These first couple of singles have completely shut us out. She’s emoting over silly issues she used to rise above.”

Swift’s representatives, along with her distributor Universal Music Group, declined to comment on the performance of her new singles, as did Spotify. She chose not to offer her previous record, “1989,’’ to streaming services three years ago, and it went on to become her best-selling album anyway.

For most artists today, streaming is a must, even though it’s less lucrative than online purchases or physical sales. Swift is an exception, a rare star with the power to move millions of CDs, and she has aligned herself with traditional players, for instance striking a promotional deal with Target.

Read also: Taylor Swift’s latest music video features glove made by Indonesian designer

Swift has been one of the world’s best-selling artists since she released her first record in 2006 at age 16. Four subsequent albums hit No. 1 in the U.S., and all have gone at least four times platinum -- selling 4 million copies or more. The artist, now 27, regularly draws praise for her ability to build anticipation for her releases.

The marketing blitz for “Reputation” started off with typical intrigue -- with Swift wiping her social-media accounts clean. She announced the new album five days later, and “Look What You Made Me Do” came out a day after that.

So far, presales of “Reputation” are running more than double those of “1989,” according to a person close to the pop star who declined to comment on private sales figures. And the numbers for the singles belie the popularity of Swift on Spotify, the world’s largest paid streaming service. Even after initially withholding “1989,” the single “Shake It Off’ racked up more than 120 million plays. Swift is the fourth most-streamed artist in the world.

In the past, Swift’s singles have been a harbinger of how her albums fare. “Shake It Off” never left the top two spots in the weeks up to and around the release of “1989.” When the second single “Blank Space” also took off, Swift became the first women to score back-to-back songs at No. 1.

It’s not shaping up that way with “Reputation.”

“Look What You Made Me Do” set records on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube when it was released in August, but none of her songs are on Today’s Top Hits, a Spotify playlist with more than 18 million followers. 

A third song from the new album, “Gorgeous,” was taken off the top hits playlist in eight days, a rarity for a major act, according to Sung Cho, founder and chief executive officer of data analytics company Chartmetric.

Its run on Today’s Top Hits “is one of the shortest lived,” Cho said.

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