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Taylor Swift's new album rollout strategy shows she's too big to fail

Callie Ahlgrim   

Taylor Swift's new album rollout strategy shows she's too big to fail
  • Taylor Swift's new album "The Tortured Poets Department" will arrive on Friday, April 19.
  • She has declined to release a lead single or promote the album in any significant way.
If you spend enough time in Taylor Swift-devoted territories of social media, as I have, you'll find posts that proclaim "The Tortured Poets Department" is her best album yet.

Die-hard fans say it's a masterpiece, destined to win Swift her fifth Grammy Award for album of the year.

Sure, some of these posts are tongue-in-cheek, while many are knowingly hyperbolic. But the fact that no fan has heard even one second of "Poets" — the album isn't out until Friday — seems to be a moot point. Once a pop star earns "fave" status, her actions go largely unchallenged by her base, while her music is blindly praised.

But Swift has managed to harness this reckless passion better than anyone else — at least in terms of commercial success.

Swift announced the title of her 11th studio album back in early February, while accepting an award at the 2024 Grammys.

Although her team has used a few niche methods to drum up excitement this week (like painting a mysterious QR code on a wall in Chicago and partnering with Spotify for a library installation in Los Angeles), confirmed details from the singer herself are scant, save for the tracklist. With just a few days to go, we still haven't gotten a measly teaser or snippet, let alone a lead single.

Yes, you read that right. The aforementioned fans who insist "Poets" will dominate charts and break records have no idea what the album sounds like.

But that doesn't mean those fans are wrong. All evidence does point to "Poets" becoming another blockbuster for Swift despite her near-silent promotional strategy.

Swift used a similar gambit for "Midnights," the predecessor to "Poets," which arrived in late 2022. Though she was more active during that rollout, especially on TikTok, she never gave any hints of the album's sonic direction. Based on the '70s style of the cover shoot, many fans hoped for a Laurel Canyon vibe, akin to Carole King or Fleetwood Mac. It would've been an exciting change for Swift, but come release day, those fans were let down. "Midnights" was standard pop.

Still, the aesthetic misdirection didn't impair the album's performance. In fact, "Midnights" broke a variety of records and sold over 1 million copies in its first week (the first album to achieve the feat in seven years, since Swift's own album "Reputation" in 2017).

Remember, "Midnights" arrived just before The Eras Tour kicked off in 2023. Over the following year, Swiftmania swept the nation. Now, she's more popular than ever.

Given the accomplishments of "Midnights," why wouldn't Swift double down on the less-is-more method? Even if she remained offline until Friday, it probably wouldn't matter. Her new music will be tasted by curious onlookers, queued by radio DJs, and blasted on a loop by longtime Swifties, even if it's bad. Her stature and influence in the pop-music landscape is its own marketing.

Beyoncé was actually the one to pioneer a minimalist rollout with her self-titled album in 2013, which was released without any prior warning.

But even Beyoncé, an artist of peerless finesse and Swift-equivalent fame, has employed the reliable lead-single routine in recent years: "Formation" for "Lemonade," "Break My Soul" for "Renaissance," and earlier this year, "Texas Hold 'Em" for "Cowboy Carter."

Back in 2020, Swift mimicked "Beyoncé" with "Folklore" and "Evermore," surprise-releasing the sister albums just a few months apart. Though both were celebrated by fans and critics, they did not yield the sky-high earnings Swift has grown accustomed to: Compare the debut sales week for "Reputation" (1.2 million copies) to "Folklore" (846,000 copies), even though the latter is a better album by every measure.

And so Swift, ever the capitalist, adjusted accordingly. Ever since "Red (Taylor's Version)" in 2021, Swift has always announced her next album ahead of time — allowing ample time for hype to mount and presales to accumulate — but she has withheld lead singles.

Instead, she selects and promotes a focus track (usually paired with a music video) on the same day as the album's release.

This adjustment has worked extremely well. "All Too Well (10 Minute Version)," "Anti-Hero," and "Is It Over Now?" have all debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, while their parent albums simultaneously debuted atop the Billboard 200 (in 2021, 2022, and 2023, respectively).

In fact, Swift's metrics are only getting more impressive as time goes on. Her latest release, "1989 (Taylor's Version)," sold over 1.6 million copies in its first week, becoming Swift's biggest debut week to date — even though it's an updated edition of an album that already exists.

A big part of this success is thanks to Swift's supercharged embrace of vinyl. She has taken to releasing multiple physical variants of each album for her fans to "collect" and preorder ahead of time, boosting first-week sales figures.

For "Poets," Swift took it one step further: Each variant includes a different bonus track, so if you want to hear the complete set of new songs, you'll need to buy them all, carbon footprint be damned.

Another important point to note is Swift's unparalleled productivity. "Poets" will be her eighth album (including rerecords) in less than four years.

Most pop stars stay relevant by breadcrumbing singles in between album cycles — but Swift keeps the same pace with full bodies of work. Every six months, on average, Swifties are handed 20 to 30 new songs to listen to. The particulars of each rollout strategy are rendered irrelevant, dwarfed by the all-consuming enormity of her own personal news cycle.

Of course, if you were to ask Swift about her promo tactics or prolific output, I'm fairly certain she'd say that none of it is driven by sales, charts, or any kind of financial gain, but by commitment to her craft.

No one expected Swift to release a brand-new album this year, especially in the midst of The Eras Tour, with two fan-favorite albums still left to rerecord. But she told fans that making "Poets" was an instinctive, almost compulsive act.

"Songwriting is something that actually gets me through my life, and I never had an album where I needed songwriting more," she said onstage in February.

It just so happens that her craft, her compulsion, her self-described "lifeline," is making music with mind-boggling commercial power.


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