If you compare the music industry to the modern American stratification of social classes, Taylor Swift would easily be the Bill Gates of the one percent. This 24 year old country-turned-pop star dominates the music industry to a level not seen at any time in history since Nielsen Soundscan began tracking sales in 1991. Selling 1.289 million copies of her new album 1989 in its opening week, Ms. Swift broke a record by having 22% of the weeks sales. Furthermore, her album is the fastest selling since The Eminem Show back in 2002 – back when the record industry was almost three times larger.
By the end of November, Taylor Swift also broke another record – most albums sold by any new artist of the millenium, and most albums sold by any female artist in general of the millenium with over twenty-five million sold; an awe inspiring achievement considering her 2006 debut, years after the music industry experienced its collapse.
And yet, album sales are down 14% this year, begging the question, how did she top her last album? Why aren’t her sales dropping? A mix of reasons really: partly because of Swift and her team, and partly because of the ever increasing disparity between artists, with the top one percent of artists taking home seventy-seven percent of the profits. In an age where pirating and streaming music have become the norm, it takes a remarkable character to continue pulling in the sales.
The 1989 album enabled Ms. Swift to become the only artist in music history, surpassing names such as Madonna, Britney Spears, and Michael Jackson, to sell one million copies of an album in the first week three times (Speak Now, Red, and 1989). Only nineteen albums have sold over a million copies within their first week, and Swift has done this thrice.
This has made Taylor Swift’s 1989 the only album released in 2014 to have sold over a million copies in total. That’s right: album sales have been so poor, that Taylor Swift was able to pass every album released this year in one week.
Ms. Swift has been hailed as sort of a marketing genius. Releasing a Target version with three extra songs enabled her to inspire a massive resurgence for the physical album. Not only this, but every one of the Target albums came with a pack of polaroid pictures of her, making tons of fans buy multiple versions of the album in order to get all of the packs.
Another way the young woman has stood out from her peers, is her image. Ever since 2006, she has constantly branded herself as the awkward, down to earth, good girl who every parent wants their children to look up to in comparison with many of the other musical acts in this age (Anaconda, anyone?). Her often self-written lyrics about acceptance and anti-bullying have also enabled her to gain traction and build a special relationship with fans.
This relationship she holds with her fans is cherished by her. Recently, Taylor Swift visited Connecticut to surprise a fan with a mini-Mercedes for her two year old son. The fan said that Ms. Swift’s music helped her through her struggles to become pregnant, and was therefore moved to tears when the star showed up at her home.
Finally, Ms. Swift has appeared on television countless times since the release of her album, gaining much exposure compared to her contemporaries.
And yet – the Queen of the Millennium’s reign doesn’t end with albums: she also holds the record for the fastest selling single for a female artist in history, with “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” and the second largest overall behind Flo Rida’s “Right Round.” Furthermore, she is the second top selling digital artist in history (by downloads), and she continuously bounces between the first and second place spots with fellow pop star Katy Perry.
Taylor Swift is on top right now. Love her or hate her, it’s plainly clear that she doesn’t just rule the music industry – she IS the music industry.