There might be a “contest brewing” between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but no matter what they do next Tuesday, American voters have clearly elected Taylor Swift as their current lord and musical savior.
Well, the American version of their savior, at least. Sales-wise, Adele is still the reigning queen of the universe, since 21 is about to sell its 10 millionth copy in less than two years. But last week, nothing beat Swift’s new album Red, which sold 1.21 million copies in seven days.
Let’s break down the crucial facts about this number, and then sort out what they mean:
— Red has the biggest single-week sales since Eminem’s The Eminem Show sold 1.322 million copies in 2002. (Here’s where I’m getting these numbers)
— Red has the second-biggest sales week for a female artist, behind the 1.319 million debut of Britney Spears’ Oops… I Did It Again in 2000.
— Taylor Swift is now the first woman to have two albums with million-selling weeks, and she’s in the rare position of having her second million-weeker outpace her first. (When Speak Now debuted in 2010, it sold 1.047 million.)
— Every single one of those albums was sold for at least $9.99. Compared that to the million-plus week for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, when over 400,000 units were sold by Amazon.com for just .99.
— All these albums were sold despite the fact that Swift has already released four of the album’s songs as singles, and all of those songs sold over 300,000 copies.
So what does it all mean?
Well, for one thing, it means that young people are still willing to buy a complete album, and not just download singles, if they connect with the artist deeply enough. And let’s not kid ourselves: The bulk of those album purchases were made by people under the age of 30. Probably under the age of 21. And that’s fine, of course. It’s just surprising, since the “rule” is supposed to be that young’uns don’t buy complete albums.
It also means, of course, that nonstop promotion still helps a popular artist. Swift was even hawking her album on Papa John’s pizza boxes, for God’s sake.
It also means that Taylor Swift made the right move by dropping country music in favor of a straight-up pop sound. I noted a few months ago that the albums biggest hit, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” sounds more like Avril Lavigne than Carrie Underwood, and I wondered if people would accept that. Turns out they do.
And as I’ve also said, that’s fine by me. Swift may not be my favorite artist, but she’s a good songwriter whose best songs deliver a strong melody and great lyrics. Which leads me to my next point…
Red’s success may be another nail in electro-pop’s coffin. Think about it: The biggest-selling albums of the last two years have been by Adele, Taylor Swift, One Direction, Lionel Richie, and Mumford and Sons. Toss out Richie as being a nostalgic fluke, and you’ve got four acts that are connecting with younger listeners without relying exclusively on electro-pop like Flo Rida or Katy Perry or practically any other pop star of the last few years. True, One Direction gets awfully close to the sound, and Swift’s new album dips its toe in those waters, especially since “Never” is co-written by Max Martin and Dr. Luke, but by and large? These are pop and/or rock albums. Does their massive success indicate that the world is ready for new sound? Could this pave the way for Lady Gaga’s upcoming jazz album to blow the roof off America?
Honestly, I think it could. I really think we’re in the midst of pop music’s latest sea-change, especially when you consider that two of the year’s biggest singles are “We Are Young” and “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Let’s keep watching to see what happens next!
Previously: Red’s best and worst songs
Mark Blankenship once sold a million hot dogs in one week. (Or did he?) He tweets as @IAmBlankenship