Since 2008, when Fearless became her first No. 1 album, Taylor Swift has always been at the top of the Billboard 200. Since then, she has continued to break records, get No. 1s — 10, and sell a huge number of copies in the first week.
Even though it’s hard to compare the first-week sales of different albums by the same artist over time due to changes in the market and how people listen to music, it’s interesting to look back at Taylor Swift’s last five charted albums, from 2019’s Lover to 2021’s Red [Taylor’s Version], and see what drove their debuts on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
Swift’s 10th studio album, Midnights, came out on Friday. Its release plan is likely based on how she marketed and promoted her first five albums (Oct. 21). It came out on streaming services and in stores as a digital album download, multiple CD and vinyl LP versions, and a cassette tape, among other things.
Evermore came out in 2020, and Midnights is Swift’s first studio album since then. Since then, she has released two re-recorded albums: Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and Red (Taylor’s Version), both in 2021. Folklore, the sister project to Evermore, came out five months before Evermore, and in 2019, Lover came out.
Months of hype and pre-orders led up to the release of Midnights, but no songs from the 13-track album were released until the full album came out. “Anti-Hero,” the lead radio single from the album, got an official music video on October 21. The album can be bought as a standard digital album, an iTunes-exclusive version with a bonus track, four standard CD editions, four vinyl LP editions, and a cassette tape.
Target also sold a special “Lavender” edition of the album on CD and colored vinyl LP. The CD had three extra tracks that weren’t on the LP.
Swift’s website also let people pre-order signed copies of the four standard CD albums and the four standard vinyl LPs in the weeks before they came out. Midnights was also sold in a deluxe boxed set with a CD of the album and a T-shirt with Taylor Swift’s name on it. This set was only available to Capital One cardholders.
Swift put out a deluxe version of Midnights with seven extra songs (for a total of 20 tracks) three hours after Midnights came out. This version was available on streaming services and digital retailers (with the latter including a digital liner notes booklet).
What else could Taylor Swift have planned for release week? Like most things in Swiftworld, she is the only one who knows for sure until it’s made public. What we do know is that she’s going to be on NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Monday (Oct. 24), and a second music video from the album will come out on Tuesday (Oct. 25). Her social media calendar also hinted at possible promotions or events with Target on Saturday (Oct. 22) and independent record stores on Sunday.
Here’s a rundown of how Swift’s last five albums did in their first week, before Midnights, and some of the marketing and promotion activities that helped them get to the top of the charts.
Luminate’s chart from September 7, 2019, says that 867,000 equivalent album units were sold in the first week, which is the same as 679,000 traditional album sales.
Swift signed a global record deal with Universal Music Group in 2018, less than a month after she left her longtime label, Big Machine. Republic Records was her U.S. partner.
The first album under the new deal came out in 2019 and was called Lover. Its first single, “Me!,” which featured Brendon Urie, came out before the album. The single came out on April 26, 2019, a day after it was announced. The Lover album came out on August 23, 2019. It was announced on June 13, 2019.
“Me!” reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (dated May 11, 2019), and the second single from the album, “You Need to Calm Down,” also got to No. 2 on the chart (June 29, 2019). The album’s title track became its third top 10 hit when it jumped 19-10 on the Sept. 7, 2019-dated chart. This was the same day that the album debuted at No. 1.
Lover debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with a first-week total of 867,000 equivalent album units, of which 679,000 were from traditional album sales. During its first week, Lover was sold in four collectible deluxe CD editions at Target, dozens of merchandise/digital album bundles on Swift’s official website, and merchandise/physical album bundles on Amazon. There was also a standard CD version of the album that was widely sold, as well as a digital version that could be bought at all digital stores.
In its first week, Lover sold 175,000 copies in SEA, which is equal to 226 million on-demand streams of its 18 songs.
The lover was also Swift’s first album that could be listened to in its entirety on all streaming services in the first week. Her last album, “Reputation,” came out in November 2017. During the week it came out, only four of the album’s tracks were available to stream. In the end, Reputation came out on all streamers in December 2017.
Luminate’s chart for the first week (dated August 8, 2020) says that 846,000 equivalent album units were sold, which is the same as 615,00 traditional album sales.
Swift threw a major curveball with the release of her eighth studio album, Folklore. In the past, she had done traditional rollouts for new albums, with months of publicity and promotional singles before the album came out. It was her first surprise release, and it came out on streaming services and as a digital download album on July 24, 2020. It was announced just 16 hours before that date.
Folklore was also a surprise in terms of how it sounded. Her three previous albums, Lover, Reputation, and 1989, were all pure pop, but Folklore had a more alternative sound. Aaron Dessner of The National and Jack Antonoff of Bleachers and fun. worked on the production of Folklore’s 16 tracks, and Bon Iver played on “Exile.”
Folklore went straight to the top of the Billboard 200 chart for the week ending August 8, 2020, with 846,000 equivalent album units sold. Out of that amount, 615,000 came from album sales. The number of SEA units was 218,000, which is equal to 289.85 million on-demand streams of the 16 songs on the set.
The first single from the album, “Cardigan,” debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100 on August 8, 2020, the same day Folklore debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Swift is the first artist to debut at the top of both lists at the same time.
Folklore was not widely available in its first week on the market. It could only be bought as a digital download from Swift’s website and other online digital stores. It didn’t come out on CD until August 7, 2020, and on vinyl and cassette months after that.
Folklore sold a lot of copies, but it’s important to remember that some of those sales came from people who pre-ordered a physical copy of the album that came with a digital download of the album.
At the time Folklore came out if an artist’s website sold a physical/digital album bundle (like a CD that came with a digital album download) and the artist delivered the digital album to the customer while they waited for the physical album to ship, the digital album would be counted as the sale.
The physical album in these bundles would not be reported to Luminate or counted toward the Billboard charts at a later date. This kind of offer stopped counting toward the charts on August 7, 2020. After that date, sales would only count if the physical album was shipped to the customer.
Even so, during the week that Folklore came out, Swift’s website sold a lot of physical and digital album bundles (with a CD, vinyl LP or cassette, plus the digital album). All of the physical/digital bundles sent the customer the digital version of the album right after the purchase, while the physical version was sent later.
During the week of the album’s release, Swift’s website let people pre-order eight CDs with different covers, eight vinyl LPs with different covers and colors of vinyl, and a cassette. All of these came with a digital download of the album. (The CDs didn’t start shipping until two to three weeks after the album came out. The vinyl LPs were then set to ship four months later, and the cassette was set to ship two months later.)
Swift wasn’t the only big artist at the time to offer physical and digital album bundles. At the time, most big artists did the same thing. It was often used by bands that didn’t have time to make a physical album in time for the streaming and digital release date.
Swift’s website also sold a variety of merchandise/digital album bundles, which included both a Swift-branded item and a digital album. (Each item of merchandise could also be bought on its own for a lower price.) At the time, sales of bundles of merchandise and digital albums were counted when the digital album was sent to the customer. As of October 9, 2020, these kinds of deals no longer count toward the charts.
Folklore was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for its first six weeks, and it went back to No. 1 for the seventh and eighth weeks thanks to sales boosts from signed CD offers and new merchandise/digital album bundles.
Luminate’s chart for the first week (dated Dec. 26, 2020) shows that 329,000 equivalent album units (154,500 traditional album sales) were sold.
Swift’s second surprise album, Evermore, came out on December 11, and in its first week, it sold 329,000 equivalent album units. Out of that total, 154,500 were sales of traditional albums, none of which were digital download albums.
The 15-song album came out with very little notice and could be listened to online or bought as a digital album from traditional digital retailers. Its CD version, which had two extra songs, didn’t hit stores until December 18. This hurt the album’s second week. Not until 2021 did they come out on cassette and vinyl LP.
Evermore came out less than five months after Folklore, which was its sister project. After a string of pop-focused projects, both sets moved Swift in a more alternative direction.
In its first week, Evermore sold 167,000 SEA units, which is the same as 220,49 million on-demand streams of its 15 songs.
Evermore came out with the official music video for the first song on the album, “Willow.” The song was No. 1 on the Hot 100 for the first time on Dec. 26, 2020, the same day that the album was No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Since the whole album was a surprise, there was neither a pre-release single nor any other way to promote it before it came out.
At the time of Evermore’s No. 1 debut, it was said that the album’s first-week sales and units were the most for any album since bundles of merchandise and albums and concert tickets and albums no longer counted toward chart sales (as of Oct. 9 of that year). It was also the biggest week for an album since physical albums that came with a digital album could only be counted as a physical sale when they were shipped to the customer (that started on Aug. 7).
Before, Swift’s albums, including Folklore, and many other albums benefited from bundles of merchandise and albums, as well as offers of both physical and digital formats. (However, Swift had never used an offer to trade in concert tickets for an album.)
Evermore went back to No. 1 seven months after it came out. It jumped 74 places on the chart for June 12, 2021, with 202,000 units sold in the week ending June 3. (with 192,000 of that sum in traditional album sales). The jump back to No. 1 was caused by a number of factors, including the set’s vinyl LP release on May 28 (in two green colors and a Target-exclusive red color), the availability of signed CDs on Swift’s website, and independent record stores, deep discounts on the digital album, and the release of four “digitally autographed fan edition” versions of the album (each with a bonus remix of “Willow”).
‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’ (2021)
According to Luminate’s chart for the first week (dated April 24, 2021): 291,000 equivalent album units (179,000 traditional album sales).
Swift got her first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with her second studio album, Fearless, in 2008. In 2018, she became the first artist to get a re-recorded album to No. 1. The chart for the week of April 24, 2021, was topped by Her Fearless (Taylor’s Version), which sold 291,000 equivalent album units in its first week. Out of that amount, 179,000 were from traditional album sales, which were all digital album downloads and CDs.
The set sold 109,000 SEA units in its first week, which added up to 142,98 million on-demand streams of its 26 tracks.
Swift told people about the album on February 11, 2021. Swift said in 2019 that she planned to re-record her first six albums, which were released between 2006 and 2017 by Big Machine Label Group. This was after Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings bought her master recordings. Swift had been trying to buy back her masters for years before they were sold. In November 2020, she began re-recording all of her songs. Ithaca Holdings sold the Big Machine-era masters to Shamrock Holdings in October 2020.
The singles “Love Story (Taylor’s Version),” which reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 2021, and “You All Over Me (Taylor’s Version),” which featured Maren Morris, came out before Fearless (Taylor’s Version) (No. 51).
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) was released as a streaming album on April 9, 2021. It was also sold as a digital download album and a CD. Target sold a special version of the CD that came with a collectible poster. The vinyl LP of the album didn’t hit stores until October 1, 2021, but the cassette came out in June of that year.
Swift’s third album, Fearless (Taylor’s Version), came out during the COVID-19 pandemic, after her first two surprise albums, Evermore and Folklore (both released in 2020). Due to precautions and restrictions put in place by COVID-19, many of the traditional ways to promote an album were limited.
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) would have sold more copies in its first week if the vinyl LP had come out at the same time as the rest of the project. But Swift made up for it later when the set went back to No. 1 six months after its vinyl release.
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) went back to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (dated Oct. 16, 2021) after its vinyl LP release (it sold 67,000 copies on vinyl in its first week) and a surge in CD sales, in part because it was available in a signed edition on Swift’s website.
‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’ (2021)
According to Luminate’s chart from November 27, 2021, 605,000 equivalent album units were sold in the first week, which is the same as 369,000 traditional album sales.
According to Luminate, Swift’s second re-recorded album was number one on the Billboard 200 chart for the week ending November 27, 2021. It sold 605,000 equivalent album units in its first week in the U.S. Out of that amount, 369,000 were sales of traditional albums like CDs, vinyl, and digital album downloads.
The 30-track Red (Taylor’s Version) was set to come out on Nov. 19, 2021, but it was moved up to Nov. 12 later that year, likely to avoid competing with Adele’s 30, which was later set to come out on Nov. 19.
Red (Taylor’s Version) was introduced on NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night With Seth Meyers, both on November 11. She then went on Saturday Night Live and sang the 10-minute version of “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)” from the album. There were no singles released before the album, so when it came out on November 12, people could buy the whole thing for the first time.
“All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)” became the album’s main track when it came out, and the song shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the week of Nov. 27, 2021, thanks in part to streams of its epic 15-minute short film, which also served as the song’s official music video.
A large number of tracks on Red (Taylor’s Version) helped push up the album’s first-week streaming number, which was 227,000 SEA units, or 303.23 million on-demand streams of its 30 tracks. At the time, it was the second-biggest week ever for a woman’s album to be streamed.
The album came out on CD, digital download, and vinyl LP on the same day, November 12. That was different from her two previous albums, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and Evermore, which came out in different formats at different times. For example, the vinyl LPs of both of those albums came out months after the CDs.
Red (Taylor’s Version), on the other hand, sold 114,000 vinyl albums in its first week, which was a record at the time for a single-week vinyl album sale. At the time, the album was only sold on vinyl and cost $49.99. There were only two versions: a standard black one and a red one that was only sold at Target.
Swift’s sales of Red (Taylor’s Version) in its first week were also helped by the fact that she sold signed CDs through her website and in independent record stores.