Data reveals the secrets behind Taylor Swift’s record-breaking success
Taylor Swift’s new Midnight album release is breaking records one after another, so she’s gotta know something we don’t, right? Here are some data-driven insights into what makes up Swift’s secret sauce.
Taylor Swift’s new record Midnights has smashed records – many of which she set with 2017’s Reputation. In the week following its release, Swift secured all Top 10 chart positions in the Billboard Hot 100 chart. That beats Drake’s previous record from 2021 when he held nine of the ten.
But Taylor Swift’s incredible Top 10 domination isn’t just about her marketing tactics. She created an event around the launch of her 10th studio album. As well as the release hype and the various physical incarnations of the album she has sold, she’s made a belter of an album. The songwriting is some of her best to date, with the Guardian and Independent awarding it five-star ratings.
It’s no secret that she filled all top 10 chart positions because of how she released the album: all at once without any singles in the lead-up. As soon as it dropped (naturally, at midnight Eastern time), everyone from casual Taylor listeners to die-hard Swifties feverishly streamed it from start to finish. And in an age where singles are still king, it demonstrated that a meticulously-coordinated release can still get people to engage with the album format.
The album was the first of many drops – she released the 3am Edition with seven extra songs three hours later. And she has subsequently released music videos for two tracks (at the time of writing).
Even though she front-loaded her success with the unusual album roll-out, a week later, she still has four songs in the Billboard Top 10.
So aside from her incredible clout as a celebrity and her unusual album release strategy, is there anything in the music that could hint at why this release was so successful?
Going against the grain, but not too much
We ran a little analysis to find out how musically similar Swift’s chart-topping tracks were to the rest of 2022’s Top 10 tracks.
What we find is that Swift’s Top 10 tracks deviate in subtle ways from the norm. Hip hop has been the most popular genre on the Billboard charts for years, but there’s none of that on Midnights. Instead, the tracks predominantly are Pop and Electro Pop. That’s not a huge departure from the regular Billboard Top 10. Pop is the second most dominant genre on the chart.
In terms of energy, it’s consistently Medium, keeping with the rest of the Top 10 from 2022. It’s unusual to see a lower or higher energy track at the top of the charts in 2022.
Regarding moods, Taylor’s Top 10 tracks are a pretty similar mix to the rest of the year’s chart toppers. For instance, the top four moods for 2022 are Confident, Seductive (Sexy), Bold and Heartfelt. Compare this to Taylor’s week in all Top 10 spots. Her tracks registered with our AI as Seductive, Confident, Euphoric and Heartfelt. That’s a remarkably similar make-up, demonstrating that she knows how to push all the right emotional buttons with her music, so that it feels familiar but distinct.
Mood valence is another point of similarity between her and the rest of 2022’s Top 10 tracks. Over 50 per cent of 2022’s Top 10 tracks are positive (leaving you feeling uplifted), and 35 per cent are neutral. Taylor’s Top 10 comprised 60 per cent positive and 40 neutral tracks.
The places where she deviates from the norm are in her tempos. Of her top 10 tracks on Midnights, they’re tightly grouped and significantly slower than the norm, even dropping as low as 70 BPM for the languid ‘Midnight Rain’. The next slowest song to enter the Top 10 this year was over 10 BPM faster.
Is there a measurable sonic difference between her more and less successful tracks?
To describe any song off Midnights as “unsuccessful” would be insane. All 20 tracks from Midnights (3am Edition) landed in the top 50 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
As you might expect, the first half of the album was more successful than the second half. That’s as much to do with listeners dropping off as anything.
However, there are marked sonic differences between the first and second half of the album.
The first half’s moods are chiefly Seductive and Confident, versus the second half’s Euphoric and Heartfelt. Energies are lower in the second half, and mood valences slip from positive and neutral to neutral and negative. That could also account for why they’ve not garnered so many streams.
Why have some tracks lasted longer in the Top 10?
The tracks that have lasted a second week in the Top 10 are the TikTok favourite ‘Anti-Hero’ (obvs), ‘Lavender Haze’, ‘Midnight Rain’ and ‘Bejeweled’. Oddly enough, these are among the slowest tracks on the record, with not a single one having a BPM over 100. Moods, meanwhile, are Confident, Seductive and Heartfelt, with Mood Valence 75 per cent positive, and 25 per cent neutral. There’s not a negative sound here. But that could change.
We may see other tracks re-emerge in the Top 10 as new music videos are released – Swift has more in the works. For example, the surge of ‘Bejeweled’ is likely down to the release of a video starring HAIM and Laura Dern.
Ultimately, this sort of data can help not just Taylor but other artists learn which types of tracks are most likely to land well with their audience. That’s not to say that artists should change their creative processes, but it could help artists understand the musical landscape on a macro level. Armed with that data, even if they don’t have TayTay’s follower power, artists could still release the right tracks at the right time.
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Additional data analysis by Gloria Huan.