On October 21, Taylor Swift released her new album, midnight, and was on a one-woman charting crusade in the United States. On Monday, she tweeted: “10 out of 10 on the Hot 100??? On my 10th album??? I’M IN SHAMBLES”. While this is an unprecedented and incredible feat, it raises broader questions about the music industry.
Swift isn’t the only artist to have released an album and dominated the charts lately. In fact, the official charts in the UK have changed the way Ed Sheeran’s singles charts are calculated ÷ in 2017. The album contained 17 tracks, and 16 of the songs made it into the top 20, which was unfair to other artists and led to the official charts adopting a new rule that meant only the three most streamed Tracks approved were the graphics.
There’s no doubt that Taylor Swift is the most popular artist in the world right now, and her recent successes have cemented her position at the top of the corporate ladder. According to Billboard, she’s now linked to Barbra Streisand for the most number-one albums by a female artist, and Swift is still only 32.
midnight also holds the record for the highest first week of sales of any album that year. Remarkably, she almost doubled the sales of Harry Styles’ third album. Harry’s house. She also garnered 72.5 million streams in its first week, which is almost 20 million more than Styles.
Swift’s dominance of the Billboard 100 is historic for many reasons. Most importantly, it’s the first week in history without a male artist in the top ten, showing the power of the Swifties and the masterful talent of their master. While you don’t take away from Swift’s power and appeal midnight, how can a new artist compete? If Taylor broke through now and went up against an artist of her current caliber, Ed Sheeran or Adele, it’s doubtful she would make her voice heard in the same way.
To ensure the music industry produces new stars, the Official Charts changed their rules after Sheeran’s dominance. In a statement, they said the decision was made to ensure “the charts continue to be a showcase for the new hits and talent that are the lifeblood of British music”. It was a necessary step to ensure the charts weren’t just dominated by a handful of artists passing the number one around like a joint. For example, “As It Was” by Harry Styles spent 15 weeks at number one in the US and 10 weeks at the top of the UK charts this year.
Although everyone has the ability to stream every song ever released, the charts are being cornered more than ever, but instead the algorithm is weighted on a select few. Again, this is not a fault of the artists who benefit from the system, but there is something gross about how unfair it is to most artists.
There has been a godly shortage of new superstars over the past decade, and it’s a worrying state of affairs. Swift is just the latest example of an artist to master an entire roster, but last year Drake had nine tracks by Certified lover boy occupy the top ten, proving that this is more of a trend than a one-off event.
Although the UK ruling has been changed to help new artists, it has not democratized the music industry, even if it looks fairer on paper. The way Taylor Swift and Drake have made the charts a ranking system for their latest work is a fair representation of their dominance and the current state of the charts.
If changes were made to the weighting of the chart, it would not accurately reflect people’s current listening habits. Additionally, it’s not really going to help new artists break into the big leagues or pay their bills. In the near future, charts like Swift’s will become the norm every few months when one of these A-list artists releases a new album, and it’s visual evidence of their monopolization of the market.
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