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Fame and celebrity

Is Taylor Swift losing her mojo? Why Reputation’s first two singles can’t match 1989’s

Swift’s previous album 1989 was a huge success and its singles broke records. The first two singles from Reputation, which comes out in November, haven’t managed to match that, being outdone by up-and-coming rap acts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 1:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 2:28pm

Pop giant Taylor Swift’s latest album Reputation arrives on November 10 amid a marketing whirlwind of flashy music videos and big-name brand partnerships that helped launch her first two singles, Look What You Made Me Do and … Ready For It.

Yet on this week’s Billboard Hot 100, Look What You Made Me Do has been sitting at No 5, with … Ready For It likely to fall even further than its No 39 position last week.

Even with Reputation’s elaborate roll-out, which is likely going to intensify over the next few weeks, the album’s two singles so far appear to be falling short of the historic chart success Swift saw with her 2014 album 1989.

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This time three years ago, 1989’s lead single, Shake It Off, debuted at No 1 on the Hot 100. The song spent the first 12 weeks at either No 1 or No 2 before it was dethroned by Swift’s second 1989 single, Blank Space, making her the first female artist to replace herself at the top of the charts.

That was a “peak moment in her career”, according to David Bakula, Nielsen Entertainment’s senior vice-president of analytics.

Shake it Off was her first foray into pop radio, and there was this massive wave of people anticipating her switching over to a pop type of song,” Bakula says. “When you look at the radio comparisons between the two, [Look What You Made Me Do] is not getting the massive reaction that Shake it Off did.”

Look What You Made Me Do spent three weeks at No 1 before dropping to No 5 this week. Meanwhile, … Ready For It debuted at No 4 before dropping to No 39.

While 1989 was Swift’s first self-proclaimed pop album, she also saw Hot 100 success with her 2012 album Red, earning her first No 1 song with the album’s lead single, We Are Never Getting Back Together, which spent three weeks at the top.

Bakula sees … Ready for It more as an experiment for Swift, especially considering its rap-sung lyrics and more divisive pop stylings.

“I would say it’s a little more of a strategy of, ‘Let’s get as much music out there as is ready to go’,” he says. “Certainly, I don’t think anybody would argue that this is a little more challenging content for her. She’s experimenting with different stylisations and things like that, so you’re going to get … some fans saying, ‘Yes, go Taylor,’ and some saying, ‘This isn’t the Taylor I remember’. ”

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Reputation’s first two singles may be falling on the Hot 100, but as Billboard’s co-director of charts, Gary Trust, points out, the songs continue to rise on the pop songs chart, “which is really her home chart at this point”.

“To come right back (in 2017) with another hit with the first single from the album, that’s a pretty big accomplishment,” he says.

Yet, the Hot 100’s landscape is fundamentally different to what it was in 2014, when Swift landed her back-to-back No 1 singles. Hip hop has since become the dominant genre on streaming services, democratising the kind of songs that are able to reach No 1. That helps explain why Look What You Made Me Do is sitting at No 5 this week, below tracks such as Bodak Yellow and Rockstar, two breakout hits from rising rappers driven by strong streaming numbers.

“You can also look at it as, those are two hip-hop hits, and Taylor still has the largest hits from the pop side,” Trust says. “She is still huge, there are just two other songs in front of her at the moment that streaming is driving.”

Yet, with five weeks to go until Reputation’s debut, Swift is losing out to fresher faces. That’s the nature of the music industry in 2017, in which a viral hip-hop song can be just as dominant as a pop single with powerhouse marketing behind it.

After releasing her first two singles to mixed results, Swift has gone silent, likely plotting her next move. Beyond the mixed reception of its initial singles, Reputation also has a high bar to clear. 1989’s sold 1.28 million copies in its first week.

While it’s almost certain that Reputation will premiere at the top of the charts, Swift will need to prove her longevity as an artist to match the success of 1989’s 11-week run at No 1. And considering the mixed results of her two lead singles, that consistency is something Swift’s Reputation era has yet to see.