This is about perception. The goal is to get as big a sales number as possible and then tout this to the somnambulant media who will eat it up, printing the facts verbatim, about Taylor’s “success,” and hopefully the public will eat it up.
But will they?
We live in two worlds. The honest one of the internet, based on data, and the false one left over from the last century wherein producers and publications are in cahoots to put out pabulum, oftentimes inaccurate, in order to get you to partake.
But that’s not working anymore.
Kinda like those holiday movie issues. Nobody cares about those, they’re just promotion to sell advertising, as out of touch as the newspaper itself, which is the same length every day, irrelevant of how much news there is.
So the truth is Taylor Swift’s new album is a stiff.
Now don’t take this as me getting back at her, this is a business story, not a gossip one, one wherein the biggest pop star in the world missteps.
She had it right, being in the news every damn day, but then she got caught in a web of her own duplicity and removed herself to her detriment.
That’s right, to live outside the law you must be honest. And it’s the same deal online. Swift was called out by Kim and Kanye, the latter with more cred than her, and Taylor folded her tent. If you can’t take the blowback, get off the internet. Oftentimes when you react you’re just blowing up the story.
So Taylor goes absent while hip-hop takes over the world. This is not her fault, but she plays in the commercial sandbox. One after another, pop divas have failed. Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, their albums did not live up to expectations. But Taylor thought she was different, but you can’t break the rules of pop unless you’re pushing the envelope, but Taylor came out with retro, imitative stuff, no different from what was already on the hit parade, and was vitriolic to boot. She misread the tea leaves, her act was getting old, it was time to change it. But she kept on playing the hurt little girl even though she was 27 and rich.
But the truth was evidenced on streaming services, where success, or lack thereof, is quantifiable.
Sure, “Look What You Made Me Do” had an impact, but there was pent-up demand for new Taylor Swift music, but none of the reviews or buzz were positive. They were lukewarm at best. And then came the tsunami of marketing. The rigged system to get better concert tickets, the deal with UPS…a truck stopped by my house last week and I laughed, it would be kinda like having the side of the vehicle painted with promo for the Pet Rock. Taylor lost touch. But this is not hard to do when you’re living in the bubble.
But it gets worse. Taylor dropped a fourth single at the end of last week to fuel demand, to drive excitement. Right now “Call It What You Want” is #37 with a downward bullet on the Spotify US Top 50. The track is doing better on iTunes, it’s #6, but the days of dominance are done, Taylor’s just another artist now, not something special.
Furthermore, iTunes measures sales, not listens, and listens are everything. What’s more important, money or fans? If you focus on the former it won’t be long before the latter abandon you.
But you’ll be hearing all about sales statistics for a week after Swift’s album drops.
But there you’ve got the hype-industrial complex once again.
Streaming won, if you don’t know this, if you don’t agree with this, you’re irrelevant, you’re probably still railing at iTunes for dismembering the integrity of the album.
The country runs on hip-hop. This could change, but you win either by breaking the paradigm or getting in line. Swift did neither.
Once she broke the paradigm, being the teenage Joni Mitchell, singing about her angst to country music. But then she became just another pop diva, living and dying by the hit.
But now you’ll hear about grosses, all kinds of numbers trying to cement Swift’s place in the firmament. But she’s already peaked.
Now somehow, Gaga has broken the mold. She hasn’t had a hit in eons, but she’s still loved. But really, Gaga is a unique musical figure, and she’s toned down the antics dramatically. Gaga is embraced by mature audiences, Swift’s old fans are graduating and the young ones are not forever.
So Swift will do good business on the road. They’ll try to convince you she’s as big as ever, that she’s dominating, but she’s not.
You fight for your status every damn day in music, especially if you’re playing the hit parade game. If you’re playing to the audience, your days are numbered, it’s when you’re most outside and most honest that you resonate. And everybody peaks. But if you want to sustain, be true to yourself, and if you explore do it your way. Don’t change sounds in the middle of a career, chasing trends, trying to be bigger… The truth is the champion always changes, and being the biggest and the best won’t keep you happy for long, and those on top get the slings and arrows, which Swift has had a hard time coping with.
Beware the backlash. It begins before you notice. In an era where everybody knows everything, and can talk about it with everybody instantly, it’s best to be humble, real, not try to perch yourself above, because human nature is such that everybody wants to pull you down.
We need music. We need those who test the limits. But we need artists who are aligned with humanity, who don’t live some cotton candy life.
You’ll never forget Taylor Swift, but you’ll forget “Reputation” soon. Despite everybody telling you that you shouldn’t.
Music is funny, when done right you can’t get enough of it, you need to play an album or a track over and over again.
But when done wrong, you don’t.
And the truth is in today’s world where everything is available all the time we’re only interested in the tippity-top, the bestest of the bestest, anything less than that disappoints. Or, you can forgo this competition and live in your own domain, of which there are a number of exponents. Jason Isbell does not get country airplay, he doesn’t dominate on Spotify, but he’s the beneficiary of the best word of mouth in the business, people want to see where he goes next, it’s not based on the penumbra, but the music itself. And this formula is repeatable.
As long as you’re an original.
Originality is based on the music, once you get caught up in the trappings…