How Taylor Swift Has Stayed Atop the Charts With ‘The Tortured Poets Department’

How Taylor Swift Has Stayed Atop the Charts With ‘The Tortured Poets Department’

In early June, when Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department was enjoying its seventh week atop the Billboard 200, her friend and collaborator Lana Del Rey offered a simple explanation of Swift’s stardom to BBC News. “She’s told me so many times that she wants it more than anyone,” Del Rey said. “And how amazing — she’s getting exactly what she wants.” 

This week, Swift secured her eighth consecutive week at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, tying Folklore and coming behind only 1989 and Fearless (11 weeks each) for the most weeks at No. 1 of any of her 14 career chart-toppers. TTPD is also the first album in a year, since Morgan Wallen’s One Thing At a Time, to have spent at least two months atop the list and is the first album by a woman to spend its first eight weeks at No. 1 since Whitney Houston‘s Whitney spent its first 11 weeks at the top in 1987. It also extends Swift’s record of weeks spent at the apex of the Billboard 200 to 77 — 10 weeks more than the solo artist with the second-most, Elvis Presley (67).

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While Swift is adept at rolling out record-breaking albums, what’s different this time is not how she has done it but for how long — and when. While she — and most artists across genres — often boosts first-week sales with multiple vinyl variants, signed CD copies and deluxe digital exclusives, Swift has expanded on that rollout plan well beyond the initial release of The Tortured Poets Department.

It’s a strategy that’s relatively novel. Then again, rarely does an artist have such a massive and faithful fan base ready and willing to activate as needed. And while Swift’s record-breaking Eras Tour and initial deluxe release, The Anthology — which arrived mere hours after the 16-track original, and which has continued to stream well — have surely helped sustain TTPD, the strategic drops of bonus versions available for a limited time, from acoustic renditions to first-draft phone memos, have kept her physical and digital sales high.

In its first tracking week, TTPD raked in 1.914 million total album sales in the United States (physical configurations and digital downloads), according to Luminate. That figure alone translates to an estimated $38.3 million — without taking into account the 891.37 million on-demand official streams, which accounted for an additional 683,000 streaming equivalent album units. The album continued to stream well for its next three weeks, even as sales naturally died down — until its fifth week, when Swift supercharged the album by releasing six digital album bonuses and one new CD variant on her webstore, including first draft phone memo versions, “Live From Paris” recordings and an acoustic version of “But Daddy I Love Him,” all available for a limited time in the United States. Plus, a variety of five CD offerings — either signed or a deluxe version — had shipped after being replenished. Fans were quick to snatch the new versions up, generating an estimated $2.4 million in sales revenue — a huge bump from the prior week’s total of nearly $801,000, and helping keep the album at No. 1.

That same week, Billie Eilish released her third album, Hit Me Hard and Soft. It arrived with a handful of physical offerings including nine vinyl variants and four CD editions, plus three deluxe digital editions: a standard digital album with 10 bonus isolated vocal tracks of the album’s 10 songs, a version with 10 bonus sped-up versions and a version with 10 bonus “slowed and reverb” versions. Hit Me ultimately debuted at No. 2 but scored Eilish the best first-week number of her career with 339,000 units.

The competition resulted in a major coup for both artists: For the first time in eight years, two albums had earned over 300,000 equivalent album units in a single week in the United States, according to Luminate. (Drake’s Views and Beyoncé’s Lemonade both cleared 300,000 units in one week on the chart dated May 21, 2016).

Swift continued her extended rollout strategy this past week as her Eras Tour hit the United Kingdom. In TTPD’s eighth week of availability, she made her “Live From Paris” bonus tracks and first draft phone memos available once more for a limited time, gated to the U.K. market, which once again led to a weekly sales spike — and helped keep TTPD atop the charts in that country.

Swift’s dominance has certainly been felt by her peers, who themselves released deluxe editions and additional versions of their albums in their respective first weeks of availability, hoping to boost their own first-week numbers. Fans of those artists felt it, too; Billie Eilish fans, for example, noted that Swift’s fifth week — when she released the first batch of additional versions — coincided with the release of Eilish’s Hit Me Hard And Soft. And Charli XCX fans, hoping to see the pop star get her second U.K. No. 1 album with Brat this past week, expressed frustration that Swift happened to release the second wave of additional releases the week Charli’s album hit the market. (In the United States, Brat debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 3, earning Charli the highest debut of her career.) As one user wrote on X: “I didn’t wanna believe it but… Taylor could actually be chart obsessed…”.

Some industry sources across sectors of the business feel similarly, lamenting to Billboard that Swift’s flood of releases is not just feeding superfans, but boxing others out of the spotlight — and the type of acclaim and prestige that a No. 1 album can provide. Charli hinted at the online chatter when she said to a sold-out crowd at Los Angeles venue The Shrine on May 15: “I just feel like artistry shines through, you know what I’m saying? I’m really appreciative of the people who have been there from the jump and understood my vision… What’s the next song? Oh, it’s ‘Sympathy Is a Knife.’ Interesting.”

After the fact, fans pointed to the themes of Brat — particularly a song like “Rewind,” on which Charli questions her relationship to fame and her own artistry, even calling out the Billboard charts by name. One fan wrote on X: “There is of course an irony that an album full of meditations on the push-pull relationship of the artist and their art to success was beaten to the #1 spot by an artist peddling the 304th edition of their album for another week atop the charts…”. Yet, as Clint Robinson, on-air talent for Audacy Orlando, said in a TikTok clip, “The problem is, Taylor Swift has amassed a literal army of fans that buy her variations, that want to stream her albums, that want to see her be No. 1. They care about that because she does too. And you want to know why? Because she is an incredible businesswoman.”

Given its success, Swift’s extended-rollout strategy could become a blueprint for others to follow to maintain momentum on the charts. Meanwhile, some industry insiders are wondering when it will end, with one industry source comparing the ongoing TTPD releases to fast fashion.

Ahead, fans are eyeing Sabrina Carpenter’s current chart reign as she occupies the Nos. 2 and 3 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Please Please Please” and “Espresso,” respectively. Carpenter — a close friend of Swift’s who opened for the star on a handful of Eras Tour dates — will release her new album, Short n’ Sweet, on August 23. Though the pair are openly supportive of one another, and despite Carpenter’s album being nearly two months away, her fans aren’t resting easy just yet. As one posted on X: “Taylor Swift got a mega deluxe acoustic version ready for her ass.”