The power of the Swifties: Taylor’s ‘Midnights’ breaks streaming and vinyl sales records
Taylor Swift, of course, is not new to breaking records. She’s set a lot of them: a Grammy award for best audio recording, her first No. 1 hit (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” with Chris Kirkpatrick), a best-selling and critically acclaimed album, and her most recent release, 1989. So it’s odd that she’s now breaking another record, this time with her third consecutive No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 (only the Beatles have ever done it). This time, she’s taking on a genre long considered untouchable: the Top 40.
The Top 40 is an interesting corner of pop music. It’s a genre largely defined by the success or failure of songs with the words “Top 40” in their title. The term was coined by the editors of Billboard magazine almost 20 years ago as a way to distinguish songs with that word in their titles from those that did not. It came after that magazine’s then-president Billboard declared “We must now accept that Top 40 is the new mainstream.”
A handful of artists have achieved the No. 1 debut. Other than Nirvana and the Beatles, they have all been preceded by a No. 2 or No. 3 album. (Sylvia Plath, who was the first English-language female singer to reach No. 1, had a follow-up that didn’t reach No. 1.) That means Taylor Swift has become the first artist in the history of Billboard to have a No. 1 album and a No. 1 single. This isn’t only a record for the ages. It’s also a record for the genre.
Swift first gained fame in the 1990s with songs named after Top 40 radio songs. (She may have been the first artist to use that phrase, but most of them have since been covered by other artists.) Since then, the phrase has gained traction. For the past few years, the “radio stations of the world” has been a staple of many of the world’s biggest news channels. And on most of them, it’s been a staple of the Top 40 playlist.
But, on the Billboard 200 charts, it’s not quite so common.