The Contenders is a midweek column that looks at artists aiming for the top of the Billboard charts, and the strategies behind their efforts. This week (for the upcoming charts dated Nov. 11), Taylor Swift’s latest Taylor’s Version is already her biggest-debuting yet – but will it pass the original album’s bow was nine years earlier?
Taylor Swift, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) (Republic): This was the one fans had perhaps most been waiting for: Taylor Swift’s re-recording of her 2014 blockbuster 1989, the album that confirmed her as a full-on, no-qualifiers-needed pop superstar, and the set many most associate with her today. Even in a pop culture autumn already totally jam-packed with Swift – including a No. 1 movie at the box office (with her concert film Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour) and a No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 (with her revived Lover deep cut “Cruel Summer” — 1989 (Taylor’s Version)‘s Oct. 28 debut was always going to make a seismic chart impact.
The album – which features new recordings of the 13 tracks originally on 1989, as well as of three bonus tracks from the album’s deluxe editions, and five songs from that period seeing release for the first time – unsurprisingly dominated streaming services upon its release. Spotify announced that Swift had set the record not only for the best single-day performance for an album on the DSP, but for any single artist – breaking her own record, natch, previously set with the release day of last October’s Midnights. On the most recent Spotify Daily Top Songs USA chart (for Nov. 1), Swift still all of the top five spots, led by the Taylor’s Versions of new-old songs “Is It Over Now” and “Now That We Don’t Talk.”
Sales for the set have of course been massive. Billboard reported on Wednesday that in its first five days of release, the set had already posted a million in sales – making it her sixth album to pass the seven-digit mark in its first week. The album is available in 15 different physical variants, including five different-colored vinyl options (with a Target Exclusive version that also includes a bonus track re-recording of soundtrack song “Sweeter Than Fiction”), eight CD options (several with folded posters included), a multi-colored cassette, and a digital edition with a bonus track new version of 1989 single “Bad Blood,” featuring a re-recorded guest verse by rap superstar Kendrick Lamar.
1989 is already easily the best-performing Taylor’s Version for its debut week – sailing past the previous first-week high in units set by her re-recorded Speak Now (716,000) earlier this year. Will it also pass the first-week number set by the original 1989 back in 2014? That album also breezed by the million mark in its first week, ultimately posting 1.287 million in first-week sales. The new 1989 should certainly at least be in range of that, with the set already over a million in sales alone through the first five days of the tracking week, with two days’ worth of consumption still left to be accounted for.
If it can pass the original 1989, then Swift will have just one more of her own albums to pass for her best first-week performance ever: Midnights, which debuted with a staggering 1.578 million total units moved in November 2022 — of which 1.14 million were in straight sales.
IN THE MIX
SEVENTEEN, SEVENTEENTH HEAVEN (Pledis): Everyone is likely just competing for second on the Billboard 200 this week behind Taylor Swift, but South Korean boy band SEVENTEEN – who reached No. 2 on the chart in April with their FML EP — should have one of the week’s best-sellers with new EP SEVENTEENTH HEAVEN. As is common with major K-pop releases, the set’s sales will be bolstered by 16 collectible CD editions of the album, including exclusive versions sold via Barnes & Noble, Target and Walmart, all with branded merchandise items inside (like stickers and photo cards).
Brent Faiyaz, Larger Than Life (ISO Supremacy/UnitedMasters): If fortune favors the bold, hopefully R&B star Brent Faiyaz will be rewarded for surprise-releasing his new Larger Than Life set in the shadow cast by a Taylor Swift release week. The 14-track effort is currently only available in physical form as a pre-order for Nov. 20, but should perform fairly well on streaming – with guest appearances by Missy Elliott, Coco Jones, A$AP Rocky and other big names – and benefit from the momentum of 2022’s well-received Wasteland, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 last July.
Various Artists, The Nightmare Before Christmas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Disney) / Michael Jackson, Thriller (Epic): ‘Tis the season, and with Halloween officially passing on Tuesday, you can bet a number of holiday favorites will see big gains on the charts. Those will most likely be led by the Danny Elfman-composed soundtrack to the Tim Burton-produced perennial favorite The Nightmare Before Christmas (celebrating its 30th anniversary this year) and Michael Jackson’s Thriller, one of the most decorated albums in the chart’s history. If enough folks get in the holiday spirit this year, then Nightmare — which has spent 24 weeks on the Billboard 200 and sits at No. 54 on this week’s chart (dated Nov. 4) — may have a shot of passing its prior No. 22 peak, set around this time last year.