Taylor Swift framed her new album folklore and its surprise release as an expression of what she’s been doing and thinking and feeling while in isolation because of the coronavirus, saying in her initial announcement post that she had a gut feeling that “if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world.” It was the sort of emotional and honest (or at least honest-seeming) self-reflection that Swift has become very good at, and it certainly seems to have resonated with people. It was also, whether Swift intended this or not, a good way to quickly and quietly take over the Billboard charts in a way that has never been done before. We’re not saying folklore’s release was part of an elaborate scheme, but it’s not like she’s never been involved in an elaborate scheme. It would be a discredit to her history of clever schemin’ to not even consider that it’s all part of a plan.
But anyway, as noted above, Swift and folklore broke a bunch of Billboard records: The album debuted at the very top of the Billboard 200 chart and the track “Cardigan” debuted at the top of the Hot 100 chart, which is the first time anyone has ever done that. Ever. On top of that, “The 1" debuted at No. 4 (ironic), making Swift the first person ever to debut two songs in the top four spots on the Hot 100. Also, the Bon Iver-featuring “Exile” opened at No. 6, making Swift (do you see where this is going yet?) the first person ever to debut three songs across the top six spots of the Hot 100. A handful of artists have debuted three or even four tracks in the top 10, but never in the top six, and if that seems like a metric specifically designed to create a new record for Taylor Swift to break… that’s because it is.
So let’s unpack what this all means. The Hot 100 and Billboard 200 charts have been around since 1958 and 1956 (respectively), but Taylor Swift is obviously not the first big artist to release a popular new album since then. Elvis and The Beatles didn’t have the benefit of streaming, which certainly helps Swift, but this is where her surprise release comes into play. Swift didn’t release any singles ahead of time, so the album and all of its songs debuted simultaneously, and since she’s Taylor Swift and was riding the hype of a surprise release (or “Beyoncé Drop”), a bunch of the songs became hits all at once. So yes, Taylor Swift did something that no other artist has done, but it doesn’t mean “Cardigan” is the best song ever. It just means she’s very popular already and released her album in a smart way. (Besides, “Old Town Road” is the best song ever, and there’s science to back that up.)