Taylor Swift makes the ultimate pivot
Swift thrives in an era that encourages artists to release music at the speed of streaming
In the age of unlimited choice, successful artists release music at the speed of streaming. This applies to any artist — superstars included. The traditional cycle of putting out a couple of singles, releasing an album, celebrating big week one numbers, heading out on a lengthy world tour, and taking another year or so to produce a new album is out the window. There’s a new way of doing things.
Taylor Swift perfectly understands this. In fact, it seems that the opportunity to release more music faster without a whole lot of friction has fueled her creativity. Hot on the heels of her critically-acclaimed Folkore this summer, she’s releasing her new album, titled Evermore, tonight taking fans by surprise again. Swift’s career is thriving and it’s all because she pivoted to a new way of releasing music that suits her and the industry at large.
Streaming, social media, and direct fan engagement have turned the traditional release model up its head. Hip hop artists quickly understood this years ago. They flooded the market with content. It wasn’t always of high quality, but they owned the cultural conversation, and in fact, they helped set the pace of culture alongside the emergence of streaming services.
Ariana Grande was one of the first major pop artists who understood the importance of breaking the cycle and releasing music quickly. Starting in 2018, she delivered two major albums only a few months apart. It made sense. Commercially, but mostly creatively. She was one of the biggest stars in the world who went from a highly-publicized relationship to a break-up that made headlines. Only weeks after releasing Sweetener she went back into the studio to start recording Thank You, Next. She was living and creating in real-time. There were no boundaries imposed by how the music business used to work (kudos to her fantastic A&R who inherently understood this). It helped Grande create music that’s authentically hers.
Miley Cyrus points to a similar sentiment in a recent interview with Howard Stern. “That’s always the bummer about touring for a year at the time because you start outgrowing your record,” Cyrus explains. The traditional album cycle does not work anymore — creatively and commercially.
The point of my argument is that releasing an album without a whole lot of set up and extensive long-tail is the new superstar thing to do. Taylor Swift has caught on as well. She has always been a prolific writer who has figured out ways to challenge herself and try new things. But it feels like the traditional cycle of releasing music may have been stifling to her.
The pandemic has forced artists to hone in entirely on the creative process since touring and physical promo is out of the question. And when the creativity flows, then let it flow — leading to more music and releasing albums a lot faster than fans are used to. Swift follows suit and is back with a second surprise this year. With Evermore, Swift continues the journey she embarked on with Folkore.
I love everything about this new era of music. Streaming has not only democratized music, it also has opened the door to rethinking release strategies to put creativity at the center of things. It’s the ultimate pivot. I hope Adele and Rihanna are watching.