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NEAR TRUTHS: TAYLOR'S TIME, BILLIE'S BONANZA
AND THE NEW MERCKANTILE

IT'S TAYLOR'S TIME:Taylor Swift album release is always an event, and the attendant marketing battleship Tay commands is always an imposing sight when it roars into industry waters at a full clip.

Taylor’s first week this time out won’t be quite as big as her last few, there’s no question she’s overperforming, with projections now in a sales-heavy range of 775-850k domestically, with 900k not out of the question. Her pre-release singles, meanwhile, could add as much as 300k to her release-to-date total by first week’s end.

Can any of the current top stars hit 1m in week one anymore? What about Adele? Would she consider windowing her next album, as she did her last release?

 Taylor’s new album will be massive, with the biggest debut of the year so far, decisively surpassing labelmates the Jonas Brothers’ 414k. What’s more, her initial streaming performance—like the album’s numbers overall—are higher than many insiders expected. That said, her fans, while rabid, generally aren’t leaning on the button the way fans of the top streaming artists do. Her songs are largely being eclipsed on the charts and in the popular imagination by younger artists and hotter genres—by rappers in cowboy hats, goth-pop girls with blue hair, bedroom trap producers with face tattoos, helmet-wearing EDM mavericks and divas who’ve captured the pop zeitgeist.

The long tail of streaming keeps these new stars’ records in the upper tier of the charts, while the previous wave of pop stars—unless they have smash singles—tends to spend less time on the leaderboard after they debut. Meanwhile, there’s still plenty of chatter from Taylor’s camp about her not getting her catalog back after the BMLG sale, as Ithaca partners celebrate that catalog’s long tail. (Tay set off a tempest in a teapot just prior to her album drop by telling GMA that she plans to re-record her catalog starting in late 2020, though insiders say that’s not a reality.)

While the first-week number isn’t quite as colossally important as it once was, a #1 debut is still a sine qua non for your superstar pop diva. Thus the preponderance of bundles—and Taylor isn’t sleeping on that front. She will undoubtedly benefit from the existing chart rules regarding bundle eligibility, which Billboard is due to change at the top of next year. How much of Tay’s D2C will the Bible throw out? We’re thinking not much.

Bottom line: This record is huge. Even a Taylor release that isn’t quite performing up to her own extraordinary standard is still a thing to behold, and the biz continues to be riveted by her every move. Stay tuned.

TRUE BLUE: The artist story of 2019 is undoubtedly Billie Eilish, whose impact on virtually every metric is astounding. On top of her total sales at 5m+ worldwide and approaching 2m U.S., 1m+ tracks sold and nearly 1.9 billion audio streams, the teen phenom can now add a Hot 100 #1, as she becomes the first and only artist to unseat Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” from that airy perch. Meanwhile, her album continues to linger in the Top 5 with only minimal declines, as the aforementioned long tail of streaming throws its weight around. The Grammy buzz on Eilish (who creates her music outside the anointed-producer nexus, collaborating only with her gifted brother, Finneas O’Connell) is getting louder. Did we mention that she’s still just 17?

THE DECLINE THAT WASN’T: Some of our trade brethren and sistren made much of reports alleging that streaming growth was on the wane, prompting all manner of apocalyptic prognostication. But in fact, we’re told, total U.S. streams are up 27% YTD, with roughly 447.2 billion total streams this year, compared to 351.3b compared to last year; rights holders contend that Apple and Spotify combined are up 29% year over year. It’s clear that the winners in the streaming race are still winning, the pie is increasing and the fabled downturn is—so far, at least—a myth.

FROM THE HIP: Is Hipgnosis Songs Fund founder Merck Mercuriadis about to make some of his biggest moves yet? The London-based entrepreneur, who has emerged as one of the most disruptive figures in the current biz, is, according to insiders, in talks to acquire two indie pubcos. He’s been buying up hit catalogs at a feverish clip—he just added a big trove of Chainsmokers copyrights—and scaling up to have the bandwidth to attend to his holdings. Look for him to make a lot more noise in the near future.

 

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