Marketing lessons from Taylor Swift’s surprise evermore drop, analysing Spotify and Twitter data
Data Analysis by Philia Neo
Analysis by Numhom Techalapanarasme
Design and Data Viz by Sophia Sena
Words by Michelle Lee
In December 2020, Taylor Swift dropped her second surprise album of the pandemic: evermore.
Just like her previous album, folklore, it was a runaway success, reaching its third non-consecutive week at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. With both albums, Swift pulled off a marked transition away from radio-friendly pop to a more acoustic, folk-y sound reminiscent of her country roots.
Her album launch sparked a lot of social buzz, specifically conversations about each song. Yet we noticed a curious discrepancy between the most listened tracks and the ones that drove conversation. In this piece, we compare streaming behaviours from Spotify and conversation data from Twitter.
Looking at the week after evermore’s release (11th to 18th Dec), we extracted 129,553 tweets from US-based fans that mentioned words related to evermore. From these tweets, we identified the most talked about tracks. For each track, we analysed and sized the most commonly occurring themes in fans' conversation.
We also tracked the position of evermore tracks in the Spotify Daily Top 200 charts over time, using Spotify data.
Based on the Spotify Daily Top 200, the most streamed tracks from evermore over the week of the album’s launch almost mirrored the album line up (with the exception of “No Body, No Crime”), as follows:
- Champagne Problems
- Gold Rush
- ‘Tis the Damn Season
- No Body, No Crime (ft. HAIM)
However, consumer conversations tell a different story over launch week, with songs like No Body, No Crime and Happiness making up a higher percentage of tweets than suggested by streaming ranking.
- Willow (18%)
- No Body, No Crime (ft. HAIM) (4%)
- Happiness (3%)
- Champagne Problems (3%)
- Majorie (2%)
Emotional connections drive conversation
To understand how evermore distinguished itself and managed to resonate with audiences, we dove into the conversation themes behind the top 5 most talked about tracks during launch.
As the official album single, it’s no surprise “Willow” is evermore’s top mentioned track. Its happy sound and story contrasts every other song in the top five most talked about songs, as listeners called it out as a powerful memorable single that’s essentially ‘whimsy’ and ‘folksy’ personified. Its ‘soft’ and ‘refreshing’ melody lines are highly reminiscent of the romantic country vibes of folklore (2020) and the single “Cardigan”, though fans tend to prefer Willow’s uplifting story.
Cool girls and crime junkies united over “No Body, No Crime”’s delicious murder mystery story. As the only song to break from the album order in ranking, and the most talkable song outside of the album’s single “Willow”, “No Body, No Crime” presents an interesting case study for understanding evermore’s success. While fans were most excited about Swift’s collaboration with HAIM on an original track, listeners also enjoyed the storytelling aspect of the song and how it evoked classic country songs with vengeful, powerful women. Listeners compared it Country songs like Carrie Underwood’s “Two Black Cadillacs”, “Before He Cheats”, and The Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl”.
Reminiscent of the musicality and melancholic ‘cottage core’ aesthetic of folklore (especially the songs “Peace” and “Seven”), “Happiness” is most mentioned by consumers for the ironic juxtaposition of the titular emotion and the sadness and grief expressed by the lyrics. “Happiness” struck a chord with many listeners working through their own grief. Listeners called out how its ‘poetic sadness’ tapped into a profoundly universal human experience, helping them process suppressed emotions.
With “Champagne Problems”, Taylor Swift strikes right to the heart of modern alienation. Fans describe it as a surprisingly complex, beautiful, and soothing song for its lyricism and ability to capture an evolving contemporary sentiment, playing on the often derided #firstworldproblems. “Champagne Problems” also struck a chord with older Swifties who became nostalgic for older Taylor classics, likely from her Speak Now era.
Gentle and sincere, “Majorie” resonated deeply with people who have also lost a loved one. Taylor’s tribute to her grandmother caught fans off guard with its emotional depth and reverberance. However, listeners sought out its tune and lyrics as solace from their grief and appreciated the sense of closure and memories the song evokes. This song is especially resonant during COVID, as many people are dealing with individual and collective grief brought about by unprecedented times.
What does this mean for streaming services?
The distinction between most streamed and most talked about becomes interesting when the two datasets are in contradiction.
Most streamed tracks are influenced by casual listeners, where algorithms, radio pushes and wider marketing have a significant impact. But most talked about tracks are more representative of hardcore fans, who listen to the album as a whole, dissecting, analysing, and enjoying songs in the context of the artist’s overall discography.
This is particularly true for artists like Taylor Swift, who have built up a devoted fanbase over a long career. We see fans expressing love for and thinking of the album as a whole in Tweets where they consider the album’s place in Swift’s wider oeuvre, or where they rank their favourite tracks.
Most talked about tracks thus give us insight into which songs genuinely resonate with long-term fans, allowing music producers and promoters to think strategically about how to position an artist in the long-run.
Most talked about tracks surface wider hooks into an album as a whole. These tracks are beloved by fans because of their emotional resonance - dealing with the highs and lows of human emotion - as well as their daring aesthetic experimentation. These qualities don’t necessarily make for easy listening. However, they drive hype for an album as a whole, boosting stream counts for the catchy and more palatable tracks that end up listened to on repeat.
For highly talkable tracks that differ from streaming statistics, their top conversation themes could be leveraged to indicate opportunities to expand an artist’s listenership beyond their dedicated fanbase. In the case of evermore, the highly emotional song “Happiness” about heartbreak and relationships could be a great addition to sad playlists, and serve as a different entry point to the album as supposed to “Willow”’s gentle uplifting tunes and “No Body, No Crime’s” country/folk murder mystery sound and story.
When positioning an established artist, understanding what their current fan base loves about them could be the key to unlocking similar audiences. Hardcore Swifties in the US love Taylor for her musicality and lyricism - it would be interesting to see what her fans in non-English speaking countries like Korea love about her.
Since evermore, Taylor has gone to release new songs and a re-recorded version of her early album Fearless. From what we know from evermore, promoting highly emotional tracks or engaging with fan conversation around these tracks can thus be a powerful tool to promote listening behaviour overall.
While identifying the most streamed tracks is easy based on daily chart rankings, identifying talkable favourites, whilst more complex, offers hooks for driving fan engagement, and could be a viable strategy for growing new audiences and driving excitement for Taylor’s Version of Fearless too.
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