Music

How Historic Will Taylor Swift’s ‘Tortured Poets Department’ Debut Be?

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 Billboard 200 dated May 4), Taylor Swift zooms past her own already-historic career-best marks with the first week of her much-anticipated Tortured Poets Department album.  

Taylor Swift, The Tortured Poets Department (Republic): Apologies to grunge greats Pearl Jam’s Dark Matter, which should have a very nice first-week sales debut – but this week, it’s simply all about Taylor Swift. Her 16-track, much-hyped new album’s The Tortured Poets Department, which was expanded to 31 tracks mere hours after its initial release with the set’s subsequent Anthology Edition, is set to put up some absolutely stratospheric first-week numbers – zooming past the totals even for her recent Midnights and 1989 (Taylor’s Version) releases, which already but her in a class by herself this decade as far as debut tallies go.  

Billboard has reported on her Poets numbers throughout the week, most recently updating them yesterday (April 23) for the days of April 19-22. Through those first four days of release, the album had racked up 1.6 million traditional album sales, including a modern-era record 800,000 of that in vinyl, according to initial reports to Luminate – both easily the highest such first-week numbers for the decade, passing Swift’s prior marks of 1.359 million and 693,000 for 1989 (TV). It’s also already the fifth-highest single-week sales mark for an album of the modern era (since Luminate began electronically tracking sales in 1991). The album is available for purchase in six vinyl variants, including editions named after album cuts “The Albatross,” “The Bolter,” “The Manuscript” and “The Black Dog,” which all also have CD versions available for sale on her webstore.  

Additionally, the 31 total tracks have amassed a combined 602.3 million official on-demand U.S. streams, which passes the 549.3 million streams posted by Midnights upon its October 2022 debut for the highest single-week mark for an album by a female artist. The only other albums that have posted higher single-week streaming marks are both by Drake — Scorpion posted 745.92 million in 2018 with its 25 tracks, and Certified Lover Boy totaled 743.67 million in 2021 with its 21 – both of which Swift would seem to be on pace to pass, with three days still to be accounted for in the Poets tracking week.  

All in all, Tortured Poets Department is already up to 2.1 million equivalent album units in its first week of release, making it only the second album since the Billboard 200 began measuring by equivalent album units in December 2014 to clear the two million mark in a single week. The other, of course, is Adele’s 25, which posted a still-staggering 3.482 million first-week units (including 3.378 million in straight sales) upon its debut in November 2015. (*NSYNC’s No Strings Attached also earned 2.416 million in straight sales during its 2000 debut week, obviously long before Billboard calculations accounted for streaming.) 

With sales and streams both slowing for Poets as the week goes on – a very normal arc for a blockbuster album release – it’s unlikely that the album will approach either of those Adele numbers. The album would have to average around 460,000 units a day over the final three days of the tracking week to challenge Adele’s 3.482 million total, and it added around 200,000 additional units on the 22nd. You can never count out a last-minute extra edition or two as far as Taylor Swift is concerned, and 2.5 million is definitely in range for her, but failing some extraordinary surge, it seems like the three-million mark will likely remain Adele-only territory for at least one more Swift album. 

Swift should also remain in a class by herself when it comes to space occupied at the top of the Hot 100, however. For the second album of all-new material in a row – following Midnights in 2022 – Swift is a threat to lock down each of the top 10 positions on the Billboard Hot 100 with debuting tracks from the set, and this time her uninterrupted dominance could stretch into the teens as well, according to early data from Luminate. (Swift charting all 31 songs from Anthology is also certainly a possibility.)

The main threats to her top-dozen Hot 100 supremacy are of course Hozier’s “Too Sweet” and Future, Metro Boomin & Kendrick Lamar’s “Like That,” which occupy the top two spots on the chart this week (dated April 27), and Republic labelmate Drake’s own new release “Push Ups,” which debuted on streaming and at digital retailers on Friday after being available via internet leaks for the prior week. “Push Ups” is unlikely to get the streaming edge on any of Taylor’s top dozen Poets tracks, but its sales advantage – it remains in the top 20 on the iTunes real time chart, behind just eight of the Poets cuts – may be enough for it to get in the way if it continues through the end of the week.  

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