The title of Taylor Swift's new single clearly isn't about her relationship with radio or her adoring buying public.
"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," the first single from Swift's fourth studio album Red, due Oct. 22, appears headed for the upper reaches of next week's Billboard Hot 100 chart, thanks to its immediate acceptance across multiple radio formats and a projected record first-week digital sales total.
After being serviced to radio late yesterday (Aug. 13) jointly by Big Machine and Universal Republic Records, "Never" has accrued approximately 30 million in all-format radio audience in less than 24 hours, according to Nielsen BDS. With that audience total, "Never" is already among the last seven days' 40 most-played titles across all formats.
Also commercially released to iTunes and Google Play late yesterday, and to other digital retailers today (14), "Never" has the retail record books in its sights. Industry sources suggest that the song may sell between 450,000 to 500,000 downloads by the end of the Nielsen SoundScan tracking week on Sunday (19). That large a sum could earn "Never" the biggest sales debut for a digital song by a woman, as well as a career-high sales week for the country/pop superstar.
(While pop and country versions have been released to appropriate radio formats, only the pop edit of "Never" is currently available digitally for consumers.)
If it surpasses 448,000, "Never" will earn the largest debut for a digital song by a female artist. Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" holds the mark among women, having launched at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Digital Songs chart dated Feb. 26, 2011. (Impressively, "Born" racked 448,000 after only three days on sale, having bowed Friday, Feb. 11, 2011. (The SoundScan tracking week ends on Sunday each week). Swift's "Never" will start with a little more than six days' worth of sales.
As for Swift, her best sales week was tallied with "Love Story," which sold 360,000 over Christmas week of 2008 (on the Hot Digital Songs chart dated Jan. 10, 2009). Her highest debut week came courtesy of "Today Was a Fairytale," which sold 325,000 on the Feb. 6, 2010, Hot Digital Songs chart.
Since her arrival in 2006, Swift has sold 17.8 million albums in the U.S. and 47.6 million digital tracks, according to SoundScan. In its 2011 year-end report, Nielsen named Swift the No. 5-best-selling digital songs artist, and the top such country act, of the digital era.
'NEVER': HOT 100-BOUND
While the sales of "Never" will not factor into this week's Hot 100 -- highlights of which will be revealed tomorrow morning on Billboard.com and Billboard.biz -- as it was released following the chart's sales tracking period (which ended Sunday), the Hot 100's airplay tracking week runs on a Wednesday-through-Tuesday cycle. Thus, the song's approximate 30 million in audience so far should enable a debut in the chart's lower half this week before its first sales frame helps propel it to the upper ranks of next week's Hot 100.
Could "Never" soar to No. 1 on the Hot 100 next week? Possibly. As a comparison, Justin Bieber launched at No. 2 the week of April 14 with "Boyfriend," thanks to 521,000 in first-week sales and 49 million in opening-week audience. As "Never" could debut with a similar, if slightly less, sales sum and a likely higher audience total, a top five Hot 100 rank, at least, next week appears possible.
The official debut sales frame for "Never," according to SoundScan, will be released on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 22. Highlights of next week's Hot 100, including the rank of "Never," will post on Billboard's websites the same day.
RADIO-ACTIVE COUNTRY HIT
The response from multiple radio formats to "Never" has been "over-the-top exciting," Big Machine president Scott Borchetta beams. "Everyone is so happy to have her back with a great new single and a fourth-quarter album.
"Because she has been such a dynamic, solid and trusted performer, there was a huge expectation and hope for a great first track. Programmers coast-to-coast feel that Taylor has again over-delivered," he says.
Big Machine and Universal Republic have teamed with Clear Channel Media and Entertainment to help instantly ingrain "Never" among listeners, as the largest radio chain in the U.S. is spotlighting it with top-of-the-hour airplay on many stations until 11 p.m. tonight (14) among its 308 country, mainstream top 40, adult top 40, adult contemporary and rhythmic outlets.
(Clear Channel has similarly premiered new songs by Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, Madonna and Rihanna with hourly airplay in recent months.)
With Billboard's Nielsen BDS-based genre airplay charts on a Monday-through-Sunday cycle, "Never" is off to a fast start at numerous formats as of this afternoon. On the building charts as of 4 p.m. ET today, the song ranked at No. 4 on Country, No. 10 on Adult Contemporary, No. 16 on Mainstream Top 40, No. 18 on Adult Top 40 and No. 37 on Rhythmic.
As the end of Clear Channel's intense airplay of the song after tonight could level off its airplay throughout the week, a top 20 debut for "Never" on the Country chart seems more probable than a top five or top 10 start. (Highlights of Billboard's genre airplay charts will be released Monday (20) on Billboard.com.)
Both country and pop programmers are happy that, with "Never," Swift has gotten back together with radio. (Not that they've had that much time to miss her. "Ours" became her sixth Country No. 1 in March, while B.o.B's "Both of Us," featuring Swift, currently ranks at No. 32 on Mainstream Top 40, where she's placed 12 entries.)
"I like the record. I heard it a couple of weeks ago and, about 30 seconds in, thought it was a multi-format hit," CBS Radio Houston VP of programming Mark Adams says. (The company's Houston cluster includes country KILT and mainstream top 40 KKHH.)
"From what we can gauge, her fan base is excited about her new music and wants to hear it on the radio, as the majority of responses have been positive. KILT night jock Brooke shared with me that her phones and social media were very active last night as she played it ('Never') several times."
As for the Avril Lavigne-leaning anthemic pop chorus of "Never," Adams says that the song should still endear itself to country audiences. "I don't really understand or agree with 'too-pop' criticisms in regards to Taylor or any other country artist, for that matter. I happen to like popular, hit records that create actual passion. I always welcome another one.
"We've added the song into a power new category on KILT and it will be somewhere in the upper 30s in spins over the next seven days," he says.
"We'll go where we go from there."
Don Gosselin, PD of Clear Channel country WNOE New Orleans, agrees that the more listeners for a country hit, the better.
"Taylor is a major superstar for the country format and it is vital for country stations to own this new song and album," he says. "She has always been a crossover artist, which is great because of all the new people she brings to our format. But, she is and always will be country."
Country radio consultant Joel Raab shares that "a few stations are telling me that ('Never') is the most pop-sounding song Swift's ever done." As such, the "strong, catchy song" will likely appeal "better to younger than older listeners," he predicts.
Nate Deaton, GM/music director at Empire Broadcasting's country KRTY San Jose, Calif., says that Swift's mass-appeal is unique -- and undeniably welcomed.
"There has not been an artist who has moved the needle (on an Arbitron PPM ratings measurement meter) like Taylor," he says. "We are very excited about the new song, the album and her touring. Her past two tours have been the only times in all the contesting we do that our ratings have significantly jumped. Keeping in mind that we have most every major tour in this market year-in and year-out and they sell great, we still can't move that needle the way we do with Taylor."
Deaton says that "Never" made for easy promotion on KRTY. "We made a big deal over the weekend of a special surprise song from a major artist on the way at 5 p.m. on Monday. It made for great radio and listener reaction has been excellent.
"The fact that we can get mileage about the story behind the song is even better. We are calling it 'Jake's Song'!" Deaton jokes, alluding to actor Jake Gyllenhaal being a likely source of the song's scornful (however upbeat and fun-sounding) subject matter.
POP APPROVES, TOO
It's a love story between "Never" and pop radio, as well.
"Never" is "the perfect song for Taylor to launch a new project with," Clear-Channel-owned mainstream top 40 WHTZ New York PD Sharon Dastur says. "The audience has instantly reacted to the catchy hook and its lyrics made for a great topic on the Elvis Duran & the Z100 Morning Show this morning."
"I like it. She always calls 'em like she sees 'em," says Randy McCarten, PD of Clear Channel's mainstream top 40 WRVE Albany, N.Y., who predicts that the song will be a "sing-along" favorite when Swift joins a who's-who of high-profile acts playing the company's second annual iHeart Radio Music Festival on Sept. 21 and 22 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
"Taylor Swift is a pro and connects with the audience as well as anyone," adds Clear Channel mainstream top 40 WNWW Jacksonville, Fla. APD/afternoon drive host Bryan Laroche. "The proof is in how fans reacted after hearing the new track. We didn't even have to ask for feedback; they just chimed in.
"It took just one listen to realize how huge this song will be."