Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Taylor Swift's Big 'Lover' Debut Week

The final numbers are in: It's 867,000 equivalent album units moved by Taylor Swift in the first week of release for her seventh album, Lover, with 679,000 of those coming in straight sales.

Those numbers are both down from the first week of her sixth album, 2017's Reputation, but are dramatically superior to any other album released in the interim. They also correspond with Swift charting all 18 of the album's tracks on the Hot 100 this week, allowing Swift to easily break the record of most simultaneous Hot 100 artists for a female artist. (One of those, "Lover," also hits the top 10 for the first time, becoming her Elvis-tying 25th hit to reach the chart's top tier.) 

How should Taylor be feeling about her historic week? And how are we feeling about Lover after a week and a half with it in our lives? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below. 

1. OK, 879,000 units first week -- that's 361,000 less than Reputation did in its first frame (almost entirely in straight sales), but still significantly more than any other artist has done since. On a scale from 1-10, how happy are you with that number if you're Taylor Swift? 

Trevor Anderson: So many factors changed for Lover’s rollout – it was on a new label, Republic, was her first album to receive a full-fledged streaming release upon its debut, and even showed up in late August, eschewing her usual late October/November strategy that played well into the hands of holiday buyers. The streams likely ate a noticeable chunk of potential sales, but even then, the more than 675,000 sales still dwarf every album in the past 18 months. This too, comes without a solid, overarching hit in the moment. All in all, ME(!)-as-Taylor-Swift settles around an 8 on the satisfaction scale -- it’ll be hard to let that million-seller week record go, but when will your fav get 875,000 units in a week, period?

Jason Lipshutz: I’d give it an 8, simply based on the fact that it’s the biggest album debut since Taylor Swift’s previous album — an astonishing feat that speaks to Swift’s commercial power as a top-level superstar. Although her million-selling streak has been snapped, at this point in our streaming-dominant culture, it’s hard to really get upset that not enough people are buying or downloading your album, right? Lover just scored the biggest bow in nearly two years; the details remain just that.

Joe Lynch: I'd say 9. Just being realistic, this is as good as it gets in 2019 unless you're Adele – and it's sure as hell more than any A-list pop, rock or rap star is going to see on their next release. Honestly, anything over 500,000 is a miracle these days. But Taylor being a straight A student, it has to smart a little bit, which is why I'm not saying it's a perfect 10 for her.

Andrew Unterberger: 7. The numbers are better than many initially projected (feared?), and again, not only better than literally anyone else since the last time Swift was around, but twice as good as the previous best week of 2019, for the Jonas Brothers' Happiness Begins. But a million is a million, and 879k is not. The success is still tremendous, but it is no longer gravity-defying. 

Christine Werthman: 6. Meh, fine, but I wanted a million. That was me channeling Taylor Swift. Though I'd say that Lover accounting for 27% of all album sales in the country in that week is a solid consolation prize. That was me channeling myself.

2. One of the primary points of discussion around Lover is whether or not Swift chose the right tracks as singles leading up to the album's release. If you were on her team, which would've been the first three tracks you'd have pulled as singles, and in what order? 

Trevor Anderson“The Man”“Cruel Summer”“Paper Rings.” On the lead single choice: “The Man” is a strong introduction and even knowing the title alone -- maybe some clever pre-release teasing? -- would likely make a statement. While most would think of a title like “The Man” previewing a romance-centered track, for better or worse, bam -- hit 'em with a no-frills commentary on gender expectations. Whew.

Jason Lipshutz: My first single would have been “Cruel Summer,” an entrancing pop song with an enormous chorus and a 100 percent approval rating -- seriously, I have not yet heard from a Taylor Swift fan that is not into this song. From there I think you go with the title track, a slow burn with piercing songwriting that captures the heart of the new project. And then? “You Need To Calm Down,” which has gradually exposed itself to be a killer single choice -- especially when considering its pro-LGBTQ message and star-studded music video.

Joe Lynch: "ME!," which I do like and is insanely catchy, is one of my two least favorite songs on Lover -- the other being "The Archer," which she ALSO released before the album. I wish "Me" could've been a song in an animated film served to radio around the time of the album, but not the lead single -- it doesn't really give a true impression of what the album sounds like (though certainly you could say the same of "Shake It Off" on 1989). I would've done "Cruel Summer," "You Need to Calm Down" and "Lover" in that order.

Andrew Unterberger: Taylor not choosing "Cruel Summer" as the first Lover single -- rather than electing to clear the decks with the perplexing, misleading "ME!" -- will go down as one of the great what-ifs of her career. After that, I think "You Need to Calm Down" and "Lover" are perfectly fine second and third single choices; it's only because of the ground they still had to make up from "ME!" that they ever felt in any way less than such. 

Christine Werthman: "You Need to Calm Down," "Cruel Summer" and then "The Archer," so you go from fun, quirky first taste (a la "Shake It Off") to best song on the album (facts) to emotional track 5. A perfect sampler platter.

3. "Lover," the set's title track, marks Swift's 25th top 10 hit on the Hot 100, tying her with Elvis for 10th most in the chart's history. Which one of those 25 do you think has become the most underappreciated, or would you just hope that people eventually remember a little better than they maybe do currently? 

Trevor Anderson: The difficulty of this question! I’ll ride for an underserved 2010 classic, “Back to December.” An apparent mea culpa to Taylor Lautner, “December” finds her pouring out regret over a relationship she let go. It was both a great sonic move from her, one of her first big, piano-ready ballads, and explored a theme we’d seen little of in her music to date, where she’s the bad guy and must put the pieces together from a mistake of her own doing. Maybe “All Too Well” gets the shine as the big, piano-ready ballad in Swift’s catalog, but let’s not overlook this key predecessor. Also: This clip of a “December” medley with OneRepublic’s “Apologize” from the 2010 American Music Awards stands as one of her best award show offerings.

Jason Lipshutz“I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” a No. 2 hit on the Hot 100, holds a strange position in Swift’s catalog, as a soundtrack single (shout-out to Fifty Shades Darker, the Empire Strikes Back of the Fifty Shades film franchise!), a duet with Zayn (a year removed from his solo breakthrough, a year before his string of commercial missteps), and a song that Swift only played at one date on her Reputation stadium tour the year after it became a pretty sizable hit. It likely will not persist as one of Swift’s most memorable hits, but still: that shout-along chorus, that ghostly “oh-WHOA-oh” refrain and Swift’s contemplative verse all make “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” worth revisiting. 

Joe Lynch"Today Was a Fairytale" suffers historically for two reasons -- it's not on a proper Taylor album, and it was included in the widely dismissed 2010 film Valentine's Day (ostensibly a rom-com but truly just a non-com). But it's a gorgeous, sweet strummer that speaks to the tendency of youth to treat any romance like it's the most special thing that's ever happened on planet earth in the history of the human race -- and Taylor's lyrics slyly tip to an awareness of that rose-tinted lens without cracking it.

Andrew Unterberger: How many artists in pop history have been big enough to launch TWO largely forgotten No. 2 soundtrack singles? "Live Forever" was fine, but give me "Today Was a Fairytale" -- which essentially put the capper on Swift's first era as a wide-eyed young romantic, before the love songs got realer, the breakup songs got nastier and everything just got a little more adult. There's a reason the song is delivered in the past tense, but it's still magic while it lasts. 

Christine Werthman"Jump Then Fall" from the 2009 Fearless re-issue, because I had never heard that song. It's quite nice! Listen, I don't always listen to deluxe (or in this case, Platinum) editions. Sue me. 

4. Let's also take a second to acknowledge Lizzo, who scores her first No. 1 on the Hot 100 this week with "Truth Hurts." If you had to plot a collab between Lizzo and Taylor, what would it be called and what would it generally sound like/consist of?

Trevor Anderson:  apologize for violating the Bechdel test, but let’s get an “Oh Boy” duet out soon. Taylor and Lizzo have repeatedly expressed their disdain for those with XY chromosomes who don’t measure up, and I bet the pair could have a lot of fun trading verses about horror stories of potential romances gone wrong. In that patented Taylor Swift mold, sprinkle in with enough detail to make you wonder if it’s fact or fiction and never miss a chance to remind men that, if you’re going to date two of music’s hottest superstars, you better come correct.

Jason Lipshutz: Easy: get Lizzo on a remix of Swift’s “The Man” pronto, letting her replace the bridge with some rhymes about how she already does it better than any of the boys ever could. Just imagine what she could do to expand upon that “Leo in Saint Tropez” line!

Joe Lynch: The mood: The excitement of a middle school sleepover, but things are getting a little crazy -- Lizzo spilled some of the light funk of "Juice" over Taylor's sparkling synth-pop bed a la "London Boy," and the result is a new addition to the Cats soundtrack called "I'm Feline Fine." Lizzo has a suggestive but not too bawdy rap about being a kitty who's thirsty for milk, and Swift purrs about an itch that only her rambunctious alley cat knows how to scratch.

Andrew Unterberger: It'd be called "All My Exes Live in Textses," and it'd be a twangy trap banger centered around Lizzo doing an "88 Lines About 44 Women"-style recounting of the various dudes who keep blowing up her phone for months/years after they break up. Taylor would hang around to provide support on the irresistible hook, which would include some reference to there being "not enough emojis for all the eye-rolling I'm doing." 

Christine Werthman: I'd have Lizzo hop on a remix of "The Man." Lizzo has said that she's in a different, more positive place in her life now than she was when she wrote the uproarious "Truth Hurts," but if she could channel some of that "Why men great till they gotta be great?" energy into Swift's song about gender double standards, it would take "The Man" to a whole other level. Imagine the jokes. Imagine the potshots. Imagine the chart position.

 

5. You've had a week and change to live with Lover now. With the understanding that it's still early and all rankings are subject to change, about where would you personally currently place it within her catalog? 

Trevor Anderson: Without revealing my exact personal Taylor Swift rankings, I’d say Lover settles in the upper middle class. At 18 songs, it could have been trimmed into a tighter package, but I like the multiple selves that Swift explores here: a woman in a stable, secure relationship, a caring daughter, a celebrity yet reconciling with the trials of fame and a megastar cheerleading new causes and blooming into her public political identity. For a while, the simplest take – however true -- distills Swift into one of two moods: her love life and people who bully her. Lover doesn’t let people get away that easy -- here we have a revealing, 3D portrait of a woman that everyone swears they know, and yet everyone can gleam something new.

Jason Lipshutz: It’s probably her second- or third-best album to date, and perhaps her most consistent yet; my main takeaway after listening over a dozen times straight through is that there are truly no bad songs out of the 18 provided. My personal favorite, 2010’s Speak Now, contains more high moments (in my heart, at least), but Lover is the sound of Swift without an ounce of filler -- considering the length and the amount of ideas on display, it’s been something to marvel at over the past couple of weeks.

Joe Lynch: It's top three for me, right alongside Red and Reputation. I went into it a little uncertain, but soon realized this is one of her most emotionally mature musically accomplished sets – and it's a pleasure to hear her sounding so comfortable again.

Andrew Unterberger: Somewhere in the middle. Speak Now and Reputation are the pace-setters for me, but I'd rank Lover alongside Red and Fearless -- lower highs perhaps, but more consistent throughout, even if it does go on a track or two too long. (FTR: If the album kept up the pace from its first six tracks throughout, it'd be in very strong contention for No. 1.) 

Christine Werthman
7. Taylor Swift
6. Reputation
5. Fearless
4. 1989
3. Lover
2. Speak Now
1. Red

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