Chart Beat

Ryan Adams' Cover of Taylor Swift's 'Bad Blood' Debuts on Adult Alternative Songs Chart

Ryan Adams 2015
Julia Brokaw

Ryan Adams

The rock format shakes off any concerns about playing a song first made a hit by a pop superstar.

Adult alternative radio is used to playing songs from 1989. I.e., such hits as Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'," Don Henley's "The End of the Innocence" and Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World."

Now, the format is playing a song from 1989 ... Taylor Swift's album, that is (named after the year she was born).

Ryan Adams' cover of "Bad Blood" debuts on Billboard's Adult Alternative Songs chart (dated Oct. 10) at No. 26. It's the lead radio single from Adams' much-buzzed-about, song-for-song remake album of 1989, which, as previously reported, debuts at No. 7 on the Billboard 200. The set starts with 56,000 equivalent album units earned in the week ending Sept. 24, according to Nielsen Music. Swift's 1989 ranks at No. 8, with 42,000 units in its 48th week.

Both Taylor Swift & Ryan Adams '1989' Currently in Top 10 of Billboard 200

Swift's original "Blood" (featuring Kendrick Lamar) topped the Billboard Hot 100 (dated June 6) and has crowned the Pop Songs and Adult Pop Songs airplay charts.

Swift has never hit the Adult Alternative Songs survey, leading programmers at the taste-making rock format to ponder the merits, and potential negatives, of playing a composition by an artist synonymous with mainstream music and pop culture.

For adult alternative stations playing Adams' "Blood," however, they're intrigued by the benefits.

"Ryan is a core artist for us, so I had no reservations about playing this. Ryan's our guy," says Russ Borris, WFUV (90.7) New York music director. The station played Adams' version of "Blood" 15 times in the chart's tracking week. "I know his 1989 started as a fun idea, kind of just messing around, but then it snowballed.

"Hearing his 1989 … it's a Ryan record. They're not his songs, but it's a complete reworking. He's turned them inside out. What it shows is, at the heart of it, great songs are great songs. Even if Taylor Swift isn't your thing, you have to respect her."

"Adams possesses an honest interest in the craft of songwriting," echoes KCSN (88.5) Los Angeles program director Sky Daniels. The station played "Blood" 16 times last week. "He chose the most powerful artist in music today and wanted to find the essence of what makes her songs great, stripping away the pop production."

Ryan Adams' Cover of Taylor Swift's '1989': Billboard Review

Borris agrees that helping "Blood" at adult alternative is Adams' imaginative reinvention, which takes the song from young-end gloss to jangly, breezy folk-rock. "That's the respect I have from his standpoint. A pet peeve of mine is when an artist covers a song the same way as the original. That's not a cover, that's just you singing it. It's a waste of time. You have to bring something new to get people excited."

Borris also isn't worried that WFUV, known for playing signature artists like U2, Beck and Wilco, and a mantra of new music discovery, won't suddenly be confused for crosstown pop outlets WHTZ (Z100) or WBMP (92.3 AMP Radio) just because it's playing a hit made familiar by their poster child. A main reason: Adams' robust history at adult alternative. He's tallied seven top 10s on Adult Alternative Songs, including two No. 1s: his 2001 debut "New York, New York" (not to be confused with his new remake of Swift's "Welcome to New York" ...) and 2011's "Lucky Now."

"Because of what Ryan brings to 'Bad Blood' and who he's been for a decade-and-a-half, I think there's very little that he could do with us to hurt that credibility," Borris says.

Meanwhile, playing an all-pop out smash could provide a key, and somewhat rare, advantage for adult alternative. "What might be the most interesting bonus in adding a tune like this is a demographic factor," notes WXPN (88.5) Philadelphia MD Dan Reed. The station spun "Blood" 16 times in the tracking week. "For instance: dad is dropping off his daughter at school one morning, with 'XPN on in the car, of course. The daughter notices that dad's station is playing a Taylor Swift song … but with some guy singing. It opens up a father-daughter dialogue.

"That's the kind of situation that creates memories. It also creates new Ryan Adams fans and new [non-commercial] station members. This actually happens more than you may think. We hear about connections like this, thanks to music and radio, all the time."

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While it might be too early to predict how high Adams' "Blood" might rise on Adult Alternative Songs, Borris thinks that it could grow even beyond the format. Adams has charted one title on Adult Pop Songs: "New York, New York" made it there, reaching No. 18, in 2002.

"Overall, I really like 'Bad Blood'," Borris says. "My initial thought was that it's fun, a little kitschy. But, hearing it more, it could exist as a surprise hit outside our station and format's world."