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Ask Billboard: Ed Sheeran & Taylor Swift’s Red Reigns

In the latest reader mailbag, Sheeran brings fire to the top of the Billboard 200, while Swift's record tour leads to a look at her career sales and more.

As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, Tweet questions to Gary Trust: @gthot20


@gthot20 Hi from the Ginger Gentleman … With X going to #1, Ed Sheeran is the 1st natural #1 ginger since Reba!

Alan Kase ?@Alan_Kase

Hi Alan/the Ginger Gentleman,

As Sheeran’s “X” marks the No. 1 spot on the current Billboard 200, he also scores a red-hot achievement for redeads. (Or, the Ginger Mafia, as Billboard’s music section editor Alex Gale would proudly describe his burgundy brethren).


Sheeran is the latest redhead to score Billboard chart success. 10 random others: Clay Aiken, Tori Amos, Rick Astley, the Judds (Naomi and Wynonna), Shirley Manson (of Garbage), Willie Nelson, Lindsey Stirling, Tiffany

Geri Halliwell, aka, Ginger Spice of the Spice Girls …

… and, Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. The pop band’s name originated when the manager of a venue was confused about its name, then Red. Hucknall explained that it was “red … simply red.” Soon, “Simply Red” appeared on publicity posters and, while Red never hit the Billboard Hot 100, Simply Red did, scoring two No. 1s: “Holding Back the Years” in 1986 and “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” in 1989.

Sheeran locking up the top spot on the Billboard 200 also ties a record, regardless of the color of his locks: “X” equals the fewest characters of any No. 1 in the chart’s 58-year history (even if the title is meant to be pronounced “multiply,” according to Sheeran).

Here’s a look at the five titles to rule the Billboard 200 that have used up the least amount of ink in the tally’s title field:

“4,” Foreigner, 1981
“1,” the Beatles, 2000
“O,” Omarion, 2005
“4,” Beyonce, 2011
“X,” Ed Sheeran, 2014

Thus, oddly, and quite appropriately, enough, the only single-letter album titles to feel No. 1 love on the Billboard 200 are … “X” and “O.”

Tying together Sheeran’s hair color and success, his drive has stemmed, in part, from being bullied when younger. “I was quite a weird kid when I was little, I wore big glasses, had hearing problems, had a stutter … and I had ginger hair,” he said last year. “Being ginger can seem like a bad thing when you are young, but, as a musician, it has been my saving grace, because if you see a ginger kid on TV and there is only one messy-haired ginger kid who plays guitar, it is very easy to find [me] on YouTube.'”

Speaking of red, and one of Sheeran’s friends, musical collaborators and tour partners …


@gthot20 Hey Gary, Taylor Swift’s Red tour has become the highest grossing country tour of all time. On this occasion, can u update her sales?

Soundnim Kansakar ?@sounddnim

Hi Soundnim,

Billboard Boxscore manager Bob Allen reported on July 3 that Swift has “smashed the all-time revenue record for a single tour by a country artist with the final stats reported from her Red tour. It played arenas and stadiums in four continents during a 15-month span. According to Billboard’s Boxscore archives, the tour’s overall gross of $150 million surpasses the prior country artist record held by the double-billed Tim McGraw and Faith Hill Soul2Soul tour that brought in $141 million during 2006 and 2007.”

Swift’s Nielsen SoundScan sales aren’t bad, either.

Here’s a look at her U.S. album sales and top 10-selling downloads to date:

Album sales:
6,840,000, “Fearless” (2008)
5,438,000, “Taylor Swift” (2007)
4,420,000, “Speak Now” (2010)
4,045,000, “Red” (2012)
1,004,000, “The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection” (EP) (2007)
346,000, “Speak Now: World Tour Live CD + DVD” (2011)
316,000, “Beautiful Eyes” (EP) (2008)

Taylor Swift Shares Optimistic View of Music Industry In WSJ Op-Ed

Swift’s total U.S. album sales stand at 22.8 million. With her four studio sets having sold more than four million each, an incredibly impressive streak owed, in part, to her crossover appeal and social media savvy, she surely has a unique view of how artists can achieve, and maintain, success, as she covers in her new Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Top song sales:
5,717,000, “Love Story”
4,935,000, “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
4,469,000, “You Belong With Me”
3,839,000, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
3,208,000, “Our Song”
2,865,000, “Teardrops on My Guitar”
2,265,000, “Mean”
2,225,000, “Mine”
1,985,000, “22”
1,890,000, “White Horse”

Going back to Sheeran … as he joined Swift on her historic “Red” tour, he, thus, can take pride in contributing to her record trek. “He played his heart out every night for us on the Red Tour,” Swift tweeted on June 23.


Hello Gary!

Congratulations are in order for Blake Shelton, who’s joined an elite list of scoring five chart-toppers from an album. While he and Brad Paisley are the only artists to notch five Country Airplay hits from one album, via Paisley’s “5th Gear” and Shelton’s “Based on a True Story…,” they aren’t the only country acts to achieve this feat.

In 1989 – 25 years ago – Rodney Crowell earned the distinction of becoming the first artist to log five chart-toppers from an album on Hot Country Songs. His “Diamonds & Dirt” yielded the No. 1s “It’s Such a Small World” (with his then-wife Rosanne Cash), “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried,” “She’s Crazy for Leaving,” “After All This Time” and “Above and Beyond.”

(And, of course, Michael Jackson’s “Bad” in 1987-88 and Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” in 2010-11 each produced five No. 1s on the Hot 100.)

The question now is whether or not Blake will attempt to go for a sixth chart-topper from his “Story” album.


John Maverick
Burt County, Nebraska

Hi John,

A deserving mention of Crowell’s accomplishment. Notably, Crowell never topped Hot Country Songs before or after that run of five No. 1s (as an artist). Still, he released some great, melodic country-rock singles that became hits at the format in the early ’90s, including “Now That We’re Alone,” “Lovin’ All Night” and “What Kind of Love,” the lattermost song a Roy Orbison co-write (and a No. 11 Hot Country Songs hit in 1992, nearly four years after Orbison’s passing).

Crowell also landed two more big hits as a writer: Tim McGraw spent five weeks at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs in 1999 with “Please Remember Me” (after Crowell’s original had reached No. 69 in 1995); and, Crowell’s lone Hot 100 entry as an artist, “Ashes by Now,” a No. 37 hit in 1980 (which merely dented Hot Country Songs, peaking at No. 78), burned a path to No. 4 on Hot Country Songs in 2001 as remade by Lee Ann Womack.

On Top Country Albums, Crowell’s collected six top 40 titles since 2001, including last year’s No. 4-peaking “Old Yellow Moon,” with Emmylou Harris; it became his highest-ranking set ever and second top 10 (and his first since “Diamonds & Dirt”). Two months ago, he debuted at No. 25 with his latest album, “Tarpaper Sky.”

Meanwhile, as you wonder: Will there be a sixth single from “Story,” giving Shelton a chance at owning the record for the most Country Airplay leaders from one album all to himself? I asked Billboard country chart manager Wade Jessen, who checked with Shelton’s label, Warner Music Nashville. The verdict? Bad news/good news: “There won’t be another single from the album.”

But … “he has a new single – and album – coming soon.”


Dear Gary,
With “Rude” by MAGIC! at No. 2 on the Hot 100, “Magic” has become the latest word to serve as both the title of a top two hit and the name of an artist behind a top two song (exclamation point excluded).

Here is the list:

“Magic,” Olivia Newton-John (No. 1, four weeks, 1980)
“Rude,” MAGIC! (No. 2, so far, 2014)

“Eye of the Tiger,” Survivor (No. 1, six weeks, 1982)
“Burning Heart,” Survivor (No. 2, 1986)
“Survivor,” Destiny’s Child (No. 2, 2001)

“War,” Edwin Starr (No. 1, three weeks, 1970)
“The Cisco Kid,” War (No. 2, 1973)

“Magic” is also the title of four other top 20 songs: by Pilot (No. 5, 1976), the Cars (No. 12, 1984), B.O.B. featuring Rivers Cuomo (No. 10, 2010) and Coldplay (No. 14, this year).

MAGIC! is additionally the latest top 10 artist to feature an exclamation point in its name, joining the likes of Wham!, Al B. Sure!, Snap!, P!nk, Panic! at the Disco and 3OH!3.

Another rarity: the current top three (for the third straight week) features songs with one-word titles: “Fancy,” “Rude” and “Problem.” The last time that had happened was Aug. 30, 2008:

No. 1, “Disturbia,” Rihanna
No. 2, “Crush,” David Archuleta
No. 3, “Forever,” Chris Brown

And, this post would not be complete without a tribute to the late Casey Kasem, who piqued my interest in the Billboard charts and chart trivia. In his memory, I’ll sign off:

Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars!

Jeff Lerner
Long Island, New York

Thanks Jeff!

One more to add to the list of words that have become top two Hot 100 hits both as an act and a song:

“Breathe,” Faith Hill (No. 2, 2000; and the overall No. 1 song of that year, thanks to its longevity)
“Hands to Heaven,” Breathe (No. 2, 1988)

An oh-so-close nod to Mariah Carey’s 1991 No. 1 “Emotions” and the group the Emotions, who reigned in 1977 with “Best of My Love.”

… A much less-close case with the Monkees, who scored four top two hits (including three No. 1s) in 1966-67 and … George Michael’s 1988 No. 1 “Monkey” …

And, Brandy notched three such smashes in 1996-99. If only Looking Glass hadn’t subtitled its 1972 No. 1 “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” (… or if she hadn’t been such a fine girl in the first place …)

Nice catch on the three one-word titles in the top three, as well. It’s a subject close to my heart after I recently analyzed the trend. As singer/songwriter Liz Longley pointed out, “In a social media-frenzied world, it’s nice to have a short, memorable, hashtag-able word” when choosing a song title.

Check Billboard.com tomorrow to see if MAGIC! can displace Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” after six weeks at No. 1 (a MAGIC! trick that Azalea, unfortunately, would surely find rude).