While the premiere of Swift’s Brendon Urie-featuring comeback single was racking up 65.2 million views within its first 24 hours, YouTube’s global head of music was touting the success of its launch — a midnight EST live premiere that had millions fans around the world lining up digitally, waiting to watch the video go live. (YouTube does not release the actual premiere streaming figures.) As a clock counted down, the Swifties carried on conversation amongst themselves in a chatroom that Swift eventually joined, answering questions and celebrating the live launch in real time with her top supporters. This digital communal event, Cohen tells Billboard, will become the new norm for music’s top acts and restore something much needed to the industry. “I couldn’t sleep all night,” he says. “I was just so excited.”
Cohen contextualizes the success of Swift’s “ME!” video over his 39 years in music, saying for the past decade the industry has been suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and it has failed to recognize when something is truly special. The convenience of this video-on-demand (VOD) world, he said, has killed “this FOMO moment” that has been crucial to the music industry. “That’s how you launch some of the most exciting moments that happen in music,” Cohen says. “And unfortunately because of the VOD world, we lost that — until now.”
YouTube’s new Premieres product, has so far touted massive debuts by Ariana Grande (“Thank U Next,” 55.4 million views in 24 hours) and Blackpink (“Kill This Love,” 56.7 million views in 24 hours) and, Cohen says, has helped restore “that communal tension of shared experience.”
“It’s the global reach, it’s the excitement, the shared community, the enthusiasm and then a shared experience,” he says, adding that never in his career has he received so many calls from executives asking how they can make YouTube Premieres work for their clients. “This is something that we’re going to have to manage very closely.”
While the Premiere product is already available for all YouTube creators, Cohen says his team is getting together this week to put together a rundown of best practices that will encourage scaling wider use. The implications, he predicts, can be wider reaching than YouTube impressions alone, with artist teams using it as a tool to create early momentum that could reverberate across the industry.
For instance, in just three days of tracking, on charts dated May 4, Swift’s “ME!” made the singer’s second-highest entrance on the Adult Pop Songs chart (No. 14), the highest arrival on the Pop Songs chart (No. 20) since 2015 and landed at No. 23 on Adult Contemporary. As of Monday (April 29), the song had tracked 36.9 million plays in airplay audience, boosted by participating iHeartMedia-owned pop and adult pop stations that played “ME!” hourly on its first day of release. Now, the single is set to make major impact on the May 11-dated Hot 100 chart, following its first full week of airplay and streaming and sales measurement and Swift and Urie are scheduled to deliver the worldwide premiere performance “ME!” opening the 2019 Billboard Music Awards on Wednesday (May 1).
“One of the frustrations of the music business is that they couldn’t plunge something like they used to… Like pushing a plunger of a bomb, exploding something,” Cohen says. “And I think this is at least one step one step towards creating interest around the moment that one could draft off of. You see what’s happening at radio, it’s exploding at radio right now, and that’s all drafting off of the fact that it had such huge numbers that it’s taking over all the algorithms around the world.”
“We started in an audio world,” he adds, “we moved to an audio-visual world, and I think this is the moment when it became a visual-audio world.”