“I think I’ve seen this film before,” Taylor Swift sings in her Folklore track “Exile.”
The observation holds true for her radio rollout for follow-up album Evermore.
Folklore, released on Republic Records last July, generated three radio hits, each promoted to different groups of formats: Lead pop/adult single “Cardigan” hit No. 8 on Adult Pop Airplay, No. 12 on Adult Contemporary and No. 17 on Pop Airplay; “Exile,” featuring Bon Iver, rose to No. 9 on Adult Alternative Airplay; and “Betty” reached No. 32 on Country Airplay.
Evermore, released on Republic in December, has followed the same pattern, with two of its tracks making their debuts on this week’s airplay charts (dated Jan. 30). Pop/adult-focused “Willow” bullets at its No. 12 highs on Adult Pop Airplay and AC and No. 21 on Pop Airplay; “Coney Island,” featuring The National, arrives at No. 30 on Adult Alternative Airplay; and “No Body, No Crime,” featuring Haim, starts at No. 60 on Country Airplay. (MCA Nashville has taken on promotion of both “Betty” and “Crime” at country.)
While she has been a staple of pop and adult formats since her second single, “Teardrops on My Guitar,” sparked her crossover from country after her debut hit, “Tim McGraw,” in 2006, “Exile” brought Swift her first Adult Alternative Airplay chart activity. “Betty,” meanwhile, marked her highest-charting hit on Country Airplay in a lead role since 2013, when “Red” became her 18th and most recent top 10.
With six Swift singles in the last six months, programmers at pop/adult, adult alternative and country are taking advantage of the songs that best fit their formats. Folklore and Evermore both debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and have earned 2.3 million and 720,000 equivalent album units through Jan. 21, according to MRC Data, while “Cardigan” and “Willow” each launched at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“If this is the direction she’s headed, pop is sure to follow”
With the additions of “Cardigan” and “Willow,” Swift has charted 34 career songs on Pop Airplay, 33 on Adult Pop Airplay and 32 on AC. Those sums include nine, seven and seven No. 1s, respectively.
After the fairly traditional-country “Teardrops,” most of Swift’s pop and adult hits charted following her segue to more pop territory with 2013’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.” and 2014’s 1989.
“Cardigan” and “Willow,” with their more organic leans, marked yet another direction for Swift, presenting pop programmers a chance to either question her fit among more typically synthesized fare or embrace a largely untapped sound at the format.
J.R. Ammons, operations manager at Pop Airplay reporter WZPL Indianapolis, chose the latter. “For ‘Willow,’ I’d say the appeal is that it sounds like nothing else on the radio. We play so much soundalike music. ‘Willow’ stands out because it’s different. It’s a beautiful song,” he says. “And Taylor’s voice is so instantly recognizable. It fits the current sound of the format because … it’s Taylor Swift. She has always been one or two steps ahead of everyone. If this is the direction she’s headed musically, pop is sure to follow.”
“We didn’t play ‘Cardigan’ in rotation, but did embrace ‘Willow’ right away. It just felt right, and more pop-friendly,” shares Erik Bradley, music director at Pop Airplay panelist WBBM-FM Chicago. “It’s hard to deny the massive success of these two projects, however unexpected sonically they may have seemed at first.”
“It’s nice to dip our toes into the bigger music world every now and then”
Adult alternative programmers were faced with an opposite situation than their pop counterparts with Folklore: For pop, Swift was long a sure bet, but her switch in sound made for a potentially incongruous fit at the format. For adult alternative, Swift made an album in the format’s center, but, with rock cred considered a box to check, it was by an artist with several past hits co-written with the likes of pop titan Max Martin.
Ultimately, song quality, and Swift’s latest collaborators, won out.
“Taylor Swift is incredible no matter the genre, so we like her in general,” says Chip Morgan, program director at Adult Alternative Airplay reporter WCLX Burlington, Vt., which is playing both “Coney Island” and “Crime.” “‘Coney Island’ is a brilliant mix of voices. ‘No Body No Crime’ is a bit on the country side of our sound, but we like it. As a music discovery station, it is unusual for us to play two songs by the same artist at the same time, but both are collaborations with core artists in our format: The National and Haim.”
“‘Coney Island’ was added without hesitation. Part of that has to do with Matt Berninger [of The National], but also our success with ‘Exile,’ ” muses Kyle Meredith, music director at Adult Alternative Airplay contributor WFPK Louisville, Ky. “We were a little more cautious when ‘Exile’ came out, but it fit our sound and got a great response. Also, it’s nice to dip our toes into the bigger music world every now and then, as long as it makes sense. Someone like Taylor doing two albums like this is a perfect opportunity to reach out to listeners who may not know about us and have them find something in us they may have not heard before.
“Plus,” Meredith adds with a smile, “she’s done great for our socials.”
“I was hesitant due to Taylor’s pop status and thought her music was aimed at a much younger audience,” admits WFPK assistant PD Laura Shine. “But, to my surprise, I fell head over heels for Folklore and Evermore, as well. Her sound has matured.”
“It’s smart for country radio to remain in the Taylor Swift business”
Country programmers playing “Crime” feel that Swift is still a built-in draw, even if she has veered from the format where she started.
“Taylor Swift has a deep-rooted connection to country. I think it’s only smart for country radio to remain in the Taylor Swift business,” says Johnny Chiang, director of operations for Country Airplay reporter KKBQ Houston.
Country stations continue to play Swift’s country hits: While “Crime” received 173 plays on Country Airplay panelists in the week ending Jan. 24, it wasn’t even her most-played song at the format in that span: her 2011 hit “Mean” drew 217 plays. Among her seven No. 1s on the chart, 2009’s “You Belong With Me” collected 139 plays, followed by 2008’s “Love Story” (135) and her first leader, in 2007, “Our Song” (100). She last topped the tally assisting Tim McGraw on 2013’s “Highway Don’t Care,” which garnered 202 plays in the tracking week.
“Her classics are in rotation,” notes Phathead, PD at Country Airplay reporting station WJVC Nassau, N.Y. “I love that we have new music from her that is considered country enough for the format. Taylor never ‘left’ country. She is a star that had an opportunity to capture 100% of the world, and all genres, instead of just the piece that country is. Any one of us, and any artist, would do the same.”