The final projection is in: Music industry website Hits Daily Double predicts that Taylor Swift's new album, 1989 , will sell 1.3 million copies in its first week. 1989 will likely become the 24-year-old singer's third consecutive release to top the million mark in its opening week (after Speak Now and Red in 2010 and 2012, respectively). This latest prediction is especially significant because if Swift is able to shift over 1.319 million copies of her fifth studio album, she will break Britney Spears' record for biggest first-week sales by a female artist — a record that has stood since the release of Spears' sophomore effort, Oops!...I Did It Again, over 14 years ago. Wow.
Given that album sales in the United States have been on the decline for the past several years, probably in part due to the popularity of streaming services like Spotify, we have to ask: What's the secret to Swift's continued success? I mean, 1989 reportedly sold over 600,000 copies in its first day alone — that's more than many of Swift's contemporaries can hope to sell in an entire week! How does she do it?
In an attempt to find an answer, I decided to look to Spears' Oops! I Did It Again. After all, until now, Spears' impressive sales record had gone unchallenged for well over a decade — she must've done something right! What, if anything, do 1989 and Oops!...I Did It Again have in common that could explain their commercial success? Let's take a look.
Genre & Style
Both 1989 and Oops! are pop albums. While the songs on 1989 are primarily influenced by the pop music of the late '80s, Oops! features a more lightweight, "bubblegum" pop sound. However, both albums consist of a mix of up-tempo and mid-tempo songs, with few ballads.
Writers & Producers
Swift co-wrote each of the 13 songs on 1989's standard edition, while Spears only co-wrote one of the 12 songs on the standard edition of Oops!. However, strangely enough, many of the tracks on both albums were co-written and/or co-produced by Max Martin — a man who first hit it big working with the Backstreet Boys in the late '90s and went on to become somewhat of a legend in the world of pop music.
Time Between Releases
There was a two-year gap between the release of 1989 and the release of Swift's previous album, Red. 1989 came out in the fall, on Oct. 27. (The fourth quarter of the year is often seen as the best time for an artist to release an album due to the promise of holiday sales.) There was about a year and four months between the release of Oops! and the release of Spears' previous album (her debut), ...Baby One More Time. Oops! came out in the spring, on May 16, 2000.
1989 was probably the most-anticipated new release that came out on Oct. 27, but Oops! had to compete with several albums from more established acts (like The Temptations, Sonic Youth, Pearl Jam, Phish, and The Big Tymers) during its release week.
"Shake It Off," the lead single from 1989, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart after its release. "Oops!...I Did It Again," the lead single from which Spears' sophomore album derives its name, didn't fare as well, only peaking at No. 9 (this is sort of baffling to me, because when I think back to my middle school days, I remember "Oops!...I Did It Again" being absolutely huge).
Both 1989 and Oops! received primarily positive reviews after release. Review aggregation website Metacritic assigned 1989 a score of 76 out of 100 based on 24 critics' reviews. Oops! was assigned a score of 72 out of 100 based on 12 critics' reviews. PopMatters' Corey Beasley said in his review of 1989:
The true appeal of 1989, in its perfect evocation of our hugest, most teenage feelings, isn’t the socio-political purity so many critics seem to begrudge Swift for failing to embody, its an aesthetic purity—the purity of feeling, the life-affirming way pop music like hers can force us to drop our pretenses of sophistication for the length of an album and feel on a visceral, unfiltered level.
New Musical Express (NME) said in their review of Oops!:
Like it or not, the songs penned for Britney by Swedish producer Max Martin, the man behind the even more successful Backstreet Boys, get into your brain like ketamine. An all-encompassing, horrendously realised high - once it's inside you, there's little you can do to stop it, you must give in.
Age of Artist
Swift was 23 years old when she began writing songs for 1989. Amazingly, Spears was only 17 when she started working on Oops!.
There are a few important similarities here: both 1989 and Oops! are well-received pop albums released by superstars at the top of their games. Though Swift had a hand in crafting every song on 1989 and Spears probably didn't have nearly the same level of input during the creation of Oops!, both albums also feature the work of Martin. However, there are notable differences, too: the albums were released at different times of the year, which could indicate dissimilar sales climates. 1989 faced less competition during its week of release than Oops! did. 1989 also had the benefit of coming off a wildly popular No. 1 single, while the lead single from Oops! wasn't quite as successful. Finally, Swift had six more years of experience when she began working on 1989 than Spears did when she started recording Oops!.
So, what can we take away from all of this? I think that the two reviews quoted under the "Reception" sub-heading above illuminate the two albums' most significant unifying trait: the ability to make people feel good. I really think it's that simple. Though I would argue that 1989 has more emotional depth than Oops!, both albums are able to make listeners lose themselves, surrendering to the indescribable joy that can only come from listening to fun, bold, well-written, and immaculately produced pop music. There really is nothing else like it. That's the reason why Oops! was such a massive success. That's the reason why 1989 is selling like hot cakes (though Swift's legion of devoted fans and a tireless promotional campaign haven't hurt, either).
Will Swift be able to break Spears' long-held record? We'll have to wait until next week to find out.
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