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Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ soars to No. 1 with biggest sales week of 2020

Taylor Swift
(Beth Garrabrant)

“Folklore” is a storybook smash.

Taylor Swift’s fantasy-streaked eighth studio album — recorded in secrecy in quarantine and released on July 24 with only a few hours’ notice — moved the sales-and-streams equivalent of 846,000 copies in the United States in its first week of availability, according to Nielsen Music. That’s the biggest opening for any record this year — and the biggest sales week for any album since Swift’s 2019 LP, “Lover,” which notched 867,000 copies in September.

“Folklore’s” strong commercial showing was more than enough to secure a No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200, 30-year-old Swift’s seventh visit to the chart’s top spot; among female artists, only Barbra Streisand and Madonna have scored more No. 1 albums, with 11 and nine, respectively. (The Beatles, as Billboard points out, are the all-time leaders, with 19 chart-toppers.)

Liz Phair was supposed to be on tour with Alanis Morissette right now. Instead, she’s interviewing the “Jagged Little Pill” star for The Times.

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Of “Folklore’s” first-week copies, 615,000 registered as full-album sales in either a digital or physical format, which makes the album 2020’s biggest seller after just a week. The previous leader, “Map of the Soul: 7” by K-pop’s BTS, has sold 574,000 copies in the U.S. since it came out in February.

Swift’s label, Republic Records, said global sales for “Folklore” have passed 2 million.

Those sales numbers aren’t unusual for one of the few superstar artists still capable of inspiring fans to pay for downloads and CDs. (“Lover” sold 679,000 copies in its first week of availability.)

Yet “Folklore’s” impressive streaming stats — the LP’s songs racked up 289.9 million streams, according to Nielsen — suggest that Swift, who’s famously bickered with streaming services over payments, has finally embraced (and been embraced by) the format that now dominates music consumption.

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Billboard said “Folklore” had the biggest streaming week of any non-rap album released this year, with only Juice Wrld’s “Legends Never Die” and Lil Uzi Vert’s “Eternal Atake” having racked up more streams.

Swift made the rootsy “Folklore” remotely with new collaborators led by Aaron Dessner of the Brooklyn indie-rock band the National, who told Pitchfork that Swift texted him in April and asked if he wanted to write songs together; other musicians featured on the album include Bryce Dessner and Bryan Devendorf, both of the National, and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who duets with Swift on “Exile.” (That song carries a writing credit for the mysterious William Bowery, suspected by many Swift fans to be an alias for the singer’s boyfriend, actor Joe Alwyn.)

Swift’s longtime studio partner Jack Antonoff also co-wrote and produced several cuts.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the live-music industry, Swift had been scheduled this summer to play a series of shows called Lover Fest at the new SoFi Stadium in Inglewood and at Gillette Stadium near Boston. She’s said the concerts will be rescheduled for 2021.


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