Five Burning Questions: Taylor Swift Makes Chart History With ‘Midnights’ Debut

Over a decade and a half into her career as a Billboard hitmaker, Taylor Swift is currently enjoying her best week ever on the charts.


Her Midnights album makes history this week, officially moving 1.578 million equivalent album units in its debut frame — the best opening bow not just for any Swift album, but for any album released in the past 20 years outside of Adele’s 25. And over on the Hot 100, Midnights becomes the first album (and Swift the first artist) to occupy all 10 spots in the Hot 100’s top 10 simultaneously, led by lead single “Anti-Hero” at No. 1.

Why is Taylor Swift posting these jaw-dropping numbers this deep into her career? And will Midnights be remembered by fans as a career high for her? Billboard writers answer these questions and more below.

1. Taylor Swift makes a historic showing on both the albums and songs fronts this week, moving 1.5 million units of her Midnights album — most of her career and most for any non-Adele artist of the last 20 years — while also becoming the first artist ever to occupy all 10 spots in the Hot 100’s top 10 simultaneously. Which, in your mind, is the more impressive achievement of the two?

Katie Atkinson: They’re both massive, but I’m going to have to go with occupying the full Hot 100 top 10. Drake’s come close, holding nine of the 10 spots, but all 10 is a special kind of domination. It’s obviously a symptom of the way we consume music and the way we track listening these days – it’s a fun game to think about what other artists might have held those top 10 spots at once if streaming were around in earlier eras – but being able to plant her flag as the first artist to ever achieve the feat is something no one can take away from her.

Hannah Dailey: The simultaneous top 10 spots. As mind-bogglingly impressive as her sales record is, there’s something about the recognition that the Hot 100 gives an artist that feels even more special. The 1.5 million units shows that Swifties are showing out for their favorite artist, but the chart proves that she pretty much has the whole world listening, too.

Jason Lipshutz: Somehow, becoming the first artist to occupy all 10 spots in the Hot 100’s top 10 — a singular feat in the chart’s 64-year history — is only the second most impressive chart achievement by Taylor Swift this week. Moving 1.5 million units of an album in a single week didn’t seem like something that could ever happen again, especially after Adele’s 30 fell short of the seven-figure mark last fall. Not only did Swift score the biggest album debut in nearly seven years, she also set a new career best with Midnights — mind-boggling stuff, considering how many enormous eras already precede her.

Joe Lynch: A cogent point could be made either way, but I’m gonna say the 1.5 milli first week. At this point in this music industry, it’s not so much “who can sell a million copies in one week?” but “can anyone sell a million copies in one week?”. I might be overstating it (obviously, Adele exists) but even coming close to the 1M mark is something 99% of pop stars simply cannot do in 2022. The fact that Taylor sailed past it – and in physical sales, too – is a massive accomplishment.

Andrew Unterberger: The Hot 100 record is more historic — and very literally unbeatable — but the album units are more impressive. I mean, we just had Drake secure nine of the top 10 a year ago; we haven’t seen anyone else even get within half a million of that first-week number this decade. Hell, not long ago some of us at Billboard wondered if we would ever see another million-unit first week, with digital sales numbers so down, ticket/merch bundles no longer contributing to sales totals, and streaming volume more spread out among different artists and genres every year. And then Midnights motors past the one million mark in only a couple days and just keeps going. It’s Adele-esque, really.

2. For Midnights to make such a resounding bow in 2022, a full 16 years into Swift’s career as a recording artist (and nearly as many as a global superstar), is pretty remarkable. What do you think the biggest reason is for Swift experiencing this current commercial renaissance?

Katie Atkinson: There are so many factors, but I think if you look at her last four releases – 2020’s Folklore and Evermore followed by the first two Taylor’s Version re-records, of Fearless and Red, in 2021 – that quartet of albums created an excitement around her that can only come from an artist with a decade-and-a-half of history with fans. She started by taking a musical and narrative left turn with her folky, more fictional pandemic albums, then reminded everyone how incomparable her back-catalog is (with some bonus and expanded tracks from those eras to boot), only to announce a brand-new album with a month-and-a-half heads-up but zero pre-release singles or videos. What would it sound like? What would it be about? What exactly is “Vigilante S–t”? Swift is a master of building buzz, and the last two years set the table for one of her buzziest albums yet.

Hannah Dailey: The most important gift Taylor brings to the table has always been her songwriting. When an artist is best-known for their vocals or performance abilities, there’s a lot less space to stay fresh or adapt to the times — there’s only so much one can do to elevate an already great voice, for example. But because Taylor’s greatest talent lies in something as infinite as language and story telling, she will always be able to find opportunities to write in ways that are new, fresh and reflective of the changing appetites of listeners. 

As long as she stays as self aware as she is in regards to her strengths, a commercial renaissance will never be out of the question for Taylor. I think she could just as likely experience unprecedented levels of success with her next album, and her next album after that, and so on.

Jason Lipshutz: Pinpointing one reason for this unprecedented run is difficult, considering the amount of fan engagement, marketing acumen, collaborator savvy and attention to detail that Swift has demonstrated. Yet at the center of it all is the music, which remains as fresh, exciting and musically adventurous as any diehard fan could hope for this far into Swift’s career. Different eras speak to different listeners, but none of them are stale, and as such, they’re going to keep being rapturously received.

Joe Lynch: This is a great question *he said, buying himself time as he puzzles this out*. I think Taylor is soaring even by her standards because of the (Taylor’s Version) train. Each release brings with it a wave of nostalgia for her past eras and particularly in the case of Red (TV), paints a fuller picture in screaming color. You couple that with her pandemic reinvention as an introspective folkie and you end with an artist who is simultaneously relevant and nostalgia-inducing. That’s a winning combo. 

Andrew Unterberger: For me, it’s the cash-in on years of build up from the FolkMore era of 2020 and the Taylor’s Versions duo of 2021 — none of which were really primed to pull in these kinds of numbers, but all of which were big successes on their own terms, and beloved by fans. Taylor has gone through periods with bigger pop hits and where she’s been more central to popular music in general, but her overall approval rating has arguably never been higher. She was due for an album like this to drop — with full advance warning this time — and just steamroll over everything.

3. “Anti-Hero” becomes Swift’s fourth single of the decade to debut at No. 1, all the same week as the debut of their respective parent albums on the Billboard 200. Each of the first three lasted just the one week on top — do you think “Anti-Hero” will also fall off, or do you anticipate a longer run there?

Katie Atkinson: I think it will have a longer run, but I’m only giving it two weeks up top — and maybe not even consecutive. With Rihanna’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever track dropping last Friday and Drake and 21 Savage’s joint album dropping this week, she has some real competition — not to mention Mariah Carey’s looming Christmas domination. But the way “Anti-Hero” has harnessed the power of TikTok and social media in general with its very meme-able chorus and the fact that airplay will no doubt keep growing for the song, it could have another week (or weeks) at No. 1.

Hannah Dailey: I can see “Anti-Hero” falling off the top spot. It has the same ambiguous quality of the singles from her past three albums in that it feels more like a part belonging to a greater body (its parent album) rather than a stand-alone body itself. It’s a good tune, but I don’t predict people will continue listening to it any more than they listen to the other 12 tracks on Midnights.

Jason Lipshutz: Buckle up, because “Anti-Hero” is about to enjoy a prolonged run atop the Hot 100, if early streaming and radio numbers (and the song’s catchiness) are any indication. Top 40 radio has been ready to embrace a new Swift pop single, listeners are gobbling up on the song on streaming services, and by the time you’ve finished reading this sentence, a new TikTok has been created with “Anti-Hero” as its soundtrack. If the over-under is 10 weeks at No. 1 for “Anti-Hero,” I’m taking the over.

Joe Lynch: I could see a couple weeks. I imagine it will build at radio – and that her second-week streaming numbers will still be massive – but I don’t see it being a long-haul Hot 100 topper.

Andrew Unterberger: Katie’s right that the upcoming competition this song is going to face will be fierce — starting this week with Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up” — but I still think all signs point to this being a long-lasting No. 1, even if it its run gets interrupted once or twice. We could see it become the new “As It Was,” where for months, whenever there isn’t an obvious challenger to its top-dog status, it’s almost No. 1 by default. I’d currently bet on a nine-week run, but that may ultimately end up looking like a pretty conservative estimate.

4. While the commercial impact of Midnights is unquestionable, the legacy of the album within her catalog — particularly among fans — still remains to be seen. It’s still extremely early to call, but after about a week and a half with the album, how do you anticipate Midnights generally being remembered a decade or two down the line?

Katie Atkinson: I think a big portion of the massive commercial impact of the album is the positive word-of-mouth around it. But if we’re talking about ranking the album amidst her peerless catalog, it gets a bit dicier. I would place it above Lover for sure, but would I rank it above reputation? (Midnights and reputation almost feel like sister albums to me in some respects, so it’s tough to say.) And I definitely can’t rank it above 1989 or Red, and I think the pandemic pair are superior for me too – so it might be right smack-dab in the middle.

Hannah Dailey: Midnights will go down in history as an epic return to form. In the years leading up to its release, Taylor spent so much time trying on different hats, from experimenting with new sounds and fiction-based songwriting on Folklore and Evermore (which, in spite of their popularity, will always feel like temporary sidesteps off her charted path) to trying her hand at rerecording her old albums, Fearless and Red. With Midnights, Taylor re-embraced the hat that fits her best: writing best-selling, autobiographical songs about love, identity, growing up and heartbreak. 

Jason Lipshutz: That’s the most interesting piece of this Midnights commercial bonanza to me — on paper, this is a minor work from Swift, shorter than most of her other opuses and arriving in the middle of her re-recording project. But Midnights is no stopgap, based on the response to her return to pop following the Folklore/Evermore era; if I were to guess, I’d say Midnights will be remembered as a more appealingly rhythmic version of her Reputation/Lover sound, highlighted by “Anti-Hero,” one of the biggest hits of Swift’s career.

Joe Lynch: It really is too early to tell, but I think it will live as a fan favorite — but certainly not any fans’ absolute favorite Taylor Swift album. One thing working in its favor, imo, is that of the many Swifties I’ve spoken to about it, everyone seems to have a different top 3 from Midnights. Unlike a hit album where everyone tends to agree that the same 3-4 tunes are the best, Midnights seems to connect with her listeners in a way that invites a little more fan ownership of the project. 

Andrew Unterberger: I think it’s going to join reputation as the two Taylor albums whose actual musical content tends to get overshadowed in discussion by their, well, reputations. But reputation is one of my personal favorites of her catalog, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Midnights ends up falling in not too far behind it.

5. Is Taylor Swift the biggest pop star in the world right now?

Katie Atkinson: There’s a case to be made for three other artists who’ve released albums this year – Harry Styles, Bad Bunny and Beyoncé – but I think this chart command, and honestly overall command of the pop culture conversation, places the crown squarely back on Taylor Swift’s head.

Hannah Dailey: Unquestionably. Whether it’s sales, relevancy, or ability to inspire discourse, debate and conspiracy theories, she’s unmatched. Her pop stardom is especially heightened when you compare her staying power to the artists who, for many years, shared the league with her. Katy Perry hasn’t had a top 10 hit since 2017, and Gaga has spent the past few years splitting her focus across jazz, film scoring, acting and beauty products. That’s not to downplay how majorly successful those women are in their own rights; Taylor is just unique in that her continuous success has always revolved around the one thing she’s been doing from the very beginning: songwriting.

Jason Lipshutz: It’s her, hi, she’s the biggest, it’s her. Place the song and album numbers, which exist in a class of their own, to the side for a second — no one is dominating the cultural conversation quite like Swift upon a new album release, which remains a singular event in popular music. Swift is at the top, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Joe Lynch: If the operative words here are “biggest” and “pop star,” I don’t see how anyone could reasonably argue with that assertion unless they just get off on being contrarian. Kinda hard to argue with her ongoing numbers lately.

Andrew Unterberger: Yes.

Andrew Unterberger