How Taylor Swift’s Second Single Strategy Defines Her Album Rollouts

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When Taylor Swift was gearing up to follow her masterpiece Red (which had just been snubbed by the Grammys) in 2014, with the as-yet-unreleased foray into mainstream pop, 1989, she kicked off the entire album cycle with a spunky, dance-pop kiss-off called “Shake It Off.” At the time, critics and reviewers mostly panned the song, whose video gestured toward hip-hop in ways interpreted to be derogatory, and highlighted Taylor’s own, well, questionable dancing skills. A couple weeks later, she followed this up with the album’s second single, “Blank Space,” a domineering, vindictive parody of all the worst qualities Swift — and most young women in relationships — have been rumored to possess in love and its aftermath.

Though several more excellent singles followed, it was “Blank Space” that set the tone for how the rest of 1989 would unfold, a sparkling, surprising record about falling in love, fighting against stereotype, and reclaiming yourself after a terrible breakup. In the scheme of the record’s narrative, “Shake It Off” was pretty minor, though when it was released it practically took up a whole news cycle on its own. But the second single had more longevity, and was a much better indication of what the record would actually tackle. Some critics still wrote the song off as overly dramatic, yet it went on to become one of the most iconic moments of what is arguably Taylor’s most successful album.

Then, again in August 2017, when Taylor sought to follow up the huge blow out with Kim Kardashian and Kanye that had begun to define the post-1989 era, she released a fiery, storming video for “Look What You Made Me Do,” a bait-and-switch that had the internet up in arms about a potentially retaliatory album, that, in reality, was much more about a celebration of finding stability in a loving relationship than feuding with other celebs. The second single, “…Ready For It?,” was also released quickly after “LWYMMD” met with a lukewarm reception, and once again defined the trajectory of a record that was a more open embrace of sex, alcohol and “sick beats” (read: adult) than anything Taylor had released in the past.

Though the first single never caught on, the narrative of Reputation became a rally around an album devoted to celebrating a healthy, thriving adult relationship, overcoming any initial negativity, and her corresponding record-breaking tour and Netflix documentary (along with the late, slow-burn radio hit of another track, “Delicate”) cemented the overall, ahem, reputation, of this era as one ultimately focused on lasting love and personal acceptance that resonated far beyond the first single ever could have.

So this past April, when Taylor once again released a lead single for a new album, this time titled “Me!” and featuring none other than Panic! At The Disco’s Brendan Urie, it seemed clear to fans who had been paying attention that a much better indicator of T7’s defining ethos would come in the form of her second single. And they didn’t have long to wait, “You Need To Calm Down” came in like a wrecking ball last Friday and hasn’t stopped swinging since, along with the title to her next record, Lover (coming August 23), and the cameo-driven video for the song hitting the internet early yesterday morning and picking up steam throughout the day.