Culture is future »

11.06.2014

Contribution : "Taylor Swift, a 360° artist and #hashtag generation" by David Lacombled

With her album « 1989 », Taylor Swift has sold more than a million copies in a week in the United-States and proves that the album is not dead in this dematerialization age, but also that it is not the centre of the 360° promotions anymore…

The album has a future. This is not an anachronistic relic in the age of native digital technologies. The study Generation #hashtag – New audiences, new contents, by Bain & Company for the Forum d’Avignon in November 2014 mentions “the rise of a third wave of media”, a wave of native digital media. Thus for music, after a first “physical” wave represented by the CD, then a second “digitized” wave represented by the iPod, the emergence of the third “digital native” wave would be represented by Deezer or Soundcloud, sound applications or entirely digital music… This is indeed what happened with an increasing digitalization of the process (let us remind that the CD was already digital in its production).

According to the study cabinet, the third wave would be destined to integrate the first two waves, captive of their original physical format (the album for music and the book for the e-book) to open up to new open formats… Would the album only be an anachronistic relic in the era of native digital technologies?

However, it seems that no wave has entirely covered the previous one. In the case of music there may even be an adverse effect, a “back to the future” phenomenon – particularly for the digital native generation – with the resurgence of the vinyl record. Admittedly, this is not a tsunami, but still more than a simple wavelet or the exclusive prerogative of a handful of hyped DJs. It seems that the album remains a way of expression for an artist: beyond the singles, this is the occasion for them to express a universe.

Yet the best proof came lately with the release of the album “1989”, eagerly expected not only by the singer’s record company but by the whole musical industry: would her album reach the million copies as soon as the first week? A platinum standard that did not happened since… Taylor Swift’s last album Red, in 2012. This was the question on everyone’s lips, a kind of stress test on the music market.

But the album exceeded a million of units as soon as the first week in a lifeless market. This shows that the album is still an active referent on the music market – the singer’s fans could have only bought the single Shake It Off (while waiting for the following ones). It reveals also how relevant Taylor Swift and her label Big Machine’s strategy is. Indeed, the country-pop singer is the typical example of the 360° artist.

Of course, the singer appeared on all the American networks and great programs, obliged stop for any promotional blitzkrieg.

What distinguishes Taylor Swift from the singers of previous generations – including Lady Gaga – is the unique relationship she has with her fans via Twitter and Instagram. As Keith Caulfield, the associate director in charge of the charts for the magazine Bilboard, declared to The New York Times, “The fans feel connected to Taylor Swift, and want to live what we could call a complete experience of their relationship with the artist by buying her album. Taylor Swift is the “BFF” (Best Friend Forever) of each of her fans”. This approach via the networks is not a “bonus” but at the heart of her promotion: this is where she asserts her complicity with her friends or followers by organizing selfie games with her album or a countdown before the D-day of the release of “1989”. So is her participation in The Voice USA in which the singer has proven to be a remarkable coach, and her “secret sessions” with her fans. In the same time, she appears in advertising spots for Coca-Cola Diet.

However, the singer, even if she mainly addresses the #hashtag generation, decided not to be present on the streaming platform Spotify (which now begs for her return)… Certainly to enable the young generation to draw the experience (and the return on investment) out via the album. 

Taylor Swift’s success proves both that the album is still operating as a music support in the digital age but that it is not the essential pillars of the system anymore but the result of a 360° promotional process of which the fan is the centre.

Taylor Swift on Twitter: https://twitter.com/taylorswift13

About David Lacombled 

A journalist by training, David Lacombled is a Managing Director for the content strategy at Orange. He is also president of the think-tank, The Villa Numeris and author of the book Digital Citizen (Plon).

His website : http://www.lacombled.com

On Twitter : @david_lacombled