For this year’s update of our ongoing Greatest Pop Star by Year project, Billboard is counting down our staff picks for the top 10 pop stars of 2022 all this week.At No. 3, we remember the year in Taylor Swift —who got started a little late in the calendar, but certainly didn’t need long to make up for lost time.
Billboard’s Greatest Pop Stars of 2022: Introduction & Honorable Mentions (Staff List)
After back-to-back years of releasing two full-length projects, Taylor Swift began 2022 on a relatively low-key note – well, as low-key as things can ever be for a global superstar still at the peak of her powers, at least.
There was the out-of-nowhere feud with the frontman of Blur and Gorillaz (yes, Damon, she really writes her own music), the first of two college courses announced in her honor (one at NYU, the next at Texas), a nostalgic reunion with one of her musical besties (Ed Sheeran’s “The Joker & The Queen” remix) – and let’s not forget the Virginia Tech scientists who cemented their Swiftie status in April by naming a new species of millipede “Nannaria Swiftae.” In May, the singer/songwriter emerged to make her biggest public appearance of the year so far to give the NYU commencement address, urging the Class of 2022 to hold on to their enthusiasm, coolness be damned. “Never be ashamed of trying,” she said in the 20-minute pep talk. “Effortlessness is a myth.”
Things started to pick up in the Swift cycle in the late spring/early summer, when the pop auteur continued to make strides in the film and TV worlds, including three new soundtrack moments: “This Love (Taylor’s Version)” was re-recorded for Netflix’s teen drama series The Summer I Turned Pretty, the woodsy “Carolina” was written specifically for the book-to-big-screen adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing, and “Bad Blood (Taylor’s Version)” was brought out of the kennel for DC League of Super-Pets. She also kicked off a still-ongoing film-festival circuit, promoting her self-directed All Too Well: The Short Film at June’s Tribeca Film Festival.
So now that we’ve reviewed the first eight months of our reigning 2021 Greatest Pop Star, forget everything you just learned about Taylor’s 2022 — because the Swift Calendar Year didn’t truly begin until Aug. 28. That’s when she hit the MTV Video Music Awards – a stage where she’s made more than a few headlines over her 16-year career – to not only collect the evening’s highest honor, but also to announce that she had a brand-new album called Midnights coming in October. All year, fans had been speculating about which of her Big Machine releases she’d re-record next (all signs pointed to either 2010’s Speak Now or 2014’s 1989 as the likely contenders), never stopping to think that they might get a whole new album instead.
Thus began Swift’s master class in modern-day album promotion, during which she set out to hit every corner of the music-buying public. There were the TikTok song-title reveals that kicked off on Sept. 21; then Midnights lyrics popped up on billboards from New York to London to Sao Paolo, Brazil, starting Oct. 17; and on Oct. 18, she began unveiling five things “that kept me up at night and helped inspire the Midnights album” via Spotify, also in daily doses. But if you’re not on TikTok or Spotify and missed the global billboards, do you watch football? Because Swift’s final pre-release push was an album teaser that premiered during Thursday Night Football, hours ahead of the album’s arrival.
With all of these teasers and previews, there was one thing that wasn’t revealed ahead of midnight on Oct 21: any music. Despite almost two months of lead time, no lead singles or music videos were released — which only bolstered the intrigue surrounding the album. Would it be stripped-down and understated like her most recent original albums, 2020’s folklore and evermore? Would it channel the adrenaline-rush pop of the trio of projects before that, 2019’s Lover, 2017’s reputation and 2014’s 1989? Or would Swift be newly inspired by revisiting the young country songwriter behind 2008’s Fearless and 2012’s Red for her pair of 2021 re-recordings?
The answer was really all of the above. You could recognize bits and pieces from all of Swift’s eras throughout the project, with songs that are alternately dreamy (“Snow on the Beach” with Lana del Rey, “Sweet Nothing” written with boyfriend Joe Alwyn), dancey (the shiny “Anti-Hero” and “Bejeweled”), and razor-sharp (“Vigilante Shit”). A lot of the familiarity could be attributed to the omnipresence of Jack Antonoff, who’d worked with Swift since 1989 and was the lone co-producer credited on the 13 songs. In the headline for its review, The New York Times said Swift was “caught between yesterday and tomorrow” on the album, but it feels more apt to look at Midnights like a massive snowball that has all of Taylor’s previous albums rolled up inside it, while still glistening and new on the outside.
And to keep that snowball rolling, only three hours after the standard album’s release, Swift surprised fans with the expanded 20-song 3am Edition, this time teaming up with her other go-to producer, Aaron Dessner, for six of the seven songs. Fans who had already had time to listen to the 44-minute original at least four times since midnight were thrilled to have even more lyrics to decode and soundscapes to live in – including the buzziest bonus track “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” which fans speculated was about her brief relationship with John Mayer and their 13-year age gap. Five hours after that, Swifties had yet another new release to devour: The “Anti-Hero” video – the first of many Midnights Music Movies promised in the Thursday Night Football teaser – dropped at 8 a.m. ET on Oct. 21 and features the pop star attending her own funeral, with Mike Birbiglia, John Early and Mary Elizabeth Ellis playing her adult children. That wasn’t the only release-week music video either: On Oct. 24, the appropriately blingy clip for “Bejeweled” arrived, co-starring Laura Dern and Haim as the wicked stepmother and stepsisters in Swift’s very own Cinderella story.
While all of this is a lot, even by Swift’s overachieving standards, the full-court press paid off in spades when Midnights scored the largest week for any album since Adele’s 25 in 2015, moving 1.578 million equivalent album units in its debut frame, and the biggest sales week since Taylor’s own reputation in 2017, with 1.14 million in traditional album sales. The blockbuster easily conquered the Billboard 200, and over on the Billboard Hot 100, Swift became the first artist in history to hold all top 10 slots, led by the chart-topping “Anti-Hero”; in addition, all 20 songs from the project hit the tally.
In the month-plus since Midnights’ release, Swift has continued to fend off some pretty fierce competition on the chart, with the catchphrase-spawning “Anti-Hero” besting new music from both Rihanna and Drake to hold strong at No. 1 on the Hot 100 for six weeks – only falling to Mariah Carey’s perennial Christmas chart-topper this week. In the early frames, she got a sales boost from a series of “Anti-Hero” remixes, including one featuring Antonoff’s band Bleachers. (Drake seemingly took notice of his Republic labelmate’s aggressive strategy, covering up Swift’s No. 1 slot with emojis when he re-posted the Hot 100 top 10 the week that Her Loss, his joint album with 21 Savage, hit the chart.)
While this year has been another monumental one for Swift, 2023 is shaping up to be even more massive, with the Nov. 1 announcement of the Eras Tour, her first proper trek in nearly five years, which is setting out to encapsulate all the material she’s released in the past decade and a half. The overwhelming demand to be at one of Taylor’s 52 shows just about broke Ticketmaster (in both the immediate and long-term senses), which is currently being sued by disgruntled Swifties locked out of the ticket-buying process and was even taken to task by Swift herself. “It’s truly amazing that 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them,” she said in an Instagram statement on Nov. 18. Following her crusades to get better pay for artists from Apple Music and grant ownership of master recordings to musicians, perhaps reforming Ticketmaster can be Swift’s next pet project.
In addition to her tour and whatever Taylor’s Versions that may await her, Swift has several major awards shows to attend next year too. After being the top winner at the 2022 American Music Awards, MTV EMAs and People’s Choice Awards – and being named songwriter-artist of the decade at the Nashville Songwriter Awards – Swift has a shot at winning her first Golden Globe in January (original song for “Carolina”) and could nab four more Grammys in February to add to her 11, including one Big Four possibility: song of the year for “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (The Short Film).” Then there’s her new side hustle as a filmmaker: After getting a taste of directing with her music videos and All Too Well (The Short Film), Swift is set to make her directorial debut with an unnamed Searchlight Pictures production for which she wrote the original script.
Given Swift’s staggering accomplishments in 2022, it might be hard to believe that she doesn’t repeat as Billboard’s Greatest Pop Star this year — but the wildest part is just how much of her year was piled into these past few months. Looking at what’s on the horizon, it looks like she’s ready to snatch the crown right back in 2023. Remember what she told those college kids: “Never be ashamed of trying.”
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