Taylor Swift

The numbers are already looking good for the musical return of Taylor Swift.

New track ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ broke Spotify’s first-day record with more than 8m streams; set a new YouTube mark with more than 19m first-day views of its lyric video; and sold nearly 200k downloads in the US alone on Friday.

The song’s official video, which debuted during MTV’s VMAs event, also notched up a Despacito-trumping 28m views in its first 24 hours on YouTube.

One angle on all this is the comparison between Spotify and YouTube: just under 23m streams on the former at the time of writing, but 93.2m combined views for the lyric and official videos on the latter. Caveat: Spotify’s numbers update once a day while YouTube’s are closer to real-time.

But all this risks being overshadowed by criticism of another aspect of Swift’s return to the musical landscape: her use of Ticketmaster’s ‘Verified Fan’ program.

“Taylor Swift is committed to getting tickets into the hands of fans…NOT scalpers or bots. So she’s collaborating with Ticketmaster #VerifiedFan to create an exclusive program to help YOU get the best access to tickets in North America, in a really fun way,” is how the partnership is pitched to fans.

“Once you register, improve your place in line by participating in boost activities until initial registration closes on Nov 28.”

It’s the ‘boost activities’ element that is proving controversial.

Swifties can improve their chances of getting concert tickets by posting on social media and watching her new music video, but also by pre-ordering her upcoming ‘Reputation’ album (up to 13 times on different retailers) and buying merchandise – with a higher boost value for the activities that involve spending money.

This gamification isn’t going down well with a number of journalists who’ve covered the promotion. “It makes getting tickets for a Taylor Swift concert into a game in which people with the most money get ahead,” suggested Jezebel. “I’m not sure how getting fans to buy merch (one item is a $60 snake ring plated with 24K gold) does anything to stop bots (which, by the way, is not the fans’ job, it’s Ticketmaster’s.”

“What Swift is doing here perverts what was supposed to be a fan-friendly way to buy tickets into another part of her big money-making machine,” claimed Engadget.

“Nothing more than a woefully transparent cash grab… We just feel bad for the Taylor Swift fans who deserve a ticket to see their favourite artists, but likely won’t have the chance because they can’t pay 45 dollars for a T-shirt,” suggested Alternative Press.

“Swift benefits from a system clearly designed to squeeze every last dollar from her obsessive fanbase in a total perversion of what the Verified program is supposedly all about: the fans,” claimed Consequence of Sound. And so on.

Music Ally has regularly covered the music industry’s understandable desire to crack down on online touting, and the challenges within that of separating ‘real’ fans from scalpers at the point of purchase – particularly for artists (like Swift) with lots of young fans, whose parents are likely to be buying their tickets.

While it’s easy to see why social-media activity and music/merch spend could be seen as important signals for that process, pulling them into this kind of gamified system (again, particularly for this kind of fanbase) risks exactly the kind of blowback that Swift is getting now.

We’ll also be interested to see what the US chart authorities make of an incentive program that encourages fans to stream Swift’s video up to five times a day. But that’s a side-issue to the bigger risk of alienating fans – even if for now, the backlash appears to be coming more from the media than from Swift’s fanbase.

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