Taylor Swift Has the Most No. 1 Albums of Any Woman in History. Now What?

July 25, 2023
Taylor Swift looking over her shoulder during a live performance

Taylor Swift, who made history this month as the woman with the most No. 1 albums, performed at the John Paul Jones Arena on her Red album tour in 2013. (Photo by Mina von Feilitzsch)

On the song “Nothing New,” Taylor Swift sings “Lord, what will become of me/Once I’ve lost my novelty?”

She needn’t worry. Earlier this month her 13th album, “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version),” debuted at No. 1, making her the woman with the most No. 1 albums in history.

Swift has been breaking records left and right. Her Eras Tour is set to be the highest-grossing tour of all time, and she sold an astounding 2 million tickets in one day, the most any artist has ever sold in a single day.

Pop culture critics say we’re long past ever having a monoculture again, in which most people listened to a ubiquitous style of music, but Swift’s dominance in music makes her inescapable.

“Obviously, Taylor Swift is absolutely huge and a generation-defining artist,” said Jack Hamilton, an associate professor of media studies at the University of Virginia. “But the way we listen to music now has just changed.”

Hamilton said streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music have made music easier and cheaper to access. People also have more options. Anyone can upload a song they recorded to Spotify, but 97% of artists earn no money from streaming, according to the New York Times. Those that do make some money are still earning less than a penny per stream. He said we probably won’t have another band like the Beatles.

Portrait of Jack Hamilton
Swift is a “generation-defining artist,” UVA’s Jack Hamilton said. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

“I don't mean that no one’s ever going to be as good as the Beatles, but the way the industry is set up … they just had commercial dominance,” Hamilton said.

Swift supplanted Barbara Streisand as the woman with the most No. 1 albums; Streisand has 11 and Swift now has 12. Swift has the third-most No. 1 albums of any artist, behind Jay-Z (14) and the Beatles (19).

She’s proven that – counter to what she wrote in one of her songs – she can, in fact, have nice things. In 2018, the masters of her first six albums were sold without her participation. Now she’s re-recording the songs, which serves two purposes.

“Taylor Swift re-recording her own her own catalog is both a really cool artistic statement and also a brilliant business move,” Hamilton said, noting that it brings her early music back under her control and gives Swifties more music to go feral over.

The fact that re-recording “Speak Now” helped Swift make history in the Billboard charts seems symbolic, Hamilton said. Scooter Braun, who manages performers Drake and Justin Bieber, and who Swift said has bullied her, bought the masters of her first recordings when Swift’s first record label was sold to a private equity firm.

Music critics said he was set to profit handsomely from the recordings, but when Swift began re-recording her albums, her fans reached a collective agreement: They wouldn’t listen to any of the originals. Rather than let someone else make money off her work, she took action and made history for women in music.

This win isn’t just a victory for Swift. It signals a moment when most of the top pop musicians are women.

“The highest rungs of pop stardom are dominated by women like Taylor Swift, like Beyonce, even Adele,” Hamilton said, noting that fewer and fewer of the most popular artists are male, though Harry Styles and Drake are still selling out stadiums.

Final Exercises 2024, Learn More
Final Exercises 2024, Learn More

Hamilton is struck by Swift’s staying power, more than the records she’s set. At 33, Swift has been making music for more than half her life and her star is still growing.

“The record is a piece of trivia,” Hamilton said. “The music is what really lasts. I think Taylor Swift is going to be remembered as one of those monumentally important artists.”

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Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications