The general consensus on Taylor Swift’s fresh remake of her 2008 smash “Love Story” is that the old and new versions are virtually indistinguishable to the non-audiophile, non-Swiftie layman. Which is exactly as she intended it: In her attempt to push the original Big Machine renditions to the bottom of playlists or search results and make them as unprofitable for their owners as possible, Swift wanted to ensure that anyone who wanted to hear the 13-year-old track they know and love would feel like they’re getting just that with her do-over.
But which version would radio play, now that there’s a choice of soundalikes? Would the medium’s loyalty lie with the fresh or the familiar — or, if it came down to relationships, with Swift or her former record company?
The answer to that is becoming apparent in the first week of the new “Love Story” being available… or answers, actually, since different formats are indicating different leanings.
The immediate verdict, according to the data Variety surveyed: Top 40 is almost exclusively interested in the new “Love Story (Taylor’s Version).” But the adult contemporary (AC) and country formats are taking the opposite tack, heavily skewing toward the old Big Machine masters that Swift
Variety asked Alpha Data to run the numbers on the last two weeks of U.S. airplay for Swift’s song(s) among the Mediabase panel of stations for either version of Swift’s song. The most recent seven-day period we looked at runs from Feb. 9 through Feb. 15, a time frame that includes three days before “Taylor’s Version” came out and the first four days of play after the remake was released.
Some stations may have played both, with instances of morning jocks playing part or all of the two tunes as an invitation to listeners to see if they could spot any differences. But most came down on one side or the other.
At Top 40 radio, “Taylor’s Version” was played 233 times on Mediabase-reporting stations in its first four days of release. The old Big Machine version was spun only 54 times on those same stations over the week in question, up just a bit from 34 plays the week before, when neither version of “Love Story” was on anybody’s radar (aside from fans having heard a snippet of the new version in a Match commercial airing since December).
But the story was different at AC and country. AC played “Taylor’s Version” a mere 18 times during its first four days of release… versus spinning the old one 372 times during a seven-day time frame that overlapped the release of the new song by four days.
Country radio played the new version a bit more than AC, but just a bit. Spins for “Taylor’s Version” added up to 36 in the first four days the new recording was out, while the old “Love Story” was played 185 times through seven days.
Was this a case of the country and AC formats saying, “Screw you, Taylor — we value our relationship with Big Machine more”? Not likely. It appeared to be more a case of stations and formats that are somewhat stuck in their ways doing what they long have been doing, just a little more so. At AC, the familiar “Love Story” only slightly went up in plays from the previous week, going up from 332 to 372. The story was similar at country; the old “Love Story” had gotten 165 plays the prior week before going up to 185 spins in the following seven-day period.
So the ongoing spins at those two formats may speak less to any reaction to Swift and “Love Story” being in the news than just a staid sort of automation in the way oldies are plugged in as “gold” without a lot of fresh, deep thought going into those programming calls.
Top 40 is more responsive to the “shock of the new,” with few oldies plugged in as a matter of course for most stations in the format. The old version of “Love Story” had only gotten 20 plays across the format in the week running from Feb. 2-8 before rising to a still insignificant 54 spins in the Feb. 9-15 period.
There was one other format where either “Love Story” got some play: Hot AC, where the contest between old and new versions worked out roughly to a tie. In that format, “Taylor’s Version” got 76 plays over four days, whereas the old rendition got 80 plays over a full week; when seven full days of release for the new version are tallied, the fresh one will pull ahead.
At a trivial level, there were a few other formats who gave either version a spin or three. Classic rock radio registered one spin of the new version. Rhythmic Top 40 didn’t register even one spin for the new version, but did tally one play for the original, for some reason. The Adult Hits format had three plays for the original version in the latest reporting period and none for the new version.
It’s worth noting that “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” is not being actively promoted to radio in any format, so spins for the new version aren’t likely to pick up. Swift’s interest in releasing new versions is not to try to create fresh radio smashes out of the old ones, but to impact streaming, as well as claim any synch licensing for her own re-recordings. A bigger impact at Top 40 and AC radio may be felt, in any case, when Swift gets around to releasing her remakes of the songs from “1989,” “Reputation” and “Red” that were produced by contemporary hitmakers like Max Martin and Jack Antonoff and fit in more easily with the sounds that are heard on non-country formats today.