This wasn’t supposed to happen. Taylor Swift’s new single “ME!,” which she debuted to great ballyhoo late last month, was supposed to go straight to #1. Swift and her team put tons of promotional muscle into the song, as New York Times reporter Joe Coscarelli points out on Twitter. She released it during the NFL Draft, in conjunction with the NFL telecast. She had a slick, big-budget music video, which she co-directed with music-video great Dave Meyers. She released it with a whole merch bundle, including a CD single. And she performed the song at the Billboard Music Awards. The song broke single-day streaming records, the way new Taylor Swift singles tend to do. And yet Taylor Swift could not get “ME!” to #1. Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” the goofy cowboy-rap song with the Nine Inch Nails sample is an unstoppable streaming monster, and not even Taylor Swift can knock it out of the #1 spot.
Billboard reports that “Old Town Road” is, once again, the #1 song in America. It’s now enjoying its fifth week atop the Hot 100. “ME!” is right behind it at #2. “ME!” actually debuted at #100 on last week’s chart, thanks to early airplay, and so it made a huge leap. But it’s not the #1 song in the country. To recap: The last time Taylor Swift unveiled the first single from a new album, that single was “Look What You Made Me Do.” And even though that wasn’t a great Taylor Swift song, it still debuted at #1, ending the 16-week reign of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito.” “Old Town Road,” on the other hand, is a two-minute track made by an unsigned and unknown Atlanta 19-year-old, and it blew up on the strength of TikTok memes, a Billy Ray Cyrus remix, and an almighty singalong chorus.
Discussion questions: If Taylor Swift had gone back to country music, somehow capitalizing on the weird little cowboy-chic wave of “Old Town Road,” could she have pushed a new single to #1? Do America’s kids simply not want to hear any songs that aren’t about horses in the back? Is it time for Taylor to try to get her friend Miley’s dad on the “ME!” remix?