Taylor Swift v The Beatles: As the Eras tour hits the UK, how does the star compare against the biggest band of all time? | Ents & Arts News

Are you ready for it? Because this week, Taylor Swift rolls into town for the first UK dates of her record-shattering Eras tour, to dominate front pages, social media, and a large proportion of the national conversation for the foreseeable.

Something has shifted in the Swiftverse in the past few years. She now transcends even the highest echelons of pop fame, massively boosting everything from music sales to, well, the entire global economy.

The Eras tour is a cultural and economic juggernaut; the first to cross the $1bn mark, according to Pollstar’s 2023 year-end charts, and already beating the record set by Sir Elton John and his Farewell Yellow Brick Road goodbye, which ran from 2018 to 2023 and grossed $939 million. Several experts predict it could generate more than $4bn by the time it finishes.

Swift is the first arts and entertainment star to be named Time’s Person of the Year. The first ever music billionaire to reach the milestone solely through her songwriting and recording. A slick pop star who understands the power of This. Sick. Beat, but also a songwriter and lyricist whose words are studied as poetry around the world. She has long been the biggest modern music star on the planet – but could she now be the biggest of all time?

To answer that question, you have to look to The Beatles. The band that changed the nature of the industry, long regarded as the most influential music act in music history.

Taylor Swift v The Beatles

In October last year, Swift re-released her fifth album, 1989, the record that really marked her crossover from incredibly successful country star to pop phenomenon. Featuring re-records of tracks that remain among her biggest hits to date, including Shake It Off, Blank Space and Bad Blood, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) inevitably followed all her others in skipping to the top of charts around the world.

Three weeks later came reissues of The Beatles’ classic Red and Blue album collections following the surprise release of Now And Then, the first original single in years, finally finished by Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Ringo Starr after more than four decades.

Now And Then topped the singles chart, naturally. But when it came to taking on Swift on the album chart, the star held her spot – denying the biggest and most influential band in history an extension to their record-breaking UK number one tally of 16.

The unstoppable force of Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift performs during "The Eras Tour," Friday, May 5, 2023, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. She leads the 2023 nominations with eight ... seven for her ...Anti-Hero... music video and the Artist of the Year category  MTV announced on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/George Walker IV, File)
Pic: AP/ George Walker IV

Of course, The Beatles albums were reissues, but it’s worth noting Swift’s re-recordings are also not entirely new – she is re-recording much of her early work to reclaim her rights, with the addition of “from the vault” tracks – plus, fans had already been buying 1989 (Taylor’s Version) for three weeks by this point.

To Swifties, she is undoubtedly the biggest music artist of all time. To fans of the Fab Four, there will never be another act that comes close. Can their achievements be compared?

It’s tricky. Swift and The Beatles reached the height of their fame (and Swift might not even be there yet) in different – ahem – eras. There are multiple caveats – inflation, population growth, streaming and the affordability of music, live music becoming more lucrative, social media, do we include the individual Beatles’ solo output (we haven’t), and so on – that mean there is no exact science here.

But, we’ve given it a go…

Topping the charts

Taylor Swift v The Beatles

In the battle of the number ones, The Beatles get the points.

When it comes to singles, surprisingly, Swift hasn’t had as many as you might think topping the charts in the UK. Her first was Look What You Made Me Do in 2017 – Shake It Off, her biggest-selling hit, reached number one in the US, but number two here. Anti-Hero, from Midnights, became her second UK number one in 2022, with Is It Over Now? (Taylor’s Version) and Fortnight, her recent collaboration with Post Malone, adding to the pile in the last year.

The Beatles, on the other hand, started scoring number ones early on. The first, From Me To You, was their third single, released in 1963, and was followed by hits including She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Can’t Buy Me Love, Help!, All You Need Is Love, Hey Jude… the list goes on.

Album chart-toppers are more evenly matched. The Beatles actually have more in the US than they have in the UK, as different versions and more records were released across the pond. All apart from one of their 12 studio albums topped the charts in the UK – Yellow Submarine peaked at number three in 1969 – and they have also reached the top spot with live and compilation albums.

Apart from her debut, Taylor Swift, released in 2006, all of Swift’s albums have reached number one in the US. In the UK it was her fourth album, Red, that became her first chart-topper, and all others since have followed.

Record sales

Taylor Swift v The Beatles

This one is a tricky one as not all sales are certified. According to Guinness (and we’ll come to world records later), The Beatles have amassed the greatest sales for any group, with all-time sales estimated by record label EMI at more than one billion discs and tapes to date. Note this is worldwide, and estimated.

So we’ve looked at certified sales of the music star’s studio albums – no compilations or live album sales – in the UK and US. In the UK, The Beatles take the win, with more platinum and gold sales than Swift. But in the US, she’s way ahead.

Interestingly, they both add up to just under 295 million certified sales in the UK and US.

In the UK, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) rates platinum sales for albums as those that reach 300,000 units, with gold sales at 100,000. In the US, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) rates diamond sales for albums at 10m units, while platinum is 1m and gold is 500,000.

The trophy cabinet

Taylor Swift v The Beatles

Swift wins this one – but there are a lot more awards up for grabs nowadays. She has 26 Teen Choice Awards, for example, and 40 American Music Awards, and neither were around in the 1960s.

The Grammy Awards were, though, and Swift is definitely the winner here – with 14 wins out of 52 nominations. Earlier this year, she became the first and only artist to win the Grammy for album of the year four times, for Midnights (2024), Folklore (2021), 1989 (2016), and Fearless (2010). She also has the most nominations for song of the year, with seven, but interestingly has never won in this category.

The Beatles have seven Grammy wins from 23 nominations, including best new artist and best performance by a vocal group, for A Hard Day’s Night, in 1964.

Despite her Grammys success, Swift is by no means the ceremony’s biggest winner – that accolade goes to Beyonce, who has 32 gongs from 88 nominations.

Deep space and earthquakes: Who’s the biggest record breaker?

Taylor Swift v The Beatles

In 2021, Swift’s re-recorded version of Fearless became the star’s third to top the UK charts in less than 12 months, breaking a long-held record by The Beatles.

In February, she surpassed their record for holding the most weeks in the Billboard 200’s Top 10 in the last 60 years. In April, she topped the UK album chart with The Tortured Poets Department, outselling the rest of the top 10 combined and beating The Beatles for the record of fastest artist to rack up 12 UK number ones.

And remember her billionaire status? Well, Sir Paul is also in the club – but having reached that point only earlier this year, a month after Swift, it’s taken him a lot longer to gain membership.

According to Guinness, Swift currently holds at least 77 records, while The Beatles hold at least 29. However, there is a chance there could be even more than this as records are constantly being set and broken – and it should be noted that with streaming, inflation and more awards shows now, it is easier to keep breaking records now than it was back in The Beatles’ day.

Some of Swift’s records include several for Spotify, such as being the most streamed act in 24 hours following the release of Midnights in 2022; most US singles chart entries (263); most million-selling weeks on the US albums chart; plus the greatest seismic activity caused by a music concert (equivalent to a 2.3 magnitude earthquake).

The Beatles’ records include the best-selling group ever worldwide; most consecutive weeks at number one on the UK albums chart – 30 weeks in 1963 for debut Please Please Me; most viewed Wikipedia page for a music group; and first song to be beamed into deep space with Across The Universe in 2008, courtesy of NASA.

Can’t Buy Me Love – but musicians can boost an economy

Taylor Swift v The Beatles

Now this one is pretty difficult to compare. So we won’t. But there are some impressive stats.

According to Barclays’ Swiftonomics report, released in May, the UK leg of the Eras tour is set to boost the UK economy by almost $1bn.

Eras Tour tickets sparked a 15.8% year-on-year increase in UK spending on entertainment when they were released last July, the bank says, and now the dates are here, nearly 1.2m fans attending 15 gigs taking place in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Liverpool and London are predicted to spend an average of £848 in total on tickets, travel, accommodation, outfits and other expenses.

The Beatles’ economic impact is harder to quantify. But there is information available on the band’s continuing boost to Liverpool alone – £81.9m to their home city’s economy each year, according to a report commissioned by Liverpool City Council in 2016.

This was set to grow by up to 15% each year, the report found at the time, with the band’s legacy also supporting more than 2,300 jobs.

Help! Is Swift bigger than The Beatles?

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York in 1964. Pic: AP
Pic: AP

We asked some experts for their thoughts.

Dave Fawbert, founder of the Swiftogeddon club nights playing Swift, and nothing but Swift, says she is unmatched at the moment.

“She really does have it all,” he says. “She’s incredibly gifted melodically… you listen to Shake It Off, there’s literally about eight incredible hooks in that song.

“Most of the tracks, you hear the choruses once or twice, they’re so well written, you’ll be able to sing along by the third chorus. The other thing about her songs is they’re arranged so brilliantly, there’s never any wasted space in them.”

And then there’s her lyrics, he says, her ability to pick out universal emotions, specific details, and express them in song. “And she’s done it across virtually every genre. She’s a genius and she’s got the genius to work with good people as well.”

He says he would compare her dominance now to that of Michael Jackson in the 1980s and 1990s. But what about The Beatles? “I mean, they’re the best, I’m not sure they’ll ever be surpassed,” he admits. “But Taylor’s close.”

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UK tribute band The Bootleg Beatles say it’s too early to make a call.

“The music of The Beatles has already stood the test of time. The reaction we get as we continually tour around the UK – we’re back this month – and indeed the world, is testament to that,” they say. “So, while Taylor Swift is undoubtedly a wonderful talent, it’s probably around 50 years too early to judge her against the Fab Four.”

Hits Radio presenter Tom Green says they are two artists that “owned the zeitgeist” of their times. So is the comparison fair? “Yes and no.”

He elaborates: “I think it was probably a bit easier to be the whole zeitgeist in the ’60s, because there was only so many media outlets. Everyone was watching the same thing.”

Now, it’s a lot harder to create something that everyone is looking at, but Swift is constantly keeping our attention, he says. “I think the comparisons are really hard to do and music is so subjective. But I think the interesting thing about The Beatles is they brought in a genre of music, they ushered in the genre of rock and roll into pop music.”

Read more:
The hidden meanings in Swift’s new album
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Dr Clio Doyle, a lecturer in early modern literature at Queen Mary University of London, teaches a module on Swift’s lyrics as literature. In her field, she says she would draw comparisons with artists such as Bob Dylan rather than The Beatles.

“It’s this kind of body of work that is really self-examining and self-revising and revisiting in a way that feels very dynamic and alive and intellectually interesting,” she says of Swift’s music. “I also think that one thing Swift has always done throughout her career is, she’s often talking about literature – from a very early song like Love Story, which is rewriting Romeo And Juliet, to a later song like The Lakes, which is thinking about romantic poetry.”

Dylan became the first musician to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016, she points out, a decision deemed controversial due to arguments over whether lyrics count as literature. “I think we have to say they do because they’re written texts,” says Dr Doyle. “I think those are very interesting conversations. And I think we see some of those conversations also now around Taylor Swift.”

And Amy Skjerseth, a lecturer in audiovisual media and a member of the Institute of Popular Music at the University of Liverpool, says that like Swift, The Beatles also had different eras, but Swift’s experience in the industry will have been different to theirs, as four male stars.

“For women-identifying pop stars, eras often are about survival in a music industry that does not make space for them, especially for artists of colour and queer artists,” she says. “There are also significant differences in class between Swift and The Beatles – Swift’s family had the means to support her career.

“And while Beatlemania was heavily stereotyped back in the day, Swift’s fans have an increased ability to push for social justice and social change, connect with each other, and create a larger sense of community.

“Beyond Taylor Swift, the Eras concept might help attract wider attention to artists who have worked tirelessly under the radar to transform their musical messages across changing times.”

So are we any closer to saying whether Swift is the biggest artist of all time?

Some of the stats suggest she might be. Beatles fans will disagree.

Will there be an answer? Maybe in 50 years, as The Bootleg Beatles say. For now, we’ll let it be.

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