The announcement Thursday that Taylor Swift will be the official “ambassador” for Record Store Day 2022 has fans rapt with anticipation about what kind of exclusive vinyl release the pop superstar might be issuing for the event, set to happen in independent brick-and-mortar stores April 23.
And, as might be anticipated, it’s also riled up handfuls of music nerds worried that Swift fans lining up on RSD might stand in the way of the picking up “some indie record that’s much cooler than (hers).”
But, apart from, as they say, haters who are going to hate, the reaction has been just what Record Store Day organizers had hoped for, in terms of having scored as a spokesperson an evangelist who’s already done a lot on a quieter level to help out independent music retail shops.
“We’re coming up on our 15th anniversary in April,” says RSD co-founder Carrie Colliton, “and when you hit milestones, you want to go big. If you had a wish board of people you’d want to see say the words ‘Record Store Day’ publicly, she is definitely on it. The stars aligned and she was willing to go public with her love of record stores. Which she’s been public about in the past, actually.”
Fans have gone looking for Easter eggs in the announcements and social media about Swift’s ambassadorship, and the star has given them good reason to in the past. Now, it’s been pointed out that the numerals in this year’s date — 4/23/22 — add up to 13. Record Store Day traditionally happens on the third Saturday of April, but was moved back a week to land on April 23 this year. Could it be coincidence? It could. “I can attest to moving the date of RSD because of the Easter bunny,” says Colliton — “and then a pope visited a record store, so maybe it was divine intervention and Taylor is stronger than we all know?”
Others believe they’ve found clues to what Swift has in the release pike — and they think the next “Taylor’s Version” re-record to come out will be “Speak Now,” because of the color purple appearing in the graphic.
Colliton has what may be slightly disappointing news for the fans who think they’ve figured out the DaVinci Code: It was her team that put together that graphic, not Swift’s. And she did mean to pay homage to certain things that are known about the singer’s tastes with the imagery — which she wants fans to discover themselves — it wasn’t intended as prophetic. So you’d be better off betting against “Speak Now” turning out to be her RSD titled. Everyone will find out in about a month, anyway, when Swift’s RSD item is unveiled along with the rest of the hundreds of exclusives.
“Holy cow, the conspiracy theories have been so much fun today,” Colliton laughs. “There is a release. I can’t confirm or deny if it is what I think what they think it is. But there are absolutely zero clues about the release in that. There may be meaning (about Swift generally), but not clues. But I would be lying if I said that coming up with that seal and working with her team on it wasn’t part of the fun, knowing that everybody picks apart every little thing associated with Taylor.” Anyway, “In this case, I feel pretty confident in knowing that what they’re saying is not the case. But then I find myself thinking, well, maybe she’s fooling us too. I mean, that’s possible.”
Previous RSD ambassadors have included Brandi Carlile, St. Vincent, Chuck D., Metallica, Jack White, Run the Jewels, Iggy Pop and Fred Armisen. For her part, Swift said in her statement that she was proud to be named ambassador because “the places where we go to browse and explore and discover music new and old have always been sacred to me. Record stores are so important because they help to perpetuate and foster music-loving as a passion.”
As much as Record Store Day is beloved by most stores and music fans, there is definitely a contingent every year of people who make a show of saying that this is the year the event has jumped the shark — starting probably 14 years ago or so — and some went on social media to suggest that Swift’s selection as ambassador was a sign of the end times for RSD. The idea of spending half a night or more in line with a larger contingent than usual of young women is not appealing to all.
“There’ve been Taylor records on the list before, though,” points out Colliton. For that matter, “there’ve been One Direction records on the list. There’ve been Billie Eilish records on the list. Lana Del Rey… You’ve been in lines with teenage girls before, and you didn’t get cooties. You’re gonna be fine.”
But Colliton thinks that idea also misunderstands Swift’s demographic. “Everybody seems to think of Taylor as a really young artist, but she’s in her thirties at this point,” she points out. “That’s kind of where our demographic is for record stores, honestly” — older than teenagers, but younger than the stereotypical image of crate diggers as Comic Book Guy lookalikes. “Taylor, like her demographic, is settling down. She has a house now, or seven. I can totally see her having a really good setup and hanging out and probably having better wine glasses than I do, but doing the same thing I do, just sitting and listening to a record while flipping through a magazine or reading — I can totally see her doing that, experiencing the physical in her own home.”
One musician riling up Swifties and Swift-haters alike on Twitter was Anton Newcombe of the band Brian Jonestown Massacre. “It’s kind of obscene,” he tweeted. “Jack White bought presses, built studios, created a label and mastering studio, etc.; he also opened record shops. What exactly did Missy Moo do except book up the pressing plants to ride the coattails (of the) indie vinyl wave that indie artists sustained? … Can you imagine fighting Taylor’s fans in line for the chance to actually buy something? Weird — it’s like electing Godzilla to be mayor of Tokyo.” Later, he sort-of-not-really apologized. “Dear Taylor Swift and Record Store Day, forgive my choice of words, specifically ‘obscene,’ although it did offend my moral principles. This has nothing to do with your obvious talent, extreme drive to seek excellence and achieve it, nor your gender. I just hate Mickey Mouse.”
Colliton was aware of the Newcombe tweets and the attention they got (and communicated her feelings to him privately). “He’s got an online reputation to uphold,” she laughs.
But Swift got support in her new role from other practitioners of aggo music, like Disturbed singer David Draiman, who posted a link to a story about her ambassador proclamation and wrote, “So deserving. Massive respect for @taylorswift13. She’s one of the great songwriters/performers of our era. Saw her in Houston, blew me away.”
But speaking to a broader point that Newcombe’s emphasis on vinyl issues brings up, the RSD organizer says, “It gets really easy for people to forget that it is about the stores. And it’s easy to get that conflated with vinyl, when vinyl is such a big topic, though it’s great that it is. The goal is to get people to know about record stores (and pick up) a whole new base of fans. From a marketing standpoint, the largest artists in the world are maybe her and Adele. And if Adele wants to be in the ambassador, she can give me a call, too.”
Swift’s been a friend to them. “She’s done some things that have been publicized that were definitely to the benefit of record stores, even if she didn’t publicize them. With ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore,’ she signed (many thousands of) CDs and and got them into the hands of indie record stores and explicitly told her fans to go to record stores. Maybe they came just to buy that CD, but maybe it was the first time they had to plug the record store into their GPS and got there and had a good time and decided they were coming back for something else and had a good time.
“And she very specifically helped Grimey’s in Nashville. She didn’t talk about it, but Grimey’s did. She gave them cash and basically said, ‘This pandemic is going to be bad. You have to close. I am so sorry things are so uncertain for you. Please make sure your staff has healthcare.’ I mean, that’s pretty indicative of a person who cares about (a) small businesses and (b) the small businesses that are record stores. And she didn’t put out a press release, or tweet ‘This is what I am doing,” she just kind of quietly did it.”
But what Swift has been a huge advocate for is the not-yet-completely outmoded concept of albums, which, although those can obviously be streamed and downloaded too, is still most intrinsically tied to the physical media experience. Because no one ever got distracted to move on to another flavor by an algorithmic recommendation popping up as part of a needle drop. “What record stores sell is inherently an art form unto itself. And that becomes important for us to keep that in the conversation, whatever format that takes — CD, vinyl, cassette; all of that is almost irrelevant to the experience of the album itself as a full and complete package. And Taylor absolutely understands that. When you watch that documentary (‘Miss Americana’), you can tell it’s more than just ‘Oh, I wrote that song. OK, great.’ It’s definitely ‘I’m going to make a great album.’
“That’s one of the reasons why she makes sense (as ambassador). You ask any record store person —nobody ever says, ‘What’s your favorite track?’ Yeah, you talk songs, but almost always the conversation is albums. And she gets that.”
As much as Colliton would welcome CDs and cassettes as being a bigger part of what labels choose to focus on for RSD exclusives, she can at least confirm that Swift will be represented in one or more vinyl RSD releases. Whatever the fan base chooses to characterize them as. “The best headline I saw today was Paste magazine’s that said: ‘Taylor Swift is here to make peace between the people who call them vinyls and the people who don’t.’ Which I thought was really great. But then the New Musical Express said that she would be releasing ‘a vinyl.’ So all bets are off.”