Superfans’ Message to Taylor Swift, BTS and Other Music Superstars: Enough With the Deluxe Albums and Pricey Merch - Miss Rosier - Women's Online Boutique

Superfans’ Message to Taylor Swift, BTS and Other Music Superstars: Enough With the Deluxe Albums and Pricey Merch

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Stars are counting on superfans—die-hard loyalists who follow their every move—to buy it all. Yet the onslaught of collectible music products has some of those fans and people in the music business asking just how much is too much?

Emily Wang, a BTS superfan, calls last year’s barrage of product offerings from the band a “sensory overload.” Wondering whether she was the only one who felt that way, the media-studies student in October conducted an informal online survey of 19 U.S. and Canadian BTS fans. Nearly all said BTS’ recent merchandise releases were “too frequent.”

“It kind of showed the greediness of things,” says Ms. Wang, 22. She adds some fans said the mounting merch drops made them feel “anxious,” “stressed,” “addicted,” and “dread.”

Representatives for BTS did not respond to a request for comment.

The cover of Taylor Swift's 2021 re-recorded version of her 2008 album ‘Fearless.’

For years, music superstars have pumped out expensive VIP concert tickets, meet-and-greets, pricey hoodies and other merchandise to boost revenue from superfans. But the past five or so years have brought a shift in the U.S. as A-list stars like Ms. Swift and Ariana Grande release scores of collectible music products, borrowing a strategy from South Korean and Japanese music stars. Things like collectible CDs and vinyl, which have long been a bustling business in Asia, are now the norm in America.

“K-pop artists have brought a whole new approach to how you package recorded-music products and use that to monetize fandom,” says Mark Mulligan, a music-industry analyst at MIDiA Research.

The flood of products is especially overwhelming to younger superfans, who may feel pressured to buy items to express their love for an artist and feel like part of a community, music fans and executives say.

“People do think it’s getting out of control,” says Chris Woltman, a manager whose clients include the duo Twenty One Pilots and the rapper NF. On a recent business call, he says, a subject of discussion was an artist who had released 17 different collectible versions of the same album. “That’s going too far.”

BTS fans at a pop-up store selling the band’s merchandise, in Seoul, South Korea, in 2019.

Behind the strategy of targeting superfans with music collectibles is the rise of streaming and social media, which have made fans of specific stars intensely competitive.

Streaming-era artists make less money from selling albums, since casual fans no longer need to pay $20 for a CD to hear one song —they just graze on Spotify for free. With lay fans paying less, souped-up products for superfans have become a more important revenue source. And with music listening increasingly fragmented across varied music platform, shared cultural experiences are dwindling—which means today’s stars are less concerned with alienating casual fans and more focused on feeding their “base.”

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Some artists are savvy about possibly overwhelming fans and also provide free products. Young superfans can have “huge emotional stress,” says a former executive in the K-pop industry. “That is why we need to find the right balance between monetized products and free services.” Another factor is that listening to music is cheap today: You get tons of music with a $10-a-month subscription, freeing up cash for other purchases.

But less-affluent fans still feel excluded. Nia Tucker used to spend $1000 a year on concert tickets, music and posters despite making a minimum-wage salary. Eventually, the 23-year-old music fan, who prefers the pronoun “they,” felt “not rich enough for K-pop fandom,” as they wrote in November. Tucker now prefers artists like Charli XCX and Megan Thee Stallion who, according to Tucker, don’t pressure fans as much. “I feel sad when I see other younger ‘stans’,” they told the Journal. “Because I know what that feels like: ‘I can’t afford anything…. So am I really a fan?’”

For her part, Ms. Wang, the BTS fan, has also cut back a bit. Between July 2018 and July 2019, she spent $4,500 on BTS-related products. In the last year, she only spent $2000.

BTS fans tote bags filled with the band’s products. K-pop has influenced how American superstars interact with superfans.

Of course, no one is forcing superfans to buy anything. Because fans no longer own shelves of CDs, there is a greater need for products to show fandom, according to Matt Young, president of the artist-services division of Warner Music Group—whether it’s a vinyl record or a digital collectible like the “emotes” or dances fans can buy within video games.

Larry Miller, who heads the music-business program at New York University’s Steinhardt School, says superstars have not yet taken things too far. “I don’t feel that we are there yet.” Still, he says, “at some point [artists] need to be willing to say no.”

Perhaps the most ubiquitous music collectible is the deluxe album, which artists employ to prod sales and streams and hoist themselves higher on the Billboard music charts.

In February, Ariana Grande released a deluxe edition of her album “Positions,” after selling multiple “limited edition” versions of the original album last year. There’s a $20 CD of the deluxe edition, along with a $14 digital-download. For Nia Tucker, the deluxe edition felt like overkill. “It was like, why re-do that?” Tucker says. “That felt egregious.”

A representative for Ms. Grande’s team did not respond to a request for comment.

Taylor Swift turned to social media to announce the release of the new version of her album ‘Fearless.’

Last Friday, Taylor Swift released “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” a remake of her 2008 breakthrough album. She also unveiled “Taylor’s Version”-era T-shirts, along with $15 keychains, $19 cassettes and a $30 necklace. Five more remakes of earlier Taylor Swift albums are expected to follow—probably with their own merchandise.

Commercially, “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” has been a hit and is likely to top next week’s Billboard album-sales chart. So far, Ms. Swift’s decision to rerecord her album and issue new merchandise seems to fans to have purpose behind it, partly because Ms. Swift has been vocal about the underlying crusade. Many of her fans want to help her gain more control over her legacy by buying and streaming the new version of “Fearless,” whose recording copyrights Ms. Swift owns.

Jen Scherff, a 31-year-old superfan with a “Fearless” tattoo, applauds Ms. Swift’s rerecorded version of “Fearless” and the message of empowerment it sends to women. “I was super-excited, as someone who has been a fan from day one and kind of grew up with her,” she says.

Jen Scherff, left, and her sister with Taylor Swift in 2011.

At the same time, she thinks sometimes Ms. Swift’s merchandise “is a little much.” For recent albums, Ms. Swift has often dropped merchandise and made it available for 48 hours. “They were trying to get people to rush to buy it, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Ms. Scherff says. “It didn’t come off right.” She adds it’s unclear how much say artists have over their product offerings.

A representative for Ms. Swift was unavailable for comment.

For artists, it’s important to avoid alienating superfans in the hunt for high-spenders, experts say. “You need to nurture your fan base,” says MIDiA Research’s Mr. Mulligan. “Just because you can get them to spend X amount, doesn’t mean you should.”

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