How Taylor Swift’s Popularity Turned Static into Gold

If you don’t know who Taylor Swift is, you may be the last person on the planet who can lay claim to that. The 25 year-old singer-songwriter is as big of a superstar as any — her last album, “1989,” sold nearly 1.3 million copies in the first week alone (and that’s only U.S. sales), a huge number especially considering the ubiquity of streaming music services. In the second half of 2014, Swift dominated the charts with her song “Shake It Off” (released as a single in August) followed by the song “Blank Space” (released in November), and both are among the top 15 most viewed videos on YouTube. It really doesn’t matter what Taylor Swift does — her enormous, highly-engaged fan base ensures that everything she does is a commercial success.

Even if she does a little bit of nothing.

That’s what happened in October of 2014, if you were in Canada, at least. Swift’s album, 1989, was scheduled to be released in the U.S., Canada, and much of Europe on October 27th. The build-up to the release was immense, with all sorts of teasers and press tours and the like — and a pair of early releases. “Shake It Off” hit the airwaves months beforehand, and two other songs pre-dated the album release date, too. Swift debuted a 15-second teaser of the song “Out of the Woods” on October 13th and her label made the entire song for sale the day later. On October 20th, Team Swift released the song “Welcome to New York” as well. Fans were primed to be on the lookout for pre-released tracks from Swift’s album. So when a curiously-titled “Track 3” hit the iTunes Canada store — yours for $1.29! — many fans didn’t think twice. They simply clicked the button to buy the superstar’s latest song, and the image below appeared in their iTunes library:


You’ll note pretty quickly that the quirky name isn’t the only strange part of the song — the track length is very, very short, at only eight seconds. And for those who listened to the mini-masterpiece, they found out that the eight seconds came and went without a single note — as TIME reported, the “song” consisted of nothing more than static. But it was a very, very popular eight seconds of static. The song shot to the top of the charts of of the iTunes Canada music store, as seen below.< 7db14409-127e-4424-ad13-2ad3db66b3f8

Taylor Swift’s popularity had turned a few seconds of noise into a best-selling single.The upload was accidental, of course — neither Apple nor Swift’s team commented on the cause, but it was widely assumed to be a glitch. Customers were refunded their money once Apple noticed the mistake, and the “song” disappeared from the iTunes Canada store.

Bonus Fact: In 2009, Taylor Swift won the MTV Video Music Award in the Best Video Category for her song, “You Belong with Me.” Famously, Kanye West interrupted her acceptance speech, taking the mic to assert that Beyonce should have won the award instead. (Watch it here.) The event seems ready-made for a Saturday Night Live parody, right? Right. So it only makes sense that SNL parodied West’s behavior — with West starring as himself — in an episode. In the segment, seen here, the performer/producer interrupts the Kids’ Choice Awards, the Nobel ceremony, and a pumpkin contest, each time arguing that he was the rightful winner of the award. It’s a great parody of West’s VMA antics — except that it isn’t one. The SNL segment can’t be a commentary on the 2009 VMAs because it’s from 2007 — two years before the interruption.

Take the Quiz: Name all eight items in each of these four sets of things.

From the Archives: The story of an unknown band that made $19,000 by singing in silence.

Related: 1989.