Tuesday, May 21, 2024

It’s Taylor Swift Day, Again

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Tyler Foggatt
Senior Editor

Don’t be surprised if the Swifties in your life showed up to work today with dark under-eye circles. At midnight on Thursday night, Taylor Swift released her eleventh studio album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” a mix of dream pop and Southern gothic, which runs for sixteen tracks. Just as fans were finishing up their first listen, Swift revealed that the project was a “secret DOUBLE album,” and released fifteen more songs, at 2 A.M. on Friday, as part of “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology.” The new music, which Swift somehow managed to record in between her Eras Tour performances, comes on the heels of “1989 (Taylor’s Version),” released in late October, and was first announced by Swift this past February, as she accepted a Grammy for her tenth studio album, “Midnights.” How did Swift pull this off? “I cry a lot, but I am so productive,” she explains, on “I Can Do It with a Broken Heart,” a maximalist, synth-heavy track produced with—you guessed it—Jack Antonoff. Fans who prefer Swift’s collaborations with Aaron Dessner, her other creative soulmate, will relish the second half of the anthology, which feels like an extension of Swift’s indie albums, “folklore” and “evermore.” The first half leans more “Midnights,” though some of the best songs are infused with the country-ish vibes of “No Body, No Crime,” from “evermore.” Swift has learned how to make sure that there’s something for everybody.

Taylor Swift in a sequinned suit on stage.

The Eras Tour.Photograph from ZUMA Press / Alamy

A point of speculation among Swifties, ever since the album’s announcement, has been whether “The Tortured Poets Department” signifies a departure from the “Eras” project, Swift’s creative conceit of separating her albums into distinct genres and vibes, which exist on a sort of continuum. For “reputation,” released in 2017, the artist clapped back at her haters (the press, and Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, among them), by wearing black lipstick on the cover and singing about revenge and gossip. Two years later, during the “Lover” era, she cosplayed as a grownup version of JoJo Siwa: rainbows and sequins, all while singing songs about love and female empowerment. But “The Tortured Poets Department” resists being era-ified. The first hint is the title, which, at a staggering four words, is long enough to merit an acronym. (“T.T.P.D.” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Fearless,” or “Red.”) And then there’s the fact that the album cover for “Midnights” features Swift holding a lighter. What is she burning? At the Eras Tour, Swift performs in front of a big house, in which each room might represent a different era, and by the show’s end the house is doused in flames.

Swifties theorized that “T.T.P.D.” would be about the artist’s breakup with her longtime boyfriend Joe Alwyn, the British actor who, on “Lover,” seems to have inspired heartfelt lyrics such as “He got that boyish look that I like in a man” and “You know I love a London boy.” One of the tracks on the new album is called “So Long, London”; others include “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys” and “I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can).” Though Swift certainly does seem to be singing about Alwyn at times, one of the shocks of the album is the number of songs that appear to be about Matty Healy, a different old flame. In public, Swift and Healy’s short-lived relationship never seemed that serious. On the new album, she leads us to believe that they both threatened to kill themselves if the other ever left.

Swift has a knack for surprising her fans. She allows them to think that they know everything about her, before pulling the rug out from under them. Days before “T.T.P.D.” ’s release, she prompted a collective reëvaluation of her old music, by sharing five playlists that sorted her songs into Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some fans found the playlists jarring. How could “Lover,” a song from Swift’s happy, rainbow era, which is often played at weddings, be on the “denial” playlist? (“This is a list of songs about getting so caught up in the idea of something that you have a hard time seeing the red flags, possibly resulting in moments of denial and maybe a little bit of delusion,” Swift said, in an intro message.) The truth is that there has always been something off about “Lover.” This is evident from the very first line: “We could leave the Christmas lights up ’til January.” (Is there something revolutionary about keeping your lights up for six days?) Like the Christmas lights, lovers are ephemeral, and Swift yearns for a more permanent label. The song’s bridge is a kind of wedding waltz, which culminates in Swift getting blue-balled at the altar: “Ladies and gentlemen, will you please stand? / With every guitar-string scar on my hand / I take this magnetic force of a man to be my . . . lover.”

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