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The Tortured Poets Department Is The Dark Souls Of Taylor Swift Albums


Within the days after the April 19 launch of The Tortured Poets Division, the newest album from Taylor Swift, I got here throughout a presentation explaining the artist’s relationship with 1975 frontman Matty Healy. It’s over 100 pages lengthy, and it’s not the one presentation, video, or article of its type. Followers are clamoring for some clarification as to what’s going on in TTPD, an album that’s extra abrasive to Swift’s fanbase than something she’s ever launched. For a lot of it’s a complicated, off-putting expertise, one which requires a deep dive to know. Like Darkish Souls, it’s concerning the lore.

For longtime followers of Swift, which may not sound like something new. She’s lengthy had a aptitude for the dramatic. Since 2008’s Fearless, Swift has pulled tips like hiding messages in her CD lyric books. As her profession has skyrocketed, now at its highest level ever, Swift has advanced her love of deception and thriller. Hidden tracks, hints at new albums, and extra are all par for the course for Swift. It’s one thing that her fanbase, Swifties, love. It turns music fandom right into a sport that retains you concerned not simply when new albums and singles drop however each time Swift does something, as a result of for those who aren’t paying consideration you possibly can miss the subsequent large clue. “I’ve educated them to be that approach,” Swift mentioned of her followers in a 2019 interview with Leisure Weekly.

It’s quite a bit like how Darkish Souls, and different video games by developer FromSoftware, method their storytelling. Darkish Souls has a narrative, followers will enthusiastically insist, you simply must know the place to look. Usually, which means merchandise descriptions. There are total worlds filled with tales and characters in FromSoftware’s titles, however most of it’s by no means immediately advised to you. You will need to hunt it down. The floor stage of the sport is often based mostly on vibes alone. That may be a simplification to make sure, however it’s an efficient technique to summarize how Darkish Souls approaches its storytelling. But when Swift has been doing this for over a decade, what’s so particular about The Tortured Poets Division?

Picture: Bandai Namco

One in all Swift’s biggest strengths as an artist has at all times been her means to inform a narrative via music. Be it in early albums or throughout the genres she’s dabbled in, from pop to nation and every part in between, Swift is a storyteller. It’s a part of what made tracks like “Love Story” (from Fearless) so standard, and subsequently helped her rise to fame. This talent is most evident within the 2020 sister albums Folklore and Evermore. Whereas the albums nonetheless retain a few of her extra autobiographical songwriting, they as a rule present Swift breaking out of her personal perspective. Folklore particularly is rather more of a conceptual album, with a throughline in a number of songs a couple of love triangle at totally different levels. This lets her penchant for emotional tracks coping with falling out and in of affection, in addition to heartbreak, tackle a brand new life. It’s Swift crafting a world and a story. Reasonably than put her feelings immediately into track, she will funnel them via a brand new lens to serve a narrative.

The Tortured Poets Division, alternatively, lacks that authorial intent. That isn’t to say there isn’t a degree to the album, it’s simply extra musically and narratively messy. Reasonably than the tour-de-force breakup album about longtime boyfriend Joe Alwyn that followers anticipated TTPD to be, the album is rather more about her infatuation with 1975 frontman Matty Healy and her followers’ response to it. For many who don’t know, Healy and Swift started relationship in Might of 2023. When the couple first emerged collectively, Swifties disapproved. Healy had gotten in hassle for a sequence of controversies round perceived racist conduct. By June of 2023, the couple had damaged up. TTPD is essentially a chronicle of Swift’s sturdy emotions for Healy, for higher and worse. The monitor “However Daddy I Love Him” is about Swift’s anger at followers for ridiculing her alternative of associate as not being correct, regardless of her love for him.

Swift is usually reductively seen as a musician who simply makes music about her relationships, and plenty of of her greatest songs clearly do mine her experiences with previous lovers. But when it’s true that TTPD is one other relationship-focused report from Swift, the connection she’s processing right here is the one she has along with her fanbase. This battle between Swift and her followers is central to TTPD. It’s an album about what it means to “make it” because of your fanbase, just for that fanbase to grow to be the choose, jury, and executioner of your love, life, and music profession. It’s comprehensible why followers who’ve invested a lot within the fandom are delay by it.

To return to the Souls metaphor, audiences usually don’t know easy methods to take care of artwork that calls for to be met by itself phrases when these phrases imply being abrasive to the viewers itself. Whereas the Souls video games have flourished since Demon Souls was first launched in 2009, they’ve a popularity for chewing up gamers who aren’t prepared to “git gud.” Should you’ve solely performed video games which can be about fulfilling participant gratification and assembly your each want, Darkish Souls will lay your ass out. It’s a lesson in being humble. So is The Tortured Poets Division. It’s an album that asks followers to think about that their parasocial relationship with Swift is probably not for her profit. The final monitor on the album, “Clara Bow,” reckons with this satan’s cut price Swift has made along with her followers for stardom.

This battle additionally has Swift turning TTPD right into a musically inconsistent album that (in its anthology kind) consists of 31 tracks, with few songs that really feel like epic ballads or radio-ready hits. “Perhaps this sucks, perhaps it’s not what you assume I ought to do, what are you going to do about it?” Swift appears to ask. Particularly grating tracks like “Florida!!!” are akin to the infamous poison swamps of many FromSoftware video games. It’s an extremely dangerous but assured assertion from Swift that makes me see TTPD in a extra optimistic mild. As Giovanni Colantonio writes on Medium, “It could very properly be essentially the most hostile mainstream pop report we’ll ever see from an artist at this stage of public consideration.” However this boldness additionally lacks musical cohesion, and the album falls flat to the ears—leaving each Swift and her followers to fall again on lore as a crutch.

The Tortured Poets Division leaves followers craving extra, and after so a few years of hidden messages, the one technique to fulfill that urge is to dive into the lore. It has turned TTPD into the head of the fandom tradition of Swifties. An equal, if not larger, period of time could be spent studying and watching explainers concerning the album than truly listening to it in hopes of uncovering extra secrets and techniques, simply as many FromSoft followers will spend time watching VaatiVidya explainers concerning the newest Souls sport or studying the 107-page fan-made lore bible for Bloodborne.


However the place Souls followers search to unearth and ponder that means, Swifties seemingly are looking for to search for one thing past the apparent floor that means of The Tortured Poets Division. Its prickly problem to followers makes it a tough tablet to swallow. So, as a substitute, lore will get the main target. As a result of lore goes down smoother.

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