Why normal music reviews don’t make sense for Taylor Swift

Ask music critics what they think of Taylor Swift’s 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, and those who aren’t afraid of being doxed might have something to say about the interminable length, repetitive synth overlays or uninspired lyrics. Take «imgonnagetyouback», a song that is remarkably similar Olivia Rodrigo«Give him back!» In the chorus, Swift sings that she hasn’t decided «whether I’ll be your wife or break your bike.» Perhaps the lyrics are meant to be a bit infantile, but even the most novice should nudge Swift towards a clearer rhyme: «either I’ll be your wife or I’ll break you life.”

Ask Swiftie what she thinks of the album and they may very well say it’s her best work yet. Yes, it would make more sense for her to rhyme «wife» with «life» in «imgonnagetyouback». But Swift obsessives know to associate «imgonnagetyouback» with «Fallingforyou,» a 1975 song written by Swift’s ex-boyfriend. Matty Healy. In it, Healy sings, «I’m so excited for the night / All we need is my bike and your huge house.» Swift’s reference to a bike in «imgonnagetyouback» is therefore a deliberate creative decision, as is the lack of spaces in the song’s title. Some fans went further, arguing that the lack of space not only invites comparisons to «Fallingforya,» but also to Swift’s own «Blank Space,» a track on her «1989» album. (1975, 1989 – there are a lot of years to watch here.) «In Blank Space music video, Taylor Swift smashes things and sings ‘Cause you know I love the players And you love the game,'» YouTube user Miranda-ry9tf writes in the comment. «In imgonnagetyouback he says ‘We broke all the pieces but you still want to play the game.’ Maybe «Blank Space», released in 2014, was also about Healy? Those Swifties who’ve gone far down the rabbit hole might argue that by leaving out the spaces in the title of her new song, Swift created a kind of ouroboros — a running theme in the artist’s work since 2016 when Kim Kardashian called her a «snake.» If you write the words «imgonnagetyouback» in a circle, you’ll notice that the «k» and «im» are right next to each other. It might seem like a reach — but six tracks later, Swift references a mysterious rival named Aimee in a song called «thank you aIMee.» It doesn’t take a Swiftie to figure out whose name is spelled in capital letters.

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There’s long been a disconnect between how music critics and Swifties consume Taylor Swift’s work, but never before has the divide been so stark. We saw this in 2014 when «1989» became the fastest-selling album in over a decade, but Pitchfork didn’t check it. (The next year, the music publication instead reviewed Ryan Adams’ cover album «1989».) In 2017, Swift’s «Reputation” was the best-selling album of the year; it received lackluster reviews and landed him a Grammy. During the pandemic, Swift narrowed the income gap by releasing «folklore«, an album loved by critics and fans alike. («Some of us spent years dreaming that Taylor would make an entire album like this, but no one really dreamed it would turn out this great,» Rob Sheffield he wrotein The rolling stone, declaring it «the greatest album—by far.») But while critics came for the «folk,» fans stayed for the «lore,» and that’s the primary appeal of Swift’s latest release. The «Tortured Poets Department» or «TTPD» is nothing short of a Rorschach test. Lukewarm music reviews often miss the fact that «music» is something Swift stopped selling a long time ago. Instead, she spent two decades building the foundations of a fan universe full of complex, interconnected stories that were contextualized from different points of view in eleven sensational works. They don’t create individual albums, but rather a music franchise.

«TTPD» helped Swift break almost every streaming record possible. Upon its release, it became the most streamed album on Spotify in a single day, and Swift herself became the most streamed artist in a single day. It was streamed 314.5 million times on its release day; the second biggest Spotify debut of the year was BeyoncéCowboy Carter” to 76.6 million. Ariana Grande’s «Eternal Sunshine» came in fourth with 59.1 million. «(Swift) is on another level, let’s start comparing Ariana to Olivia Rodrigo instead,» Grande’s fan account he wrote on X. This poster may have the right idea: Why do are we comparing Swift to singer-songwriters like Grande and Beyoncé, and not to Bob Iger, the media executive who turned Disney into a two hundred billion dollar company? Disney owns two of the biggest fan properties in existence: Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel villains include Thanos and Doctor Doom; The villains include Taylor Swift Braun scooter and Kim Kardashian. (And now maybe Healy.)

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Like the MCU, the Swiftverse is more than just a series of storylines and characters. That’s thousands of comments on Instagram posts, another three hundred and thirty two million dollars for the NFLand worldwide run on the bracelet beads and Fed wondered why inflation persists. In the Swiftverse, the music itself is not the point, but the way the point is delivered. This is not to say that music is irrelevant; it serves a vital purpose. But that purpose varies depending on whether you’re a die-hard Swiftie or a casual listener. A common criticism of «TTPD» is that it lacks stylistic development, with too many references to Swift’s previous albums. Quickies understand that these Easter eggs add another dimension to a song or story they thought they knew. In the opening of «So Long, London,» a track on «TTPD,» die-hard fans will recognize a pulsating sound similar to the effect used in «Call It What You Want» from the «Reputation» album. About halfway through the song, an «ah, ah» sound is also heard similar to the chorus part of «Dress», another track from «Reputation». On the one hand, it’s reasonable for non-Swifties to assume that the artist collaborating with her longtime collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, she inadvertently remade some of her old works. On the other hand, it’s kind of crazy to think that Swift is capable of doing this anything without intentionality. Assuming the callbacks in «So Long, London» are intentional, they wrap up the beginning and end of Swift’s six-year relationship with actor Joe Alwyn quite nicely. Most musicians – and artists in general – can only dream of their fan base picking up on such subtleties. Ironically, in Swift’s case, these subtleties led to her harshest criticism.

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Some of the cleverest callbacks on «TTPD» aren’t to Swift’s old music, but to Healy. Fans have found that Swift’s «Guilty as Sin» works eerily well as a musical overlay to «About You,» a 1975 song widely believed to be about Swift. Skeptics note that both songs were produced by Antonoff, and argue that «Guilty as Sin» begs the question of whether the Swift-Antonoff collaboration has finally gone stale. But for Swifties, it offers «Guilty as Sin» answers. It brings together two crucial pieces of the puzzle, leaving fans feeling tantalizingly close to solving the mysteries Swift’s universe is built on—the identity of her muses, the uncertainty of whether «Folklore» and its sequel «…more and more” are based on real events. Swift and Healy’s combined discography of more than three hundred and fifty songs after this train of thought leaves fans with at least twenty two thousand one hundred and ninety four possible song overlay combinations to work through manically to answer the biggest question posed by «TTPD»: Was Matty Healy all along time main character?


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