June 15, 2024

Within the days after the April 19 launch of The Tortured Poets Division, the most recent 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 in regards to the lore.

For longtime followers of Swift, that may not sound like something new. She’s lengthy had a aptitude for the dramatic. Since 2008’s Fearless, Swift has pulled methods like hiding messages in her CD lyric books. As her profession has skyrocketed, now at its highest level ever, Swift has developed 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 recreation that retains you concerned not simply when new albums and singles drop however each time Swift does something, as a result of in the event you aren’t paying consideration you could possibly miss the subsequent massive clue. “I’ve educated them to be that means,” Swift stated of her followers in a 2019 interview with Leisure Weekly.

It’s rather a lot like how Darkish Souls, and different video games by developer FromSoftware, strategy their storytelling. Darkish Souls has a narrative, followers will enthusiastically insist, you simply must know the place to look. Sometimes, meaning merchandise descriptions. There are complete worlds filled with tales and characters in FromSoftware’s titles, however most of it’s by no means instantly instructed to you. You will need to hunt it down. The floor degree of the sport is usually primarily based on vibes alone. That could be a simplification to make certain, nevertheless it’s an efficient solution 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 among Swift’s biggest strengths as an artist has all the time been her capability 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 fashionable, 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 most of the time present Swift breaking out of her personal perspective. Folklore particularly is far 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. Somewhat than put her feelings instantly into music, she will be able to funnel them via a brand new lens to serve a narrative.

The Tortured Poets Division, then again, lacks that authorial intent. That isn’t to say there isn’t some extent to the album, it’s simply extra musically and narratively messy. Somewhat than the tour-de-force breakup album about longtime boyfriend Joe Alwyn that followers anticipated TTPD to be, the album is far more about her infatuation with 1975 frontman Matty Healy and her followers’ response to it. For individuals who don’t know, Healy and Swift started courting in Might of 2023. When the couple first emerged collectively, Swifties disapproved. Healy had gotten in bother for a collection of controversies round perceived racist conduct. By June of 2023, the couple had damaged up. TTPD is basically a chronicle of Swift’s sturdy emotions for Healy, for higher and worse. The observe “However Daddy I Love Him” is about Swift’s anger at followers for ridiculing her selection of accomplice 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 finest 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 together 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 turn into 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 typically don’t know the right way to cope with 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 repute for chewing up gamers who aren’t keen to “git gud.” In the event you’ve solely performed video games which might 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 contemplate that their parasocial relationship with Swift might not be for her profit. The final observe on the album, “Clara Bow,” reckons with this satan’s discount Swift has made together 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 gentle. As Giovanni Colantonio writes on Medium, “It could very effectively be essentially the most hostile mainstream pop report we’ll ever see from an artist at this degree 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 solution 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 better, period of time will be spent studying and watching explainers in regards to the album than really listening to it in hopes of uncovering extra secrets and techniques, simply as many FromSoft followers will spend time watching VaatiVidya explainers in regards to the newest Souls recreation 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 searching for to search for one thing past the plain floor that means of The Tortured Poets Division. Its prickly problem to followers makes it a tough capsule to swallow. So, as a substitute, lore will get the main focus. As a result of lore goes down smoother.

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