‘Tortured Poets’ Has Shifted the Taylor Swift Debate. Let’s Discuss.


PARELES There are some magnificent moments among the synths, especially with the vocal harmonies in songs like “So Long, London” and “I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can).” But some of the sameness also comes from tunes and cadences that are starting to feel too familiar. One that especially stuck out to me on this album is the way a sustained verse melody gives way to a choppy pre-chorus, or chorus, that arrives in two-syllable bursts, the way it does in “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys,” “Fresh Out the Slammer,” “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” “The Prophecy” and “The Bolter.”

When Swift started using that device, it brought some fresh hip-hop percussiveness into songwriting that was rooted in country. But now it’s standard practice for Swift and her many emulators. Swift is 11 albums and umpteen bonus tracks into her recording career, so it’s harder for her to evade echoes of her past. The songs near the end of this album, especially, start to sound like outtakes from “Folklore,” pretty as they are. But no one is forcing her to put 31 songs on an album, either.

GANZ It is simply too much, Jon, and for the first time in a while, listeners and critics are having honest conversations about it. Being a fan has come to mean unequivocal support in the stan (or superfan) era, with no room for criticism or questioning of any kind. The “Tortured Poets” moment is an interesting test — it has cracked open the door for debate and perhaps humanized Swift once again in the process. It’s been fascinating thinking about this album in contrast to Beyoncé’s supersized latest release, “Cowboy Carter,” which is diametrically opposed in nearly every way, though she is also the curator of a passionate fan base. (She is also eight years older.) At such a fraught moment in the world, Swift’s focus has grown exponentially insular. There can be comfort and safety in that for both artist and listener, but it only strengthens that parasocial relationship.

ZOLADZ To Ben’s point about the fans, and to crib a phrase from the streaming economy, this feels like an album designed for her top 5 percent of listeners — the ride-or-dies who will defend her every move and pore over her every lyrical clue. Everyone else seems either puzzled or underwhelmed by it as a whole. But Swift is someone who thrives off feeling underestimated and misunderstood, so maybe the mixed reception of this album will be the creative rocket fuel that launches her into her next era. Only time will tell if “Tortured Poets” represents a turning point in the cultural narrative about Swift, or if the mixed reception will be washed away by her next inevitable triumph. Appropriately enough, one of the two albums she has left to rerecord is “Reputation,” a defiant album she made during a time when her approval rating had dipped some. Suffice to say, I think we’re now ready for it, again.



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