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Taylor Swift’s ‘Tortured Poets’ arrives with promotional blitz

REPUBLIC RECORDS VIA AP
                                This cover image released by Republic Records show “The Tortured Poets Department” by Taylor Swift.
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REPUBLIC RECORDS VIA AP

This cover image released by Republic Records show “The Tortured Poets Department” by Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift was already the most ubiquitous pop star in the galaxy, her presence dominating the music charts, the concert calendar, the Super Bowl, the Grammys.

Then it came time for her to promote a new album.

In the days leading up to the release of “The Tortured Poets Department” on Friday, Swift became all but inescapable, online and seemingly everywhere else. Her lyrics were the basis for an Apple Music word game. A Spotify-sponsored, Swift-branded “library installation,” in muted pink and gray, popped up in a shopping complex in Los Angeles. In Chicago, a QR code painted on a brick wall directed fans to another Easter egg on YouTube. Videos on Swift’s social media accounts, showing antique typewriters and globes with pins, were dissected for clues about her music. SiriusXM added a Swift radio station; of course it’s called Channel 13 (Taylor’s Version).

About the only thing Swift didn’t do was an interview with a journalist.

At this stage in Swift’s career, an album release is more than just a moment to sell music; it’s all but a given that “The Tortured Poets Department” will open with gigantic sales numbers, many of them for “ghost white,” “phantom clear” and other collector-ready vinyl variants. More than that, the album’s arrival is a test of the celebrity-industrial complex overall, with tech platforms and media outlets racing to capture whatever piece of the fan frenzy they can get.

Threads, the newish social media platform from Meta, primed Swifties for their idol’s arrival there, and offered fans who shared Swift’s first Threads post a custom badge. Swift stunned the music industry last week by breaking ranks with her record label, Universal, and returning her music to TikTok, which Universal and other industry groups have said pays far too little in royalties. Overnight, TikTok unveiled “The Ultimate Taylor Swift In-App Experience,” offering fans digital goodies like a “Tortured Poets-inspired animation” on their feed.

Before the album’s release on Friday, Swift revealed that a music video — for “Fortnight,” the first single, featuring Post Malone — would arrive on Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern time. At 2 a.m., she had another surprise: 15 more songs. “I’d written so much tortured poetry in the past 2 years and wanted to share it all with you,” she wrote in a social media post, bringing “The Anthology” edition of the album to 31 tracks.

“The Tortured Poets Department,” which Swift, 34, announced in a Grammy acceptance speech in February — she had the Instagram post ready to go — lands as Swift’s profile continues to rise to ever-higher levels of cultural saturation.

Her Eras Tour, begun last year, has been a global phenomenon, crashing Ticketmaster and lifting local economies; by some estimates, it might bring in as much as $2 billion in ticket sales — by far a new record — before it ends later this year. Swift’s romance with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has been breathlessly tracked from its first flirtations last summer to their smooch on the Super Bowl field in February. The mere thought that Swift might endorse a presidential candidate this year sent conspiracy-minded politicos reeling.

“The Tortured Poets Department” — don’t even ask about the missing apostrophe — arrives accompanied by a poem written by Stevie Nicks that begins, “He was in love with her/Or at least she thought so.” That establishes what many fans correctly anticipated as the album’s theme of heartbreak and relationship rot, Swift’s signature topic. “I love you/It’s ruining my life,” she sings on “Fortnight.”

Fans were especially primed for the fifth track, “So Long, London,” given that (1) Swift has said she often sequences her most vulnerable and emotionally intense songs fifth on an LP, and (2) the title suggested it may be about Joe Alwyn, an English actor who was Swift’s boyfriend for about six years, reportedly until early 2023. Indeed, “So Long” is an epic breakup tune, with lines like “You left me at the house by the heath” and “I’m pissed off you let me give you all that youth for free.” Tracks from the album leaked Wednesday, and fans have also interpreted some songs as being about Matty Healy, the frontman of the band the 1975, whom Swift was briefly linked to last year.

The album’s title song starts with a classic Swift detail of a memento from a lost love: “You left your typewriter at my apartment/Straight from the tortured poets department.” It also name-drops Dylan Thomas, Patti Smith and, somewhat surprisingly given that company, Charlie Puth, the singer-songwriter who crooned the hook on Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again,” a No. 1 hit in 2015. (Swift has praised Wiz Khalifa and that song in the past.)

Other big moments include “Florida!!!,” featuring Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine, in which Swift declares — after seven big percussive bangs — that the state “is one hell of a drug.” Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, the producers and songwriters who have been Swift’s primary collaborators in recent years, both worked on “Tortured Poets,” bringing their signature mix of moody, pulsating electronic tracks and delicate acoustic moments, like a bare piano on “Loml” (as in “love of my life”).

As the ninth LP Swift has released in five years, “Tortured Poets” is the latest entry in a remarkable creative streak. That includes five new studio albums and four rerecordings of her old music — each of which sailed to No. 1. When Swift played SoFi Stadium near Los Angeles in August, she spoke from the stage about her recording spurt, saying that the forced break from touring during the COVID-19 pandemic had spurred her to connect with fans by releasing more music.

“And so I decided, in order to keep that connection going,” she said, “if I couldn’t play live shows with you, I was going to make and release as many albums as humanly possible.”

That was two albums ago.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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