Taylor Swift: An Appreciation in Advance of the Release of the Tortured Poets Department

Kimberly: I remember that when you first introduced me to Taylor, I asked you what your favorite Taylor Swift song was. Since that time, I’ve realized that Taylor has a cult following, and I don’t mean that in a creepy way. For Swifties (a group to which I now belong) it’s about more than the music. We identify with different aspects of her often-changing persona and associate different songs of hers with different eras of our own lives. Taylor gives us art to capture those experiences; words, music and images that help us look back and crystallize what it all meant, emotionally. The resulting complexity of people’s relationships to Taylor’s oeuvre is such that the relevant question to ask a Swiftie is not, “What’s your favorite song?” but “What are your three favorite albums?” And to top it off, the first thing most Swifties will reply is “Ranked or unranked?” That is how deep and complex this fandom is. Unranked, my sister picked Fearless, Red and Lover. I said Speak Now, 1989 and Midnights. And you said Folklore, Midnights, and then in the third spot you couldn’t decide between Lover, Speak Now, and Evermore. Your opinion kind of trifurcates at that point, if that’s a word. I mean, that’s what we’re dealing with here!

Sofia: True. I think one factor that can make albums among your top picks is if you were aware of them around the time they were being released. I listened to Folklore shortly after it came out and I stayed up till midnight to listen to both Evermore and Midnights the minute they came out.

Kimberly: I agree. Midnights is the first album whose release I looked forward to, with you, in fall of 2022. As a result of that, I started following Taylor and then we went to the Eras tour concert in spring of 2023, and so I was very aware of what she was doing when she released Taylor’s Versions of Speak Now and 1989 in the course of that year. Those are my three favorites at this point.

Sofia:  People who don’t know Taylor sometimes dismiss her as “just a pop singer.” But this is not the case. Her lyrics are much more complex and poetic than many pop songs and her arrangements are not overproduced and reliant on effects. You can always imagine Taylor singing her songs live, and they are usually better in a live performance. For example, my favorite version of London Boy, from Lover, is the one she did live for the BBC. Also, even when her lyrics are relatively simple she has a way of expressing ideas and experiences that lots of people can relate to.

Kimberly: I think one example of that is That’s The Way I Loved You, from Fearless. A lot of people have had the experience of breaking up with someone who really isn’t good for them, but still missing the intensity of a relationship where, as she writes, you’re “screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain. . . So in love that you act insane.” (Actually, come to think of it, that’s also the theme as I see it of Red, the title song from her fourth album.) A different but related example is her mega-hit Style, from 1989. I think it’s been so successful not only for the super-catchy melody and rhythm but because it describes an experience so many women have had, of going “round and round” with a guy who comes in and out of your life but always draws you back in with that “James Dean daydream look” in his eye. Of course, Taylor is also the ultimate poetess of the breakup song (my personal favorite of her contributions to that genre is Picture to Burn from her debut album, Taylor Swift, with Evermore’s Champagne Problems a close second). At the same time, she’s fabulous for defiant exaltations of loving the way you want to, no matter what people think, as when she writes in Reputation’s Don’t Blame Me: “Don’t blame me / My drug is my baby / I’ll be using for the rest of my life.” She’s also written some of the most tenderly romantic songs I’ve ever heard, like Timeless, the time-travel love story she recently released from the Speak Now vault, or Folklore’s August. Moving on to non-relationship topics, The Man from Lover expresses the thoughts of every professional woman I know. We can all relate to being “sick of running as fast as I can / Wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man.” Finally, I think MidnightsAntihero was such a hit in part because everyone’s had moments where they feel the kind of self-loathing it describes. Wow, I reached my goal of mentioning a song from each of her 10 albums in this paragraph!

Sofia: I have a totally different interpretation of “Don’t Blame Me!” But that’s part of our point. People can relate to Taylor’s songs in different ways. For example, her song Clean from the 1989 album can be thought of as being about a romantic relationship, other kinds of relationships like friendships, or about mental health/addiction. And for a lot of songs, even if you don’t necessarily relate to the subject matter, you can enjoy different aspects of the musical form. For example, I really like the instrumentals in “The Other Side of the Door” from Fearless and the catchy rhythm of “Paper Rings” from Lover. Of course, often people like both the subject matter and the form. Taylor’s songs are so diverse and cover so many topics, emotions and genres that everyone can find at least one song they like – or at least respect as a piece of art, even if it isn’t their taste.

Kimberly: There is so much to say about Taylor’s music that I’m really happy we’ve managed to organize Oeuvre: Taylor Swift’s Eras, a community listening event April 16-20th, 2024. Oeuvre will include community listening and discussion hours every afternoon at the Newton Public Library, a champagne tasting at Ryan Gott’s The Cork & Board, an open mike event at Bill’s Pizzeria and other events and promotions you can keep track of on the website of our Newton, Massachusetts based micropress Tandeta Books. All of it is in celebration of Taylor’s 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets’ Department, which will become available to stream just after midnight on Friday the 19th of April this year.

kimberly and sofia jackson
Kimberly Jackson is a longtime contributor to KOM’s Poetry Corner. Sofia Jackson, her daughter, is a longtime Taylor Swift fan and a rising junior in high school. Together they attended the 13th concert of Swift’s 2023 Eras Tour. They can be reached through Kimberly’s website.

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