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April 19, 2024
Surprise! Taylor Swift’s ‘Tortured Poets Department’ Is Actually Two Albums
INTROSTORYGALLERYCREDITS
Singer dropped lots of hints, clues, Easter eggs IRL and on social media ahead of release.

Taylor Swift’s ode to English majors and romantics everywhere, “The Tortured Poets Department” (TTPD), finally dropped early Friday morning, but the marketing leading up to it has been churning for a solid two months. And that marketing -- plus the ongoing phenomenon that is Taylor Swift -- clearly worked: the album's day one release set a Spotify record, hitting more than 300 million streams.

Swift kicked off the album’s campaign during her February 4 acceptance of the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album for 2022’s “Midnights.” All this month, Swift and her promo team have been hyping the album. Many clues suggested what the world now knows: “The Tortured Poets Department” is actually a double-album, with 31 new songs in total, most of them seemingly about recent love affairs, up to and including current boyfriend, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce ("The Alchemy" specifically seems to refer to Kelce). 

Swift famously loves Easter eggs and uses them to tease fans about upcoming albums – and as an artist who has released five studio albums in five years, there’s often a lot to tease. 

On April 5, Swift released five personally curated playlists on Apple Music, with each one representing one of the “five stages of heartbreak,” according to Swift: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Hidden in the lyrics of each playlist was a secret word. Fans who found that word could put them together to find a  message from Swift. As fans began to hunt down the clues, the Taylor Nation Instagram and X accounts posted hints. The full message was revealed on April 18: “We hereby conduct this post mortem.” Fans concluded that “TTPD” would be loaded with songs about the end of Swift’s relationship with her boyfriend of six years, English actor Joe Alwyn, and perhaps about her short-lived relationship with 1975 singer Matty Healy. The phrase also shows up in the lyrics to the song, "How Did It End?" which contemplates what made the singer's relationships go sour.

On April 11, Swift made her return to social media platform TikTok, even though Universal Music Group, which owns her label Republic Records, pulled all of its artists’ music off the platform on February 1. Swift owns the rights to most of her own music after her 2019 dispute with Big Machine Records and that label's owner Scooter Braun. The singer-singwriter has re-recorded and re-released her first five albums, with new masters of 2017’s “Reputation” still in the works. All of the re-released songs bear their original titles with "Taylor’s version" noted in parentheses.

According to Nathan Hubbard, former CEO of Ticketmaster and current CEO of Firebird Music, Swift’s relationship with TikTok makes sense. Talking to Matt Belloni on Ringer podcast “The Town,” Hubbard noted that 80% of Swift’s revenue comes from ticket sales to her massive (and seemingly never-ending) “Eras” tour. The money that Swift might miss out on by making her music available on TikTok is more than made up by the number of tickets she sells as a result of freely letting fans use her music, Hubbard posited.

On April 16, a small library installation co-sponsored by Spotify popped up at Los Angeles’ The Grove. Fans were encouraged to look for clues at the pop-up, although many fans took the opportunity to poke fun at the promotion – or more specifically, The Grove and its expensive parking policies. Some 1,200 Swifties started lining up early in the morning to see what the dark academia-inspired exhibition was all about and what clues they could unearth.

Credit: Hyperallergic

On that same day, a mural went up on the side of a building in Chicago’s River North neighborhood featuring a QR code for Swifties to follow. The QR code led kept changing over the following week with links dropping clues not only about the album but also about a secret 2 a.m. drop on Friday. 

Satellite radio service SiriusXM mounted a pop-up Swift-only station called, of course, Channel 13 (Taylor’s version). 

Such brands as Sour Patch Kids, Sephora and Sweetgrass have circled the album’s release. Pixar released scenes from its movies in the style of “TTPD” on Instagram with songs from the album as titles. Krispy Kreme donuts offered a free glazed donut for anyone coming in wearing a friendship bracelet on Friday. (Swifties have a tradition of crafting bracelets and exchanging them at shows.) Tums parodied the album cover, changing the name to “The Tortured Tummies Department” and including a bottle of the pastel-colored antacids. Even storied institutions like the Empire State Building, the Library of Congress and the Los Angeles Public Library got into the act.

On Monday (April 22), Swift gave Amazon Music a turn. Fans with Amazon Alexa devices just need to tell her "I'm a member of the tortured poets department," and Alexa will cue up Swift talking about the lyrics to several of the album's songs, including "Fortnight” with Post Malone, “Clara Bow,” “Florida!!!” with Florence + the Machine, “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” and “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys.”

“The Tortured Poets Department” is streaming now on audio platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify. Digital, CD and even cassette versions of the album and merch like hoodies, hats and jewelry are available at store.taylorswift.com

[Image credit: Beth Garrabrant]

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