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

BEN SISARIO Hey, have you guys seen my antique typewriter? I think I left it at someone’s apartment. I swear, I’m so absent-minded …

JON PARELES I’m not sure you want to be associated with that typewriter’s owner, Ben. He doesn’t come off too well on “The Tortured Poets Department”’; by the end, he’s been reduced to “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived.”

SISARIO Over the years, I’ve trained myself to view Taylor Swift’s work through the eyes of her fans — that’s crucial for understanding Swift, whose connection with her listeners is at the root of her success, and it’s also become part of the art itself. The question is not just what is Swift saying, but what is she telling her fans, and how will they respond to it? And for my first few times listening to “Tortured Poets,” it seemed crystal clear to me that this album would rally fans intensely. This is an epic of romantic martyrdom, a cry of revenge greased by tears of rage. She’s pushing Swifties’ buttons, and I could imagine stadiums on every continent screaming in unison: “I love you, it’s ruining my life!”

The sound, too, seems perfectly calibrated. Over much of the last decade, Swift has kept parallel musical paths: moody electro-pop with Jack Antonoff, and raw, delicate indie-folk with Aaron Dessner. She split the difference here, engaging both producers, and I think Swifties vote yes.

PARELES It’s not just one Taylor Swift, though. It’s at least two: the world-conquering billionaire superstar who has stadiums chanting “More!” and the vulnerable girlfriend whose heart explodes when a guy teasingly slips a ring on her ring finger. It’s also the Swift who can’t help gathering writerly details for her next song, and the Swift who’s very deliberately planting autobiographical clues and Easter eggs for the fans to find. The tension between Swift as a shrewd, workaholic cultural colossus and Swift the 34-year-old woman seeking a worthy, committed partner — and, she suggests, marriage and family — is stronger than ever on this album, and makes it a real jumble of agendas.

Some lyrics seem to be pushing back against the opinions of Swift’s judgmental fans.Credit…Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for The New York Times
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