meta-script10 Music Books To Dig Into This Summer: A Kate Bush Bio, A First-Hand Account Of The Grunge Scene & Feminist Punk Histories | GRAMMY.com
Ten Music Books To Dig Into This Summer
'Hit Girls' by Jen B. Larson; 'Stomp and Shout' by Peter Blecha; 'Lunacy' by John Kruth

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10 Music Books To Dig Into This Summer: A Kate Bush Bio, A First-Hand Account Of The Grunge Scene & Feminist Punk Histories

2023 has been a big year for books about music, and there's still more to come. Step away from your screen and pick up one of the tomes below, from Lucinda Williams' memoir to a history of Some Bizzare Records and an overview of 'Dark Side of the Moon.'

GRAMMYs/May 26, 2023 - 02:08 pm

2023 has already been a strong year for music-related books: industry insider Tony King’s memoir The Tastemaker: My Life with the Legends and Geniuses of Rock Music, Scott G. Shea’s All the Leaves Are Brown, a comprehensive bio of the Mamas and the Papas, and Paul McCartney’s photo book 1964: The Eyes of the Storm. There’s more to come in the fall, with memoirs due from Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, and Sly Stone, as well as an updated 30th anniversary edition of Michael Azerrad’s classic Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. People love reading about their favorite artists, but a well-written book based around a good story should be capable of holding your attention regardless of your feelings about a performer’s music. It’s also a pleasure to read a book on a well-covered topic that offers a new perspective. And of course, one of the fun things in reading a book about music is that it will undoubtedly prompt you to head off to your favorite streaming site in order to listen to the songs the author has been describing.

Here’s a round up of current titles that range from covering the beat of South Africa to 1990s grunge, from a singer/songwriter who disappeared for 30 years to a new Rock Hall inductee.

Running Up That Hill: 50 Visions of Kate Bush

By Tom Doyle

In 2005, music journalist Tom Doyle was ferried by car to the home of Kate Bush, "somewhere in Berkshire [England]," to interview her for Mojo magazine. The subsequent article used just a fraction of his four hour interview with her. Nearly two decades later, Doyle uses that interview as the core of a fascinating book that offers new insights into the acclaimed, reclusive musician.

Doyle’s book was first published in the UK last year, riding the wave of enthusiasm when Bush’s 1985 single "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)," became a surprise worldwide hit, due to its use in the Netflix series "Stranger Things" (swiftly followed up by her recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year). The "Visions" are presented mostly chronologically, with expected stops at obvious life/career high points, such as the making of each of her albums.

But it’s more than just a listing of greatest hits. Doyle fills out his portrait with excursions into other areas, such as examining the influence of mime/dance artist Lindsay Kemp on Bush’s work, her first foray into live performance with the KT Bush Band (imagine Bush letting loose with "Honky Tonk Woman!"), and her faux pas of asking for Queen Elizabeth II's autograph. Not to mention his blow-by-blow account of Bush’s unexpected return to live performance with a London theater residency in 2014. A highly enjoyable read that’s a midway point between a trivia book and a full biography. 

Mud Ride: A Messy Trip Through the Grunge Explosion

By Steve Turner with Adem Tepedelen

From his days as a guitarist in the seminal Seattle alt rock band Green River, to his tenure in long-running Sub Pop Records act Mudhoney (who just released their eleventh album, Plastic Eternity), Steve Turner managed to ride the grunge wave all the way from obscurity to international acclaim and come out the other end still standing.

And what’s most interesting about Turner’s memoir is that it comes from the perspective of someone who was close to the center of the storm, but didn’t have to navigate the pitfalls of fame that befell higher profile acts like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Turner also carefully unwinds the many intertwining threads of Seattle’s late ’80s-early ’90s music scene, when musical chairs among bands was the norm, to make this a thorough first-hand account of the period. 

You'll also learn that '90s rock history could’ve been quite different: Turner says he was offered a position as second guitarist in Nirvana when Dave Grohl joined the band in 1990 (he declined, saying Nirvana was better as a three piece). Instead, Turner and Mudhoney took the road less traveled, and still ended up making a bigger impact than they ever dreamed of (though they still need to have day jobs).

Don’t Tell Anybody The Secrets I Told You

By Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams is such a compelling storyteller in her songs, it’s no surprise that her memoir grabs you from its very first page. In a telling pair of contrasting anecdotes, Williams relates how an "older gentleman" affiliated with the music business told her on learning that she was writing a memoir, "Don’t write about your childhood. Nobody wants to read about that." Conversely, a woman at one of Williams’ shows recognized that her childhood experiences were key to her art, asking Williams if she had a rough childhood as she headed backstage after the performance. When Williams nodded yes, the woman replied, "I thought so." 

And as her memoir reveals, that turbulent childhood laid the groundwork for Williams' future life and career. The constant moving as her father sought out new jobs around the country naturally led to her feeling more comfortable on the road; a handy attribute for a touring musician. Being the daughter of an acclaimed poet (Miller Williams) helped hone her own lyrical skills. She also writes movingly of struggles her mother, Lucille, had with mental illness. Lucille was a pianist, but was discouraged from pursuing a musical career; instead, the piano became "a joy and a burden at the same time," sold when she fell into a depression, repurchased when she felt better.

Williams faced her own obstacles, coping with her own obsessive-compulsive disorder, trying to find a place for herself when her music was deemed too country for rock and too rock for country, and confronting the sleazier side of the music industry (as when a filmmaker sexually propositions her at a meeting ostensibly to discuss making a video for her song "Right in Time"). Her conversational writing style draws you in, and her incisive observations keep you turning the pages. 

Hit Girls: Women of Punk in the USA 1975-1980

By Jen B. Larson

"‘Punk,’ I thought, was overproduced pop songs that sold a style," Jen Larson writes in her book’s introduction, observing that in general, coverage of women in punk still focuses on "a few groups with well-known women," riot grrrl, and little else. Larson’s intention is to delve into punk’s rich history, unearthing "these still-hidden stories [that] aren’t the tales we often hear in the popular punk narrative," celebrating the achievements of these unsung pioneers. 

There are some familiar names among the entries: Romeo Void (San Francisco), the Bags (Los Angeles), Lydia Lunch (New York). But Larson has also tracked down acts from more remote outposts — from Anchorage, Alaska (the Anemic Boyfriends) to South Palm Beach, Florida (Teddy and the Frat Girls) — bringing a greater depth to a history where the tendency is to concentrate on the musical developments in major urban centers. The song descriptions will have you heading to YouTube to check out long-forgotten recordings (like the great song by the Welders, from St. Louis, about sexual harassment: "P-E-R-V-E-R-T"). 

The book also benefits from new interviews with various band members sharing their insights. ("There’s this idea that there were no women of color in the punk movement," says Stoney Rivera of Milwaukee’s Dummy Club, who adds, "Women of color have been in the forefront of music in every genre from day one.") Even punk rock aficionados will find new info in this lively exploration of the period, which also serves up fun bits of trivia, like the Plasmatics’ Wendy O. Williams being the first woman on the cover of UK metal magazine Kerrang! and Vegetarian Times in the same month. 

Stomp and Shout: R&B and the Origins of Northwest Rock and Roll

By Peter Blecha

This book opens with a striking image of a skinny, 17-year-old Ray Charles, stepping off the bus in downtown Seattle in 1948. Though knowing no one in the city, within a day of his arrival he was playing at a local club, soon crossing paths with the likes of Quincy Jones, Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, and Ernestine Anderson. It’s a remarkable story that reveals the wealth of talent percolating in what was then considered a provincial backwater — a history that’s been not so much hidden but overlooked, drawn out by a historian who’s long chronicled the Pacific Northwest music scene.

Blecha’s book takes you back to an era not just before "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but before "Come Softly To Me" and "Walk, Don’t Run," the first big hit records to come from Northwest acts (the Fleetwoods and the Ventures, respectively). Blecha draws on the 400-plus interviews he’s done over the years to trace the evolution of the music that came to be known as the "Northwest Sound," which he describes as "a distinctive ‘rude jazz’-tinged mutation" of R&B. From "I Know I Was Wrong" by the Barons (the first NW teenage R&B group to have a hit) to the innumerable bands that put an unmistakable NW stamp on "Louie Louie" (the Wailers, the Frantics, the Kingsmen, et. al.) to the hint of ’90s rock you hear in cult acts like the Sonics, Stomp and Shout finally gives a voice to the musicians, promoters, producers, and entrepreneurs who laid the groundwork for the musical explosions to come. 

Rude Girls: Women in 2 Tone and One Step Beyond

By Heather Augustyn

Heather Augustyn tackles a conundrum of the 2 Tone/ska/bluebeat scene of late ’70s-early ’80s Britain: that women were "relegated to novelty status … in the very movement that prioritized equality and unity." As she observes elsewhere, "How strange for bands of five, six, seven men, even though they are Black and white, to sing about unity and never have it dawn on them that there weren’t any women in their new era." 

Rude Girls dives deeply into the period, with Augustyn casting her net broadly to include performers who, while not necessarily associated with ska, nonetheless interacted with the movement (such as the members of pop group Bananarama, who collaborated with Fun Boy Three). The extensive interviews make this book especially comprehensive.

A running theme is how virtually all the performers had to constantly push back against the idea that "women don’t play in bands." For Augustyn, their perseverance is something to celebrate, and one of her primary aims in writing the book is to provide inspiration for the future generations. And Rude Girls is certainly a primer for those who want to take the first step. As the Selecter’s Pauline Black so aptly puts it, "If the boys won’t let you join in their game, then sometimes it’s best to invent a new one of your own." 

Conform to Deform: The Weird & Wonderful World of Some Bizzare

By Wesley Doyle

There have been numerous books about punk rock, but not as many about the music scenes that developed in its immediate aftermath. Conform to Deform looks at the rise and eventual dissipation of  Some Bizzare Record — a label that attracted musicians inspired by punk’s energy, but who wanted to do something more radical musically. 

London DJ Stevo (Stephen Pearce) began seeking out "the stranger bands that were around" for his sets, and eventually Some Bizzare Records was born from the acts he championed. Its first release, the 1981 compilation Some Bizzare Album, helped to launch the careers of Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, and The The. Cabaret Voltaire, Einstürzende Neubauten, Coil, Swans, and Psychic TV were later drawn to the label.

Doyle takes the oral history approach to the story, and his coup is in getting the enigmatic Stevo to agree to an interview, and his idiosyncratic approach to the music industry (such as misspelling "bizarre" because "I like ambiguities") means there’s no shortage of insider anecdotes and great one-liners. It’s also a thoroughly entertaining look at an era when the music industry was a lot more freewheeling.

"It’s missing the mavericks, and I think Stevo was a proper maverick," said music journalist Colin Schaverien. It’s also a cautionary tale, illustrating how starting out with a huge success (in this case, Soft Cell’s "Tainted Love") isn’t going to guarantee your company a smooth ride.

Wayward: Just Another Life to Live

By Vashti Bunyan

Wayward (first published in the UK last year, and now in the U.S. in paperback) is the story of a woman who was determined to leave the music industry behind — only for it to catch up with her 30 years later. An acoustic performer frustrated by the machinations of the music industry in 1960s London, Bunyan left the city with her boyfriend, traveling by horse-drawn cart. There’s a dreaminess to Bunyan’s writing, even as she describes the hardships of life on the road, subsisting on porridge and brown rice for so long that the sweets on display at a candy store look like "a psychedelic vision." 

There’s also a recurrent theme of how women artists are silenced; the male friend who tells Bunyan "a girl should not be singing a [Bob] Dylan song"; her first manager Andrew Loog Oldham’s insistence that she record a Jagger/Richards number instead of an original song (he later conceded her song was the better choice); her boyfriend’s demand that she stop writing "those miserable little love songs." 

Nonetheless, the songs she did record attracted the attention of Joe Boyd, who produced her 1970 album, Just Another Diamond Day. And when it’s reissued in the 21st century, its rediscovery is all the sweeter for Bunyan, who’s finally inspired to make music once again: "I picked up my guitar and it no longer gave me the sounds of failure and sadness." It’s the story of a woman rediscovering her artistry.  

By Lior Phillips

When first sitting down to read this book, turn first to page 163 and listen to each of the "Essential Tracks" listed there to get a basic grounding in the genre you’re about to explore (the book is part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 "Genre" series). This interactive element is retained throughout; at the end of each chapter is a "micro playlist" with further song recommendations (and where to find them online), a feature that helps this concise history really come to life. 

Acknowledging her subject’s complexity, Lior Phillips describes her book as offering a "series of snapshots, scenes from which the larger picture can be stretched." And while noting that the evolution of the country’s music is inextricably "tied to the anchor of apartheid," this is also a story of triumph over adversity and oppression, and the key role played by the music.

From the birth of one of the world’s most popular songs, "Mbube," by Solomon Linda’s Evening Birds (later to become "Wimoweh" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight") to today’s purveyors of gqom (She Madjozi) and amapiano (DJ Kelvin Momo), this is a book celebrating a music that has inspired activism and delivered sheer joy.

[Editor's note: Lior Phillips is a GRAMMY.com contributor]

Lunacy: The Curious Phenomenon of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, 50 Years On

By John Kruth

The 50th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s landmark album The Dark Side of the Moon naturally comes with the release of the obligatory lavish box set. But there’s also a new book that takes you deeper inside the creation of this enigmatic work and its cultural reverberations that have echoed across the decades. John Kruth sets the stage nicely, with a concise summary of the band’s story before digging into the album track by track. And he also finds some unexpected byways to explore.

There’s an entire chapter on the "Cultural History of the Moon," for example, in which astrophysicist Dr. Matthew Bobrowsky informs us that there actually isn’t a "dark side of the moon." A chapter on the history of the concept album reaches all the way back to Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 ("often considered the original concept album") and Luke the Drifter by Hank Williams. It’s also packed with a wealth of detail, such as a dissection of Clare Torry’s cataclysmic vocals on "The Great Gig in the Sky" that climaxes with a (possibly apocryphal) story of a woman who claimed that the singer’s ululations eased her childbirth pangs. You also learn the band added "The" to the album’s title to distinguish it from another record also entitled Dark Side of the Moon, released in 1972 by British blues outfit Medicine Head. 

Kruth adds that the band would never again "achieve this level of camaraderie, cooperation, and collaboration." It underscores an often overlooked aspect about the album; how its very success "trapped us creatively" in guitarist David Gilmour’s words. Kruth’s book celebrates the music, but also points out there’s a price to be paid in creating a masterwork.

From "Stranger Things" To "Beef": How TV Shows Are Giving New Life To Pop Songs From The Past

A composite image collage featuring images of Taylor Swift in (L-R) 2023, 2008 and 2012.
(L-R) Taylor Swift in 2023, 2008 and 2012.

Photos (L-R): Buda Mendes/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management, Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel

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Songbook: An Era-By-Era Breakdown Of Taylor Swift's Journey From Country Starlet To Pop Phenomenon

Upon the arrival of Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department,' take a deep dive into her discography and see how each album helped her become the genre-shifting superstar she is today.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 09:32 pm

Editor’s note: This story was updated on April 19 to reflect the release of The Tortured Poets Department.

The world now knows Taylor Swift as a global pop superstar, but back in 2006, she was just a doe-eyed country prodigy. Since then, she's released 11 studio albums, re-recorded four as "Taylor's Version," and cultivated one of the most feverish fan bases in music. Oh, and she's also won 14 GRAMMY Awards, including four for Album Of The Year — the most ever won by an artist.

Swift has become one of music's most notable shapeshifters by refusing to limit herself to one genre, moving between country, pop, folk and beyond. A once-in-a-lifetime generational storyteller, one could argue that she is music's modern-day maverick, constantly evolving both her music and the culture around her.

Every album era has seen Swift reinvent herself over and over, which has helped pave the way for artists to explore other musical avenues. In turn, Swift hasn't just become one of the biggest artists of all time — she's changed pop music altogether.

To celebrate Taylor Swift's newest era with The Tortured Poets Department, GRAMMY.com looks back on all of her albums (Taylor's Versions not included) and how each era shaped her remarkable career.

Taylor Swift: Finding Her Place In Music

In a genre dominated by men, the odds were already stacked against Swift when she first broke into country music as a teenage female artist. The thing that differentiated her from other writers — and still does to this day — is her songwriting. She didn't want to be just "another girl singer" and knew writing her own songs would be what set her apart. 

Written throughout her adolescence, Taylor Swift was recorded at the end of 2005 and finalized by the time Swift finished her freshman year of high school. Serving as a snapshot of Swift's life and teenhood, she avoided songwriting stereotypes typically found in country music. Instead, she wanted to capture the years of her life while they still represented what she was going through, writing about what she was observing and experiencing, from love and friendship to feeling like an outsider. 

As a songwriter, Taylor Swift set the tone for what would be expected of her future recordings — all songs were written by her, some solely and others with one or two co-writers. One writer in particular, Liz Rose, applauded Swift's songwriting capabilities, stating that she was more of an "editor" for the songs because Swift already had such a distinct vision. 

The album's lead single, "Tim McGraw," an acoustic country ballad inspired by Swift knowing her relationship was going to end, represents an intricate part of Swift's songwriting process; meticulously picking apart her emotions to better understand them. With its follow-up, "Our Song" — which spent six consecutive weeks on the top of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart — she became the youngest person to solely write and sing a No. 1 country single; she also became the first female solo artist in country music to write or co-write every song on an album. 

Although Swift's eponymous debut is underappreciated now — even lacking its own set on Swift's Eras TourTaylor Swift's forthcoming rerecording is arguably the most anticipated by fans, who are eager to hear the songs with the singer's current and more refined vocals. Still, for fans who haven't properly explored Taylor Swift, it's easy to tie together Swift's earlier work to her current discography. 

On the track "A Place In This World," a song she wrote when she was just 13, Swift sings about not fitting in and trying to find her path. While her songwriting has developed and matured, feeling like an outsider and carving her own path is a theme she still writes about now, as seen on Midnights' "You're On Your Own, Kid." 

Even as a new country artist, critics claimed that she "mastered" the genre while subsequently ushering it to a new era — one that would soon see Swift dabble in country-pop. 

Fearless: Creating A Different Kind Of Fairytale

If Taylor Swift was the soundtrack to navigating the early stages of teenhood, Fearless is Swift's coming-of-age record. More than its predecessor, Fearless blurs the line between country and pop thanks to crossover hits like "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me," yet still keeps the confessional attributes known in country songwriting. 

Most of Fearless is Swift coming to terms with what she believed love to be. On the album's liner notes, Swift says Fearless is about "living in spite" of the things that scare you, like falling in love again despite being hurt before or walking away and letting go. The 2008 version of Taylor wanted to "believe in love stories and prince charmings and happily ever after," whereas in Swift's Fearless (Taylor's Version) liner notes, she looks back on the album as a diary where she was learning "tiny lessons" every time there was a "new crack in the facade of the fairytale ending she'd been shown in the movies." 

Much of Fearless also sees Swift being reflective and nostalgic about adolescence, like in "Never Grow Up" and "Fifteen." Still wistful and romantic, the album explores Swift's hopes for love, as heard in the album's lead single "Love Story," which was one instance where she was "dramatizing" observations instead of actually experiencing them herself. 

Unlike the slow-burn of Taylor Swift, Fearless went straight to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and stayed there for eight consecutive weeks. It won Swift's first Album Of The Year GRAMMY in 2010, at the time making her the youngest person to win the accolade at age 20. To date, it has sold 7.2 million copies in America alone. It might not be the romantic tale Swift dreamed of growing up, but her sophomore album signalled that bigger things were to come.

Speak Now: Proving Her Songwriting Prowess

Everything that happened after the success of Fearless pushed Swift from country music's best-kept secret to a mainstream star. But this meant that she faced more publicity and criticism, from naysayers who nitpicked her songwriting and vocals to the infamous Kanye West incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

For the first time since becoming an artist, she was forced to reckon with the concept of celebrity and how turning into one — whether she wanted it or not — informed her own writing and perception of herself. No longer was she the girl writing songs like "Fifteen" in her bedroom — now she was working through becoming a highly publicized figure. Speak Now is the answer to those growing pains. 

Along with having more eyes on her, Swift also felt pressured to maintain her persona as a perfect young female role model amid a time when her peers like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato were attempting to rebrand to be more mature and sexier. During her NYU commencement speech in 2022, she reflected on this era of her life as one of intense fear that she could make a mistake and face lasting consequences, so the songs were masked in metaphors rather than directly addressing adult themes in her music. But that also resulted in some of her most poignant lyrics to date.

Read More: For The Record: How Taylor Swift's 'Speak Now' Changed Her Career — And Proved She'll Always Get The Last Word

Writing the entire album herself, Swift used Speak Now to prove her songwriting prowess to those who questioned her capabilities. Much like her previous two albums, Swift included songs that were both inspired by her own life and being a fly on the wall. The album's title track pulled from the saying, "Speak now or forever hold your peace," inspired by a friend's ex-boyfriend getting engaged; meanwhile, "Mean" was everything Swift wanted to say to a critic who was continuously harsh about her vocals.

Retrospective and reflective, Speak Now is an album about the speeches she could've, would've and should've said. From addressing the aforementioned VMA incident in the forgiving "Innocent" to a toxic relationship in "Dear John," Speak Now also hinted that her rose-colored glasses were cracked, but Swift (and her songwriting) was only becoming stronger because of it.

Red: Coming Into Her Own

Highly regarded as Swift's magnum opus, Red sees the singer shed the fairytale dresses and the girl-next-door persona to craft a body of work that has now been deemed as her first "adult" record. On Red, Swift focused on emotions evoked from a hot-and-cold relationship, one that forced her to experience "intense love, intense frustration, jealousy and confusion" — all feelings that she'd describe as "red." 

Unlike most of her previous writing that had been inspired by happy endings and fairytales, Red explores the lingering pain and loss that can embed itself within despite trying your hardest to let go. In her liner notes, she references Pablo Neruda's poem "Tonight I Can Write," stating that "Love is so short, forgetting is so long" is the overarching theme for the album. She plays with time — speeding it up in "Starlight," dabbling in the past in "All Too Well," and reframing it in "State of Grace" — to better understand her experiences. 

After releasing country-pop records, Red toed the line between genres more than ever before. Swift leaned further into the full pop territory by working with esteemed producers Max Martin and Shellback for the dubstep-leaning track "I Knew You Were Trouble," the punchy lead single "We Are Never Getting Back Together," and the bouncy anthem "22." But even when the pop power players weren't involved, her country stylings still leaned more pop across the album, as further evidenced with the racing deep cut "Holy Ground" and the echoing title track. 

The slight change of direction became polarizing for critics and fans alike. Following the more country-influenced Speak Now, some critics and fans found the pop songs on Red were too pop and the lyrics were too repetitive, possibly indicating that she might be selling out. If that wasn't enough, Red became an era where Swift's personal life went from speculation to tabloid fodder, with misogynistic headlines and diluting her work to just "writing about her exes." It's an era that would eventually inspire many tracks on Red's successor, 1989, like "Blank Space" and "Shake It Off."

Commercially, Red debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold 1.2 million copies in its first week, becoming the fastest-selling country album and making Swift the first female artist to have three consecutive albums spend six or more weeks at the top of the chart. The impact of Red extended beyond its own success, too. Often mentioned as a record that inspired a generation of artists from Troye Sivan to Conan Gray, Swift's confessional, soul-bearing authenticity set a new standard for straightforward pop music. 

1989: Reinventing Into A Pop Genius

The night Red lost the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year in 2014, Swift decided that her next album would be a full-on pop record. After years of identifying as a country artist and flirting with pop, Swift departed her roots to reinvent herself, no matter what her then-label or critics had to say. And in true Swiftian fashion, turning into a pop artist didn't just prove her genre-shapeshifting capabilities — it further solidified her as an artist who is at her best when she freely creates to her desires and refuses to adhere to anyone.

1989 was lauded by critics for its infectious synth-pop that was reminiscent of the 1980s, yet still had a contemporary sound. Swift opted to lean more into radio-friendly hits, which resulted in songs like "Style," "Wildest Dreams," "Blank Space," and "Shake It Off," all of which became singles. And where some might trade a hit or two at the expense of their artistic integrity, Swift didn't falter — instead, her lyrics were just as heartfelt and intimate as they were on prior albums.

After exploring pop-leaning sonics she first found with Red, Swift worked with Martin and Shellback again on most of 1989. This reinvention brought new (and very important) collaborators as well. Swift's now-frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff credits her as the first person to take a chance on him as a producer with "I Wish You Would" and "Out Of The Woods"; both tracks exemplified how future Antonoff-produced songs would sound on albums like reputation, Lover and Midnights.

At the time, 1989 became Swift's best-selling album to date. It sold nearly 1.3 million copies within release week in the U.S., debuting atop the Billboard 200 and reigning for 11 non-consecutive weeks. The album also earned Swift several awards — including her second Album Of The Year GRAMMY, which made her the first female artist to ever win the award twice. 

Following the release of 1989, Swift became a cultural juggernaut, and the album has had an omnipresence in music since. Swift didn't just normalize blending genres, but proved that you can create a sound that is uniquely yours by doing so. In turn, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa and more pop stars have refused to conform or stick to what they've done prior. 

reputation: Killing The Old Taylor

For years, Swift was on a strict two-year cycle — she'd release an album one year, tour the next, and then release a new album the following year. But following the heightened scrutiny and highly publicized tabloid drama that followed the end of the 1989 era, Swift completely disappeared for a year. She stayed away from public appearances, didn't do any press, and missed the album schedule fans became accustomed to. It wasn't until summer 2017 when she returned from her media (and social media) blackout to unveil the fitting title for her new album: reputation.

Born as a response to the naysayers and name-callers, reputation follows Swift shedding her public image — which includes the pressure to be perfect, the drama, and the criticism — by declaring, "There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation." Leaning on the same tongue-in-cheek songwriting techniques she used while penning "Blank Space," Swift wrote from the mindset of how the public perceived her.

When Swift released the lead single "Look What You Made Me Do," a song she initially wrote as a poem about not trusting specific people, many assumed the album would center on vengeance and drama. Although Swift said that the album has its vindictive moments — even declaring that the "old Taylor" is dead on the bridge of "Look What You Made Me Do" — it's a vulnerable record for her. Swift described reputation as a bait-and-switch; at their core, the songs are about finding love in the darkest moments. 

Swift still remained in the pop lane with reputation, largely leaning on Antonoff and the Martin/Shellback team. The sound almost mirrored the scrutiny Swift faced in the years prior — booming electropop beats, maximalist production and pulsing synthesizers dominate, particularly on "End Game," "I Did Something Bad," and "Ready For It…?" But the "old Taylor" isn't entirely gone on songs like "Call It What You Want," "So It Goes…" and "New Year's Day," where she lets her guard down to write earnest love odes.

Even after Swift spent some time away from the spotlight, the public didn't immediately gravitate toward her return. And even despite matching the 1.2 million first-week sales of her previous releases, some concluded that the album was her first commercial failure when compared to 1989. With time, though, it became clear that the response to reputation became muddled with the public's overall perception of her at the time — some even claimed that Swift was ahead of her time with the album's overall sound.

For her 2023 TIME Person of the Year profile, Swift described reputation as a "goth-punk moment of female rage at being gaslit by an entire social structure." For years, she felt the pressure to be "America's Sweetheart" and to never step out of line. Writing reputation became a lifeline following the events that catalyzed it  — a way to shed the so-called snakeskin and make peace with however the public wanted to view her. 

Lover: Stepping Into The Daylight

After finding love amongst chaos with reputation, Swift was learning to deal with the anxiety and fear of losing her partner — became a major theme of another aptly titled album, Lover. Both sonically and visually, Lover was a complete change from reputation. After touring reputation, Swift found that her fans saw her as "a flesh-and-blood human being," inspiring her to be "brave enough to be vulnerable" because her fans were along with her. Stepping away from the dark and antagonistic themes around reputation encouraged Swift to step into the light and be playful with her work on Lover.

Swift also found a new sense of creativity within this new mindset, one where she aimed to still embed playful themes in her songwriting but with less snark than that of "Blank Space" and "Look What You Made Me Do." Leaning into Lover being a "love letter to love," Swift explored every aspect of it. Tracks like "Paper Rings" and "London Boy" exude a whimsical energy, even if they center on more serious themes like marriage and commitment. Other songs, including "Death By A Thousand Cuts" and "Cornelia Street," are Swift at her most vulnerable, reflecting on a love lost and grappling with the extreme worry that comes when you could potentially lose someone. 

Looking at Lover retrospectively, it's an album that almost symbolizes a bookend in her discography. She was playful yet poignant, picking apart her past lyrics and feelings and looking at them with the perspective of someone who was once on top of the world, hit rock bottom, and survived in spite of it. This evolution is mentioned throughout Lover, particularly in a direct callback to 2012's Red, "Daylight," which sees her describe her love as "golden" rather than "burning red." 

Lover also marked the first time Swift divulged into politics and societal issues, like campaigning against Donald Trump, releasing the Pride-infused "You Need To Calm Down," and feeling disillusioned by the political climate with "Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince." Swift's documentary Miss Americana explores this change further, discussing how she regrets not being vocal about politics and issues prior, in addition to opening up about her body image issues and mental health struggles.

Lover became Swift's sixth No. 1 album in America, making her the first female artist to achieve the feat. But Lover was more than any accolades could reflect — it was Swift's transitional album in many ways, notably marking the first album that she owned entirely herself following leaving Big Machine Records for Republic Records in 2018.

folklore: Looking Beyond Her Personal Stories

After the pandemic started and Swift cancelled her Lover Fest, she spent the early stages of quarantine reading and watching a myriad of films. Without exactly setting out to create an album, she began dreaming of fictional stories and characters with various narrative arcs, allowing her imagination to run free. The result became folklore, 2020's surprise archetypal quarantine album.

Crafting a world with characters like the folklore love triangle between those in "betty" and "august," as well as Rebekah Harkness from "the last great american dynasty" (who once lived in Swift's Rhode Island mansion), was Swift's way of venturing outside her typical autobiographical style of writing. She'd see visceral images in her mind — from battleships to tree swings to mirrored disco balls — and turned them into stories, sometimes weaving in her own personal narrative throughout, or taking on a narrator role and speaking from the perspective of someone she had never met. 

She worked remotely with two producers — again working with her right-hand man Jack Antonoff, and first-time collaborator Aaron Dessner from The National. Some songs, like "peace," were recorded in just one take, capturing the essence and fragility in the song's story, whereas the lyrics for the sun-drenched "august" were penned on the spot as Swift was in her makeshift home studio in Los Angeles.

Another aspect that separated folklore from her previous work was the obvious decision not to create hits made for radio play, so much so that Dessner claimed that she made an anti-pop record at a time when radio wanted clear "bops." Sonically, it ventured into genres Swift hadn't explored much outside of a few folkier tracks on Lover. Rather than relying on mostly electronic elements, Swift, Antonoff and Dessner weaved in soft pianos, ethereal strings, and plucky guitars.

folklore's impact on the zeitgeist at a time where everyone was stuck at home helped shape people's quarantine experience. Fans rejoiced at having songs to comfort them during difficult times, and artists like Maya Hawke, Gracie Abrams, and Sabrina Carpenter credit folklore for inspiring them to create and be even more emotionally honest in their songwriting. After its release, folklore became the best-selling album of 2020 after selling 1.2 million records. At the 2021 GRAMMYs, folklore took home Album Of The Year, making her the fourth artist in history to win three times in the Category. 

evermore: Embracing Experimentation

It was exciting enough for Swifties to experience one surprise album drop from Swift, an artist who typically has an entire album campaign calculated. So when evermore was released just six months after folklore, fans were in shock. 

Like its (literally) folklorian sister, evermore was a surprise release at the end of 2020, marking the first time Swift didn't have distinct "eras" between albums. She felt like there was something "different" with folklore, stating in a social media post that making it was less like she was "departing" and more like she was "returning" to the next stage of her discography. In turn, the album served as a similar escape for Swift as folklore did.

Bridging together the same wistful and nostalgic themes as heard on its predecessor, evermore sees Swift venture even further into escapism. She explores more stories and characters, some based in fiction like "dorothea," and some real, like "marjorie," written in dedication to Swift's grandmother. 

Evermore follows folklore's inclusion of natural imagery and motifs, like landscapes, skies, ivy, and celestial elements. In contrast to the fairytale motifs and happy endings of Fearless, evermore saw Swift become fixated on "unhappy" endings — stories of failed marriages ("happiness"), lifeless relationships ("tolerate it"), and one-time flings ("'tis the damn season"). 

Sonically, evermore is a slight departure from its sister record; where folklore relies on more alt-leaning and indie-tinged sounds, evermore takes the sonics from all of Swift's past records — from pop to country to indie rock — and features all of them on one album. Country songs like "cowboy like me" and "no body, no crime" reaches back to Swift's earlier work in narrative building, seamlessly crafting a three-party story with ease. "Closure" is a "skittering" track that has the same energy as tracks like Lover's "I Forgot That You Existed," whereas the ballad "champagne problems" is thematically reminiscent of Swift's Speak Now track "Back To December" where she takes responsibility for her lover's heartache. 

Working mostly with Dessner on evermore, Swift was emboldened to continue creating and opted to embrace whatever came naturally to them rather than limiting themselves to a sound. Swift felt a "quiet conclusion" after finishing up evermore, describing that it was more about grappling with endings of all "sizes and shapes," and the record represented a chapter closing. Even so, its poetic lyricism and mystical storytelling cleverly foreshadowed what was to come with subsequent albums, particularly The Tortured Poets Department.

Midnights: Encapsulating Her Artistic Magic

After coming out of the folklorian woods following folklore and evermore, fans and critics alike were intrigued to see what direction Swift would take on her next studio album. On Midnights, Swift leaves behind indie folk sounds and returns to the pop production of 1989 and Lover.

Her most conceptual album to date, Midnights charts 13 sleepless nights and explores five themes, from self-hatred and revenge to "what if" fantasies, falling in love, and falling apart. They are the things that keep her up at night, like the self-critiquing in "Anti-Hero," her rise to fame in "You're on Your Own, Kid," and the anxiety of falling in love again in "Labyrinth." Similarly to Swift's cheeky songwriting style that sees her create caricatures of herself in songs like "Blank Space" and "Look What You Made Me Do," she doubles down on claims she's "calculated" on "Mastermind," a song about devising a plan for her and her lover. 

Although the album is a departure from the two pandemic sister albums, the overall creation process didn't differ too much. In addition to working alongside Antonoff (and bringing Dessner in for the bonus-track-filled 3am Edition), Swift's worldbuilding is still the throughline that connects Midnights and Swift's recent albums, whether she's dreaming of a Parisian escape in "Paris" or using war imagery as a metaphor for the struggle of love in "The Great War."

Read More: 5 Takeaways From Taylor Swift's New Album 'Midnights'

Following the success with folklore and evermore, Swift's intrigue was at a then-all-time high upon the release of Midnights. Along with breaking several streaming records — including becoming the first album to exceed 700 million global streams in a week — it was Swift's 11th No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200, and was the highest-selling album of 2022 (and, remarkably, the second best-selling of 2023).

To say that Swift's celebrity has become otherworldly since the release of Midnights would be an understatement. Celebrating her genre-defying and varied discography through The Eras Tour has resulted in old songs having a resurgence, new inside jokes and Easter eggs within the fandom, and a plethora of new listeners being exposed to Swift's work. 

As a result, there has arguably never been more excitement for a Taylor Swift album than for The Tortured Poets Department — especially because the announcement came on the heels of her lucky 13th GRAMMY win in February. Midnights helped further solidify Swift's larger-than-life status at the finale of the 2024 GRAMMYs, too, as she became the only artist in history to win Album Of The Year four times. 

The Tortured Poets Department: A Grief-Stricken Poetic Odyssey

It’s been a while since Swift has penned a full-fledged breakup album. On The Tortured Poets Department, she navigates the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — after her long-term relationship ended. Taking a page from the release of folklore and evermore, she dropped a double album and announced The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology at 2 a.m. on release day. Throughout a total of 31 tracks, the prolific songwriter shelved the glittery pop radio-friendly tunes in favor of more subdued, synthy and heart-wrenching songs. 

On Instagram, Swift described the album as a collection of poetic songs that reflect the "events, opinions and sentiments from a fleeting and fatalistic moment in time," Swift pulled out the fountain and quill pens to craft songs about the "tortured poets" in her life — sometimes musing about lovers, sometimes taking aim at villains, and sometimes pointing the finger at herself. 

TTPD is also her most confessional album thus far. It pokes fun at so-called fans who overstep with her personal life ("But Daddy I Love Him"), says goodbye to a city that gave her a home ("So Long London"), and muses on how her own celebrity has stunted her growth ("Who's Afraid Of Little Old Me?"). To help explain this chapter of her life, Swift brings together a myriad of collaborators — from Stevie Nicks as fellow poetess, to duets with Florence Welch and Post Malone — and leans on real and fictional characters, like Clara Bow, Peter Pan ("Peter"), and Patti Smith.

In the same post, Swift declared that once she’s confessed all of her saddest stories, she’s able to find freedom. Yet The Tortured Poets Department (and its accompanying 15-track anthology) spends much time reflecting: she toys with her own lore, self-referencing past songs from albums like 1989 and poems from her reputation era. 

Fourteen years ago, Swift declared that she would never change, but she’ll never stay the same either. The Tortured Poets Department proves that in the throughline of Taylor Swift's many artistic eras is a commitment to exploration and a love of autobiographical lyricism.

All Things Taylor Swift

Chappell Roan at Coachella 2024 Weekend 1
Chappell Roan performs during Weekend 1 of Coachella 2024.

Photo: Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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Chappell Roan's Big Year: The 'Midwest Princess' Examines How She Became A Pop "Feminomenon"

Just after Chappell Roan made her festival debut at Coachella, hear from the pop starlet about some of the defining moments of her career thus far — and how it all helped earn her a spot at one of music's biggest fests.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 07:49 pm

Before this year, Chappell Roan had never even been to Coachella. Now, not only can she say she's attended — she's performed in the desert, too. 

Roan played an evening set on the Gobi Stage on April 12, and is set to return for Weekend 2. Fans clad in everything from cowboy boots, Sandy Liang-inspired bows and, perhaps most importantly, jorts, gathered to celebrate their shared love of Roan's radiance, karmic kink and gay cowgirl doctrine.  

Throughout her performance, bubbles breezed through the air as Roan belted out her infectious (and aptly titled) track "Femininomenon," which speaks to lover girls forced to live in an online-dating hellscape. "Ladies, you know what I mean?/ And you know what you need and so does he/ But does it happen? No!" Following collective screams of pure joy, the already enlivened crowd roused to match Roan beat-for-beat, shouting back in perfect unison, "Well, what we really need is a femininomenon!" 

In an era of bedroom pop and sad-girl music, Roan has been hailed by both critics and fans for bringing fun back to pop music. Along with her staunch sense of self, Roan's penchant for explicit lyrics that are equally parts introspective and horny makes her dance-pop anthems all the more infectious. 

Roan's ambitiously experimental debut album, 2023's The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, cemented her status as one of the most exciting pop stars on the rise. While she only recently landed her first single on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Good Luck, Babe!," her rapidly growing fan base — and an opening slot on Olivia Rodrigo's sold-out GUTS World Tour — indicate that she's on her way to superstardom.

Perhaps part of Roan's magic is that it was all on her own terms. After parting ways with her first label, Atlantic Records, she built a loyal following as an independent artist before signing with Island Records last year. Even as a major label artist, she's determined to only do things her way; her indefatigable commitment to her craft — as well as writing her own rules when it comes to fashion and makeup — is precisely why her fans are so enraptured by both her music and persona. 

Her fearlessness was on full display during her first Coachella set, where the words emblazoned on her bodysuit read "Eat Me." She talks the talk, and walks the walk (in fabulous, knee-high boots, of course), matching her unabashed aesthetic with equally bold career moves; for one, the openers for her headlining tour are local drag queens.

With eyeliner winged to the heavens, near-perfect vocal stability and fiery curls ablaze, Roan's shimmering Coachella Weekend 1 performance proved that her stage presence is equally dynamic. And if she had any doubters, she had one thing to say to them: "B—, I know you're watching!" 

In between rehearsals for her Coachella debut, Roan took a look back on her journey to one of music's most coveted stages. Below, hear from Roan about five of the most impactful milestones in her career — so far. 

Releasing Her Debut Album, The Rise And Fall Of A Midwest Princess

I ended up signing [with Island Records in 2023] because this project honestly got too big to be independent anymore. I just wasn't willing to give up anything, any creative control or for any amount of money. 

Being an independent artist was really special because I proved to myself that I could do all these hard things that I had never done. I built it with an entire friend group and many, many years of work. So it wasn't just me, but it proved a lot to me.

It proved I can make it through hard circumstances — with no money. You truly can. You do not need a label to do a lot of what an artist's career requires. You don't need a label to put on your own show, or make a music video, or even write a song, or find creative people. You don't need that s—t. I mean, a label is just money, you know? You don't need a lot of money to do this. To make it grow is, I think, where it takes a lot of money. That's what was difficult.

Music allows me to express anything, even things that I've never experienced before. It allows me to express queerness, even if it was only daydreams at that point. It allows me to express parts of me that I'm not even ready to accept yet.

I don't give a f— if you don't  f— with the music. You don't have to come to the concert. That's the whole point of it. You don't have to like it. I think throughout the year, I'm like, "What can I get away with?" Because right now it's pretty tame for what it is like to be a gay artist. But I just want to push it to see how far can I go — with the most controversial outfits or things to rile people up. I'm not really afraid to do that.

Having a song [like "Casual] with the lyric, "Knee deep in the passenger seat/ And you're eating me out," and it's being considered to go to radio. That's kind of a big thing to get away with. 

It's not even that big of a thing. What's that song? Is it Flo Rida? That's like, "Can you blow my whistle, baby/ whistle baby." Okay, that's obviously about like a f—ing blowjob. [Laughs.] No one cares about that. To me, I'm like, Let's talk about eating out on the radio. I actually think it has to be bleeped, but still, if I can get away with it, that's cool.

Feeling Financial Freedom & Stability

Not making money at all just sucked. But I learned how to do my own makeup and bedazzle and sew a little bit. I think that the scrappiness came from [the idea that] it's scrappy if it's fun. 

I think that's what kept me going — because if this wasn't fun, I would not even be here. But it was scrappy and fun, and it was with my friends. It didn't feel dire. I was also just working at a coffee shop, and I was a nanny, and I was working at a donut shop. I was doing part time jobs all on the side too. So it was all just rough [in the beginning].

I have freedom because now [singing] is my full-time job. It provides for me now. As the project grows, I can do bigger shows and be like, I want outfit changes now, and I want more lights, and I want confetti. I can afford confetti now! 

It's about expanding the universe in a thoughtful way. And not just like throwing a s— ton of money at things to make things look expensive or wear all this designer s— for no reason. 

I just try to look at how we are starting to gain momentum financially and see how can I intentionally use that to, one, pay the team in a way where they're not bare bones anymore, and two, [ask ourselves] how can we honor this project and this album and the queer community? Can we pay drag queens more? Can we bring drag on the road? Now, financially, doors have opened where we can walk through them with love and intention. Just recklessly, throwing money at s— to see if it works. 

Opening Olivia Rodrigo's Arena Tour

Olivia [Rodrigo] just asked. It was official, we went through our management. But I was like, Oh my God

Preparing a 40-minute set is a different vibe than headlining, obviously. You are going out to an audience that is not there for you and doesn't necessarily care if you're there or not.

This is, like, my fourth or fifth artist I've opened for. But for an arena tour, I just needed to gather my nerves. I think that's the difference between any other show. Like, F—, there's 20,000 people out there right now. I've never performed in front of that many people. I don't know what this emotion is, and I just have to tame it right now.

Standing Up For Herself Creatively, Even When There's Pushback

I stand up for myself, I would say, every day. Sometimes, you get this opportunity, a huge opportunity with a lot of money on the table. [Yet,] I'm just like, That just doesn't make sense creatively. That doesn't align with my values. I'm not doing that. 

One huge creative decision was I stood up and pushed the entire headlining Midwest Princess tour back to the fall. The album was supposed to come out while we were on tour. I was like, "This is a horrible idea!" 

That caused a big ruckus, but it ended up being fine, and I was right. I'm usually right. [Laughs.] It's like a mother with her kid — a mother knows best. I feel like [that] when it comes to the integrity of my project.

I know how it is to not be able to afford a ticket or even f—ing food. A concert ticket, a lot of times, means multiple meals for someone. I get it, I couldn't afford some artists' tickets. That's why it's really important to me to try to keep them as low as I can and my merch as low as I can. 

There's pushback of ticket prices being low and we're playing rooms that are so expensive. The fee to even play them is so expensive. So, you have to raise the ticket prices to just even be able to afford to play the room. There's always an argument [with my team] there, every tour. I'm in control of stuff and if I'm saying this is how it's going to be —- it's just going to be that way.

Performing At Coachella For The First Time 

[After the first weekend of Coachella] I am feeling very relieved. I was so stressed about many things. How is the outfit going to work? Will the crowd really be engaged? It went so well, I have no qualms with anything. I loved every second of it.

It feels like I am partying with [my fans]. I am not performing to them; I’m performing with them. [I want people to remember] a really fun, freeing show. Very campy but very meaningful too. 

4 Ways Olivia Rodrigo's GUTS World Tour Shows A New Side Of The Pop Princess

Taylor Swift performing during her Eras Tour with a guitar
Taylor Swift performs during her Eras Tour

Photo: Don Arnold/TAS24/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

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Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' Is A Post-Mortem Autopsy In Song: 5 Takeaways From Her New Album

"There is nothing to avenge, no scores to settle once wounds have healed," Taylor Swift wrote of her new album. From grapplings with fame to ultra-personal reflections on love lost, her latest set of fountain and quill pen songs marks the end of an era.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 05:38 pm

"All’s fair in love and poetry," Taylor Swift declared when she announced her 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, at the 66th GRAMMY Awards

Taken from the proverb "All’s fair in love and war," the pop phenom gave us a fair warning: there’s no limit to what she’ll go through to achieve her ends. 

On the freshly released The Tortured Poets Department, Taylor Swift has a few things to get off her chest — so much that it required a surprise second record, The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology, adding an additional 15 songs. The sprawling album is a masterclass in songwriting and so personal that it's analogous to performing a post mortem autopsy; The musical shapeshifter is here to exhume the tortured poets of her past and make peace with them. 

In an Instagram post, Swift called the record an anthology that reflects "events, opinions and sentiments from a fleeting and fatalistic moment in time - one that was both sensational and sorrowful in equal measure." With the release of Tortured Poets, "there is nothing to avenge, no scores to settle once wounds have healed…our tears become holy in the form of ink on a page." 

Describing Swift’s work as a collection of tracks about boys and break-ups has always felt underbaked and disingenuous, but much of The Tortured Poets Department is just that. In true Swiftian fashion, she plays on preconceived theories, opting to toy with the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — after a break-up, bringing listeners along on a peregrination exploring the depths of her relationships and personal growth. 

Analyzing her feelings to craft songs is muscle memory at this point, but with every release Taylor Swift somehow does so with a refreshed and reimagined perspective. The stories she shares with her fans in TTPD might’ve made her feel like she died, but she’s a revenant no longer tortured by the whims and words of other poets.

With The Tortured Poets Department open for business, read on for five key points to consider when listening to Taylor Swift’s new album.

It's Much More Than A Break-Up Record

Although the record orbits around a break-up, The Tortured Poets Department demonstrates Swift's ability to shapeshift as a songwriter. A song about a break-up is layered, typically forcing Swift to unveil her own flaws while wearing her broken heart on her sleeve.

The fifth track on a Taylor Swift album is typically the most emotionally cutting, and "So Long London" is no exception. On the standout track, Swift views the loss of her lover and the breakdown of her relationship to Joe Alwyn through the lens of the city they once shared together. It’s a cathartic release for Swift who point-blank notes the pain they inflicted upon her and how, in turn, they ended up just as heartbroken as she is. 

The high-spirited "Down Bad" and subdued "The Smallest Man in The World" are two sides of the same coin. The former is hopeful that a love could be reignited, whereas the latter sees Swift at her grittiest, pointing the finger at her former lover. "Smallest" poses a series of questions, accusing her ex of being a spy who only wanted to get intel on her.

On piano ode "loml," Swift looks back at the "get-love-quick" schemes she first wrote about in "Why She Disappeared," a poem for reputation. The poem originally considered the death of her reputation and how its aftermath made her stronger while she was simultaneously nursing a new relationship. 

The track has a similar energy to fan favorite "All Too Well," but is even more accusatory — seemingly unlocking another level of her songwriting prowess as she teeters between seething rage and mourning with lines about picking through a "braid of lies" spewed by a partner who "claimed he was a lion" but is really a coward. While Swift is honest about never feeling a loss so deeply, she maturely accepts that the effort she put into keeping the relationship afloat was all she could do. It’s distinctly different from the battles she bravely fought in "The Great War," "Daylight" and "long story short."

She's Grappling With Fame & Owning Her Choices

That Taylor Swift struggles with her own celebrity and the public's perception is nothing new. On reputation’s album prologue, she stated, "We think we know someone, but the truth is that we only know the version of them they have chosen to show us." 

On The Tortured Poets Department, Swift has never been more honest about her feelings towards those who claim to know better than she does. On "But Daddy I Love Him," she doubles down on these frustrations, taking aim at self-righteous "vipers" and "judgmental creeps" who condemn her choice of a lover. Swift holds nothing back, declaring "I'll tell you something about my good name/It's mine alone to disgrace."

Swift stated that her life sometimes feels like a public autopsy with people psychoanalyzing her every thought and feeling. Following the release of Midnights and her larger-than-life Eras Tour, Swift’s been in her "glittering prime" despite experiencing her long-term relationship ending and the media hysteria around it would make anyone feel the opposite. "I Can Do It With A Broken Heart" confirms fans' theories that the GRAMMY winner was indeed putting on a brave face.  

On "Clara Bow" — a song named for the silent film actress whose public life was so scrutinized that she admitted herself into a sanatorium — Swift sings "Beauty is a beast that roars/Down on all fours/Demanding, 'More.'" Again, Swift plays with the double-edged sword of fame, comparing herself to a performing circus animal — something she sings about in "Who’s Afraid Of Little Old Me?" 

Taylor Swift Gets By With A Little Help From Her Friends

Swift has always looked up to and honored the greats in her music and art, and Tortured Poets is no exception. She recruits rock icon and songwriter Stevie Nicks to help build TTPD’s world, and Nicks penned a poem featured in Swift’s physical album. Written in Texas, the poem is "For T and me..." and tells the tale of two ill-fated lovers. (Swift also namedrops Nicks in "Clara Bow," touching on the comparisons made between Clara, Nicks and herself.)

There are two additional guest appearances on TTPD: Post Malone appears on "Fortnight" and Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine is featured on "Florida!!!" (a surprisingly toned-down lead single). Swift particularly shines when paired with Welch, and the soaring "Florida!!!" sees their intertwined vocals creating a sound as infectious as the "drug" they sing about.

J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan inspired Swift on "cardigan" ("Tried to change the ending/Peter losing Wendy") but now the Lost Boy gets his own track on The Anthology’s "Peter." The ever-inquisitive Swift pleads, "You said you were gonna grow up/Then you were gonna come find me" and confronts this man who wouldn’t grow up. She even puts herself in the shoes of Wendy who waited for Peter Pan to return but has grown tired of waiting.

TTPS Is All Quill And Fountain Pen Songs

A few years ago, Taylor Swift categorized her songwriting according to three writing devices: glitter gel pens for fun tracks, fountain pens for songs using modern imagery and lyrics, and quill pens for tracks with flowery, figurative language. Although devoid of the glittery gel pen songs that comprise many of Swift's hits, TTPD and its accompanying anthology are steeped in fountain and quill writing. 

Most of The Tortured Poets Department are fountain pen tracks — thanks to 2024 Producer Of The Year Jack Antonoff’s sleek pop production and synth use. Tracks like "Fresh Out The Slammer" and "My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys" are sharp, snappy, tongue-in-cheek tales of love affairs about to begin and coming to an end with the same sonic exuberance of past Swift & Antonoff songs, like "Out of the Woods" and "Getaway Car."

Tracks on The Anthology, mostly produced by Aaron Dessner, are stripped-back, folk-tinged quill songs brimming with sorrow and harrowing thematics and dives even deeper into her chaotic psyche. "The Prophecy" sees Swift beg to change a prophecy that has been laid out ahead of her — likely stemming from the pressure of being a global superstar when all she wants is to be loved.

This Is The End Of An Era (Or A Chapter)

To her occasional disdain, Swift's highly personal songwriting has created a global obsession with her inner life.  Although she's tired of the "public autopsy," Tortured Poets offers her time to reflect on the "events, opinions, and sentiments" over a time that was equal parts transient and transformative. 

From her growth from the country-twanged teen singer on her self-titled debut to woman who is fearless in her pursuit of happiness, love, and peace, Swift has transformed time and time again. By viewing her work in eras — or, in this case, a chapter in a book of her life — it’s clear that Swift sees this current chapter of her life coming to a close, turning the last page and no longer longing to look back. 

One could argue that Swift is an unreliable narrator, only ever presenting her side of the story. But she says that while considering the pain described on TTPS, many now-healed wounds turned out to be self-inflicted. With these stories immortalized, Taylor Swift has spoken her saddest story and is now "free of it." The tortured poets and poems will no longer take up space in this next chapter of her life.

Songbook: An Era-By-Era Breakdown Of Taylor Swift's Journey From Country Starlet To Pop Phenomenon

All Things Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift performs during "Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour" at the National Stadium on March 02, 2024 in Singapore.

Photo: Ashok Kumar/TAS24/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

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Taylor Swift’s New Album 'The Tortured Poets Department' Is Here: The Tracklisting, Guests, Easter Eggs & More

Just over two months after Taylor Swift announced 'The Tortured Poets Department' at the 2024 GRAMMYs, the sprawling, bracingly personal album is here. Before you open the department door, arm yourself with the following knowledge.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 05:20 pm

We’ll be wandering through this Department for the foreseeable future.

Not only has Taylor Swift unleashed an absolute maelstrom with her 16-song new album, The Tortured Poets Department; she’s dropped a whopping 15 additional tracks via its expanded version, The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology.

Clearly, there’s an absolute treasure trove here — for Swifties and the merely Swift-curious alike. A mostly downbeat and discursive affair, The Tortured Poets Department feels like the shadow cast by the gilded, giddy, exhilarating Eras Tour, which isn’t over yet. (Which makes all the sense in the world, as she was simultaneously chipping away at the album while crisscrossing the globe.)

If you’re reading this, you’re probably bracing yourself for this long, solemn, darkly funny journey. Don’t go alone: here’s a brief breakdown of what you should know going in. (And keep checking GRAMMY.com, as there’s plenty more Taylor and Tortured Poets coming your way.)

The Tracklisting

As previously reported, here’s the standard tracklist for The Tortured Poets Department:

Side A
"Fortnight" (feat.
Post Malone)
"The Tortured Poets Department"
"My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys"
"Down Bad"

**Side B**
"So Long, London"
"But Daddy I Love Him"
"Fresh Out the Slammer"
"Florida!!!" (feat.
Florence + the Machine)

**Side C**
"Guilty As Sin?"
"Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?"
"I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)"
"Loml"

**Side D**
"I Can Do It With a Broken Heart"
"The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived"
"The Alchemy"
"Clara Bow"

The Expanded Tracklisting

Aside from The Black Dog Edition, The Albatross Edition, The Bolter Edition, and The Manuscript Edition — which consist of the standard edition of the album with its titular bonus track — here are the additional tracks that complete The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology.

"The Black Dog"

"Imgonnagetyouback"

"The Albatross"

"Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus"

"How Did It End?"

"So High School"

"I Hate It Here"
"thanK you aIMee"

"I Look In People’s Windows"

"The Prophecy"
"Cassandra"
"Peter"
"The Bolter"
"Robin"

"The Manuscript"

The Guests

Physical copies of The Tortured Poets Department feature an original poem by the one and only Stevie Nicks.

Titled "For T and me…," the poem starts off with "He was in love with her / Or at least she thought so / She was brokenhearted / Maybe he was too." It goes on to trace a doomed relationship — one party being "way too hot to handle" and the other "way too high to try."

Elsewhere, Post Malone lends a haunting vocal to opener and lead single "Fortnight," and Florence + the Machine elevate "Florida!!!".

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiqoZyauhdA

The lion’s share of the album was produced by Jack Antonoff; Aaron Dessner handled a handful of tunes on the standard edition and the majority of The Anthology.

The Easter Eggs

Where do we begin? For starters, most of the songs seem to be directed at ex Matty Healy of the 1975, but Joe Alwyn and Travis Kelce seem to pop up here and there as well.

In the title track, Swift describes embracing the "cyclone" of a relationship with a partner akin to a "tattooed golden retriever." And they’d be remiss to compare themselves to Patti Smith or Dylan Thomas or any other famously tortured poet of the 20th century: "We’re modern idiots… we’re two idiots."

Elsewhere, Lucy Dacus of boygenius — and Antonoff himself — pop up ("But you tell Lucy you’d kill yourself if I ever leave / And I had said that to Jack about you / So I felt seen").

Far be it from us to speculate on exact subjects, but there are shades of depression ("You sacrificed us to the gods of your bluest days"), a betrothal that wasn’t to be ("You swore that you loved me but where were the clues? / I died on the altar waiting for the proof") and the racket of fame ("The circus life made me mean").

As usual, Swift has dumped puzzle pieces on the carpet — daring her ardent, global fanbase to start at the edges and work their way to the center. But never to this degree, across such an ocean of material.

Tortured poets — and those who fall in love with them — assemble!

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