meta-scriptTaylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' Is A Post-Mortem Autopsy In Song: 5 Takeaways From Her New Album | GRAMMY.com
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

Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X
Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X

Photo: Courtesy Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X

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New Music Friday: Listen to Songs From Megan Thee Stallion, Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X, BTS' RM & More

May 10 is quite the stacked day of new music across all genres — from Post Malone & Morgan Wallen's country collab, to Stray Kids' team-up with Charlie Puth, to The Chainsmokers and Kings of Leon. Check out some fresh releases to enjoy this weekend here.

GRAMMYs/May 10, 2024 - 06:55 pm

As the summer quickly approaches, artists from every genre continue to unveil new music for warmer weather. Friday May 10 is particularly packed with anticipated and surprise releases from both emerging talents and established names.

The new albums alone prove just that: pop songsmith Alec Benjamin's 12 Notes, folk-rock band Judah & the Lion's The Process, regional Mexican stars Grupo Frontera's Jugando a Que No Pasa Nada, and GRAMMY-winning R&B singer Andra Day's Cassandra, to name a few.

Meanwhile, a big, cool glass of major rap releases is here to help wash down the piping hot Kendrick and Drake beef served up over the last week. Full album releases debuted from Gunna, Chief Keef, and Ghostface Killah — the latter featuring guest spots from Nas, Kanye West, Raekwon, Method Man and more. Hottie Megan Thee Stallion's powerful new single, "BOA", sets the stage for her Hot Girl Summer tour which officially starts on May 14. New songs from Ice Spice, Kodak Black, NLE Choppa, Coi Leray, G-Eazy, Yung Gravy, Ski Mask the Slump God set the playlist for a weekend full of slappers.

There's tons of collaborations, too, including the much-teased pairing of Post Malone and Morgan Wallen with "I Had Some Help," a track that showcases Malone's furtherance into country in a catchy, reflective anthem. But country music lovers also have more to enjoy this weekend: Orville Peck's duets project, Stampede Vol.1, features the likes of Willie Nelson and Elton John," while Scotty McCreery's Rise & Fall and Avery Anna's single "Blonde" fill the fuel tank for a rodeo-ready summer. 

BTS's RM delivers another solo track "Come Back to Me" and Stray Kids dropped a new collaboration with Charlie Puth, coming fresh off the K-pop group's appearance at the Met Gala earlier this week. And the electronic and rock scenes are not left behind, with A.G. Cook exploring a new twist on Britpop and Sebastian Bach's release of Child Within The Man.

Dive into today's releases from Megan Thee Stallion, The Chainsmokers, RM, Stray Kids with Charlie Puth, Camila Cabello with Lil Nas X, Post Malone and Morgan Wallen below. 

Megan Thee Stallion, "BOA"

Megan Thee Stallion's new single "BOA" continues to play up the themes of empowerment and self-realization that define her current musical phase and comes just days ahead of her Hot Girl Summer Tour starting on May 14. The song's cover art features Megan with a striking snake, a recurring symbol of rebirth that has been significant in her recent work, appearing in tracks like the Billboard Hot 100 hit "Hiss" and the 2023 song "Cobra." 

"BOA" is a continuation of Megan's snake-themed narrative, but serves as a saccharine homage to her favorite late-'90s and early 2000s anime and video game classics. The music video features references to Scott Pilgrim, One Piece, Dance Dance Revolution, and iconic 3D fighting games like Mortal Kombat, complete with visuals and Gantz-inspired outfits.

Speaking to Women's Health about her upcoming summer album, Megan discussed the personal growth and renewal she has experienced, inspiring this new era of music. "I was inspired to create this album about rebirth because I feel I am becoming a new person physically and mentally," she shared.

Camila Cabello & Lil Nas X, "HE KNOWS"

Camila Cabello teams up with Lil Nas X for the tantalizing new song "He Knows," delivering a radio-friendly track that's as catchy as it is lustful. The new music mirrors the infectious energy of their recent appearance at FKA Twigs' Met Gala afterparty, where they both were seen dancing the night away behind the DJ booth. 

"He Knows" serves as a precursor to Cabello's highly anticipated fourth solo album, C,XOXO, — set to drop on June 28 — and teases a glimpse of Cabello's evolving artistic direction. The single follows on the heels of her recent hit "I LUV IT" featuring Playboi Carti, part of the  reimagining of her sound and artistic brand.

RM, "Come Back To Me"

BTS member RM has released a new single, "Come Back To Me," accompanied by a music video. The relaxed track gives fans a taste of his upcoming second solo album, Right Place, Wrong Person, set to release on May 24. 

In the song, RM explores themes of right and wrong, capturing the complex emotions of wanting to explore new avenues while wishing to stay comfortable in the present. "Come Back To Me" features contributions from OHHYUK of the South Korean band HYUKOH, and Kuo of the Taiwanese band Sunset Rollercoaster. Additional credits include JNKYRD and San Yawn from Balming Tiger. RM first performed "Come Back To Me" during a surprise appearance at BTS bandmate Suga's concert in Seoul last summer, noting it as a favorite from his forthcoming album. 

The music video for "Come Back To Me" was written, directed, and produced by Lee Sung Jin, known for his work on the Netflix show "Beef." The video features actress Kim Minha from the Apple TV+ series "Pachinko" and faces themes of identity and self-reflection, showing RM confronting different versions of himself. Its cast includes notable Korean and American actors such as Joseph Lee, Lee Sukhyeong, and Kim A Hyun.

Post Malone & Morgan Wallen, "I Had Some Help"

Post Malone and Morgan Wallen blend their distinct musical styles in the much-anticipated release of their collaborative single "I Had Some Help." Merging Malone's versatile pop sensibilities while leaning into his country roots with Wallen's, well, help, the duet is a unique crossover that has had fans clamoring to hear more since the two first teased the song earlier this year. 

Finally premiering during Wallen's headlining performance at Stagecoach Festival on April 28, the uptempo song explores themes of mutual support and shared experiences, encapsulated by the lyric, "It ain't like I can make this kind of mess all by myself."

The collaboration has sparked significant buzz and showcases the duo's chemistry and shared knack for storytelling. This single highlights their individual talents as well as their ability to bridge genre divides, already promising to be a hit on the charts and a favorite among fans.

The Chainsmokers, No Hard Feelings

Maestros of mainstream emotion, The Chainsmokers continue to master the art of turning personal reflections into global anthems with their latest EP, No Hard Feelings. The six-song project see Alex Pall and Drew Taggart exploring the emotional highs and lows of modern relationships, weaving their signature dance beats with pop sensibilities as they have since 2015's "Roses." 

The duo's latest release serves as a soundtrack to both sun-kissed days and introspective nights. The collection includes the single "Friday," a collaboration with Haitian-American singer Fridayy, described by the duo as a direct descendant of "Roses." Other tracks, such as "Addicted," also underscore the Chainsmokers' knack for capturing the zeitgeist of contemporary love and loss.

Kings of Leon, Can We Please Have Fun

Kings of Leon return with their signature blend of rock and introspection on their ninth studio album, Can We Please Have Fun. The LP finds the band infusing their established sound with fresh, unbridled energy, reminiscent of their early days yet matured by years of experience. The album features standout tracks like "Mustang" and "Nothing To Do," which mix playful lyrics with serious musical chops, showcasing Kings of Leon's unique ability to combine rock's raw power with catchy, thoughtful songwriting.

The band is set to bring Can We Please Have Fun to life on their 2024 world tour, starting in Leeds, United Kingdom on June 20 and wrapping in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on Oct. 5. Fans can expect a high-energy series of performances that blend new tracks with beloved classics, all delivered with the Kings of Leon's legendary fervor.

Stray Kids & Charlie Puth, "Lose My Breath"

Stray Kids have teamed up with Charlie Puth for their latest release, "Lose My Breath," a track that blends K-pop dynamism with Western pop flair, written by Stray Kids' own producer team 3racha (Bang Chan, Changbin, and Han) along with Puth. The TK song details a whirlwind of emotions, describing symptoms of breathlessness and heart-palpitating moments encapsulated in the lyrics: "I lose my breath when you're walking in/ 'Cause when our eyes lock, it's like my heart stops." 

"Lose My Breath" is described as a "warm-up" for Stray Kids' forthcoming album, set for release this summer. The track further highlights the global appeal of Stray Kids ahead of their highly anticipated headlining set at Lollapalooza in August. It also continues Puth's engagement with K-pop, following his previous work with other K-pop acts including his collab with BTS' Jungkook, "Left and Right," and "Like That," a song he co-wrote for K-pop girl group BABYMONSTER

15 Must-Hear Albums In May 2024: Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, Sia, Zayn & More

Post Malone holds and acoustic guitar and looks at the crown during his Super Bowl LVIII performance
Post Malone performs during Super Bowl LVIII in February 2024.

Photo: Perry Knotts/Getty Images

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Post Malone's Country Roots: 8 Key Moments In Covers and Collaborations

Ahead of Posty's upcoming performance at the Stagecoach Festival, catch up on the many ways he's been dabbling in country music since the beginning of his career.

GRAMMYs/Apr 24, 2024 - 07:25 pm

Editor's Note: This article was updated on May 20, 2024 with information about Post Malone's collaboration with Morgan Wallen, "I Had Some Help."

Since Post Malone burst onto the mainstream nearly a decade ago, he has continued to flaunt his genre-defying brand of musical brilliance. For his latest venture, it’s time for gold grills and cowboy hats: Posty’s going country.

Though his musical origins are in rap, Malone has seamlessly traversed pop, R&B, and blues, always hinting at his deep-seated country roots along the way. In the last year, his long-standing affinity for country music has moved to the forefront, with appearances at the CMA Awards, a country-tinged Super Bowl LVIII performance, and a feature on Beyoncé’s COWBOY CARTER. Next up, he’ll make his debut at California's Stagecoach Festival alongside some of country music’s biggest names — and pay tribute to some of the genre greats.

While it’s unclear exactly what the Texas-raised hitmaker will be singing, his 45-minute set on Saturday, April 27 is labeled “Post Malone: Performs a special set of country covers.” After years of performing covers for and alongside country stars, the performance is arguably one of the most full-circle moments of his career thus far.

Ahead of his Stagecoach premiere, read on for some of Posty's biggest nods and contributions to the country music scene over the years — that could culminate in his own country album soon enough. 

A Slew Of Classic Country Music Covers

Malone has a history of channeling his musical heroes, often pulling on his boots to deliver heartfelt covers. He's paid tribute to country icons many times, including covers of Hank Williams Jr.'s classic, "There's A Tear In My Beer” in a 2018 fan-favorite video

During a 2022 Billy Strings tour stop at The Observatory in Los Angeles, Malone made a surprise appearance and used the moment to honor Johnny Cash alongside Strings. The pair delivered an acoustic duet of Cash's infamous murder ballad, "Cocaine Blues."

And just this year, Malone covered Hank Williams Sr. during a surprise performance at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. On April 3, he closed out the annual Bobby Bones' Million Dollar Show with a rendition of Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues." 

A Longtime Kinship With Dwight Yoakam

Malone has long collaborated with Dwight Yoakam, marking a friendship and professional partnership that spans his career. Yoakam is a GRAMMY-winning trailblazer known for his pioneering blend of honky tonk, rock and punk that shook up the country scene in the 80's with his blend of "cowpunk." 

The pair frequently joined forces on Yoakam's SiriusXM Radio spot "Greater Bakersfield," where one standout 2018 appearance features Malone covering Yoakam's own “Thousand Miles From Nowhere” as the two laugh, strum and belt out the lyrics together in perfect harmony. 

On April Fool's Day in 2021, they playfully teased fans with the prospect of a double country album release — which may not seem so far-fetched three years later.

It's fitting that Malone would find such deep inspiration in folks like Yoakam, a man who first rode onto the country scene with a new take on a traditional sound. Much like Yoakam bridged generations with his music, Malone brings a new yet familiar energy to the country scene, embodying the spirit of a modern cowboy in both style and sound.

A Country Tribute To Elvis

Malone teamed up with Keith Urban for a duet rendition of "Baby, What You Want Me to Do" during the "Elvis All-Star Tribute Special," which aired on NBC in 2019. Originally written and performed by blues musician and songwriter Jimmy Reed, "Baby, What You Want Me to Do" was famously covered by Presley and commemorated through Urban and Malone's unique blend of modern guitar-slapping country-rock charisma. 

That wasn't Malone's only country collab that night, either. He also covered Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes" alongside Blake Shelton, Little Big Town and Mac Davis.

A Celebration Of Texas With Country Legends

In March 2021, Matthew McConaughey and his wife, Camila, hosted the "We’re Texas" virtual benefit concert, to help Texans coping with that year's disastrous winter storms during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Following performances by George Strait, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, and Miranda Lambert, Malone — who moved to Dallas when he was 10 — served as the night's final entertainer. He performed Brad Paisley's "I'm Gonna Miss Her" followed by Sturgill Simpson's "You Can Have The Crown" backed by Dwight Yoakam.

A Rousing Tribute At The 2023 CMA Awards

At the 2023 CMA Awards, Malone joined country stars Morgan Wallen and HARDY on stage to cover late icon Joe Diffie‘s “Pickup Man” and "John Deere Green." Malone's first-ever performance at the CMAs felt more like a reunion than a debut, with Malone right at home among his collaborators.

“I’ve manifested this for years," HARDY told Audacy's Katie Neal. "Slight flex here, but I started following [Post Malone] when he had like, 300k Instagram followers. I was on the 'White Iverson' terrain, like the first thing that he ever put out and I was like, ‘this is dope,’ and I've been with him ever since.” 

After the performance, Malone hinted to Access Hollywood that it might be the start of a new chapter. When asked if a forthcoming country album would be in the works, he answered, “I think so. Yes, ma'am.” (More on that later.)

A Countrified Appearance At Super Bowl LVIII

Before Beyoncé announced COWBOY CARTER in a Verizon Super Bowl ad, Malone offered Super Bowl Sunday's first country-themed clue at the top of the night with his tender rendition of "America The Beautiful." Sporting a bolo tie and brown suede, Malone delivered his patriotic performance with a characteristically country drawl while strumming along on acoustic guitar before Reba McIntire's star-spangled rendition of the national anthem. 

Malone's performance followed in the footsteps of a long line of country artists who have kicked off the national sporting event, which started with Charley Pride in 1974 and has included Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Garth Brooks

A Tip Of The Hat To Toby Keith

During a performance at the American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, on March 9, Malone paid tribute to the late Toby Keith, who passed away in February. After pouring one out and taking a sip from a red solo cup (an homage to Keith's playful hit of the same name), Malone performed a cover of "As Good As I Once Was" for the Texas rodeo crowd.

His TikTok video of the performance quickly garnered over 4 million views, sparking enthusiasm among fans for more country music from him. "Sir. I'm now begging for a country album," wrote one user in a comment that has received over 11,000 hearts.

A (Potential) Full-On Country Album

His much-teased country album may not be too yonder. After confirming that a country album was in the works during a live Twitch stream on his channel, Malone has spent much of this year teasing forthcoming new work. There is no scheduled album release date as of press time, but Malone has shared snippets of new songs including “Missin’ You Like This” and dropped sneak peeks of collaborations with Morgan Wallen, HARDY, Ernest, and Luke Combs

In February, Malone posted a sample of a collaboration with Combs, "I Ain't Got A Guy For That," the first in a series of song snippets shared across his social channels. 

Malone and Wallen have been teasing a collaboration since the end of 2023. After building plenty of anticipation, they debuted “I Had Some Help” during Wallen's headlining set at Stagecoach in April. Officially releasing the track on May 10, the song didn't just prove to be a banger — it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and broke the record for most streams in a single week with 76.4 million official U.S. streams, according to Luminate and Billboard.

No matter when the album may come, Post Malone’s Stagecoach set will only up the anticipation for some original country music from the star — and from the looks of it, fans and genre stars alike are more than ready for it.

12 Must-See Acts At Stagecoach 2024: Tanner Adell, Charley Crockett & More

Taylor Swift performs with Stevie Nicks at the 2010 GRAMMYs
Taylor Swift performs with Stevie Nicks at the 2010 GRAMMYs

Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

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11 Artists Who Influenced Taylor Swift: Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Tim McGraw & More

From Paul McCartney to Paramore, Emily Dickinson and even "Game of Thrones," read on for some of the major influences Taylor Swift has referenced throughout her GRAMMY-winning career.

GRAMMYs/Apr 22, 2024 - 11:24 pm

As expected, much buzz followed the release of Taylor Swift's 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, on April 19. Fans and critics alike have devoured the sprawling double album’s 31 tracks, unpacking her reflections from "a fleeting and fatalistic moment in time" in search of Easter eggs, their new favorite lyrics and references to famous faces (both within the pop supernova’s closely guarded orbit and the historical record). 

Shoutouts abound in The Tortured Poets Department: Charlie Puth gets his much-deserved (and Taylor-approved) flowers on the title track, while 1920s screen siren Clara Bow, the ancient Greek prophetess Cassandra and Peter Pan each get a song titled after them. Post Malone and  Florence + the Machine’s Florence Welch each tap in for memorable duets. Relationships old (Joe Alwyn), new (Travis Kelce) and somewhere in between (1975’s Matty Healy) are alluded to without naming names, as is, possibly, the singer’s reputation-era feud with Kim Kardashian. 

Swift casts a wide net on The Tortured Poets Department, encompassing popular music, literature, mythology and beyond, but it's far from the first time the 14-time GRAMMY winner has worn her influences on her sleeve. While you digest TTPD, consider these 10 figures who have influenced the poet of the hour — from Stevie Nicks and Patti Smith to Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, Arya Stark and more.

Stevie Nicks

If Taylor Swift is the chairman of The Tortured Poets Department, Stevie Nicks may as well be considered its poet laureate emeritus. The mystical Fleetwood Mac frontwoman earns an important mention on side A closer "Clara Bow," in which Swift ties an invisible string from herself to a pre-Rumours Nicks ("In ‘75, the hair and lips/ Crowd goes wild at her fingertips"), and all the way back to the 1920s It Girl of the song’s title.

For her part, Nicks seems to approve of her place in Swift’s cultural lineage, considering she penned the poem found inside physical copies of The Tortured Poets Department. "He was in love with her/ Or at least she thought so," the Priestess of Rock and Roll wrote in part, before signing off, "For T — and me…"

Swift’s relationship with Nicks dates back to the 2010 GRAMMYs, when the pair performed a medley of "Rhiannon" and "You Belong With Me" before the then-country upstart took home her first Album Of The Year win for 2009’s Fearless. More recently, the "Edge of Seventeen" singer publicly credited Swift’s Midnights cut "You’re On Your Own, Kid" for helping her through the 2022 death of Fleetwood Mac bandmate Christine McVie.

Patti Smith

Swift may see herself as more "modern idiot" than modern-day Patti Smith, but that didn’t stop the superstar from name-dropping the icon synonymous with the Hotel Chelsea and punk scene of ‘70s New York on a key track on The Tortured Poets Department. Swift rather self-deprecatingly compares herself to the celebrated Just Kids memoirist (and 2023 Songwriters Hall of Fame nominee) on the double album’s synth-drenched title track, and it’s easy to see how Smith’s lifelong fusion of rock and poetry influenced the younger singer’s dactylic approach to her new album. 

Smith seemed to appreciate the shout-out on "The Tortured Poets Department" as well. "This is saying I was moved to be mentioned in the company of the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Thank you Taylor," she wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of herself reading Thomas’ 1940 poetry collection Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.

Emily Dickinson

When it comes to iconic poets, Swift has also taken a page or two over her career from Emily Dickinson. While the great 19th century poet hasn’t come up explicitly in Swift’s work, she did reference her poetic forebear (and actual sixth cousin, three times removed!) in her speech while accepting the award for Songwriter-Artist of the Decade at the 2022 Nashville Songwriter Awards.

"I’ve never talked about this publicly before, because, well, it’s dorky. But I also have, in my mind, secretly, established genre categories for lyrics I write. Three of them, to be exact. They are affectionately titled Quill Lyrics, Fountain Pen Lyrics and Glitter Gel Pen Lyrics," Swift told the audience before going on to explain, "If my lyrics sound like a letter written by Emily Dickinson’s great-grandmother while sewing a lace curtain, that’s me writing in the Quill genre," she went on to explain.

Even before this glimpse into Swift’s writing process, Easter eggs had been laid pointing to her familial connection to Dickinson. For example, she announced her ninth album evermore on December 10, 2020, which would have been the late poet’s 190th birthday. Another clue that has Swifties convinced? Dickinson’s use of the word "forevermore" in her 1858 poem "One Sister Have I in Our House," which Swift also cleverly breaks apart in Evermore’s Bon Iver-assisted title track ("And I couldn’t be sure/ I had a feeling so peculiar/ That this pain would be for/ Evermore").

The Lake Poets

Swift first put her growing affinity for poetry on display during her folklore era with "the lakes." On the elegiac bonus track, the singer draws a parallel with the Lake Poets of the 19th century, wishing she could escape to "the lakes where all the poets went to die" with her beloved muse in tow. In between fantasizing about "those Windermere peaks" and pining for "auroras and sad prose," she even manages to land a not-so-subtle jab at nemesis Scooter Braun ("I’ve come too far to watch some name-dropping sleaze/ Tell me what are my words worth") that doubles as clever wordplay on the last name of Lake Poet School members William and Dorothy Wordsworth.

Swift revealed more about why she connected to the Lake Poets in her 2020 Disney+ documentary folklore: the long pond studio sessions. "There was a poet district, these artists that moved there. And they were kind of heckled for it and made fun of for it as being these eccentrics and these kind of odd artists who decided that they just wanted to live there," she explained to her trusted producer Jack Antonoff. "So ‘the lakes,’ it kind of is the overarching theme of the whole album: of trying to escape, having something you wanna protect, trying to protect your own sanity and saying, ‘Look, they did this hundreds of years ago. I’m not the first person who’s felt this way.’"

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney and Swift have publicly praised one another’s work for years, leading to the 2020 Rolling Stone cover they posed for together for the special Musicians on Musicians issue. The younger singer even counts Sir Paul’s daughter Stella McCartney as a close friend and collaborator (Stella designed a capsule collection for Swift’s 2019 studio set Lover and earned a shout-out of her own on album cut "London Boy").

However, Swift took her relationship with the Beatles founder and his family a step further when it was rumored she based Midnights deep cut "Sweet Nothing" on McCartney’s decades-long romance with late wife Linda. While the speculation has never been outright confirmed, it appears Swift’s lyrics in the lilting love song ("On the way home, I wrote a poem/ You say, ‘What a mind’/ This happens all the time") were partially inspired by a strikingly similar quote McCartney once gave about his relationship with Linda, who passed away in 1998. To add to the mystique, the Midnights singer even reportedly liked a tweet from 2022 espousing the theory.  

The admiration between the duo seems to go both ways as well, with the former Beatle admitting in a 2018 BBC profile that the track "Who Cares" from his album Egypt Station was inspired by Swift’s close relationship with her fans.

The Chicks

From her days as a country music ingénue to her ascendance as the reigning mastermind of pop, Swift has credited the Chicks as a seminal influence in her songwriting and career trajectory. (Need examples? Look anywhere from early singles like "Picture to Burn" and "Should’ve Said No" to Evermore’s Haim-assisted murder ballad "no body, no crime" and her own Lover-era collab with the band, "Soon You’ll Get Better.") 

In a 2020 Billboard cover story tied to the Chicks’ eighth album Gaslighter, Swift acknowledged just how much impact the trio made on her growing up. "Early in my life, these three women showed me that female artists can play their own instruments while also putting on a flamboyant spectacle of a live show," she said at the time. "They taught me that creativity, eccentricity, unapologetic boldness and kitsch can all go together authentically. Most importantly, they showed an entire generation of girls that female rage can be a bonding experience between us all the very second we first heard Natalie Maines bellow ‘that Earl had to DIE.’"

"Game of Thrones"

When reputation dropped in 2017, Swift was on a self-imposed media blackout, which meant no cover stories or dishy sit-down interviews on late-night TV during the album’s roll-out. Instead, the singer let reputation speak for itself, and fans were largely left to draw their own conclusions about their queen’s wildly anticipated comeback album. Two years later, though, Swift revealed the dark, vengeful, romantic body of work was largely inspired by "Game of Thrones."

"These songs were half based on what I was going through, but seeing them through a 'Game of Thrones' filter," she told Entertainment Weekly in 2019. "My entire outlook on storytelling has been shaped by ["GoT"] — the ability to foreshadow stories, to meticulously craft cryptic story lines. So, I found ways to get more cryptic with information and still be able to share messages with the fans. I aspire to be one one-millionth of the kind of hint dropper the makers of 'Game of Thrones' have been."

Joni Mitchell

Swift has long made her admiration of Joni Mitchell known, dating back to her 2012 album Red, which took a cue from the folk pioneer’s landmark 1971 LP Blue for its chromatic title. In an interview around the time of Red’s release, the country-pop titan gushed over Blue’s impact on her, telling Rhapsody, "[Mitchell] wrote it about her deepest pains and most haunting demons. Songs like ‘River,’ which is just about her regrets and doubts of herself — I think this album is my favorite because it explores somebody’s soul so deeply."

Back in 2015, TIME declared the "Blank Space" singer a "disciple of Mitchell in ways both obvious and subtle" — from her reflective songwriting to the complete ownership over her creative process, and nearly 10 years later, Swift was still showing her appreciation for Mitchell after the latter’s triumphant and emotional appearance on the GRAMMY stage to perform "Both Sides Now" on the very same night Taylor took home her historic fourth GRAMMY for Album Of The Year for Midnights.

Fall Out Boy & Paramore

When releasing the re-recording of her third album Speak Now in 2023, Swift cited two unexpectedly emo acts as inspirations to her early songwriting: Fall Out Boy and Paramore

"Since Speak Now was all about my songwriting, I decided to go to the artists who I feel influenced me most powerfully as a lyricist at that time and ask them to sing on the album," she wrote in an Instagram post revealing the back cover and complete tracklist for Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), which included Fall Out Boy collaboration "Electric Touch" and "Castles Crumbling" featuring Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams.

Tim McGraw

For one of Swift’s original career inspirations, we have to go all the way back to the very first single she ever released. "Tim McGraw" was not only as the lead single off the 16-year-old self-titled 2006 debut album, but it also paid reverent homage to one of the greatest living legends in the history of country music. 

In retrospect, it was an incredibly gutsy risk for a then-unknown Swift to come raring out of the gate with a song named after a country superstar. But the gamble clearly paid off in spades, considering that now, when an entire generation of music fans hear "Tim McGraw," they think of Taylor Swift.

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

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