meta-scriptWhat Do Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Troye Sivan & Taylor Swift All Have In Common? Oscar Görres |

Oscar Görres


Photo courtesy of Oscar Görres


What Do Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Troye Sivan & Taylor Swift All Have In Common? Oscar Görres

The Swedish producer, songwriter and Max Martin protégé opens up in his first-ever interview about helping craft hits for your favorite pop stars

GRAMMYs/Aug 29, 2020 - 05:40 pm

It’s late afternoon in Stockholm, but the songwriter and producer Oscar Görres is as animated as a fresh cup of coffee. Gesticulating to get his points across and making faces more colorful than the rust-colored studio walls that surround him, the 34-year-old Swedish star is flanked on all sides by guitars, keyboards, synthesizers and a couch—the very same couch that’s been graced by the likes of Troye Sivan, Allie X, Sabrina Carpenter and more artists looking to inject their songs with Görres’ trademark blend of magnetic pop magic and left-of-center touches. Though he’s worked professionally behind the scenes for 15 years now, Görres has spent much of the last six years steadily making notches in his pop music belt, including credits with Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Maroon 5, P!nk, and later this month, Katy Perry on her just-released sixth studio album, Smile.

Chalk up some of Görres’ recent career glow-up to a cosign from the godfather of modern pop, Max Martin, who (with Shellback) scouted the young producer and songwriter early in his career and invited him to join a collective known as Wolf Cousins, whose members also include Tove Lo, Peter Svensson (of The Cardigans fame), and Ali Payami. It’s almost too easy to quantify the success of Wolf Cousins' nine songwriters and producers properly. But listing some of their recent hits comes closest to giving you a sense of their combined clout: The Weeknd's "Can’t Feel My Face"; Ariana Grande’s "Love Me Harder"; Taylor Swift’s "Shake It Off"; Demi Lovato’s "Confident"; Selena Gomez’s "Hands to Myself"; Sam Smith’s "How Do You Sleep?"; Normani’s "Motivation"; and 5 Seconds of Summer’s "Wildflower"—they did those, just to name a few. In pop music, there’s the minor leagues, and there’s the big leagues. Then there’s Wolf Cousins.

In addition to Wolf Cousins’ bulletproof track record, Görres has carved out one of the most successful and singular lanes of any member of Max Martin’s lineage. This week, he continues his fruitful partnership with Troye Sivan on the Australian artist’s In A Dream EP, which follows the massive success of their Bloom collaborations "My My My!" and "Plum." And earlier this spring, Görres helped pop disruptor Allie X take us to Cape God with a 12-track album that plumbed new depths for both parties.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

"As soon as I had made one song with Oscar, I knew he was very special," Allie tells "I felt that, for the first time, I had a producer who was taking what was special about me as an artist and really translating it into something. He brings a kindness, a knowledge of how to play every instrument prolifically, a sensitivity, a coolness and a confidence that was instrumental in me—for once!—taking a back seat in production. He is certainly one of the best."

"Oscar is the kindest, purest soul, and the control he takes in creative ideas and direction are like very few I’ve ever worked with," Sabrina Carpenter adds. "He makes me laugh—that’s half of what makes us working together feel like we’re not working at all. He trusted my vision, which is all I could ever ask for."

Here, over the course of an hours-long Zoom earlier this week, Gorres talks (in his first interview ever) about his humble beginnings, his goals for making music with and for other artists, writing for legends and studying under Max Martin’s tutelage.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

How did you first get interested in music?

I grew up in a very musical home. My dad is a musician. I started to play instruments very young with my dad. He even took me out on the streets of Stockholm to perform when I was 5 or 6 years old.

I was signed to Warner Chappell [as a songwriter] when I was 19. That was because me and my friend did songs in my parents’ basement. I didn’t know if I was any good—I wanted a reality check! My girlfriend at the time knew someone who knew someone working at Warner Chappell, so I was lucky enough to have a meeting there and get to play some of our songs. I was signed off of that. Tthey saw something in me that they wanted to develop.

Simultaneously, I went to the Royal College of Music to study jazz piano, so I was still on the "I'm gonna be a musician" path. But there was something about creating, writing and recording music—producing music—that felt right. It’s something that lasts. Sweden is a small market for pop music, so you can imagine the jazz scene here. [Laughs.] It’s not like New York. And jazz as a genre is small as is. I wanted the music I worked on to be heard and experienced by more people.

When you signed with Warner Chappell, was the next step being put into sessions to figure out how you operated?

It was a little bit like that! Working with people and being good in those situations is something you need to practice. They put me together with songwriters on their roster. I think I jumped on and produced a song that was released in Germany first—small steps. Then I worked with Swedish artists. It was a few years of building up my skills, and learning the craft—learning to be a better producer and writer.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

Did you have a song or a session where things, after years of building those skills, really clicked into place?

One of the clearest moments I can think of is: I started this idea eight years ago—not that long ago, weirdly enough—which felt good. I was almost embarrassed. It was a little funky. It had jazzy chords. I sent the idea to Shellback. At the moment, Wolf Cousins weren’t even formed, but we knew of each other, even though we’d never worked together. I sent it to him and he was just amazed. Two hours later, he had a melody on top of it. All of a sudden, a world opened up. Later, we recorded that song with Maroon 5 as "Feelings." It’s one of those moments where I was like, "Ok, this is something. Maybe I can do this."

Of course, the moment where I was signed was also the biggest, "This is something of worth" moment. You need to believe in yourself to create things. When you spend a lot of time on them, you don’t know if they’re even anything of use. Then someone tells you, "This is of use. We want to invest in you!" That’s amazing. I feel like I still don’t know what I’m doing. [Laughs.] But that’s also a healthy feeling. You don’t want to buy into your own mythology.  

When you had that Maroon 5 cut and started working with Shellback, is that what started opening doors to markets like America?

Having your songs released in the U.S., the biggest market… that’s always been my dream. The first time I went to L.A., I went there just to feel the energy. Ever since that first time, I felt something special—walking on Sunset, all the clichés. It’s the city of dreams, and broken dreams. "Feelings" and "I Wish" by Cher Lloyd were the two songs that felt like "This is gonna be a door-opener."

All of a sudden, you have something of worth that you can get a work visa off of. I think you need the help of someone that can give you a hand and help you take those steps. It’s so hard when you’re not that well-connected and you don’t have the infrastructure. You need to know people. It’s not like back in the days when you could write a song in your basement and you send it to someone. Those things can happen, but now it’s more relationship-driven.

In Wolf Cousins, we were all scouted mainly from Warner Chappell and from some smaller publishing companies. Max and Shellback had this idea, and had their eyes on us for a couple of years. When they felt like it was time—"Ok, now we can try to pull this off!"—they formed this group of people. I think that song was my ticket in. I haven’t asked!

I have to imagine you were a fan of Max’s before meeting him.

It’s almost surreal. Even though he’s from Sweden, people don’t recognize him on the street here, really. You build this story, this legend of this man, where everything he touches becomes gold. But when I first met him, it was years before. He helped me with a song, because he just wanted to be nice because I worked with someone, Alexander Kronlund, on a track. Max swung by the studio and wanted to help. That was… super scary. But that’s more from my side, because he’s a very normal man—with great taste in music! [Laughs.]

I don’t know if I’m worthy. He is so much about the music, to put in the work, to leave no stone unturned. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You work hard, and it takes time. His passion for music was the most striking thing about him. To me, he is a warm, loving person that cares—a music nerd, essentially. Everything that you imagine, that you thought might be so scary, "Oh, how am I worthy"—all of a sudden you jump into this process where it’s all about the music, and there are no egos! He’ll say, "Maybe we should do this—what do you think?" [Feigns shock.] "What do… I think? Uhhhh..."

With Max, you switch focus to what you’re trying to achieve and what you’re trying to do. All of the other things fade away. But when you say it like that, it’s still surreal to actually be a part of this with him. Working with the people I literally saved articles about from Swedish newspapers—"Oh, Rami [Yacoub] programmed the drums for this Number One record with Britney Spears"—like, I still have that piece of paper cutout from the article! It’s very, very cool. Now they are my friends and my extended family.

But I guess it’s always like that: you build up ideas about people with great power and great knowledge and great success and achievements. Then you realize, they’re normal people that are just very passionate about something.

What other lessons have you taken away from working with Max?

He is very good at creating a safe environment in the room, so people become the best versions of themselves, so you can make all the mistakes, so you can try the crazy ideas and stumble over the happy accidents that can become the core of the song. That’s a very helpful lesson—you can use the accumulated energy in the room, in a way, to let people shine. Create a great environment. Write things. Make all the mistakes. And, maybe later, fix things! Then you can rework things and work on the arrangements. If you just stop the flow to fix things in the moment, the energy falters.

Max is great with people. He makes you feel great. The first time I was in a room with him, he made me feel like I could do something. There were no differences between us, essentially. He asked for my opinions. The thing with him that I think is so cool is that he has great taste. A lot of people talk about how our team has formulas, or steps to follow when we make songs. I don’t know who said that or came up with those things, because there are no structures or magic tricks. That’s totally made up. In his case, I think he follows his gut feeling.

As a young producer/songwriter, you’re very close to things. He is really good—which comes with experience—at taking a step back and seeing the whole thing. He paints with a bigger brush. "What’s the drama here? If this part is very crowded, maybe we need something to balance it here. The energy needs to come down. If you listen to this 20 times, you'll realize we need to work on this passage here."

He’s good at pulling back and looking at a song from a mile away.

Yeah! He’s very versatile, but watching him, I was like, "Oh, this is how the pros work." You can switch focus. You can be granular: "What’s wrong with the bass line? What’s wrong with the kick drum?" Then you can zoom back and say, "Ok, how does this feel? What’s the function of this part? How do we make this part as strong and as clear as possible?"

He also stresses the importance of vocals. That’s one of the big things he’s taught me: work hard on the vocals. Sit there. Do a lot of takes. Let the lead vocal flow naturally. Spend time on that. There are no shortcuts to that. You need to work hard on it. Back in the day, it was just a matter of doing more takes, more takes, more takes. Now we have tools so you can easily comp and make the best version of a vocal take. But essentially what you hear in a song, you hear the vocals, you hear a kick drum, and some music. If you don’t get that right, the rest of it doesn’t matter.

What intentions do you approach sessions with? How do you go in and leave with the best possible work?

I always have an idea of what it could be. "What if this artist did this? What do I wanna hear this artist do?" Most of the time, as a producer in the room, you’re responsible for getting the energy going. Everything comes from deep conversation. In terms of getting a vibe going, you as a producer need to bring something that sparks something else. I never come unprepared, but I like to start everything from scratch. Maybe that’s the benefit of playing instruments—you play something and it’s more like creating on the spot.

One thing I wanna be good at is tuning into the room. Like, "Oh, people are reacting to this!" You can feel when you’re doing something, playing certain chords, when people feel like it’s special—without even saying anything. You do it a lot of times, you have a lot of sessions, and you become good at feeling that energy and what people are reacting to.

With that said, it’s hard. You want to follow the energy, but you also have to steer it, but you don’t want to box anyone in. It doesn’t feel right to say that I help people do their thing and I’m not part of it, because I am, of course. Sometimes I do more than steering. Like when we did “Easy” on Troye’s EP, that morning I had that [sings the verse melody] on my synth. Troye came into the room, heard it, and that started something.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

Let’s talk about that creative collaboration with Troye. He’s someone you’ve returned to work with on his new In A Dream EP. How did you two first meet, and why do you keep returning to that relationship?

Troye and I met as a booked session. He came to Sweden for a week or two in 2017, and was meant to work with a lot of people. The first day was nice, and the second day was a good session, but sometimes you need the release of, "Oh, we’ve got something." That came on day three. Day two was close, so he canceled his session the next day. We weren’t supposed to have the third day, but we had it and that’s when "My My My!" was written. He’s just a wonderful person to be around. He has that impact on people. Creatively, he’s very open. He’s very receptive. He always comes to the studio inspired by something: "There was this movie, or this novel, or this coffee shop where the vibe was cool!"

Somehow, he finds an angle. He’s very good at verbalizing and putting his feelings into words. That’s very inspiring to me—an artist who has visions and ideas and brings things to the table. It’s not like you’re meeting him and he’s like, "Ok, what’re we going to do today?" He’s not like any other artist to me. That’s why we keep coming back to each other, because we have a lot of fun together. We find common ground, where I get to be free and he gets to be free and we can create something together.

For his new EP, he came here last year, and I don’t think he was ready for a new album. He didn’t have a plan for "a new big record!" Maybe that’s a sign of the times, too, that artists just want to make music and put it out as a quicker process. This project captured something that he’s been going through since last summer. We just started working.

The first song that felt like we were on to something was "Take Yourself Home." That’s one really cool thing as a songwriter and producer, to create these relationships with artists. You get to develop something together. You feel like you have your thing going. He knows that when we’re working, we have something special.

Plus I imagine there’s something fulfilling for both of you in the ability to return to a collaboration time and time again, because you each know how the other works, and the walls have already come down. It’s probably easy to get back into the swing of making art again much more quickly.

It’s less of the speed dating you have to do in this industry—which can be amazing. But I love that, too, when you just jump into something. Oftentimes that’s when you stumble upon an idea that becomes something. And since it’s the first time you meet, you’re doing a little extra. You want to be the best version of yourself. That versus all the things you were saying about being comfortable with someone… having that trust that I can have a bad day and it’s ok, we’ll come back tomorrow and do another song, a better song? That’s special.

Have you found that one-day magic with anyone recently?

One song in a day that turned out really fun and great was working with Sabrina Carpenter. We did a song called "Bad Time." We just jumped on it. As a producer from Sweden working with an American artist, you think, “Can I be here? What can I do? What can I contribute?” But you go in with that energy like, “OK, I’ve got one day. I have to do my best. I have to give it my all.” It’s that feeling! It becomes like sports. You have a limited time.

I was so hyped that day. It was all done in a day, I think. I worked so hard on that. I remember sending it to her and she was like, [shocked voice] "…. Did you do this already?" That was a really nice experience. Of course not every session goes like that. Maybe when you’ve proven yourself a little bit, in the industry, when you’ve gotten your name out and people want to work with you again, you can get more time. That’s always preferable—to make the mistakes and also to explore the more obscure stuff. To push boundaries a little bit. "This is your sound—but can it be this, too?" Maybe you don’t want to waste taking a wild chance, a leap of faith, when you just have one day. Maybe you end up doing more safe stuff when you have limited time.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

One artist you did have the time with is Allie X, whose album Cape God you produced. How did that partnership come about?

We met by accident. I was working with Troye on Bloom in Los Angeles in 2017. I heard a song at the gym on my Discover Weekly playlist, and I said, "Oh, I like this, what is it?” It was Allie X’s "Paper Love." I mentioned that to Troye and he said, "Oh, that’s a friend of mine! I should bring her to the studio. Maybe she could come tomorrow." She came the day after and that was the day we wrote "Plum" [for Troye]. That was our first connection. I knew very little of her artist project and what her songs were like.

When she came to Sweden, we were supposed to work a week, kind of randomly. It was just writing—me, Allie, and James Ghaleb, who’s a friend of mine. No one knew if we were writing for her, or to pitch, or for someone else. And Allie is hilarious. She can go crazy and jump around the room and throw cushions and make weird noises, and she can be super deep in conversations. She’s super intelligent.

We had a guitar and we started jamming. She said something like, "I have a line: 'I want to be near fresh laundry / It’s been too many years of not folding.'" Me and James were like, "…right." But we found something! "Fresh Laundry" was the first song we did. It was a crazy week. We worked almost around the clock in six days. We ended up with "Fresh Laundry," "Rings a Bell" and "Regulars." We had a week in L.A. too, and after that, she asked me to do the whole thing.

Working with Allie has been very liberating, because she is so in favor of me being creative and trying weird, obscure stuff. She’s willing to stretch things and push a little bit, musically. I come from jazz, with chords and chord progressions and modulations between keys and songs. I felt that this was a way for me to stimulate that side of myself. Sometimes you can feel boxed in. Some pop artists just want to do their thing—and that’s great. Some artists are more open. There’s always a balance between that and what the music needs. I felt, working with Allie, there was more space to evolve these things musically.

My job is to make the music sound like their world. Sometimes they think they know what they want it to sound like. All of a sudden, you stumble over something they didn’t see coming. Then that becomes the core of it. Allie had no idea that the Cape God sound was going to be that. It’s something that happened when our worlds collided. I think in those cases, that’s the producer’s biggest role. You help the artist to create their vision, sonically.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

You worked with Britney Spears on "Hard to Forget Ya" on Glory. Hers is one of the most iconic, singular voices in modern pop—you can’t ever unhear it. How do you even begin to produce those vocals?

Tell me about it. When I started making music, one of my main goals was to have a Britney Spears song. That was like the last boss in the video game. [Laughs.] The song was actually written during the first songwriting camp in Las Vegas for Warner Chappell. Justin Tranter, Julia Michaels, Mattman & Robin were all in the room next to us. Two of the songs—my song and "Do You Wanna Come Over?"—were written on the same day. Karen Kwak [the executive producer of Glory] was coming over the day after to listen to both of the demos. It was such a fast process.

For some reason, I had that rhythm [sings the melody of the song’s chorus] when I woke up that day. I brought that into the room. Both Chi and Blu, from [songwriting and production duo] Nova Wav, and Ian Kirkpatrick and Edward Drewett were all there. I knew Karen was coming over so I said, "Can we do something for Britney? Just for fun? She’s an icon, she’s amazing, let’s just do it." So we did.

Working on that song, there were a lot of things to fix. The foundation was great and felt really Britney, like something she could do. It felt great. But I took it home to Sweden and worked on it, and Ian worked on it too and sent me files. The Nova girls were out in the countryside and they sent me voice notes. It was a puzzle making that song, but we got it to work, so I sent it to Karen again. Then we didn’t hear anything. All of sudden, we heard: "Britney wants to record it. She loves it."

I couldn’t be there to record her. I was devastated. It was in a hurry too. I think it was one of the last songs she recorded for Glory. But I got the vocals in. One of the things I remember so strongly is her voice has this frequency, that tone that defined my teens. I couldn’t work on it for the first half hour, because I was literally shaking. I was shaking! I feel embarrassed to say this, but I was like, "It’s her. It’s her. It’s HER!" Working on that song and on the vocals… [shakes his head in disbelief]

I had to go back and ask her to re-sing some parts, and I sang a couple of ad libs and said, "Can you do that?" She did and then I felt like, "I can’t believe Britney Spears is singing my words and ad libs back to me." The younger version of myself and myself as a grownup were just over the moon and up in the clouds.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

You also netted a song with Taylor Swift on Reputation, "So It Goes…" Did that connection come through Max?

I’d just become a father. I was not in the room when the melody and the lyrics were written. Max and Shellback did half of the album with her in L.A., and I had done this [instrumental] track—which is weird too, because I don’t do tracks. No one really does tracks on our team now. But I’d started that idea. Shellback was looking through things on his computer, listened to that track, and Taylor reacted to it. "Oh, what’s that? That’s special. I haven’t done anything like that. Can we do that?"

So they were vibing and doing melodies, and Taylor had the lyrics. She wrote everything quickly. I woke up—this is the funny part of the story—and someone is FaceTiming me at 6:30 in the morning. I’ve just had a child. I was up all night and my eyes were bloodshot and my hair was crazy. I saw it was Shellback and I ignored the call, put my phone away, and jumped into the shower. My girlfriend is like, "Can you answer your phone? Someone’s calling you constantly, it’s Johan [Shellback]! Can you just take it?" I got out of the shower with a towel wrapped around me and I texted Shellback like, "Ok, it’s 6:30 a.m., I am so tired, I’ve been up all night, and I just got out of the shower. Can I call you back later?" He said, "No. Call me. Now." [Laughs.]

I called him back and saw this girl on his couch. She goes, "Hi! It’s Taylor! How are you?" And I’m presenting myself [in a towel] after a shower… it was a very unpleasant picture for her. She goes, "We just heard the track. We had the melody. The lyrics are like this. I can read you the lyrics! I had this idea. What do you think about that?" And I was like, "…yes!" It was a very strange songwriting session for me, but I’m very thankful for that. It’s the one FaceTime call I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

You've also produced two songs on Katy Perry's new record, Smile—"Teary Eyes" and "Not the End of the World." How did you get those cuts?

JKash [Jacob Kasher] brought me onto this project. This was in April. Everything was shut down and I couldn’t travel. He said, "We have this song, ‘Teary Eyes,’ maybe you could help with the production? We’d like something extra." I don’t remember what it sounded like or what I was supposed to do, but I was sent all the files and then I basically did my thing, together with the other producer, Andrew Goldstein, finding the balance and the final sound. Once we had that done, and it turned out really good, we did the same with the other song. In those cases, it’s more like enhancing things. All the parts are there. All the chords are there. The melody’s there! It’s the exciting part—and a little bit the scary part—of being a producer. It’s not like you go to school and you have this diploma or certificate that says, "Now you’re a producer. Go out into the world and produce!" Everybody has their own ways and learns it by just doing. How do you make your song sound great? It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you end up with a great product.

What you do in those cases is, you get files and then you do it the way you wanna do it. It’s hard to collaborate because there are no rules! I was happy to play a small part on those.

<style>.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }</style><div class='embed-container'><iframe src='' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

You mentioned that landing a Britney song was one of your goals. Do you have other similar career achievements you’re dreaming of?

When it comes to fascination with vocalists, those tones that resonate in the body, I definitely want to have a Rihanna record. [Laughs.] I love the music she’s been doing lately. It’s so amazing. Bruno Mars is one of those too, someone who wows me. He’s doing his thing. It’s so fantastic to watch him in his element, and I think we’d have a fun day jamming in the studio.

To me, success is being able to do this at all. The next song you’re doing and working on, the feeling it gives you when it hits you right, when you get it to sound right or when you nail it—"Oh, there it is!"—and you can blast it and it feels good in your body… that’s success to me. Every time that happens, it’s success. If I can get to feel that, hopefully someone else in the world can feel that way too.

I’m still pinching myself, like, “Wow, I can do this. I can support my family by making music.” How cool is that? If I can do this in five years, that is true success. I’m 34 now. I’ve actually been in this industry for 15 years, but I haven’t been on this level for 15 years. Things take time. A lot of people fall off along the way. It’s not a fair industry at all. So I’m very humbled and very thankful and grateful that I can be doing this… but a Rihanna record would be nice. [Laughs.]

Ricky Reed Invites You Into 'The Room' Where It Happened

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


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


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, 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

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


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


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, 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)"

**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"


"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"
"The Bolter"

"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!!!".

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!

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

All Things Taylor Swift