The Tortured Poets Department and Eternal Sunshine

In this episode of What We Listen To, Opinion editor Cherlynn Low takes a look at new releases from Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande and explores what music means to us when songs are used more like books and journal entries.

Cherlynn Low, Associate Editor, Reviews

April 19 should have been declared a world holiday. It was the release date of Taylor Swift’s highly anticipated album. Tortured Poets Department (TTPD). With lyrics to overanalyze and tunes to emo-walk, how can one expect to work on this most boisterous of Fridays?

taylor swift – Tortured Poets Department

Taylor Swift's The Tortured Poets Department The Anthology album coverTaylor Swift's The Tortured Poets Department The Anthology album cover

I’ll admit it: I hate myself a little for the enthusiasm I play on such albums. TTPD and Ariana Grande Eternal Sun (ES). Both musicians recently left long-term relationships and reunited with new beaus amid rabid press coverage and relentless speculation on Reddit. I usually prefer to hear from the people involved rather than read tabloid articles based on what “close friends” have to say, and the songs for Swift and Grande are usually as close as we’ll get to the original sources.

I saw these albums as opportunities to fail. Of course, it’s always wise to take their words with a generous helping of salt, just as therapists tend to remember that their patients’ retellings of stories may be skewed or unreliable.

Both Grande and Swift have made their lives the subject of their music for years, and they often seem defensive. “Look What You Made Me Do” and “Yeah, Yeah?” Titles like Make me think of people who blame others or don’t care about the consequences of their actions. Even songs like “Anti-Hero” from Swift’s latest album and Grande’s “Thank U, Next” appear to be about taking responsibility, but really continue the theme of shirking real responsibility.

I’m not sure that music has always been rooted in exploring the artist’s life, but it’s certainly become more popular in recent years. The level of interest and analysis of simple things like word choice or order has probably never been higher. It’s also worth noting that these two very impressive albums were released two months apart. Granted, Swift’s new music has only been out for 40 hours, and there are 31 whole songs spanning a full 65 minutes and 8 seconds, so I’ll have to listen to it a few more times to let it all sink in.

Grande’s album, released last month, has been scrutinized by fans and critics alike. It was released shortly after his divorce from Dalton Gomez and his (reportedly) budding relationship with his girlfriend. Bad cast member Ethan Slater.

When I first played ES, I was basically underwhelmed and nervous. As expected, there was no accountability for what his actions affected the newborn’s mother and the over-romanticization of his last man. But even on a second listen, I knew I had a few favorites. Other Engadget staffers agree with me: ES A solid album with quite a few bangers.

Ariana Grande – Eternal Sun

Ariana Grande's Ariana Grande's

I won’t condone Grande’s behavior – and no one has asked me to – but damn, I can’t help but like her music. And it’s probably because I’m more into melodies and production than lyrical content.

Swift, on the other hand, seems to be more of a wordsmith. Many has been he said about his lyrical skillsand I don’t want to withdraw those waters. I’ll just say that as an aspiring poet myself, I have to admire the laissez faire approach of rhyming “apartment” with “department”.

I’m more interested in what seems to be a song’s lyrics over its melody and sound. Whom Billboard states, TTPDThe single’s title “focuses more than ever on his lyricism.”

Swift’s music has always felt like journal entries meant for the public, full of inside references, Easter eggs and thinly veiled digs at exes. That’s why his earlier works were highly relatable to many teenagers around the world. But as his success grew, he lost touch with the common man, and as a result his songs became more like a glimpse into a life that mere mortals could only dream of. While her works continue to feel like blogs or Tumblr posts, Swift drives the narrative by carefully orchestrating not only synths, guitars and lyrics, but also papal outings and elegantly timed public appearances.

Unlike Grande, who mostly avoids appearing at high-profile events with Slater and doesn’t hide too many Easter eggs in her songs, Swift isn’t afraid to show off and make an appearance for her new partner. He doesn’t shy away from publicity; he seems to anticipate it and almost sues.

With the general strategy around TTPDannouncing it at the Grammys and as a slow tease of lyrics and cover art, of course these days the billionaire with a private jet problem is more focused on his myth and financial worth than his songwriting craft.

Swift surprised everyone by releasing a full one on April 19 at 2 a.m 15 Along with the first 16, more songs were waiting TTPD. This meant that anyone who pre-ordered the original album would essentially be missing out on the entire second album’s worth of tracks and would have to spend more. Swift’s team also made several versions of the physical album available as collector’s editions—all obviously designed to maximize revenue.

Grande is guilty of this, too, and “Yeah, yeah?” as different repetitions. when that single was released in what appeared to be an attempt to put the song at the top of the streaming charts. ES there are also different versions of the cover for fans to spend their hard-earned money on.

That’s the thing. Do I really care about any of these albums? No. Did I eagerly listen to them, hoping to gain insight into their seemingly confused and chaotic relationship? Yes. But despite Swift’s marketing and self-presentation as a poet — and TTPD I suggested looking further into his 1975 storm with Matty Healy. I realized that I didn’t really like his album musically. In fact, my favorite Swift songs like “Wild Dreams” and “Gentle” are beautiful symphonies of atmospheric synths and instrumentation.

Maybe I’m just learning that I care more about music than words. Or, I think good songs are a combination of the two and should speak for themselves without relying on hype, gossip and marketing tactics. To be fair, this applies to all arts, be it cinema, photography or poetry. And playing with my irony sucks for me TTPD and ES since the promise of learning about their lives isn’t lost on me, I think I’d rather listen to music (and read books and watch movies) without worrying or worrying about the creator’s choices and actions. But in 2024 (and beyond) that no longer seems possible.

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