Maureen Callahan slams Taylor as a money-grabbing, narcissistic, wannabe poetess and says this intellectually stunted, clichéd new album commits the worst sin of all

Call it the Tortured Audience Response.

A global marketplace carpet-bombed by Taylor Swift must now endure another album, another promotional cycle, another round of score-settling with ex-lovers and a level of navel-gazing that makes J.Lo seem modest.

Then again, Swift never has had a sense of humor about herself, has she?

So here we are, weary of the Eras tour and movie, the Taylor and Travis show, Taylor on the cover of Time as 2023’s Person of the Year, the re-release of two older records last year, Taylor at the 2024 Golden Globes — expressing grave displeasure after a joke about her overexposure — and Taylor at the Grammys, just months ago, appearing to snub terminally ill legend Celine Dion in her haste to grab her trophy.

A global marketplace carpet-bombed by Taylor Swift must now endure another album, another promotional cycle, another round of score-settling with ex-lovers and a level of navel-gazing that makes J.Lo seem modest.

Swift allowed no breathing room for gratitude that evening, no moment to have her record-breaking achievement sink in, or at least display a little bit of propriety.

Here we are, weary of the Eras tour and movie, the Taylor and Travis show, Taylor on the cover of Time as 2023's Person of the Year, the re-release of two older records last year, Taylor at the Grammys, just months ago, appearing to snub terminally ill legend Celine Dion in her haste to grab her trophy.

Nope, just a hasty pitch for her latest project on free network airtime while feigning complete disbelief that she — little Tay-Tay! — had actually won another award.

It seems Taylor Swift is most inspired not by true artists but titans of commerce. Per the immortal ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, she must ‘always be closing’ on yet another transaction.

‘I want to say thank you,’ Swift told her fans, ‘by telling you a secret I’ve been keeping from you for the past two years.’

Swift has been making music since 2006, but in all that time, she has not grown beyond a few, very myopic subjects: Famous ex-boyfriends, her own victimization, and middle-school mean-girl stuff, with Kim K her head nemesis.

This latest Grammy, accepted seconds prior, was already in Swift’s rearview.

‘My brand-new album comes out April 19,’ she continued. ‘It’s called “The Tortured Poets Department”. I’m going to go and post the cover right now backstage. Thank you, I love you.’

Surely, I am not alone in needing a good, long break from the Tracy Flick of tepid pop.

We have reached peak Swift, the cultural water table oversaturated, soaking us with her narcissistic runoff and bilge. So many meanies, so many revenge tracks, so much endless griping and score-settling.

Enough! Make it stop! No wonder there’s a stubborn conspiracy theory that posits Swift as a CIA psy-op who controls everything from the Super Bowl to the 2024 presidential election. She could have been used at Gitmo to break terrorists.

Swift is a scourge, responsible for, among other things: The unforgivable trend of friendship bracelets on middle-aged women; charging tween and teenage fans thousands of dollars for tickets; cynically announcing new albums and then suddenly issuing multiple other versions with just one or two added tracks, knowing her fans will pay the price — or, as with ‘TTPD’, announcing there’s actually a double-length edition just hours after its release.

Swift has zero edge. She has no interests outside her hermetic world of studio sessions with producer Jack Antonoff, dinners with Blake Lively and Gigi Hadid at Via Carota, and the next love interest she'll flog in the public square. (Pictured: With ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn in 2019).

In other words, another marketing ploy to bilk fans who bought what they thought was the whole thing.

On Thursday night, Swift first dropped at least four different versions of ‘TTPD’, starting at $12.99 each.

Then, after the clock struck midnight:

‘It’s a 2am surprise,’ she wrote. ‘Here’s the second installment of TTPD: The Anthology. 15 extra songs. And now the story isn’t mine anymore… it’s all yours.’ Signed off with a heart emoji. Of course.

Total cost for every single version of ‘TTPD’, as of this writing, comes in just shy of $200. And that’s to say nothing of the overpriced merch (a hoodie goes for $75) on her official site.

Taylor became a billionaire last year. But this gambit, so typical of her, isn’t just about money. It’s a way of dominating the charts, breaking sales records — rigging the system, really.

It all feels patently unfair, especially for an artist who is extremely limited. Not for nothing did her peers remain unmoved as she collected that record-breaking Grammy this year.

Swift has been making music since 2006, but in all that time, she has not grown beyond a few, very myopic subjects: Famous ex-boyfriends (almost always terrible), her own victimization — for such a powerful woman, she’s never at fault, never an architect of her own misery — and middle-school mean-girl stuff, with Kim K her head nemesis.

 

Swift may be 34 years old, but intellectually, philosophically, and emotionally, she is forever stuck at 13. Her discography will never improve, only regress.

Doesn’t ‘tortured poetry’ say it all?

It’s an adolescent’s idea of deep thoughts, the cover art equally cringe: Taylor in her underwear, writhing, one arm around her breasts and a hand above her crotch, as if this connotes — finally! — romantic and sexual maturity.

Same with dropping ‘f***’ repeatedly on ‘TTPD’. Courtney Love has it right.

‘Taylor Swift is not important,’ Love told the UK’s Evening Standard last week. ‘She might be a safe space for girls, and she’s probably the Madonna of now, but she’s not interesting as an artist.’

Hallelujah! The backlash is brewing.

While American press remains far too timid, NME gave ‘TTPD’ three out of five stars, calling it ‘devoid of any noticeable stylistic shift or evolution’, with laughable lyrics about Charlie Puth and ‘a tattooed Golden Retriever’.

This, from ‘I Can Do It With a Broken Heart’: ‘I’m so miserable / And nobody even knows.’

That sentiment should solely be the purview of teenage girls.

What really stopped me dead was the eponymous second track. Judge for yourself.

‘You’re not Dylan Thomas / I’m not Patti Smith,’ Swift sings. No kidding.

‘This ain’t the Chelsea Hotel / We’re modern idiots’.

Such lyrics evince a glancing knowledge of a bygone counterculture, referencing artists and locales far more original, thought-provoking, confrontational and expansive than Swift could ever hope to be.

It’s cheap name-checking. It makes Swift look like everything she purports to hate: A try-hard, a phony, a girl who would do anything to be cool.

Does anyone really think Taylor Swift has read ‘Just Kids’? If so, she’d know Patti Smith was muse to Robert Mapplethorpe, and that Dylan Thomas, some 30 years Smith’s senior, never lived at the Chelsea.

This is what we call a fraud. Swift has zero edge. She has no interests outside her hermetic world of studio sessions with producer Jack Antonoff, dinners with Blake Lively and Gigi Hadid at Via Carota, and the next love interest she’ll flog in the public square.

She is cliché after cliché after cliché, the epitome of basic, and the worst thing someone this famous can be: a bore.

 

Swift has zero edge. She has no interests outside her hermetic world of studio sessions with producer Jack Antonoff, dinners with Blake Lively and Gigi Hadid at Via Carota, and the next love interest she’ll flog in the public square. (Pictured: With ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn in 2019).

Swift, for all that pre-‘TTPD’ press about Emily Dickinson being a distant relation — swing a dead cat and a ’23andMe’ DNA test and we’re all related to someone notable — does not come across as a reader, a thinker, or an intellect. If only she had some of the wit and mordancy of that other Swift, the great 17th century satirist Jonathan.

Alas. She is a mere force of will, a triumph of showmanship, branding, and ambition — but that’s it.

Recall the true standout moment of the Grammys this year. It had nothing to do with Swift. That moment belonged to Tracy Chapman, performing her indelible 1988 hit ‘Fast Car’ with country star Luke Combs.

This is a song Swift could only ever dream of writing. In a little over four minutes, ‘Fast Car’ builds an entire world around two characters and tells a story of youth, hope, fear, romance and abandon that feels at once specific and universal. Chapman crafted a masterpiece that transcends eras, genres, age or gender, identity politics and socioeconomics.

Chapman left a room full of her peers, over 30 years later, speechless and in tears.

Taylor Swift, for all her money and her fame, will never achieve such artistry.

For those of us sick of the Swift industrial complex smothering us, with this latest incarnation of a would-be poetess — well, for now, this undeniable flop will have to be enough.

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