29th May 2024

On this installment of what we’re listening to, Critiques Editor Cherlynn Low dives into new releases from Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande, and explores what music means to us when songs are consumed extra like books and journal entries.

Cherlynn Low, Deputy Editor, Critiques

April 19 ought to have been declared a world vacation. It was, in spite of everything, the discharge day of Taylor Swift’s extremely anticipated album, The Tortured Poets Division (TTPD). How may we be anticipated to work on this most hyped of Fridays, when there have been lyrics to overanalyze and melodies to emo-walk to?

Taylor Swift – The Tortured Poets Division

The album cover for Taylor Swift's The Tortured Poets Department The AnthologyThe album cover for Taylor Swift's The Tortured Poets Department The Anthology

I’ll admit: I hate myself a bit for the eagerness with which I hit play on albums like TTPD and Ariana Grande’s Everlasting Sunshine (ES). Each musicians had just lately left long-term relationships and bought along with new beaus, amid rabid press protection and relentless hypothesis on Reddit. I often want to listen to from the individuals concerned as a substitute of studying tabloid articles based mostly on what “mates near” mentioned, and for Swift and Grande, songs are often as shut as we’ll get to major sources.

I noticed these albums as alternatives to get their takes on what went down. Granted, it’s at all times sensible to take their phrases with beneficiant helpings of salt, the identical method therapists are inclined to keep in mind that their sufferers’ retelling of tales may be skewed or unreliable.

Each Grande and Swift have made their lives the topic of their music for years, and so they typically have an air of defensiveness. Titles like “Look What You Made Me Do” and “Sure, and?” make me assume of people that blame others or don’t care concerning the penalties of their actions. Even songs like Swift’s “Anti-Hero” from her final album and Grande’s “Thank U, Subsequent” appear at first look to be about taking accountability, however actually proceed the theme of dodging actual duty.

I’m unsure if music has at all times been rooted in scrutinizing the artist’s life, but it surely actually appears to have develop into extra in style in recent times. The extent of curiosity and evaluation round issues so simple as phrase alternative or order has in all probability by no means been as excessive, both. It’s additionally value contemplating that these two much-hyped albums have been launched inside two months of one another. Granted, Swift’s new music has solely been out for about 40 hours, and there are 31 complete songs spanning a full 65 minutes and eight seconds, so I might want to hearken to it just a few extra occasions for all of it to sink in.

Grande’s album, which dropped final month, was scrutinized by followers and critics alike. It was launched shortly after her divorce from Dalton Gomez and her budding relationship (reportedly) with fellow Depraved forged member Ethan Slater.

After I first performed by means of ES, I used to be principally underwhelmed and irritated. There was, as anticipated, no accountability for what her actions did to the mom of a new child and quite a lot of romanticizing of her newest man. However even on simply my second listening, I knew I had just a few favourite tracks. Different Engadget workers members agree with me: ES is a stable album with fairly just a few bangers.

Ariana Grande – Everlasting Sunshine

One of the album covers for Ariana Grande's album Eternal SunshineOne of the album covers for Ariana Grande's album Eternal Sunshine

I could not endorse Grande’s habits — and nobody requested me to — however rattling, I can’t assist liking her music. And it’s in all probability as a result of I’m hooked on the melodies and manufacturing, not the lyrical content material.

Swift, then again, appears extra of an aspiring wordsmith. A lot has been mentioned about her lyrical skills, and I’ve no want to retread these waters. I’ll simply say that as an occasional aspiring poet myself, I’ve to admire the laissez faire strategy of rhyming “division” with “condo.”

I’m extra intrigued by what appears to me just like the precedence of a tune’s phrases over its tune and sound. Like Billboard states, TTPD’s title alone “calls much more consideration to her lyricism than ordinary.”

Swift’s music has at all times felt like journal entries meant for the general public, chock-full of inside references, Easter eggs and thinly veiled digs at former lovers. Her earlier works have been due to this fact extremely relatable for scores of youngsters all over the world. However as her success ballooned, so has she grown out of contact with the common particular person, and her songs have consequently develop into extra like glimpses right into a life that mere mortals can solely dream about. Whereas her items proceed to really feel like blogs or Tumblr posts, Swift controls the narrative by rigorously orchestrating not simply synths, guitars and lyrics, but additionally pap walks and delicately timed public appearances.

Not like Grande, who has principally averted showing with Slater at high-profile occasions and in addition hasn’t hidden as many Easter eggs in her songs, Swift has not been afraid to point out off and present up for her new companion. She’s not publicity-averse; she appears to anticipate and nearly courts it.

With the overall technique round TTPD, like saying it on the Grammy’s and gradual teases of lyrics and canopy artwork, it actually looks as if nowadays, the billionaire with a personal jet downside is extra centered on her delusion and monetary worth than the artwork of songwriting.

Swift shocked everybody at 2AM on April 19 by releasing an entire 15 extra songs alongside the preliminary 16 individuals have been anticipating for TTPD. This meant that anybody who pre-ordered the unique album would miss out on principally a complete second album value of tracks and have to spend extra. The Swift workforce additionally made a number of variations of the bodily album obtainable, like collectors’ editions — all blatant money grabs designed to maximise income.

Grande is responsible of this too, making so many various iterations of “Sure, and?” when that single was launched in what appeared like an try to put the tune on the high of streaming charts. ES additionally has totally different variations of canopy artwork for followers to spend their hard-earned cash on.

Right here’s the factor. Do I care deeply about both of those albums? Nope. Did I eagerly hearken to them, hoping to glean perception on their seemingly messy and chaotic relationships? Sure. However regardless of Swift’s advertising and positioning herself as a poet — and TTPD providing extra of a take a look at her fling with Matty Healy from The 1975 — I noticed I simply didn’t fairly like her album musically. Actually, my favourite Swift songs like “Wildest Goals” and “Delicate” are stunning symphonies of atmospheric synths and instrumentation.

Perhaps I’m simply studying that I care extra about music than lyrics. Or possibly I feel good songs are a mixture of the 2 and will communicate for themselves with out having to depend on hype, gossip and advertising ways. To be truthful, that’s true of all artwork, whether or not it’s movie, images or poetry. And whereas the irony of my being sucked into taking part in TTPD and ES because of the promise of studying about their lives isn’t misplaced on me, I assume I simply want I may hearken to music (and browse books and watch motion pictures) with out having to fret or be so involved concerning the creator’s decisions and actions. However in 2024 (and past), that appears not possible.

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