scorecardAt 31 songs, Taylor Swift's new album is way too long. Is the streaming era to blame?
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At 31 songs, Taylor Swift's new album is way too long. Is the streaming era to blame?

Callie Ahlgrim   

At 31 songs, Taylor Swift's new album is way too long. Is the streaming era to blame?
EntertainmentEntertainment5 min read
  • Taylor Swift released "The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology" on Friday.
  • The surprise double album contains 31 new songs. Even as a fan, it's too much to process.

Taylor Swift's album release days should be days of celebration. Instead, I woke up this morning with a vague sense of disquiet, somehow wishing I'd gotten fewer new songs from my most-streamed artist of all time.

At midnight on Friday, Swift unveiled her much-anticipated new album "The Tortured Poets Department" — a 16-track odyssey through her recent heartbreaks and wildest romantic whims, dense with personal revelations and intricate lyrics.

It's a lot to parse, more than any fan could hope for. But just as I was getting ready to sleep, Swift was only getting started.

At 2 a.m., she released an extended version of the album with 15 additional tracks, almost doubling its length.

Attentive fans had anticipated a late-night surprise of some kind, but hardly anyone had prepared for one of such magnitude. "In the past 3 hours she has released more songs than Lorde has in the past decade," one listener observed on X. That's not an exaggeration.

I already felt it'd take multiple business days for me to process the meta implications of "Clara Bow," let alone two full hours of Swift's most verbose work to date. Instead of going to bed contented, I suddenly felt squirrely and overwhelmed. In a 31-song tracklist, none of them have the space to breathe.

Now, before you accuse me of aimless hating or call me ungrateful, allow me to enter my credentials into evidence: The first time I heard "Our Song," I was 12 years old and instantly hooked. According to Spotify, I've spent the equivalent of several days listening to "Folklore." I went to The Eras Tour and cried.

So yes, as a Swiftie, I know the party line. We're lucky that our favorite artist is so prolific, so generous with her musings, while others haven't released new albums in eight years. (Looking at you, Rihanna.)

It's true that Swift's work ethic is a thing to behold. It's a point of both pride and pain in her new album: "I cry a lot, but I am so productive / It's an art," she sings on "I Can Do It With a Broken Heart" with self-deprecating swagger.

Indeed, "The Tortured Poets Department" is Swift's eighth album (including rerecords) in less than four years. Her constant whirlwind of activity is part of what's propelled her to supermassive stardom. It's all but guaranteed that there's always a theory online about her next release date, or another rabbit hole to fall down.

But in that sense, is there not a little too much to unpack? I can't be the only one who feels a little dizzy. In fact, I know I'm not. Another one of my Swiftie-certified friends shared with me that she's "ignoring the deluxe songs for now" because the standard edition of "Poets" is already enough to digest.

Surely, this can't be the ideal outcome for Swift's strategy: To overwhelm her loyal fans with such an opulent feast of music that some of us are full, rather than hungry for more.

Of course, Swift is far from the only artist who's released a bloated project, and these days, the streaming era is largely to blame. It's a simple concept: The more songs you have, the more streams you get. The more streams you get, the more money you make. Thus, albums have been getting longer and longer for years.

In this pragmatic pursuit of profit, artistry is bound to suffer. Potential hits get lost in the shuffle.

Worse still, the art of creating a cohesive tracklist becomes devalued. Why exercise discernment when it's better business to release the would-be scraps?

As a Swiftie, I find this to be especially obvious today of all days. The latter half of her double album contains some of the brightest gems, like "I Look in People's Windows" and "The Prophecy." But instead of getting their own moments to shine, they've been relegated to track slots 25 and 26 in a two-hour deluxe edition. They won't be included in CDs or vinyl copies. Casual fans may never even hear them, and those who do may be too zoned-out to appreciate them.

Swifties have demonstrated a knack for bringing delayed justice to bonus tracks, from "New Romantics" to "Right Where You Left Me" and "Would've, Could've, Should've," which have all become fan favorites over time. But fans shouldn't need to root through albums like vinyl crates; that's what the DJ gets paid to do. Curation is an art form, too.

In Swift's case, she may be too big to fail commercially. But an artist is never too big to improve her craft.




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