Meet the Taylor Swift Fans Making Their Own Versions of ‘The Tortured Poets Department’

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Hundreds of fans have started making their own custom track lists for 'The Tortured Poets Department' - Credit: Kevin Mazur/TAS24/Getty Images/TAS Rights Management
Hundreds of fans have started making their own custom track lists for 'The Tortured Poets Department' - Credit: Kevin Mazur/TAS24/Getty Images/TAS Rights Management

Before she sat down to listen to Taylor Swift’s surprise double album The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology, Samantha Roberts, of Portland, Oregon, felt open to the idea of a 31-song album. But two hours and two minutes later, she changed her mind. “TTPD absolutely did not need to be that long,” Roberts tells Rolling Stone over email.

Roberts found the album “messy, unfocused, and in need of a good editor,” a sentiment echoed by Brooke Thames, a Pennsylvania resident and Swiftie since the Speak Now era. Thames described her initial reaction to TTPD as one of “confusion and shock,” noting the album felt chaotic, but not purposefully so.

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Yet both Roberts and Thames saw flashes of brilliance amid the filler. So — taking a page from Swift’s book — they created their own versions of The Tortured Poets Department.  The end results, Thames’ “I Can Fix THE TORTURED POETS DEPARTMENT (No Really I Can)” and Roberts’ “Essential TTPD,” are two of hundreds if not thousands of edited versions of Swift’s 11th studio album that have flooded Apple Music and Spotify since its release in April.

Each edit contains a condensed collection of TTPD tracks, typically adding up to between 10 and 16 of the original 31 songs, arranged in a different order. In conversations across social media, people have offered a variety of explanations for their edits: They wanted the album to open on a stronger, more upbeat note, so they swapped “Fortnight” for “Florida”; they craved a bigger build-up to “But Daddy I Love Him,” so they moved “So High School” in front of it. In short, they wanted TTPD to sound different than the way it was delivered — so they executive-produced a new album based on the menu of songs Swift provided.

While double albums like Drake’s Scorpion have been common in the streaming era since at least 2018, this phenomenon is newer. Tatiana Cirisano, a senior music industry analyst at Midia Research, says she’s never encountered anywhere near this many fan-made playlists for a project. She sees the TTPD edits as a natural byproduct of Swift’s “extraordinarily active fanbase.”

“Taylor might have even inspired the trend via her own ‘5 Stages of Heartbreak’ playlists,” Cirisano says. Or, maybe Swift unknowingly planted the seed when she began recording “Taylor’s Versions” of her previous albums. Regardless of the trend’s origin, Cirisano thinks the TTPD edits are emblematic of a new kind of fan behavior, inspired by TikTok, where people personally engage more in their music experiences. “Today’s audiences are not satisfied with passively consuming the entertainment they are fans of,” she says. “Instead, they want to actively participate in it.”

Some fans, like Houston resident Syazween Zainal, were simply gathering the songs they liked in one place. “I didn’t want to go through the motions of skipping through a 31-song album,” Zainal says. Others appear to have been editing for vibes. There are “Upbeat TTPD” playlists, “TTPD for sleep” playlists, “TTPD Angry” playlists, multiple variations of “TTPD for the gym” playlists, and countless “TTPD the depressed version” playlists.

For Alice Bethell, a self-described Swiftie from the U.K., creating a different version of TTPD made it easier to detach from all the romantic lore surrounding the album. That’s why you won’t find “But Daddy I Love Him,” widely interpreted as a song about the 1975’s controversial frontman Matty Healy, on Bethell’s playlist. “It’s a fun song,” Bethell says. But its lyrics, especially that part about “vipers dressed in empath’s clothing,” rubbed Bethell the wrong way. “With the uncomfortable element of Healy’s prior controversies, it does make the song feel awkward,” she adds.

Roberts, similarly, edited out songs that made her cringe, including “But Daddy I Love Him” and “ThanK You AIMee,” which she says “never should have been recorded, let alone included on the album.” A quick, informal look at the data suggests others feel the same way. The thinly veiled ode to Swift’s long-time rival Kim Kardashian appears on less than a quarter of the TTPD playlists I encountered. Only “Cassandra” and “Robin” were less popular.

The people who made their own versions of TTPD don’t appear to agree on much else beyond a strong distaste for “Robin” and a shared appreciation for “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart.”  Some playlists have as few as four tracks, while several include all but one of the 31 original songs. Only half of them included the album’s title track, “The Tortured Poets Department.”

“People can disagree on which songs are their favorites,” says Zainal, “but I’m at peace with my own playlist.” So is Roberts, who listens to her curated playlist so often she sometimes forgets the other songs exist. “Once I was able to devote my full attention to those handpicked tracks, I started to connect to the music on a deeper level,” says Roberts, adding, “A decade from now, we might be considering TTPD to be her Pinkerton. The vulnerability on display is stunning.”

Roberts ranks the original version of TTPD as her fourth-favorite Swift album, but says that if Swift had released her version of TTPD, “It would be my favorite album of hers, ever. By a mile.” Thames also prefers her 14-track edit of TTPD over the original because she feels it has a clearer narrative that’s easier to latch onto.

“This is the version I’m going to be listening to probably for the rest of the year, which is going to make Taylor my top artist,” says Thames, adding, “It’ll be funny though, because I’m not actually listening to what she did.”

And therein lies the irony of the fan edit. As consumption and creation overlap, it becomes increasingly difficult to know where an artist’s product ends and a fan’s begins. But, as Cirisano points out, as long as user-generated TTPD playlists help drive more streams of the original album tracks, the entity that ultimately gains the most from multiple versions of TTPD isn’t the fans — it’s Swift. The genius of it all is that the fans feel like they’ve created something valuable, too.

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