Taylor Swift peddles another version of Tortured Poets Department – The A.V. Club

For Swifties, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. They will gratefully take whatever Mother serves and come back for seconds… or thirds, or fourths. There’s a reason why Taylor Swift sells more physical copies of albums than any other contemporary artist. It’s one part incredible business acumen and a thousand parts rabidly loyal fanbase. Such is the recipe behind the release strategy for Swift’s next album, The Tortured Poets Department, debuting April 19.
During her Sunday night Eras Tour performance in Singapore, the singer announced a third variant of TTPD, “The Black Dog,” which she described as the “final new edition” of the album on her Instagram. Each edition of the album she’s announced comes with different cover images, different lyrical teases, and a different bonus track, for which each variant is named: “The Black Dog” (lyric: “Old habits die screaming”), “The Albatross” (lyric: “Am I allowed to cry?”), and “The Bolter” (lyric: “You don’t get to tell me about sad”). That’s on top of the standard edition of the album, which comes with the bonus track “The Manuscript” (lyric: “I love you, it’s ruining my life.”) To make the bonus variants even more enticing, each was only made available on Swift’s website for a limited amount of time. (If you’re reading this on Monday morning, there are two more days to get your hands on “The Black Dog.”)
This is a classic Swiftian tactic and one that few other artists could deploy to such a degree of success. Olivia Rodrigo tried out a similar “bonus version” multi-edition drop for GUTS, but Swift still won the physical release battle in 2023 with 1989 (Taylor’s Version), which broke the all-time record for the largest sales week on vinyl in U.S. history (per Forbes). In that case, the tracklisting remained the same, but Swift sold a few different variants with different cover art and unique polaroid images in each copy (these variants were titled “Crystal Skies Blue,” “Rose Garden Pink,” “Aquamarine Green,” and “Sunrise Boulevard Yellow”).
The previous record for the all-time largest sales week on vinyl was held by Swift for 2022’s Midnights, an album that may take the cake for multi-edition gimmicks. Those editions also didn’t have much difference in tracklisting, but had different art for each copy—and if you bought all four variants, you could put them together to make a clock. And if you bought the hardware from the Taylor Swift store, it would be a functioning clock. With vinyl, CDs, cassettes, and digital, the pop star was at one point offering more than 20 different versions of the album, according to Billboard. By the end of the “era,” Midnights had been resold, repackaged, and reconfigured so much that it began to erode the integrity of “the album” as a concept.
Of course, this is not a brand new strategy for the industry or for Swift herself. Since 2010, she’s had a partnership with Target to offer exclusive editions of her albums with special bonus content. But recently she’s stepped up her game and turned capitalism itself into an art form, particularly since kicking off the re-recording project when she realized slapping “(Taylor’s Version)” on her products wasn’t just a reclamation but a branding opportunity. This strategy extends beyond just her album sales. The Eras Tour concert film first premiered with the blockbuster theatrical version, then an extended edition (with three extra performances, “The Archer,” “Long Live,” and “Wildest Dreams”) available to rent on digital. Later this month, a third version will stream on Disney+. According to the trailer released on Monday, the Taylor’s Version of the Eras Tour film will include the performance of “cardigan” as well as four new acoustic songs (one of them appears to be the Midnights track “Maroon”).
As in most things, Swift’s multi-pronged release strategies make her unique in the industry. Yes, she’s one of the only artists who can pull it off successfully, but she’s also one of the few modern pop stars who doesn’t need all the bells and whistles to sell physical copies. Fans would still line her pockets even without all the variants, as proven by the success of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), which according to Forbes was the biggest vinyl debut of 2023 (before 1989 TV came out) and didn’t do the multi-cover variant gambit.
So why bother with the bells and whistles at all? Swift knows her fanbase are collectors, and ready to spend their cash, so it’s an easy way to squeeze all of the juice out of every album. Given the shameless pushing of various remixes to get her songs to number one, it’s clear she’s not above a certain amount of ruthlessness when it comes to breaking records and making money. Perhaps that relentless ruthlessness in the Taylor’s Version era comes from her feelings of being “canceled” in 2016. Back then, Swift was sure her career was being taken away. She knows that the tide can turn at any moment, so it only makes sense to make hay while the sun shines. We’ll just see if she stops at four Tortured Poets variants, or if the department has more in store for the future.



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