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I judged Taylor Swift’s album immediately after it came out. Here’s why I was wrong

Analysis by Oliver Darcy, CNN

(CNN) — Twenty-four hours isn’t enough.

When Taylor Swift dropped her highly anticipated 11th studio album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” last Friday, the professional critic class was quick to express disappointment and pan the “Midnights” sequel as a miss.

The New York Times review declared Swift “could use an editor,” effectively arguing the sprawling 31-track double album could have been curtailed. The New Yorker contended the album “suffers from being too long and too familiar,” adding that it suggests “after a decade, her partnership with [producer Jack Antonoff] has perhaps run its course.” Rolling Stone also knocked Swift’s work with Antonoff. The album “finds their collaborative well completely drained,” it said. “At a certain point, it begins to feel as though Swift and Antonoff are simply going through the motions while running in place.” On and on it went.

While some reviews did laud Swift’s latest offering, the album failed to dazzle a healthy branch of critics. Had Swift’s run as a brilliant pop star finally run its course? Was it downhill from here? That seemed like a possibility, after reading the withering chorus of criticism.

It was with those reviews in mind that I hit play last Friday afternoon and visited “The Tortured Poets Department” for myself. And, after I rushed through the 120-some minutes of personal storytelling and synth-pop, I found myself in agreement with the critics. Initially, “Tortured Poets” failed to resonate with me. It did, indeed, feel a little tired. As a life-long fan of Swift’s music, I wasn’t impressed.

One week later, my view of the album has entirely reversed. After spending more time with the two-hour sonic feast, more methodically touring through its subtleties and nuances, I am ready to declare that it is one of Swift’s best works yet. Anecdotally, it seems others are also identifying with this experience, initially expressing tepid feelings toward the album, and then realizing after a few listens it has really grown on them.

That is because it takes more than a day to get one’s arms around a 31-track album like “Tortured Poets.” Swift’s album demands time to be fully appreciated. It cannot be devoured at the speed of TikTok.

That is a lot to ask from a public that has grown accustomed to absorbing information in quick bursts. Social media platforms have rewired minds, shortening attention spans and pushing people into the habit of consuming entertainment designed to enthrall for only a few seconds. If something doesn’t immediately click with an audience, it is swiped off screen. Away it goes!

Swift’s new work demands more time to fully absorb. It cannot be assessed in an instant. It’s not fast-food. It’s a multi-course meal that stipulates the person sit, with undivided attention, and focus on what is before them. Absorb the smells and the different ingredients designed to stimulate the palate. And then, take time to digest and really ruminate on the experience.

It is unfeasible to appreciate the stories of heartbreak, romance, frustration and conquest that Swift cleverly narrates through two hours of unrelenting poetry. But that is where Swift shines. It is in the intricate, layered storytelling. And it is implausible to fully grasp the serpentine journey she leads listeners on with a quick cursory listen.

Unfortunately, that clashes with the modus operandi of the moment. The information environment demands — and rewards — instant takes. Opinions must immediately be generated, posted on social media, and discussed in group chains. There is no waiting. Stopping to smell the flowers means that you are left behind.

That leaves little-to-no room for actually sitting down with the music, sharing the necessary time with it, and letting it marinate. But that is what is required to appreciate “Tortured Poets.”

Those who swiftly write the album off in search of instant satisfaction will not. Those who give it the chance will likely come to love it – as have I.

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