Taylor Swift Super-Collectors: Meet the Fans Buying Every ‘Tortured Poets Department’ Edition, No Matter the Cost

Who’s afraid of buying 30-plus “Tortured Poets Department” album variants?

Between her ongoing record-shattering “Eras” tour and the album holding the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart for nine consecutive weeks, no one should question the might of Taylor Swift and the Swiftie fandom.

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But to keep the album charting, the singer has been dropping multiple variants of her soul-baring “Tortured Poets Department” album since its April 19 release — some of which have a bonus song from its surprise double-album expansion, “The Anthology” (which she has yet to release in a physical form but will surely cause a major splash once available), acoustic tracks, live renditions or voice-memo demos. The total is nearly at three dozen, and there are almost certainly more coming.

While Swift has used this practice with past album rollouts — and it’s widespread across the music industry — this cycle, some voices on the internet have been, well, swift to get mad at all the variants. And many social media users are speculating that she’s releasing them in a timed manner to beat incoming threats for the No. 1 position, such as Billie Eilish’s “Hit Me Hard and Soft,” Dua Lipa’s “Radical Optimism” and Charli XCX’s “Brat” — with the album variants serving as an insurance policy, even if during most of these weeks she would have landed on top even without the bonus sales.

Ordered from Swift’s website, a “Tortured Poets” vinyl LP with an “Anthology” bonus track costs $34.99, and the CD version costs $12.99. The digital “Tortured Poets” album costs 11.99, and the digital “Anthology” costs $14.99. But she has also put out extremely limited-edition versions with a single bonus track, sometimes just for a few hours at a time, that are budget-priced — $5.99 for the digital albums, and $7.99 for the CDs — with the discount items seemingly driving a lot of sales in a short amount of time within a certain chart-week window.

Regardless, there is clearly a market for the variants, and Variety spoke with several Swifties who declare themselves guilty (as sin) of adding her album extra editions to their online shopping carts.

Taylor Swift album collection
Taylor Swift album collection

Belle, 48, has bought every “TTPD” variant except the regular CDs and Target exclusives. She says she’s “always been fascinated by Taylor’s brain, just the way her mind works.” And she became particularly interested watching Swift’s love story with the Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce unfold.

Given her enchantment with Tayvis (or Traylor), when Swift issued a re-recorded “1989” in October last year, Belle listened to it with her daughter. “So that became a bonding thing. So we got really excited when ‘Tortured Poets’ came out,” she says. Now an avid fan who’s found community on Twitter, Belle remarks, “My daughter thinks I am way past her in this. She enjoys the music, [but] she’s like, ‘You’ve gone past me.’”

“In the past with [Swift], when she’s dropped something, I’ve ordered the vinyl, the cassette and the CD. And with ‘1989 (Taylor’s Version),’ my daughter picked which color she wanted, and we just ordered that color. … But with this album, I was really excited about it… because it was an experience with my daughter and a bonding thing,” Belle says.

At the start of the “Tortured Poets” rollout, Belle bought simply the initial collector’s edition CD, the first vinyl piece to include a bonus track and the cassette. “And then [Swift] dropped the next one. And I did the same thing. And then she dropped the third one. And then I was like, ‘Well, I think I’m just gonna order the vinyl and the collector CD and not the cassette.’ And I was like, ‘Why am I trying to save 20 bucks?’ Like, that’s just ridiculous, you know? And then the fourth one, obviously, you have to have all of them. And then she dropped the case to put them in. So we did that. And then I didn’t order the single when it first released, because I don’t really like CDs. … But then she dropped the ‘But Daddy I Love Him’ acoustic, and my daughter was like, ‘You have to order that one. That’s your favorite song. Order that.’ And then I went back and was like, ‘Well, I might as well order the acoustic,’” she says. “I’ve never done this with another thing where I felt like I needed to have all the versions.”

Belle notes that, at her stage of life, she has the disposable income to buy the variants more freely. “[Older Swifties] have credit cards and income and savings accounts, and we have the money to spend on the things we like,” she says. “We’re gonna spend [our disposable income] on something. Why not spend it on this as opposed to whatever else?”

For other Swifties, the price tag is a bigger concern.

Stephanie, 33, has bought all of the “TTPD” physical media, but not the digital versions of the variants. “I would love to buy [them too] if I had the money, but I have to be selective with what I’m purchasing. I had to hold out on those,” she says.

“My mom even will tell me, like, ‘You’d go broke for her if you could,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, I’m kind of almost,’” Stephanie says with a laugh. “To me, it’s like, you can always make more money. I work for a school district and do Uber Eats on the side — I can always do more Uber if I need to. But you can’t always get those experiences back. And you can’t always buy resale [physical media] for a reasonable price.”

There’s not much evidence yet that any of these “Tortured Poets” variants will become valuable. But fans well know that for some of Swift’s past limited editions, especially a few scarce vinyl items, the sky has been the limit on resale prices. It’s not always clear when variants go on sale which will gain in value and which might be available indefinitely. When “Folklore” came out on vinyl in 2020 with eight different gatefold cover packages, most of them turned out to be true limited editions and can now be difficult to find for under $250. But when she put out multiple LP covers for “Midnights,” those remained in print and in stock indefinitely. So it’s not always easy to tell what will be a true rarity.

Stephanie herself bought a resale copy of what is possibly Swift’s rarest album, “Lover [Live From Paris]” — a vinyl-only release that was only put on sale briefly on the artist’s website — for around $700. (Other copies are currently on the resale market with a four-figure asking price.) There’s a sense, she says, that if she doesn’t buy media from Swift, she’ll be left to buy it for a far higher price, as (now almost infamously) happened to many fans with Swift’s cardigans after the singer first released them during her “Folklore” era.

However, the resale market isn’t the only reason why Stephanie is buying the variants. Stephanie says there’s a feeling of “Christmas morning” when Swift drops new music. When receiving a new variant with a bonus track in the mail, it’s “very exciting to be able to see, ‘Okay, what did she do in this one that makes it different?’ And, ‘Is this gonna be my new favorite?’ Or is it gonna be, ‘Okay, I like the original better.’ And just that anticipation of seeing what it’s gonna be.”

And Stephanie enjoys contributing to Swift’s success. “It’s really cool to see, first with ‘Midnights,’ the impact that that had was huge, but I feel like now with ‘TTPD,’ there’s an even bigger potential to really make a mark in the industry. And she continues setting a new bar. And it’s pretty cool to be able to contribute to that and be like, ‘Wow, I helped make that happen.’”

Stephanie adds that she’s always happy with the quality of Swift’s products. “I usually love it. I don’t think there’s been another outcome. To me, if I’m gonna get it, I feel like it’s gonna be a good investment. And it’s gonna be something that makes me happy.”

Emiley, a 31-year-old longtime Swiftie, also appreciates the effort that goes into all of Swift’s variants. “Each one typically has its own artwork and fresh photos that make it unique. So I know her team puts a lot of work into that. And I just think it’s really special to be able to have the entire collection and appreciate it as a whole instead of just having one individual [album],” she says.

As to whether she wants her purchases to help Swift on the charts, that isn’t an option for her. “Unfortunately, because I’m Canadian, the album variants that we buy don’t count towards her Billboard numbers; I really wish they did.” But Emiley doesn’t express animosity toward Swift’s chart competitors either, adding that she “loves” Eilish and is even going to her Madison Square Garden concert.

For Stacey, a 27-year-old die-hard Swiftie and music collector who has bought 13 ‘TTPD’ variants, she knows the effect her purchases can have on Swift’s Billboard 200 spot. “I don’t really do it just to help her on the charts, but I suppose that’s a plus with buying all of them anyways,” she writes to Variety via email. “I love buying the variants because I love to collect CDs and vinyls in general, especially since I was never able to afford things like this when I was younger, so it’s super special to me that I’m able to get these things for myself now.”

Taylor Swift collection
Taylor Swift collection

Every Swiftie who spoke with Variety was well aware of the backlash the singer has received for the variants. “Being an artist, your goal is to be on the charts. …Taylor tends to draw in criticism no matter what she does. And I think it’s just a part of how big her status is as a celebrity. People are gonna find things to pick out, no matter what,” Emiley says, pointing out that variants in sports cards and video games don’t receive the same criticism. “People find a reason to maybe make it about her. … They just tend to gravitate towards her because she’s everywhere.”

Belle views the variants as part of Swift’s tried-and-true album formula. “Taylor has been doing this for a long time,” she says. “And she has an album rollout that’s established and works for her. And I have no doubt that her album rollout was planned long before these other artists even announced they had new albums, much less when they were coming out. I know people take it personally. But really, it bothers me that instead of fandoms supporting the artists that they’re a fan of and celebrating their success, they’re instead trying to compare the success of artists who have been around for sometimes less than half of [Swift’s] career… in the middle of the biggest tour of all time. And it’s not fair to those artists honestly.”

Stephanie expresses doubt that the variants could be a master plan to prevent other artists from achieving No. 1. “I don’t think that it’s possible for [Swift] to intentionally block things,” she says. “The voice memos that she released, supposedly blocking an entire album that came out? I don’t know how that would be possible. It seems a little silly.”

Stacey, though, says that some of the criticism is “valid” and that she eventually had to cancel some of her “Tortured Poet” purchases. “When they started releasing digital variants where you had to buy the ‘TTPD’ album three more times just to get three separate voice memos, it was a little bit much, as they were charging $5.99 per digital album. I had to draw a line somewhere.” she says. “They also ended up releasing four more physical versions of the album, all included a special acoustic version of one of the songs, and I did order them because I do love to collect, but I ultimately ended up canceling my orders because I didn’t think it was necessary for me to own 17 versions of the same album, as I’m already at 13.”

While Stacey set a limit for herself buying the extra editions, Belle is all-in collecting the “TTPD” variants and knows there’s likely more in store. “I feel like I should just have all of them. And when [Swift’s] finally done, whatever that looks like, I’ll buy a box or something, have it all there, and it’ll be pretty,” Belle says.

Taylor Swift album collection
Taylor Swift album collection

A topic several Swifties brought up was the price of the Eras Tour ticket versus the album variants, with almost all the interviewees having attended at least one stop on Swift’s massively successful trek.

“Let’s face it… with all the variants compared to ticket prices and costumes and all the money you invested in just going to a single show, it’s all relative,” Belle says. The price of an Eras Tour ticket originally ranged from $49 to $899 when bought directly from Ticketmaster (sans the fees) — and resale prices reached the twenty thousands. For some comparison, Stacey estimates she’s spent a few hundred dollars on the “Tortured Poets” era; Emily calculates she spent $260 on “TTPD” and a ballpark figure of nearly $2,000 for all of the singer’s albums; Stephanie estimates she’s paid around $10,000 for all of Swift’s eras.

It’s not always cheap to be a devoted Swiftie, but it doesn’t have to be that expensive, as Emiley notes: “I don’t think that not collecting all the variants makes you a bad fan. If you just want one copy, or even if you just want to stream the album, I think that’s totally fine. Everybody has their preference. As long as you’re supporting her in your own way.”

The online storm criticizing Swift for releasing the variants — and mocking fans for buying them — can be “mean” and largely “uncalled for,” Stephanie says. But you ain’t gotta pray for these Swifties. Many emphasized that no one has forced them to buy anything — and they’ve got a digital community of Swifties behind them (even if there are some “dark corners,” Emiley says).

They each expressed a deep appreciation for the home they’ve found online through Swift, with many of them saying that they’ve found lifelong friends. “This fandom is so wholesome and meaningful because we’re all connected just by sharing our love of Taylor and her music, and I’ve never felt so welcome in a fandom before,” Stacey says. “It’s almost made me feel more connected to Taylor and her music.”

Indeed, the connection the Swifties feel toward the pop star is palpable, and the singer is expected to remain at the top of the charts for some time with her fans bolstering her. And if you aren’t afraid of the might of Swift and her sparkling, friendship-bracelet wearing fandom yet, then maybe, just maybe, you should be.

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