For Some, Taylor Swift’s Latest Release is a Downer: Enter the DIY Remix

The sad songs on “The Tortured Poets Department” are being remade into emo, EDM, hip-hop and hard rock thanks to creative fans

A typewriter prints the letters TTPD but they waver and shift as the message prints. A series of colorful shapes burst from the typewriter keys, representing new voices and sounds.

(Emma Kumer/The Washington Post; iStock)

Nick Reiner had a problem. Reiner, a DJ and producer who goes by the moniker Major Vibes, was planning another Taylor Swift-themed party for the club Tellus 360 in Lancaster, Pa., and wanted to use the songs from her newest release, “The Tortured Poets Department.”

“And then I heard the record and I was like, ‘Okay, this isn’t really gonna work,’” Reiner said of the album, which has 31 sad songs, and not a lot of bangers. “It can’t just be a downer the whole time,” he said.

Facing the prospect of a downcast dance floor, he decided to take matters into his own hands — pairing deep grooves reminiscent of ’80s electro and new wave with Swift’s vocals to create, well, major vibes. So far, he’s posted nine fully reimagined tracks from TTPD on TikTok, where the series is unofficially titled “Remixing the new Taylor Swift album to make it more danceable.”

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A small cottage industry of DJs, musicians and producers have been twiddling with TTPD since its release last month, and adding their own twists. Among the many reworkings are DJ Dan Lir’s trance remix of “Fortnight” and a liquid drum-and-bass spin on “So Long London” by a DJ calling himself Christian Slater (no, not that one). There are emo, rock and hip-hop renditions, too.

The proliferation of remixes and mashups are the result of increasingly sophisticated audio software like Ableton and Serato. When paired with AI programming, it can pull apart the songs into separate tracks (called stems). Musicians then mix and match these stems with their own, something not possible even five or so years ago, Reiner said.

Back then, he said, “you would have to have access to the individual tracks or get the tracks from the artists.” But with this technology, any bedroom DJ can create something new. And TTPD seems particularly ripe for plucking. “It stays at this one level almost the whole time,” Reiner said. “It’s almost like it was meant to be remixed, right?”

There’s more than one way to add beats to the amorphous songs. London-based drummer Sam Arrow filmed himself shirtless, his mop of curly dark hair flying as he pounds the skins to “But Daddy I Love Him,” turning the drums up to Spinal Tap’s proverbial 11.

“I try to add something to the song that’s not already in there. The Taylor Swift one took off so much just because the [drums] in that track are very simple and very, very stripped back,” Arrow said. “So when they hear someone like me smashing rock drums over it and really, really going for it, I think that people connect to it.”

London-based drummer Sam Arrow has been his own headbanging touch on TTPD. (Sam Arrow)

Swifties love his raucous take, posting comments about how Swift’s producer Jack Antonoff could take a few notes: “They’re being quite mean to him, saying, ‘This is what the album should have sounded like’” and “that he’s scared of drums and he’s a coward,” Arrow said with a laugh.

There seems to be a tacit willingness on Swift’s part to look away from the copyright infringement. Most of the artists do a test run by uploading the songs they want to use to see if anything gets flagged; it becomes clear that some music will get pulled down immediately by the algorithm. Other times, the bots are evaded by changing the tempo or the pitch. “There’s been a long heritage of bootlegging in the DJ culture,” Reiner said.

None of the artists are making any money off the songs and, in the end, Swift stands to gain even more exposure with new audiences. But all the artists interviewed recognized that their creations could result in a cease-and-desist order at any moment. (Representatives for Swift did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

“There’s this world of unofficial remixing where to get approval from someone like Taylor Swift would be next to impossible,” said Eric Velli, a.k.a. DJ Vibewise, of Denver, who put a big-room beat to the first single on the album, “Fortnight.” “So if Taylor Swift or her label or her team decided to take it down, they have every right to.”

Tracks on Taylor Swift’s latest album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” are getting remixed by a host of bedroom DJs and musicians. (AFP/Getty Images)

The album, Velli added, “is synth-pop heavy and very mellow and chill,” so adding drums to create “a new groove out of that is how it stands out.”

Jeff Atchison, a Minneapolis-based DJ who goes by DJ Hampster Dance (conjured during the early days of the internet via a DJ name generator), is best known online for his unlikely pairings in mashups.

His girlfriend, a major Swiftie, had seen on TikTok that people were posting about fan favorite “Down Bad.” “She’s like, ‘This is the one you gotta play with.’”

He stayed up all night looking for ’90s and 2000s hits to match it with and ended up with four different remixes — including Destiny Child’s “Survivor,” Eminem’s “Till I Collapse,” and Lil Jon’s “Snap Yo Fingers.”

“It’s a sad track [so] let’s-put-it-with-a-hip-hop-thing was kind of the vibe,” Atchison said. They’ve all got several hundred thousand views, with the Lil Jon mashup garnering 650,000 views.

His friend Tyler Sherman, who goes by DJ Munition, has an entirely different take on his Swift mashups. A self-proclaimed Swiftie who flew to Denver and attended the Eras Tour solo, he is also a major fan of emo and pop-punk. So, the Phoenix-based DJ paired his love of the two, which some have dubbed SWEMO.

“Some of the more popular ones are going to be, like, Blink-182, Avril Lavigne, Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco,” he said. “But obviously it gets really deep from there.”

Unlike some of the critics (The Washington Post’s Chris Richards called TTPD a “two-hour hostage situation” in his review), Sherman loves the new record. “Normally it takes me a few listens to an album … to really start getting into it and vibing with it. This, the first time I listened to all of it, it was just unbelievable,” he said. “People are calling it a very emo album.”

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Meanwhile, with his August dance party approaching, Reiner is continuing to remix all 31 songs on TTPD.

The work, he said, is worth it.

“Watching these people light up in the room when these songs come on is super magical. It’s something that I feel we don’t get a lot of anymore — these collective moments, right? So even though I’m not a massive fan, it’s heartwarming, you know?”

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