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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Gator Swifties ‘sink into the swamp’ at 'Tortured Poets Department' listening party

A group of 100 UF students gathered for the Taylor Swift Society’s album release event

Mahdiya Khan, Annie Farooq, Jessie Babb and Ashley Weekes listen to Taylor Swift’s new album “The Tortured Poets Department” at a listening party thrown at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Thursday, April 18, 2024.
Mahdiya Khan, Annie Farooq, Jessie Babb and Ashley Weekes listen to Taylor Swift’s new album “The Tortured Poets Department” at a listening party thrown at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Thursday, April 18, 2024.

If there was a better place than the UF football stadium to hear the lyrics, “in my mind, they sink into the swamp” for the first time, Gator Swifties say it has yet to be found.

Just before midnight Thursday, a group of 100 Taylor Swift fans gathered with friendship bracelets, blankets and bags of candy at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for a listening party of Swift’s new album, “The Tortured Poets Department.” The album has been highly anticipated since Swift announced its release during her Grammys acceptance speech Feb. 4.

Dalia Dooley, the 20-year-old UF history junior who founded the university’s Taylor Swift Society and organized the listening party, said she knew as soon as Swift announced “The Tortured Poets Department” release date she wanted to book the stadium.

“Literally the second [Swift] did that, I did Ctrl-T on my computer and quickly put in the permit request,” she said.

Dooley planned this event with the same formula that made her club’s last listening party — for Swift’s rerelease of her “1989” album in October — a success, she said. 

But while she only got the permit a few days in advance for the “1989” party, she had a longer time to plan and advertise for “The Tortured Poets Department” party. It paid off: the turnout about doubled that of the October event.

The swamp drew a crowd despite being rivaled for Swiftie attention by another listening party thrown by Gainesville event venue High Dive. Hanley Renney, an 18-year-old UF wildlife ecology and conservation and English freshman, said she decided to come to the Swift Society event instead because she wanted a little more room to breathe while she absorbed Swift’s music, she said.

Renney entered her Taylor Swift era almost exactly one year ago. After casually enjoying her music for years, attending the Eras Tour in Tampa turned her into a true fan, she said.

“I had a friend that bought my ticket for me and was like, ‘We’re going to this,’” she said. “After going, I was like, ‘OK, I really liked this,’ to the point that she was my top artist for 2023.”

Renney came to the party prepared for the album’s one-hour-plus listening time, with both her friend Ruby Freeman and a box of Insomnia Cookies perched on the bench next to her. 

Freeman, a 19-year-old UF English freshman, is another recent fan who began listening to Swift’s music more in the past few years. She said she wasn’t sure what to expect from “The Tortured Poets Department” as midnight drew closer.

“We were thinking, like, ‘What is the genre?’” Freeman said. “I would be surprised if it were the same as the last one, but at the same time, I have no idea what to expect.”

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Both girls’ most anticipated track was “Florida!!!” featuring Florence + The Machine. Most Swifties at the event shared their curiosity about what Swift could have to say about their home state.

When midnight struck, the album began blasting at an ear-piercing volume from a stadium speaker. Bleachers overhead echoed the upbeat tones of a tracklist that turned out mostly pop-synth based.

Attendees, many wearing shirts from The Eras Tour or dressed up as personas from Swift’s music videos, spread out on picnic blankets and folding chairs under the bleachers of the stadium. As Swift’s voice echoed from the speaker, some fans kept lyrics pulled up on their phones, shrieking in delight as they followed along with the witticisms of Swift’s pen.

But not everyone came for the music.

“Primarily, it’s all about business, to be honest,” said 26-year-old UF entrepreneurship master's student Egor Godionenko. 

Godionenko describes himself as “not the biggest” Swift fan. But he saw the occasion as the perfect chance to sell stickers for a company he created for one of his business classes. He sold the stickers, which featured Gators mixed with Swift imagery, for $1 each to enthusiastic Swifties throughout the night.

Of the listeners who came for pleasure rather than business, many arrived in pairs, including more than a few duos of hardcore Swift fans and friends they turned into fellow hardcore Swift fans.

Izzy Guzman, a 19-year-old UF biology freshman, fell into the second category.

“I got converted last semester,” she said.

Guzman’s converter is Sophia Acosta, an 18-year-old UF applied kinesiology freshman. Her mom raised her on “Red” and “1989,” so Acosta inherited her adoration from her, she said. As far as hopes for “The Tortured Poets Department,” Acosta kept hers generic.

“I just want to hear some good music,” she said. “I’m really hoping for some good lyrics … that’s what I love about her songs.”

Caroline Lenz, a 22-year-old UF psychology senior, set her hopes for the new album a little higher.

“I think my new favorite [album] is going to be Tortured Poets,” she said.

Lenz’s love for Swift goes back to the singer’s country era. The tour for her 2008 sophomore album, “Fearless,” was the first concert Lenz ever attended, shortly after she performed as Taylor Swift in her first-grade talent show. Now, she’s looking forward to seeing Swift at her October tour stop in Miami.

As a fan of the more “gut-wrenching” tracks on Swift’s discography, Lenz was excited to listen to tracks like “So Long, London” and “I Can Fix Him (No Really, I Can)” alongside other Swifties.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime, core memory chance,” she said.

Swift’s fans didn’t have much time to absorb the new tracks before the blonde mastermind surprised them at 2 a.m. with 15 additional songs on an extended double-album cut called “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology.”

After giving UF students 31 new tracks to power them through imminent final exams week and referencing their home football stadium in a track named after their home state, Taylor Swift won’t be able to deny the rumors for much longer that Gators are her favorite Swifties.

Contact Zoey Thomas at zthomas@alligator.org. Follow her on X @zoeythomas39.

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Zoey Thomas

Zoey Thomas is a second-year media production major and the university administration reporter for The Alligator. She previously wrote for the metro desk. Other than reporter, Zoey's titles include espresso connoisseur, long-distance runner and Wes Anderson appreciator. 


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