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To the nonobsessed, Taylor Swift’s community of die-hards might appear to be a pretty overwhelming place.

The 34-year-old pop star peppers her songs and visuals with “Easter eggs,” as she dubs them, and they are everywhere: in song lyrics and videos, in a pop-up QR code mural that appeared in Chicago this week, in a Spotify-sponsored library installation that went up in Los Angeles. As the promotional push for Swift’s latest album revs up, fans are revisiting interviews from years past, decoding speeches and peace signs from award shows, and studying the text of a graffiti wall in the background of a music video.

But to Swifties, one pattern reigns above all others: her fifth tracks. These, they say, are the heaviest, most personal songs on her albums. Ahead of the release of her 11th studio full-length, “The Tortured Poets Department” on Friday, it’s the song “So Long, London” — the fifth song — that’s raised fans’ eyebrows, simply because of its placement.

Why Track 5? In this case, like many Swift traditions, the fans started it, noticing on the singer’s early albums that the fifth song was often the emotionally devastating centerpiece. Examples include “Cold As You,” “Dear John” and the particularly acclaimed powerhouse “All Too Well.”

“As die-hard Taylor fans, we love Track 5’s because it’s something that’s bonded us to her pretty much since the beginning,” says Rachel Frazier, who co-hosts a podcast, “Swiftology,” that devoted an entire episode to the hidden meaning of Track 5’s and what makes them so special. Her co-host, Bethany Langston, says that by the 2012 album “Red,” “we all knew that the Track 5 theory was no longer just a theory, but intentional.”

Swift would eventually confirm these hunches. “So Track 5 is a tradition that really started with you guys, because I didn’t realize I was doing this, but as I was making albums, I guess I don’t know why, but instinctively I was putting a very vulnerable personal, honest, emotional song as Track 5,” the singer recounted in an Instagram Live ahead of premiering “Lover,” her 2019 album. “So because you noticed this, I started to put the songs that were honest, emotional and vulnerable and personal as Track 5.”

They’re not all heartbreak songs, though that is one of Swift’s specialties. Over the years, these tracks have evolved to focus more on more internal conflicts. “I think that’s what really makes these songs resonate with us — knowing that we’re not alone in our negative self-talk and damaging experiences, however gruesome they may be,” said Katelyn Benzinger, 23, who lives in New York and has attended dozens of Swift shows.

Swifties may be a numerologically inclined bunch, sifting through the songwriter’s output for clues such as snakes and butterflies, and connecting lyrics to various touchstones of Swift lore. But the Track 5’s aren’t particularly cryptic artifacts. They just seem to hit fans in the gut.

“With these Track 5’s and with Taylor’s music, it’s almost like you’re, like, in a group-therapy session with her, or she’s venting to you over the phone,” says Bea Forman, who’s been a Swiftie since age 6 and is now a 23-year-old pop-culture reporter in Philadelphia. “It’s like you’re her sister or best friend, and she’s, like, laying it all there alongside you.”

Benzinger recounts how “Tolerate It,” the fifth track on 2020’s “Evermore,” affected her own life: “I was taken advantage of in a relationship I should have gotten out of long before I actually did. That song played a huge role in helping me piece that together.” Forman, meanwhile, says “Dear John” from 2010’s “Speak Now” helped her come to terms with her parents’ arguments.

“It’s almost subverting that grief and that loss you feel and being, like, ‘Look who that made me become,’” Forman said. “Yeah, I went through all of these crappy, awful emotions and times with my life, but now I make art. I think Track 5’s show that fully because they tend to be at the apex of the album, and are often the full-circle way of all of that coming together.”

While they aren’t always her saddest songs, fans see Track 5’s as Swift’s most vulnerable work. For example, on 2017’s “Reputation,” a heel-turn album filled with revenge tracks and sharp-elbowed production, the fifth song is a departure from the album’s prevailing vibe. “Delicate” cuts deep with a cool approach, eschewing that era’s bravado: Is it cool that she said all that? Is it cool that you’re in her head?

Other recent Track 5’s — “The Archer” on 2019’s “Lover,” “My Tears Ricochet” on 2020’s “Folklore” — have resonated as fan favorites. “The Archer,” an intimate ballad made with producer Jack Antonoff, centers on the anxiety of Swift’s conflicting relationship with fame. “My Tears Ricochet” depicts a somber relationship afflicted by greed. “You’re on Your Own, Kid,” from 2022’s “Midnights,” takes listeners on a journey of teenage isolation and yearning to escape a hometown.

Which brings us to the anticipation for “The Tortured Poet’s Department.” The new album “will be particularly exciting to analyze and relate to because this is the first time in a long time, really since ‘Red,’ that we’re getting what Swifties think is a primarily breakup-centered album,” Frazier said. “We could not be more excited to see how she’s processed grieved and celebrated her life during this time.”

Benzinger, Forman, Langston and Frazier agree that “So Long, London,” is likely to be about the end of Swift’s six-year relationship with the British actor Joe Alwyn. Sure enough, when a leak of the album began to dominate Swifties’ chatter Wednesday night, the Track 5 enthusiasm was pronounced, at least among some who caved and listened. Others held out to hear the album when Swift intended, still speculating about the song. “Will so long london dethrone my tears ricochet as the best track 5?” wrote one fan on X. Another who seemingly already listened: “so long london LEAK !!! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT THIS IS SOOOO GOOD.”

An emotional and personal meditation? A biographical window? A mirror for fans’ own lives? There, five songs in … it all tracks.



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