Taylor’s clues and Ripley’s secrets – what you should see and listen to this week

Taylor’s clues and Ripley’s secrets – what you should see and listen to this week


This article was first published in our email newsletter Something Good, which every fortnight brings you a summary of the best things to watch, visit and read, as recommended and analysed by academic experts. Click here to receive the newsletter direct to your inbox.

Over the past few weeks, Taylor Swift has planted clues about her 11th album, The Tortured Poets Department, which is finally released today. The announcement of the album at this year’s Grammys took everyone, including her devoted Swifties, by surprise. Not long after, she took to Instagram to post a cryptic handwritten note signed “All’s fair in love and poetry… Sincerely, The chairman of the Tortured Poets Department”.

If you’re familiar with her fandom, you know they love a puzzle and look for clues in almost everything Swift does – from what she wears to items she puts up for sale. They parse all these things for subtext in an attempt to know (or prove they know) her better.

One place Swifties have always found a lot of hidden meaning is in her tracklistings. A popular theory among Swifties is that track five on her albums is where she really exposes her raw emotions. On The Tortured Poets Department, this song is entitled “So long, London” – a possible breakup anthem to her British ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn.

Jennifer Voss, an expert in silent cinema, was particularly taken with the name of track 16, “Clara Bow”. Bow, a silent film actress, was one of the original “it girls”. Voss writes about how, like Swift, Bow was loved and hated throughout her career. Bow’s love life was also under constant scrutiny.




Read more:
I’ve researched Clara Bow – it’s no wonder the actress inspired Taylor Swift’s new album


What lurks beneath

In the film Sometimes I Think About Dying, protagonist Fran also has a lot going on beneath her calm surface. A shy and withdrawn office worker, her days are filled with menial tasks and painfully mundane experiences. The monotony of it all allows for moments where her mind wanders into darkness, imagining the various ways she could die.

These moments where she imagines being slowly hung by a crane or lying dead in a verdant forest are not so much about suicidal ideation, as Tim Snelson, an expert in the historical interactions of psychiatry and cinema, writes, but more about the difficulty of being a person and making choices. It’s a dark and gently comic film that features a quietly powerful performance from Daisy Ridley as Fran.




Read more:
Sometimes I Think About Dying: finally, a film about women’s mental health without the cliches


A less quiet character, but one who also has secret realities lurking beneath his carefully crafted facade, the grifter Tom Ripley is back on our screens in a new adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel, The Talented Mr Ripley. A neo-noir thriller in eight parts, the series stars Andrew Scott as a Ripley who’s, as reviewer and film expert Joy McEntee writes, “compelling and frightening – connected to sexuality, but resistant to explanations, labels or pigeonholes.”

This sort of ambiguity and amorality is much more faithful to Highsmith’s original character than the Ripley you might have seen in other adaptations. Take the 1999 film starring Matt Damon – Ripley is portrayed as probably gay and he ends up getting caught. This sort of pigeonholing eschews the brilliance of Highsmith’s Ripley who is a man who could be anyone, he is a blank canvas, able to be whoever he needs to be.




Read more:
Critics can’t decide if Andrew Scott’s Ripley is mesmerising or charmless – just as Patricia Highsmith wrote him


Welsh up-and-comers and Italian greats

Wales is known as “The Land of Song” for a reason. Singing is deeply woven into Welsh culture and traditions and it’s home to many greats – Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Stereophonics, Super Furry Animals and Manic Street Preachers to name a few. Paul Carr and Robert Smith, both popular music experts, would like to introduce you to four rising stars of Welsh Music that you’ll be glad to know before they get big.

I’ve been listening to one of their recs, Cerys Hafana, whose minimalist electronic folk draws on traditional Welsh music to create hypnotic tracks. I’m also obsessed with the lush medieval visuals. Also, as a Conversation editor, I love that this album involved research at the National Library of Wales archive where she resurrected old folk manuscripts.




Read more:
Four rising Welsh music acts to set your playlist ablaze


If you are a design buff, I urge you to get down to London to see the new Enzo Mari at the Design Museum. The show offers a rare glimpse into the anarchic Italian designer’s groundbreaking work. Mari, who died in 2020, donated his archive to Milan on the condition that it remained closed for 40 years, so this is your last chance to see it until 2060.

A wooden puzzle of animals
Animali (16 Animals), 1959, by Enzo Mari.
Federico Villa/Design Museum

Mari was a Marxist who argued for workers’ rights and the democratisation of design. As our writer Giuliana Pieri, expert in Italian visual culture, notes, he “remained a thorn in the glossy side of the design industry throughout his career”. Visitors can see the research process behind some of his most iconic pieces and learn about his approach to craft that was deeply rooted in his politics.




Read more:
Enzo Mari at the Design Museum explores how the giant of Italian design saw his work as a political act



Looking for something good? Cut through the noise with a carefully curated selection of the latest releases, live events and exhibitions, straight to your inbox every fortnight, on Fridays. Sign up here.


Post Comment