Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The Taylor Swift Album Leak’s Big AI Problem

On Thursday, Taylor Swift did a very Taylor Swift thing: She posted an Instagram story with a link to buy “Fortnight,” the first single off of her new album, The Tortured Poets Department. It was cute, maybe even unnecessary. Taylor Swift is one of the biggest recording artists in the world. She announced TTPD in February while accepting the Grammy for best pop vocal album for her last record, Midnights. Swift sold 19 million albums in the US alone last year; she doesn’t have to post IG stories about a new single. Yet there she was getting the internet all frothy like it was 1989.

As she posted, though, something else was agitating her massive fan base: The Tortured Poets Department leaked, allegedly spreading thanks to a Google Drive link that made the rounds online. (Piracy is back, baby!) Almost immediately, there were two camps: One said true fans would wait until the album’s official release, Friday at midnight. The other couldn’t wait and pressed Play anyway. Among that latter group was a subcamp: people who thought the leak—or parts of it, at least—were the product of artificial intelligence.

Claims of “gotta be AI” come from several corners, but many seem to stem from one particular line, in the album’s title track, in which (alleged) Swift sings, “You smoked then ate seven bars of chocolate/We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist.” (The rumor mill is speculating it’s a line about her ex, Matty Healy.) The audio has since been removed for copyright violation, but when an X user posted that snippet online, the suggestions that it was AI-generated quickly followed.

Upon the album’s release, everyone learned that the song was, in fact, real. They also learned the tracks that had been circulating before the album’s release were only part of the package. Swift returned to Instagram at 2 am Friday to announce that it was actually a “secret DOUBLE album”—The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology—31 songs in total. But the “must be AI” reaction remains a complex one.

Online life is awash in AI-generated fake-outs. Just a few years into the LLM revolution, the need to not believe your lying eyes is a given. Same goes for your lying ears. The bigger problem is that while skepticism and fact-checking are, generally, always a good idea when getting information online, AI has become so prevalent that it can also be a cop-out. Don’t like what your honest eyes see? Convince yourself it’s AI.

What makes this all even trickier is that AI is progressing to the point where composing something like “The Tortured Poets Department” doesn’t seem too far out of its realm of possibility. An AI version of Johnny Cash has already covered Swift’s “Blank Space.” “Heart on My Sleeve,” an AI-generated song from 2023 that sounded shockingly similar to one actually made by Drake and the Weeknd, was close enough to the real deal that some folks thought it might be a promotional tactic.

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