Saudi Arabia is ‘committed to environment’s conservation’

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - ALKHOBAR: Overlooking the city of Alkhobar, with colorful neon lights shimmering in the night sky, Swifties of the Eastern Province came together to listen to Taylor Swift’s anticipated double album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” on the night of its release.

At the very same time the album started playing in Alkhobar’s Trip Lounge, Riyadh hosted its own listening party at Level Up and Jeddah’s Swifties tuned in from Makan.

It was a full house with almost every seat occupied in Trip Lounge. Musicians Zamzam and Naif Hashem, who hosted the event, engaged in dialogue with everyone in the room between songs. Only two of the attendees admitted to listening to the album before coming, but still expressed surprise with others when lyrics began to spill from the speakers.

Musicians Zamzam and Naif Hashem, who hosted the Taylor Swift listening party, engaged in dialogue with everyone in the room between songs from the new album. (AN photo)

Zamzam and Hashem, each of whom have demanding day jobs, separately release music. Zamzam, who often performs locally at places such as Bohemia, is the lead singer of the indie/folk band also called Zamzam, and Hashem, a dentist, just released a new song, “The Great Divide,” earlier this month.

Both hosts avoided listening to the album, which had been released earlier in the day, before hosting the Taylor Swift Nights experience. They self-identify as Swifties, as fans of the singer are known, and have combed through Swift’s discography with the attentiveness of a fellow musician.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Riyadh hosted its own listening party for Taylor Swift’s new album ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ at Level Up and Jeddah’s Swifties tuned in from Makan.

• The album’s title has been influenced by the cult classic 1989 film ‘Dead Poets Society.’

• Alkhobar Swifties’ unanimous favorite of the night seemed to be ‘Florida!!!’ which featured Florence & The Machine.

They were the ideal guides to fill the gaps between songs.

“We’re here to listen to Taylor’s new double album because there’s a community here that really likes to listen to things together. We’ve done this before and it was successful, and we’ve been planning this since the album was announced; it’s so much nicer of an experience to have people gasp, yell and cry with you,” Zamzam told Arab News.

Since its release on Friday, the album quickly climbed the charts and became the most streamed album in a single day in Spotify history. (AN photo)

Swift’s latest release is a chaotic but self-aware collection of 31 songs which all sound like signature Swift, while still offering a new sonic collage of stories made of playful, petty and witty narratives. In almost every song there was a lyric, or a few, which made fans groan or applaud in unison.

Since its release on Friday, the album quickly climbed the charts and became the most streamed album in a single day in Spotify history.

We’ve been planning this since the album was announced; it’s so much nicer of an experience to have people gasp, yell and cry with you.

Zamzam, Musician

Swift said in an Instagram post announcing the release: “This writer is of the firm belief that our tears become holy in the form of ink on a page. Once we have spoken our saddest story, we can be free of it … and then all that’s left behind is the tortured poetry.”

A songwriter since her teens, Swift has always offered a romantic notion to her work, bending across genres, starting with country and experimenting with various styles since. No matter what style she sings in, Swift’s fans consider her a modern poet who combines the soul of the tortured artist with a playful, never-want-to-grow-up Peter Pan millennial attitude.

Since its release on Friday, the album quickly climbed the charts and became the most streamed album in a single day in Spotify history. (AN photo)

Swift has made a habit of finding poetic ways to revive the voices and stories of people from the past, especially women, such as the “It Girl” of the the Roaring Twenties, Clara Bow, who one of the tracks on the album is named after.

Speculation on the subject of lyrics is a constant pastime for Swifties, who sift through puns and references in her lyrics in search of cryptic meanings. Swift rarely ever confirms who she writes about or why, so it is all open to interpretation.

The album’s title was rumored to have been influenced by the cult classic 1989 film “Dead Poets Society.” The music video for the song “Fortnight” with Post Malone featured cameos by the film’s beloved stars Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles.

“I think Taylor is finally coming into herself … this is my own interpretation of Taylor, but throughout the years, she really likes to reference classic literature and she’d really like to view herself as an American poet,” Zamzam said. “I read one of her speeches (where) she referenced Emily Dickinson as a huge inspiration for her … I think this was her just finally ripping off a band-aid she’s been wanting to rip off for a while, because she tried with ‘Evermore’ and ‘Folklore’ (previous albums) and was just like, ‘You know what? I'm leaning into it’.”

The listening party featured a calm ambience, dimmed lights and seats lined up as if in an intimate concert. Lyrics scrolled down, karaoke-style, on a big screen. Some in the crowd quickly took to the beat and sang along. Some swayed silently.

The crowd’s unanimous favorite of the night seemed to be “Florida!!!” which featured Florence & The Machine.

The double album, which Swift has said took her two years to write, appeared to have strong influences from her previous work.

Zamzam said that hosting the listening party in her hometown was important as it offered a dedicated space for Swifties, many of whom are from the millennial and gen Z generations. It offered Swifties a chance to come together to celebrate their favorite singer and openly discuss her lyrics.

“Hosting Taylor Swift Nights started in 2021 … I didn’t have anything on my mind, didn’t have any expectations or anything. It was just me and my best friend,” Hashem said of the first time they hosted the event several years ago in Jeddah.

“We didn’t have any expectation but we were blown away at how many people showed up! It was like 100 something. I was shocked. And then it was like ‘OK, there (are) die-hard Swifties here in Saudi Arabia.’ I thought I was the only one,” he added.

He connected with Zamzam and the collaborative effort to host an in-person event for Swifties in Alkhobar was born.

“We managed to find Trip Lounge and we hosted our first TS Nights back in August (last year). Having this community is very wholesome. Like Zamzam mentioned before, it’s having a community to experience happiness, grief and all of that. We are going to hand out tissues, just in case someone wants to cry,” he said.

“And we printed a bunch of papers; one paper so they can comment and rate each song, and one where they can write down their predictions for each track. If they got the prediction right, they can cross it out. It’s like bingo. We want to entertain them (attendees). We don’t want them to be bored,” he added.

Sixth grader Ghada Bajaber, the youngest Swiftie in the room, certainly was not bored. She sipped on lemonade in between scribbling fiercely into her Bingo sheet.

“I’m here with my mom — we always listen to Taylor Swift songs, me and my mom. It is what we do together and it’s special for us,” she told Arab News. “I have exams in two days but I still came. I didn’t study, I didn’t do my homework … I just came to memorize Taylor Swift lyrics — not the multiplication table,” Bajaber added.

 

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