Taylor Swift and Kanye West, the most reliably combustible pair of stars in pop music, may well face off yet again on Friday.
West announced last week that his next album, apparently called “Donda: With Child,” would come out on July 24. Since then he has been teasing details of the project on social media, in between developing a chaotic campaign for president.
Then on Thursday, Swift made the surprise announcement that she was releasing her own album, “Folklore,” which she said had come together in isolation — like other performers, Swift had canceled her touring plans for this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Before this year I probably would’ve overthought when to release this music at the ‘perfect’ time,” she wrote in a statement on her social media accounts, “but the times we’re living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed.”
“Folklore” will come out at midnight, and Swift’s website is selling the album in a large array of physical configurations, which will all but guarantee a huge showing for “Folklore” on Billboard’s chart. The album — made up of 16 songs, with a bonus track for the deluxe editions — will come out in eight CD versions and eight vinyl LP versions. Those will be available for sale for one week, she said, with variants of artwork and edition titles like “Clandestine Meetings,” “Stolen Lullabies” and “Betty’s Garden.”
Also on Friday, Swift will release a video for the song “Cardigan,” with cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, known for his work with Martin Scorsese. She tweeted the precautions taken in the production: “The entire shoot was overseen by a medical inspector, everyone wore masks, stayed away from each other,” she wrote, “and I even did my own hair, makeup, and styling,” adding the “face with tears of joy” emoji.
Swift’s album includes contributions from Jack Antonoff, her frequent producer; Aaron Dessner of the brooding band the National, who Swift said co-wrote or produced 11 songs; the songwriter William Bowery; and Bon Iver — who has had a long association with West.
The punctuality of West’s album, as always, is not guaranteed. His last several releases have had tumultuous rollouts, which have drawn almost dizzyingly thorough coverage yet also tested fans’ loyalty. “Donda: With Child” is apparently linked to West’s series of Christian-themed releases over the last couple of years, including the gospel-infused “Jesus Is King,” which came out in August 2019. The album is named after West’s mother, who died in 2007.
Exactly what form “Donda” will take, however — and indeed when it will come out — is unclear. Two days ago West called it an “album and movie”; a tweet just a few hours later simply had a track list. With West, last-minute creative changes are often part of the art itself.
Yet West’s album announcement has also come amid a confusing, and at times troubling, campaign for president. On Sunday, West held a rally in South Carolina, at which he broke down in tears and made an outrageous statement about Harriet Tubman. Later, his wife, Kim Kardashian West, made a poignant appeal about West’s mental health, noting that he has bipolar disorder and asking the public for “compassion and empathy.”
Swift and West have been combatants on the celebrity stage since 2009, when West interrupted her acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards. Swift described the incident as a significant fracture in her understanding of herself in the documentary “Miss Americana” last year: “For someone who based her whole belief system on getting everyone to clap for you, the whole crowd booing is a pretty formative experience.”
Since then their feud has bubbled up repeatedly, with each step generating reams of tabloid ink and untold numbers of fan tweets. The most explosive episode surrounded West’s song “Famous,” from his 2016 album “The Life of Pablo,” which included a lyric about Swift and a provocative video featuring nude depictions of various celebrities, including Swift. She denounced it, and the two stars and their camps have made warring statements over the line’s origins over the past four years.