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“The Tortured Poets Department” is momentary and legendary

Taylor Swift’s eleventh studio album gives listeners a glimpse into her heart and shows how she really feels about recent heartbreak

<p>Swift’s lyrics are equally despairing and forthright, juxtaposing the usual poetic sorrow of her signature ballad with a newfound honesty that transcends the bounds of her usual storytelling capabilities.</p>

Swift’s lyrics are equally despairing and forthright, juxtaposing the usual poetic sorrow of her signature ballad with a newfound honesty that transcends the bounds of her usual storytelling capabilities.

The eleventh studio album of global pop sensation Taylor Swift, entitled “The Tortured Poets Department,” was released April 19 at midnight.  Ranging from heart-wrenching ballads about love lost, to pop hits about the troubles of fame and the spotlight, to stripped-back synth tracks with Swift’s signature storytelling — the album is an amalgamation of the singer’s perspective and creative persona for the past two years.

Swift announced the project at the 2024 Grammy Awards while accepting the award for Best Pop Vocal Album for her last album, “Midnights.” The release came after a monumental couple of years for Swift — after a break up with boyfriend of six years Joe Alwyn, two album releases and a record setting tour, fans were looking to “The Tortured Poets Department” for a glimpse into the beloved singer’s psyche. 

Swift introduced “The Tortured Poets Department” in a post to her social media platforms on the night of the album’s release, priming audiences for the vulnerability she displays on the record.

“This writer is of the firm belief that our tears become holy in the form of ink on a page,” Swift said. “Once we have spoken our saddest story, we can be free of it.” 

The project boasts thirty-one songs in total. The album, often referred to as “TTPD” by fans, had a pre-released sixteen-song tracklist — but Swift, always one to have a trick up her sleeve, released a surprise fifteen-song addition titled “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology” that same night at 2:00 a.m.

“The Tortured Poets Department” is, by many measures, Swift’s most personal work yet. Many topics that were previously untouched by the singer’s pen — or alluded to at best — are covered with care and detail in this newest work, including the toll of fame and public opinion. 

“TTPD” serves as a synthesis of all of Swift’s previous albums — it has the stripped-back and withdrawn production of “folklore” and “evermore,” the synth-pop and self-awareness of “Midnights,” the twang of country guitar rooted in “Fearless” and the consistently stunning lyricism that makes it a true Taylor Swift masterpiece.

The album is an exploration of the journey through the five stages of grief after the loss of a six-year relationship. Swift’s lyrics are equally despairing and forthright, juxtaposing the usual poetic sorrow of her signature ballad with a newfound honesty that transcends the bounds of her usual storytelling capabilities. “TTPD” is jaw-droppingly, hand-to-mouth vulnerable at points, but a refreshing self-awareness and cheekiness with the audience allows Swift to go a step further than her previous works have gone. 

The album begins with one of its two features, “Fortnight,” featuring rapper Post Malone. The song is a stripped-back pop track where Swift and Post Malone smoothly explore the delusion induced by the transition from electricity to mundanity in a relationship. “TTPD” then journeys into its eponymous second track, a semi-self-aware song poking fun at the very idea of a “tortured poet” in the context of a previous relationship.

Tracks three and four — “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys” and “Down Bad” — are standout tracks that serve as a thesis statement of sorts for the album. The former is an anthem of reflection into a past relationship with the clarity of time, while the latter takes a more cheeky, angst-ridden approach to a breakup with lyrics like “What if I can't have him / I might just die, it would make no difference.” 

These two songs are diametrically opposed, representing the balance between bargaining and acceptance, furthering Swift’s exploration of the stages of grief.

The fifth track of a Taylor Swift album is notorious in the Swiftie community as the most personal song of each album. For “TTPD,” track five is “So Long, London,” a bittersweet ballad about Swift’s breakup with British actor Joe Alwyn. Alwyn is also thought to be the subject of the song  “London Boy,” a bubblegum-pop love song from Swift’s seventh album. By bidding adieu to the city, Swift also turns the page on her relationship with Alwyn.

“Florida!!!” is the album’s second feature track, sung with popular indie artist Florence & The Machine. In this track, the two singers recount a story of retreat to the bounds of Florida — while the songstresses seem to be escaping criminal charges, Florida also represents an escape from the pressure and memories of their hometown. The song is equally empowering and puzzling at times, but manages to elicit a feeling of freedom within resistance. 

Swift follows this feature with two questions — “Guilty as Sin?” and “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” These are two of the bolder tracks from the album — the former a sultry and dreamy track about desire, and the latter an avenue for Swift to play on her public persona and assert dominance as she asks, “Who’s afraid of little old me?/ You should be.”

Sandwiched between two ballads of heartbreak is the synth-poppy and sassy “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart.” The song is bright and bouncy, but also exposes the limits of life under a spotlight as bright as Swift’s — a running theme on the album. 

“Breaking down, I hit the floor / All the pieces of me shattered as the crowd was chanting ‘more’,” Swift sings. She paints a picture of the painstaking performance that is maintaining a stoic appearance — while conducting the highest-grossing concert tour of all time, for instance — in the face of heartbreak. 

The fifteen additional songs released in “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology” expand and elaborate on the themes already established in the first part of the double album. While the songs on the original tracklist may be stronger lyrically or rhythmically, “The Anthology” allows fans to look even deeper into the singer’s psyche. 

Some standout songs from “The Anthology” include “thanK you aIMee,” “Cassandra” and “The Prophecy.” “Cassandra” and “thanK you aIMee” are thought to be a final reflection on Swift’s conflict with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West that resulted in her ostracization from the public for more than a year. 

Note the clever capitalization in “thanK you aIMee” — the capitalized letters of which spell out “KIM” — where Swift again demonstrates a transition from grief to acceptance. She sings, “But when I count the scars, there's a moment of truth / That there wouldn't be this if there hadn't been you.”

Lyrics in “The Alchemy” and “So High School” point to Swift’s current relationship with Travis Kelce, as she uses sports metaphors and language to describe her life and love with the football player. She sings, “I touch down / Call the amateurs and cut 'em from the team / Ditch the clowns, get the crown / Baby I'm the one to beat.” After the media’s publicization of Swift and Kelce’s relationship, these two tracks mark the first time Swift has shared her perspective of the relationship in her own words.

Some early criticism for “TTPD” cites the length of the album and the need for editing, but others feel that the sheer volume of this work strengthens Swift’s portrait of grief. Exploring each track as a different aspect of heartbreak gives listeners a broader and more detailed picture of pain experienced on such a large scale.

Ultimately, Swift proves once again that lyricism is her greatest strength on “The Tortured Poets Department.” Her ability to capture the intricate and complex emotions that heartbreak can elicit in this work is stunning and poignant — a testament to her stardom.


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