Taylor Swift’s ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ has us sitting, sinking and screaming in tempestuous ruin

The album is a complex exploration through the manic and mania of falling out of a long period of love.

Amid soft piano notes juxtaposing her earlier hits New Year’s Day and Champagne Problems, Taylor Swift croons, “Who’s gonna stop us from waltzing into rekindled flames if we know the steps anyway?” The house behind her is burning and she is falling into misaligned footwork with a faded love, admitting that she cannot stop running back to him in Loml. This, and several misery-laden melodies, fill up “The Tortured Poets Department,” an otherwise overwhelming eleventh tome from Swift.

I was not surprised, to say the least, that this would take on a depressive atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, she is currently perfectly happy with her new man. Travis Kelce, the man of many touchdowns, whom Swift says, “Where’s the trophy? He just comes runnin’ over to me” from The Alchemy, one of her more hopeful love songs on the album.

In the same breath, she shares in that song that she was finally freed from the hospital and that “this happens once every few lifetimes, these chemicals hit me like white wine.”

It is honestly quite difficult to go through this track list in order because the whole album is one long hallway of sad. Swiftie detectives on the interwebs share that Swift foreshadowed the tone of her tome in her “Midnights” song Hits Different. In that song, she sings about hearing a key turn down the hallway and wondering if that was him, or have “they” come to take her away. 

Fortnight sets the tone for “The Tortured Poets Department.”

Fans of “Folklore” and “Evermore” will surely be delighted by the lyricism on this album, but do not expect this to be a collection of mountains and valleys. Swift wants you to know that beautiful, damaging words aside, she is miserable and angry. Amid her mania, this album was a lifeline and she held on for dear life as she swam in her sea of sadness.

Fortnight is a great opener for the album, and one of my favorites off it. It set the tone for TTPD (as the album is called) in a beautiful way, and assists from rapper/singer Post Malone were hauntingly perfect. The music video, released mere minutes ago as the author writes this, borrowed tones from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and steampunk film Suckerpunch! and gave us a glimpse of a fortnight in Swift’s relationship with ex-boyfriend and actor Joe Alwyn. 

One of the most beautiful elements in the video came from the typewriters Swift and Malone were furiously typing at. “I love you, it’s ruining my life,” they harmonize and daylight and blue light mesh together before a montage of their secluded moments alone comes on screen. 

Calling back scenes from her Lover and Lavender Haze videos and the famous post-concern run to Alwyn, she looks at him with a wistful heart. Her stares then turn ashen, a familiar feeling brought up on her “Midnights” vault song You’re Losing Me. “Every morning, I glared at you with storms in my eyes.”

She then ends her music video in the rain atop a phone booth as Malone sings, “I called you up, but you won’t pick up.” Mirroring her ending scene in “Reputation” track Delicate, her anxiety wallows as she bathes in the storm after being betrayed a hundredfold.

But Alwyn and Kelce were not the only muses on this album. Callbacks to an alleged brief fling with The 1975 lead singer Matty Healy are embroidered in select tracks of the album. Down Bad is a top 3 song of mine, a song that I believe could be about Healy. Don’t quote me on this but there were clues. “I’ll build you a fort on some planet where they can all understand it.” 

Guilty As Sin? is also a recent favorite and the melody somehow borrows from the band as well. “What if he’s written ‘Mine’ on my upper thigh only in my mind?” Her harmonies take us through the heaven she went through for a mere moment before being thrown into the abyss. She asks her audience about a tryst that she wishes turned into something real, and if they could allow her to fall without sinking into treacherous ruin. 

She follows that guilty love in Daddy I Love Him and I Can Fix Him (No I Really Can), before becoming self-reflective in The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived. “And if I don’t even want you back, I just want you to know if rusting my sparkling summer was the goal.”

Florida!!! with Florence + The Machine was a song I wish was more powerful, but I love that Florence got a verse to herself and her overarching melody made for a great escape ditty about running away from the pain of falling out of love. Fresh Out The Slammer also shared that same underlying melody but I also wished was more rock. 

Although So Long, London is the infamous track five (a Swiftlore term for most “devastating” track on an album), I wish Loml was that instead.

Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me? and I Can Do It With A Broken Heart call back to her “Midnights” predecessors Anti-Hero and Bejeweled/Mastermind where she continues her torrid tale of self-woes and rising above getting over the love of her life. 

But Loml needs to be talked about more. Although So Long, London is the infamous track five (a Swiftlore term for most “devastating” track on an album), I wish Loml was that instead. I have a knack for sad songs and the miserable power behind it was much more impactful. Don’t get me wrong, So Long, London has strong lyrics too, but Loml has “Holy ghost, you told me I’m the love of your life.” I feel this was a much fitting Last Letter From Your Lover-esque piece than the current track 5. 

However, The Alchemy is a great penultimate ender to the album where she shares that despite her sadness, she is coming back strong due to a new love. Rumored to be about her new beau Kelce, she laces intimate moments she’s had with him from when they began in the middle of 2023. “‘Cause that sign on your heart is still reserved for me. Who are we to fight the alchemy?”

She ends the first of two albums (!!!) with Clara Bow, a nod to “Red”’s Nothing New and The Lucky One, where a period of stardom becomes a legacy left behind and the story begins again. “It’s hell on earth to be heavenly. Them’s the breaks, they don’t come gently.” 

The outro is haunting where she calls herself out. “You look like Taylor Swift. In this light, we’re lovin’ it. You’ve got edge, she never did. The future’s bright, dazzling.”

Overall, it is a complex exploration through the manic and mania of falling out of a long period of love. What was once considered daylight, a golden tattoo turned out to be fool’s gold, and this time Swift knows that. But as she said in her sole love song, “Who are we to fight the alchemy?”

Stream “The Tortured Poets Department” by Taylor Swift on Spotify.

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