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The Tortured Poets Department: A Review


The heavily anticipated Taylor Swift album, The Tortured Poets Department, which came out April 19, has gotten a lot of buzz, as expected. Filled with “easter eggs” (hints about previous lyrics/songs), and clever lines, the album is one of Swift’s most poetic and intelligent. When it was released at 12 AM, thousands of people stayed up late to hear it as soon as possible, and they recorded their reactions to each song. According to Spotify and Apple Music’s records, the most popular songs so far are “Fortnight”, featuring Post Malone, “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart”, “Down Bad”, and “So Long, London.” 

Fans predicted that the album would be centered around Swift’s recent breakup with Joe Alwyn, a British actor who she was with for six years. They say that song songs are definitely about him (“So Long, London” and “The Black Dog”, for example), a surprising amount of the album seems to be about Matty Healy, a “bad boy” singer who Swift had a short-term relationship with in 2015. They dated again in the spring of 2023 after the announcement of her break up with Alwyn. Songs such as “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys, “I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)”, and “loml” seem to give insight into their relationship. 

Based on the songs, fans speculate that Healy told Swift that they were endgame and that he was so in love with her, but then he left her while his issue with drugs and other substances worsened. Healy does not come off well in the album, with lines like “you didn’t measure up/In any measure of a man” and “You deserve prison but you won’t get time” in “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived”. When asked by a reporter if he had any comments on the album, Healy claimed he had not yet listened to it. 

However, the album isn’t only about Swift’s ex-relationships. With themes such as mental health, the pressures of fame, and music’s history, The Tortured Poets Department is being called her best album yet. “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” is about having to perform at the Eras Tour (Swift’s ongoing concert which contains her entire discography and is over 3 hours long) while suffering through heartbreak and mental health issues. Although not all of everyone is singing to sold out stadiums every night, most can relate to the feeling of needing to pretend everything is just fine while going through something difficult. While performing this in the most recent leg of the Eras Tour after adding The Tortured Poets Department to the setlist, Swift puts on an old time circus show that has a flapper style dance and outfit to match the upbeat tune of the song. Although it may seem silly at first glance, this has a profound meaning deep down. Throughout history, women have had to put on a positive and energetic attitude towards everything they do in order to not be dismissed as dramatic or lazy. Turning this song into a representation of the pressure that women experience allows Swift to use her talent of taking specific experiences she went through and relating them to a wide audience. 

“The Prophecy”, the 26th track on the album, is also about Swift’s fame. The song tells a story of Swift begging someone to “Change the prophecy”;she says she “Don’t want money / Just someone who wants my company”. Vogue Magazine theorizes that this song is about Swift’s fear that her fame will take over and she will lose not just her dating relationships, but friendships, familial relationships, and everything in between. As she becomes more and more famous, it becomes harder for her to live a “normal” life and keep up normal relationships. Through interpretation of the song, fans speculate that this causes Swift to be ever wary of her fame. 

The Guardian rated the album highly and praised it, saying that Swift’s “ability to turn sorrow into songwriting gold remains unparalleled”. They called the song “Florida!!!,” which featured Florence Welch from the band Florence and the Machine, “outstanding.” The song’s loud drum beats and pounding bass differ from anything else on the album. It’s about escaping your history and mistakes to hide away, and Swift mentioned in an Instagram post she was inspired by stories of escaped criminals living in Florida. Florence Welch’s part is classic Florence and the Machine, with dramatic lines sung in her rich, throaty voice. When talking about the album as a whole, The Guardian calls it “Swift’s most Swiftian album” with “the unhappiness profound, the details generous [and] the lessons absorbed.” 

Other reviews were not as positive. The New Yorker has its fair share of praises of the album but recognizes that for a more casual Swift listener, it might not make sense. The album is filled with references to Matty Healy’s old songs, Joe Alwyn’s turns of phrases, and more easter eggs that the average listener might not be able to put together. All together, the album could feel more like a special treat for devoted fans than one for a wide range of listeners. However, Swift’s fans are very pleased with the amount of references, and they wouldn’t expect anything else from the 11th studio album. Overall, it is being praised as a big success and one of Swift’s best albums. 

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