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Wounds exposed and mended in ‘The Tortured Poets Department’

Taylor+Swifts+most+recent+album%2C+The+Tortured+Poets+Department%3A+The+Anthology%2C+released+April+19+and+features+a+total+of+31+songs.
Courtesy of Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift’s most recent album, “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology,” released April 19 and features a total of 31 songs.
4.0 out of 5.0 stars

After accepting the GRAMMY for Best Pop Vocal Album for “Midnights,” Taylor Swift surprisingly announced that her next album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” would be released April 19. Anticipation for Swift’s next studio album was already high, given its classification as the first “breakup” album since her 2012 album, “Red.” 

Just two hours past midnight, Swift, the self-proclaimed Chairman of The Tortured Poets Department, shockingly released 15 bonus tracks to the 11th studio album. With a total of 31 songs, Swift’s gut-wrenchingly vulnerable “anthology” explores the trials and tribulations of her recent romantic entanglements. Her most unfiltered work to date, the album encompasses every emotion under the sun.

Melodically speaking, this album echoes much of Swift’s past work, a quality that can be credited to her classic co-production team, Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner. The two have writing and producing credits dispersed across various tracks, with Dessner’s work being the superior side of the album with more complex lyricism and captivating vocal patterns.

The synthetic pop sound of “Midnights” that Antonoff is known for is recognizable in the underwhelmingly familiar “Fortnight (feat. Post Malone)” along with “Down Bad,” “imgonnagetyouback” and the title track. The rest of Antonoff’s tracks, while also familiar sounding, are excused for their undeniable catchiness. 

Dessner’s tracks like “The Albatross,” “How Did It End?” and the Greek-mythology-inspired “Cassandra” embody the superior indie mystique and ability of “evermore to quickly build worlds and illustrate their destruction through ghostly choirs, hauntingly deep vocals and piano chord progressions. 

Despite the comforting nature of its familiarity, it is slightly disappointing that an album characterized as a never-before-revealed “detailed rewinding” of Swift’s past often resembles the comfort level of her and her producers. However, the length of Swift’s discography makes it unreasonable to expect a reinvented sound — or new era — with each new album. Swift, and her fanbase, have possibly set expectations larger than what may be tangible for any seasoned artist to satisfy. 

Through her storytelling, Swift seamlessly captures the feeling of losing control of both her life and her mind, a theme underscored by the sister-track of “Cassandra,”  “The Prophecy.” Swift sings, “I got cursed like Eve got bitten … And I look unstable / Gathered with a coven ’round a sorceress’ table.” In “The Prophecy” and “Clara Bow,” Swift yearns to reclaim the ever-changing narrative of a life plagued by endless villainizing headlines about her every move. 

Allusions and references are a crucial storytelling method, with mentions ranging from Patti Smith and Dylan Thomas’ residence at the Chelsea Hotel, Charlie Puth, assumedly Lucy Dacus and even Antonoff. Swift’s infamous feud with Kim Kardashian is even subject to reference in “thanK you aIMee” evident by the title’s intentional capitalization. The album’s use of both contemporary and historical allusions is perfectly captured by the rhyming of Aristotle with Grand Theft Auto in “So High School.” 

The immersive, reality-centric tracks “I Can Do It With A Broken Heart,” “So Long, London” and “Florida!!!” are painful reminders that this album is far from the fictional world of “folklore” and “evermore.” Swift allegedly broke off from British actor Joe Alwyn in April 2023, at the start of the Eras Tour. The show on March 31 in Arlington, Texas was rumored to be her first show since the breakup because of a meaningful setlist change. Numerous references to Florida also raise alarm to her shows in Tampa, the first stop after Arlington, Texas.

Swift has time and time again hinted at the lack of certain relationship milestones in past songs like “Paper Rings” or “You’re Losing Me.” In “How Did It End?” Swift sings, “My beloved ghost and me / Sitting in a tree / D-Y-I-N-G,” a chilling reference to the nursery rhyme famously ending in marriage and a baby carriage. Swift includes other matrimonious references, with tracks “loml” and “Fresh Out The Slammer” with the line, “At the park where we used to sit on children’s swings / Wearing imaginary rings.” 

The most lyrically devastating tracks overall are “So Long, London,” “I Can Do It With A Broken Heart,” “The Bolter,” “Down Bad” and the possibly Matty-Healy-inspired track “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived.” 

Besides capturing excruciatingly relatable emotions, Swift also beautifully articulates the optimistic future of newfound companionship with footballer Travis Kelce in “So High School” and “The Alchemy.” In “The Alchemy” she sings, “So when I touch down / Call the amateurs and cut ’em from the team.”

Swift has always balanced a tightrope of two personas: a pop princess who often claims residence at the Billboard Top 100 for weeks and a brilliant, once-in-a-generation poet, with the latter often a quality overlooked by the average radio listener. 

“The Tortured Poets Department” is easily the best showcase of Swift’s incomparable lyricism. Swift finds identity in female storytellers like Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath, poets she has credited as inspirations. Not to mention Stevie Nicks, Clara Bow and Patti Smith, three women who receive shoutouts in the album. Nicks even wrote a poem dedicated to Swift, which is displayed on the graphics of the vinyls and CDs. 

Despite how much the media inhumanely dissects her life choices, Swift captures the human experience better than anyone and makes it look easy. Somehow, Swift’s way with words has once again exceeded expectations while also saving an album that may have otherwise drowned in synthetic keyboards and overpowering bass effects. No matter the means, Swift has given fans an overflowing repertoire of cathartic confessions with “The Tortured Poets Department.” 

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