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Album Review: The Tortured Poets Department

Updated: May 7

The Tortured Poets Department Album Cover (Photo: Beth Garrabrant)

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of Taylor Swift’s typewriter entering the chat. 


And by that, I mean Swift’s anxiously awaited 11th studio album THE TORTURED POETS DEPARTMENT dropped on April 19 and fans are screaming.


But wait there’s more (I KNOW!). If one album wasn’t enough, Swift surprised fans with a double album comprising another 15 songs titled- THE TORTURED POETS DEPARTMENT: THE ANTHOLOGY. So, if you weren’t already crying you are now. 


Because Mother (as the fans call her) works so tirelessly to feed us Swifties, I believe it is my duty to deliver a review of this poetic masterpiece.


Swift’s last autobiographical break-up album was 2012’s Red, which saw the birth of the now infamous scarf. Fans believed that the demise of Swift’s 6-year relationship with Joe Alwyn would end the dry spell of notorious break-up anthems. However, this came to be only partly true. 


The sonic qualities of Swift’s new album encapsulate the feelings of rage, desolation, and acceptance. The album takes you on a journey of mourning the end of a relationship (see “So Long, London”), entering your delusional phase with a bad boy archetype (see “Fresh Out The Slammer”), and ultimately deciding that men are the worst (unless you’re Travis Kelce, see “The Alchemy”).


The storytelling that we’ve seen on Folklore and Evermore combined with the gutsiness of reputation to achieve total poetic torture.


Swift’s songwriting is renowned for its vulnerability. It is part of the reason people love her. She creates songs in relation to her own experiences, which fans relate to parts of their own lives. Whether that be a break-up, love, loss, or betrayal. Chances are if you have felt it Swift has felt it too.


In TTPD the vulnerability intertwined through the songs reaches new heights. The lyrics are intimate so it feels as though we are intruding on her most private thoughts, yet we are unable to look away. Renowned for her emotionally devastating track 5’s on her albums, this is true in  TTPD. “So Long, London” seemingly references the collapse of her relationship with Joe Alwyn. Produced by Aaron Dessner; the duo delivers an eloquent representation of the visceral feelings associated with holding up a relationship that is breaking down. “I stopped CPR, after all it’s no use/ The spirit was gone, we would never come to”, she sings. 


Swift takes the tortured theme of the album quite literally by referring to death and pain over the journey of the tracklist. 

“Love left me like this and I don’t want to exist”, Swift sings with Florence Welch in “Florida!!!”. “If you wanted me dead, you should’ve just said”, she sings in “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” conveying herself as a ghost hauntingly infiltrating everywhere we look. 

In “loml”, which fans speculated stood for “love of my life” actually stands for “loss of my life”, Swift sings “Still alive, killing time at the cemetery/ Never quite buried”. Once again, the glitter gel pen aesthetic she categorises her songs into is met instead with a pen of dull darkness.


Alas, it’s not all doom and gloom. If you’re a pop girly at heart, like me, and love a good Swift bop, don’t stop reading yet. There are moments of reprieve from the melancholy elements of the album found in Swift’s new muse, Travis Kelce. See tracks “The Alchemy” and “So Highschool”. 

As we know Swift is “Fresh Out The Slammer” (see track 7) and back in the public eye. Most recently she was spotted in the mosh at Coachella with beau, Kelce. To put it simply, she’s in her “give no f’s” era. “I haven’t come around in so long/ But I’m making a comeback to where I belong”, she sings on “The Alchemy”. 

Mentions of Kelce and the Super Bowl are highlighted in the lyrics: “Where’s the trophy?/ He just comes running over to me”. Swift’s glittery pen again draws lyrics to Kelce in: “So Highschool” singing “You know how to ball, I know Aristotle”. It’s giving, “I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it” which Buddy says in the 2003 movie Elf


One possible pitfall of the album: it’s a bit long. There are 31 songs to listen to in the age of declining attention spans. Unless you are a die-hard Swiftie, this album might feel like a marathon to get through. 

The sombre sound that encapsulates parts of the album puts the songs at risk of blending into each other. This could impact the recall of specific tracks leading to a reduced amount of streams for those songs. 

The constant gossip that surrounds Swift’s every move, appearance and relationships is fuelled by the release of her albums. Swift’s fans speculate and tear apart every lyric in an attempt to align it to her real life. This can be viewed in a negative way as it takes away from the work itself and how Swift as an artist does her job.


This album feels like it was made just for Swift herself, but fans have proven it’s also for them. The album became Spotify’s most-streamed in a single day on April 19. The emotional musical rollercoaster is held up by Swift’s gut-wrenching lyrics and belief in herself for this new work. 


Now I’m going to put my headphones back on and continue to try and learn the lyrics to this album. PSA you may need a dictionary. Swift may be a poet but ‘esoteric’ is not in my vocabulary.


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