Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

‘The Tortured Poets Department’: A Capstone Mosaic of Taylor Swift


“Because it’s the worst men that I write best.” Exactly.

With 31 songs — 15 of which were dropped in surprise fashion two hours after the album’s original release — Taylor Swift’s “The Tortured Poets Department” (TTPD) takes the crown for her longest and most vulnerable album yet. A synthetic pop rendition of rhetorical poetry, TTPD is filled with fan-favorite easter eggs and, of course, the experiences of heartbreak. 

Amid Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, her globetrotting concert series that caused a Ticketmaster frenzy and has generated more than $1 billion in sales, it feels natural to understand this album as a mosaic of Swift’s past selves. TTPD’s delicate poetry ties an invisible string to the wordsmithing of sister albums “folklore” and “evermore,” catchy choruses feel ever-reminiscent of “1989” and the storytelling feels aligned with Swift’s earlier “Fearless” and “Speak Now” albums. 

Working with longtime producers Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff, TTPD uses techno-pop sounds reminiscent of “Midnights,” which won Swift her fourth Album of the Year Grammy award last year. TTPD combines Swift’s pensive language with upbeat pop melodies and piercing references to create an album that is both dazzling and authentically Taylor Swift. 

But Daddy I Love Him,” one of the strongest songs on the album, provides an excellent example of this new era’s overlap. The opening melody sounds remarkably similar to “If This Were A Movie,” and the narrative feels like a grown-up version of “Love Story.” But, rather than the trial and heartbreak of Romeo and Juliet, Swift is screaming to her dad (or, rhetorically, her fans) that she loves a controversial man. It’s widely assumed this song is about Matty Healy of The 1975, with whom Swift had a brief romance last summer. But, of course, she’d never confirm that. 

Precisely as Swift herself indicated, her best songs come from her biggest heartbreaks. And boys only want love if it’s torture, right?

Much of the album (theoretically) references Joe Alwyn, Swift’s ex-boyfriend of six years. In “So Long, London,” Swift bids him a devastating goodbye. The song is guided by an intense heartbeat-like consistency that originally sounds like wedding bells (Coincidence? I think not!) and rhythmically tied together with a classic Swift bridge. “loml,” which winds around the expected “Love of my life” acronym to “Loss of my life,” is also likely about Alwyn and rests with a drifting, peaceful piano melody nearly identical to Swift’s “White Horse.”

Other album standouts include “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” which draws lyrical parallels to “You’re on Your Own, Kid” and “Clara Bow,” which references the misfortunes of fame previously highlighted in Swift’s “The Lucky One.” 

On The Anthology, the album’s 2 a.m. drop of 15 additional songs, a highlight is “I Look in People’s Windows,” a country-folk tune reminiscent of “betty” or “willow” that makes me want to spin around in a meadow while wearing a white flowy dress and dance in the early morning sun. “Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus” feels adjacent to the low guitar strings of Swift’s “evermore” album and is lit up by a powerful and emotionally delivered bridge. 

Contrasting Swift’s later discographical references, “So High School,” a “Fearless” album-like song full of pop culture references and the highs of new love, demonstrates the heart and ever-lingering presence of a 16-year-old girl with a love for songwriting within Swift. It’s refreshing but reminiscent — a phenomenon that represents Swift’s career all too well.

TTPD is an undeniably authentic and diary-like insight into Swift’s life. However, there is the caveat that 31 songs is an incredibly lengthy album — one that can feel overwhelming to appreciate in its entirety. Still, I only consider this flaw to deduct a half-star rating, as it represents the true freedom Swift now has after leaving Scooter Braun and Big Machine Records to publish all the music she desires. 

Ultimately, when listened to carefully for lyrics and hidden messages, each of the 31 songs pierces the heart a tad differently and points the knife at the enemy (whether that be Joe Alwyn, Matty Healy or Kim Kardashian) from a different angle.

In the album’s Instagram announcement post, Swift wrote that TTPD recounts an era of her life that is now over — “closed and boarded up.”

“Once we have spoken our saddest story, we can be free of it. And then all that’s left behind is the tortured poetry,” Swift wrote

The album achieves just that. It is a vault of heartbreak, betrayal, fear, worry, anxiety, optimism and all the other complicated feelings that rest in Swift’s mind. TTPD puts a bow on the past few years of Swift’s life — years that appear to be her most successful but were perhaps the most heartbreaking on the inside — and elegantly ties together her last 10 eras. 

More importantly, TTPD tells the story not of a billionaire pop sensation, but of a woman in her mid-30s looking back on her lovestruck, heavily scrutinized youth with newfound understanding and vulnerability. That drug of universal understanding is what makes Swift’s album — and her overall songwriting capabilities — so captivating, successful and impactful. 

“Put narcotics into all of my songs / And that’s why you’re still singing along.” Precisely.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Lauren Doherty
Lauren Doherty, Senior News Editor
Lauren Doherty is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences from New Canaan, Conn., studying American studies with a minor in journalism. She is a huge Taylor Swift fan!!! [email protected]

Comments (0)

All The Hoya Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *