Taylor Swift’s “The Tortured Poets Department”: A deep dive into heartbreak & healing

"The opening track “Fortnight” immediately sets the mood, as Swift calmly states “I love you, it’s ruining my life.” For her, TTPD is an eloquent tale of her experience navigating the stages of grief. " - Photo via Maryela Gallardo.

Familiarly, Taylor Swift once again took the world by storm with the release of her 11th studio album “The Tortured Poets Department (TTPD)” on April 19 at midnight. As a surprise, she also dropped a second-half extension of the album at 2 a.m., deemed “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology.”

The opening track “Fortnight” immediately sets the mood, as Swift calmly states “I love you, it’s ruining my life.” For her, TTPD is an eloquent tale of her experience navigating the stages of grief. In 31 songs, she takes listeners through the emotional rollercoasters of her past relationships and the birth of new beginnings.

Since Swift announced TTPD during her speech for winning Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2024 Grammys, many began speculating that the unreleased album would be about ex-boyfriend, Joe Alwyn. The news of the two splitting after six years together came out in April of last year, just a few weeks after Swift’s highly popular Eras Tour kicked off in Glendale, Arizona. She discusses dealing with heartbreak from Alwyn and her breakup behind the scenes while dazzling sold-out stadiums across the country in the song “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart”. 

This album has multiple hints of the British actor littered throughout. In the track “So Long, London”, Swift says goodbye to the place Alwyn and her once lived. In “loml”, she creates a twisted play on the popular abbreviation, changing it from love to “loss of my life.” The title of the album itself is also a jab to Alwyn, as he revealed in an interview he is in a WhatsApp group chat with friends called the “Tortured Man Club”. 

There’s even a few nods at The 1975’s Matty Healy, a man Swift had a brief fling with after her split from Alwyn. From the “Jehovah’s Witness suit” line in “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” to the title track “The Tortured Poets Department” asking the question, “Who uses typewriters anyway?”, a nod to a GQ interview in which Healy said he loves writing on typewriters. It’s clear Healy made enough of an impact to get a mention on this album.

Swifties also get treated to two songs about her current boyfriend Travis Kelce as there are references to him in “The Alchemy” and “So High School”.

Doing what she does best, Swift inserts her witty symbolism and elegant prose into her songwriting, painting an eloquent picture of the road to her healing journey. While TTPD highlights everything good about Swift’s music, it also has its fair share of missed marks.

Swift’s lyricism is some of the best in the industry. She works best when her complex vernacular, deep symbolism, and thought-provoking phrases are at the forefront of her music. TTPD certainly has those moments, but it notably also has many moments that are, dare I say, cringe.

The drastic difference between “…sanctimoniously performing soliloquies I’ll never see…” to “…you know ball, I know Aristotle…” on the same album is jarring. Yes, all songs can have their aesthetics, but the album itself also needs consistency–something TTPD lacks. Swift is better than putting lazy phrases in her songs and writing lines like “…we would pick a decade we wished we could live in instead of this/I’d say the 1830s but without all the racists and getting married off for the highest bid.” I mean seriously, talk about a lyrical letdown.

With both halves of the album combined for a total of 31 songs, TTPD is one of the longer of Swift’s albums at just over a two-hour runtime. With a tracklist that long, it’s important that each song has individuality and can stand apart from the rest, something TTPD doesn’t accomplish. Especially towards the middle, the listening experience gets grouped into one jumbled mass of similar melodies, bland lyrics, and indistinguishable shifts. 

The production choices on TTPD tracks also raise some concerns. Swift’s longtime producer Jack Antonoff is a lover of synth-pop, a style that prefers technology to typical instruments. It’s a common practice for him as he uses synth-pop with his other partners including Lana Del Rey and his band Bleachers. 

Synth-pop isn’t bad by nature, but too much of it can become annoying and corny. This phenomenon is no more present than in TTPD, as I found myself struggling to listen or hear a certain beat and saying “Why?”

With a generational talent like Swift, there’s no need to add unnecessary techno beats over her beautiful lyrics and powerful voice. Her work shines best when she’s accompanied by traditional instruments like the piano, a style that producer and musician Aaron Dessner used on his handful of TTPD songs. I must say, the songs Dessner produced on the album outshined Antonoff’s by a long shot because he didn’t try too hard to sound quirky, he just highlighted the beauty of simplicity.

TTPD was a breath of fresh air, allowing Swift to lift the weight of her previous relationships off her shoulders and transcribe the raw emotions of her road to self-discovery after heartbreak into lyrical form. While it might not be the strongest showing in her stellar discography, TTPD’s holistic meaning to the artist herself trumps any opinions one may have of the album’s ranking.

Now relieved of her past stressors, Swift can finally share her story with her fans while simultaneously moving on to the next chapter of her life, with her past experiences merely existing now as tortured poetry.

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