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The Tortured Poets Department | Review

By Amelia Boag McGlynn

Rating: 4.5/5 

Brett Jordan on Flickr. Licence: CC BY 2.0 DEED

On the 19th of April, Taylor Swift – worldwide star, Time magazine person of the year, and often described as simply “the music industry”– released her 11th studio album, eloquently titled The Tortured Poets Department.

Previously announced at this year’s Grammy awards, swifties, haters (gonna hate, hate, hate) and critics awaited the release date with apprehension and excitement. Originally announced to be a 16-track album, Taylor made sure to keep her fans on their toes with a double album drop two hours after the album’s original set. Taylor, famous for her easter eggs, left a litany of clues sprinkled throughout her social media and public appearances, holding up two fingers and posting a similar emoji to hint at her double release. This doubler managed to keep leaks at bay, as no one can expose an album they don't know exists yet - which has always been an obstacle for Taylor in the run up to new music. Now, Swifties and critics alike have been gifted 31 tracks to decode, unpack and appreciate.

It is widely speculated that, in an unexpected U-turn, Taylor's album refers more to her whirlwind romance with the 1975’s frontman - Matty Healy – than her 2023 breakup with long-term boyfriend Joe Alwyn. For months, it was unclear whether Swift and Healy were truly dating, or just pulling a well- planned publicity stunt to promote both artists’ respective tours. However, The Tortured Poet’s Department seems to have cleared up these rumours, illuminating the reasons for her split with Alwyn and her fling with Healy.

Taylor writes with the passion and fervour that only a tortured poet could muster.

Her relentless flow of ink crafts a vivid collection of prose that illustrates a treacherous journey through the dissolution of a long-term relationship, the loss of a future once envisioned, and the uncertainty of what may lie ahead. Her constant references to marriage and children serve as poignant reminders of the life stage she likely assumed she would be in by now— a common expectation after an almost seven-year romance.

Paolo Villanueva on Flickr. Licence: CC BY 2.0 DEED

However, as fun as it may be to analyse each song for a potential culprit, fans frequently succumb to the temptation of combing through Swift’s lyrics as if they are seeking a paternal identity, attempting to pinpoint a father for each song and determine the man who inspired her writing. This habit represents a critical misunderstanding of Swift's artistry and diminishes her autonomy over her own music. It’s unnecessary to attribute a male muse to each melody; doing so often obscures the true meaning behind her poetry and prevents her music's nuances and depth from being fully appreciated. This narrative falls into a media trap that portrays Taylor as the man-eating, serial monogamist— a stereotype perpetuated by enduring misogyny. The truth is, Taylor is far more insightful than this limited view and is worth much more than the reductive label of songwriting she is often forced into. She writes about her parents' divorce, the sale of her masters, her mother's cancer, the loss of a friend to suicide.

Her music transcends the men who are merely footnotes in the story of her life.

Through her lyrics, Taylor conveys a portrait of someone who has been repeatedly misunderstood and misrepresented. Despite the bravado, there's an undercurrent of vulnerability and defiance—a declaration that while the world has tried to define her, she remains in control of her own narrative. This reveals a Swift who is acutely aware of how public perception has impacted her, yet refuses to be victimised by it, instead turning her trials into a source of strength.

The record, which has already reached 1 billion Spotify streams – and in the fastest ever time – is far from free of the critics. Listeners took to social media to express their dismay at the number of tracks, saying there were too many to get through and they were too wordy to understand. Many devout Swifties even called out the album on X, with many not fully coming round to the album’s persuasion until a few days of listening time had passed.

It’s now widely acknowledged that American Football star Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift are in a relationship. Taylor's subtle references to their budding romance suggest a newfound hopefulness for her future, a sentiment that contrasts with the overarching themes of loss and uncertainty in the rest of her album. This glimmer of optimism offers a comforting prospect for the future of Taylor's happiness. Unlike some fans who speculate wildly, I’d never claim to know exactly how this gifted songwriter truly feels; however, Taylor’s writing is honest and raw, indicating that Kelce may have brought a carefree and public spiritedness to her life that we haven't seen since before the 2016 feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, which catalysed her album Reputation.

iHeartRadioCA, CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Taylor paints the picture of a fun and fresh love affair, filled with high hopes but grounded by past lessons. It’s refreshing and hopeful, depicting a relationship that seems to promise better treatment than the disappointments brought by previous romances.

Whilst her dedication to writing is appreciated, 31 songs is a lot to get through and can appear daunting. For fans who don’t have the easter egg background and updated Swift lore, the songs can lose their true meaning that Swift seems to intend. However, perhaps this album is an ode to the fans - it’s for those who understand her complicated history and convoluted folklore. 

Bar Folklore and Evermore, The Tortured Poets Department is sonically and lyrically Taylor Swift's most impressive album to date. It is here that the sheer volume of raw emotion becomes almost tangible, with the deepest, darkest secrets from her diaries not just whispered but screamed aloud. This album is her magnum opus, weaving together the lyrical prowess of Folklore, the pulsing synths of Midnights, and the raw emotion of Red. In this work, Taylor returns with a bite, signalling to us that this intense era, a brief but profound downward spiral, is now behind her. TTPD is a testament to her enduring strength as an artist, showcasing her ability to evolve and transcend the narratives imposed on her, while inviting listeners to explore the depths of her true artistic expression. 


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