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The Bulldog Tribune

The student news site of Stone Bridge High School

The Bulldog Tribune

The student news site of Stone Bridge High School

The Bulldog Tribune

Heartbreak’s the Word: “The Tortured Poets Department” Album Review

Heartbreak’s the Word: The Tortured Poets Department Album Review

Eager fans met Taylor Swift at midnight on April 19 to immerse themselves in “The Tortured Poets Department,” Swift’s latest musical venture. Following the originally announced 16-track record, Swift surprised fans with a second 15-track record titled “The Anthology” at 2:00.M. the same day. The 31-track record reads like a diary, inviting listeners to look into Swift’s gritty personal life, where she uses lush lyricism to expose her flaws, poor choices, and life-ruining heartbreaks. 

This record, which Swift crafted with collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, feels like a culmination of the best elements from Swift’s past works. The lyricism reads like the acclaimed “folklore” and “evermore,” on which she worked with both Antonoff and Dessner, with hints of the “Fearless” narrator all grown up. Despite a few embellishments of synthesizers and drums, the large guitar and bass influence on the record strips the project back down to Swift’s roots: just a girl and her guitar.

Swift calls back to many topics covered in her past albums, with both direct and indirect references. “The Tortured Poets Department” has many themes, but the three most prominent  loom present: weathering bad lovers, moving on from heartbreak, and navigating Swift’s complex relationship with the public. 

Swift explores her toxic pas relationships in all forms in the record’s title track, “Fortnight” and “imgonnagetyouback.” 

“The Tortured Poets Department,” the record’s title track about The 1975’s frontman Matty Healy, details a tumultuous relationship that is doomed to fail, with references to other “tortured” artists like 1970s punk rocker Patti Smith and 20th century poet Dylan Thomas. The record’s opening track, “Fortnight,” features singer Post Malone and explores a fictional relationship in which the narrators find their relationship difficult (near impossible) to pursue. Don’t be fooled by the song’s fictional complex relationship–the emotions are still real. A lyric in the song’s chorus “I love you, it’s ruining my life” is especially relevant to the album’s theme of bad relationships. 

“imgonnagetyouback” explores a different kind of bad relationship–this time with Swift being the negative influence. In the song, Swift says, “Whether I’m gonna be your wife or / Gonna smash up your bike, I haven’t decided yet / But I’m gonna get you back.” Swift teeters on the line of wanting to be back with or get back at the person of her desire, showing the way that bad relationships affect her otherwise-steady judgment. 

Moving on remains a theme in every Swift record, and “The Tortured Poet’s Department” is no different. Amongst songs about rage, bitterness, and melancholy, Swift interweaves tracks like “The Alchemy,” “So Long, London,” and “thanK you aIMee” about moving on from painful situations. 

“The Alchemy,” presumably about Travis Kelce due to all of its football references, shows Swift entering into a relationship she is hopeful of and content within. “So Long, London,” the album’s fifth track, meets the high standards set for it by those that came before it. The fifth track on a Swift record is notoriously the saddest, most revealing track on the album, with past examples including “All Too Well,” “White Horse,” and “Dear John.” “So Long, London” is a standout from the album, showing Swift’s reluctance to let “London”–both the city and the person it represents–go. “thanK you aIMee,” stylized in a way to lead listeners to assume it to be about Kim Kardashian, follows as Swift goes through multiple stages of anger, starting with rage and hate, and ending with thanks. In the song, Swift acknowledges how, without “Aimee” and her actions against Swift, she would not have been able to get to the point she has within her art and personal life. 

Another theme Swift has dealt with in her verses since she first reached high levels of celebrity has been her difficulty with reconciling the public nature of her life. Standout songs that represent this theme are “I Can Do It With A Broken Heart,” “But Daddy I Love Him,” and “Clara Bow,” which demonstrate Swift’s ongoing complex relationship with meeting the impossible standards set for her in the public eye. 

Perhaps one of the album’s most surprisingly sad songs is “I Can Do It With A Broken Heart.” The song contrasts its frankly depressing lyrics with a hyperpop beat. In it, Swift explains how the crowd demands “more” of her, and she puts on a happy face and gives it to them. The song reveals the mindset Swift was in during early stages of “The Eras Tour,” which directly followed a breakup with her boyfriend of six years, Joe Alwyn. “But Daddy I Love Him,” another song penned about Matty Healy, discusses how Swift feels about her fans feeling entitled to share their opinions about her romantic choices. This comes after many fans were unsupportive of her relationship with Healy due to his previous controversial comments and actions. The song is Swift’s way of telling people to stop feeling entitled to share their opinions about her life, to let her make decisions and see the consequences of her actions on her own, whatever that may entail. 

“The Tortured Poets Department” isn’t a life lesson for its listeners: it’s purely a personal, retrospective examination of all the ways heartbreak can manifest itself.

“Clara Bow,” the closing track on the original 16-track album, is reminiscent of “The Lucky One” from Swift’s record “Red.” The song covers muses like titular Clara Bow, a silent film star, to 1970s rockstar Stevie Nicks, from acclaimed band “Fleetwood Mac” and subsequent solo stardom, before settling on Swift herself in the song’s closing, stating “You look like Taylor Swift in this light, we’re loving it.” The song serves as a message on how damaging it is for young female artists to be constantly picked apart by the public, viewed as replaceable, and compared to their peers, something Swift has experienced her entire career.

“The Tortured Poets Department” isn’t a life lesson for its listeners: it’s purely a personal, retrospective examination of all the ways heartbreak can manifest itself. The album is Swift’s own journey through the loss, grief, and rejuvenation that she knows all too well and is always sifting her way through. Listeners shouldn’t take this album as words of advice, they should just take it for what it is: a way for Swift to show that she is a messy person, makes mistakes, and needed to get the heavy burden and fluctuation of heartbreak, euphoria, and rebellion off of her chest to a captive audience.


About the Contributor
Maddie Willinger
Maddie Willinger, Staff Writer
Maddie Willinger is a senior, and a first year at the "Bulldog Tribune". She is an officer in Girl Up, EdRising, SBHS’s chapter of The Launch Project, and a Cappies Critic. Maddie loves to keep up with pop culture, and can be found reading Taylor Jenkins Reid books, watching new movies to log on her Letterboxd, or listening to Taylor Swift way too often.