The Tortured Poets Department might have some flops, but it’s Taylor Swift at her most vulnerable

By Abby Amoakuh

Updated May 2, 2024 at 11:18 PM

Reading time: 6 minutes

An age-old saying, dating back to the dark ages of 2006, taught us that ‘nothing good happens after 2 am’. And it seems like this might just be true because, after many “sleepless [mid]nights” that led to the titular album, Taylor Swift appears to have stayed up a little longer to compose its sonically akin successor The Tortured Poets Department. But according to some critics, the artist should have just hit the hay instead of the studio because her latest release has been deemed as incoherent, tired, and in desperate need of an editor. Ouch. To uncover what exactly is making her latest drop so controversial, I took out my detective head and monocle to investigate. Here are the results, peeps:

On my first listen, I flew through the first five songs: ‘Fortnight’, ‘The Tortured Poets Department’, ‘My Boy Only Breaks His Favourite Toys’, ‘Down Bad’, and ‘So Long, London’. There are no awkward transitions as the tracks easily blend into each other and tell the story of a broken heart. The beginning of this album definitely gave me the impression that our lyrical mastermind is back, soulfully illustrating the loss of a love she previously described as “golden” on the ‘Daylight’ track in her 2019 album Lover.

@laureno1ivia

the tortured poets department has officially ended us @Taylor Swift @Taylor Nation #taylorswift #ttpd #thetorturedpoetsdepartment #solonglondon

♬ original sound - lauren

‘So Long, London’ contains some of Swift’s best songwriting to this date, even toppling Lover’s ‘The Archer’. It’s a self-reference to her older hit ‘London Boy’, which detailed her adventurous romance with British actor Joe Alwyn. One specific line that really resonated with me was: “And you say I abandoned the ship but I was going down with it, my white-knuckle dying grip, holding tight to your quiet resentment. And my friends said it isn’t right to be scared, every day of a love affair, every breath feels like rarest air when you’re not sure if he wants to be there.”

@pingslife_

😭 #taylorswift #songlonglondon #joealwyn #thetorturedpoetsdepartment

♬ So Long, London - Taylor Swift

Also, shout out to the lines: “You swore that you loved me, but where were the clues? I died on the altar waitin’ for the proof, you sacrificed us to the gods of your bluest days.” These words are beautiful and moving beyond explanation. This is the poetry we were promised, folks.​​

Now, there are a couple of hiccups in the album. For example, there’s the controversial line: “You smokеd, then ate seven bars of chocolate, we declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist” from the album’s eponymous track. But, overall, it’s a solid introduction that serves as a great sonic and thematic transition from Midnights’ world of bittersweet melancholy, haunted self-reflection, and carefree daydreaming. In The Tortured Poets Department, we’re transferred to a world of anxiety, self-inflicted horror, resentment and rebirth.

Swift’s most precious collaborator Jack Antonoff is Jack-Antonoffing on the production side, showing us that he didn’t wear himself out with the artist’s last album. Whenever Antonoff is missing, Aaron Dessner is right there to pick up the slack, and the artist herself is elegantly converting pain into lyrics in five songs that seem to be the vital spinal cord of the album.

After we move on from ‘So Long, London’ we approach the epicentre of the album and just like the point above an earthquake, it gets shocking, chaotic, and intense here. So, saddle up, peeps.

The phrase “I’m having his baby, no I’m not but you should see your faces,” in ‘But Daddy I love Him’ has led to more than just a little turmoil online. In her classic way, Swift appears to be breaking the fourth wall to her listeners in what must have led to many laughs. Matty Healy, we know your ears must be burning.

@allison.isabellee

this & “sitting in a tree d y i n g” will forever be funny to me #fyp #fy #swiftie #swifttok #ttpd #tsttpd #torturedpoetsdepartment #taylorswift #butdaddyilovehim #taylorswiftreaction @Taylor Swift @Taylor Nation @kayla

♬ original sound - allison (taylor’s version)🦋

This song revisits Swift’s country roots and offers a sharp rebuke to some of her cruellest and most unproductive critics: “the wine moms” and “Sarahs and Hannahs in their Sunday best” who love to tear apart her private life. Yet, it also feels like a draft song that is somehow out of place in the album, feeling unnecessarily snarky and unhinged. The lines: “I’d rather burn my whole life down than listen to one more second of all this bitchin’ and moanin” made me wonder if I was actually listening to a Taylor Swift song…

The next standout track is ‘Florida’, which sees Swift riding on another high again. The song makes you marvel at her uncanny ability to make us long for a location that is colloquially referred to as America’s trash can. No seriously, Florida?! Florida?! Interestingly, Swift explained to iHeartRadio that the Sunshine State is known as a place where people “reinvent themselves” after committing a crime, for instance.

The location is especially symbolic because Tampa, Florida was actually the location of Swift’s first performance during her Eras Tour after her split from Alwyn (who she was with for six years) was announced. So, this song is basically about starting fresh after heartbreak. But Florida? I still can’t get over it. Despite my personal dislike for the place that Mar-A-Lago is located in, this is a dynamic and catchy track. Leave it to her duet partner Florence & The Machine to bring some spirit and vibrance into this emotionally dark album. Respect.

On the album’s extended version, The Tortured Poet’s Department: The Anthology, the turmoil reaches seismic levels.

For songs like ‘The Prophecy’, ‘Cassandra’, and ‘The Peter’ the songwriting could be described as a stream of consciousness with lots of raw and unedited thoughts. It works but with better and more concise results on some songs than on others.

With the infamous track ‘So High School’ this method descends completely into chaos with the now infamous lines: “Truth, dare, spin bottles, you know how to ball, I know Aristotle. Brand-new, full throttle, touch me while your bros play Grand Theft Auto.” In this track, Taylor Swift says that her new love makes her feel like it’s high school again… and I’m struggling to see how that’s a compliment.

Not sure about you, but spin the bottle permanently scarred me and Truth or Dare will always be remembered by me as a game mean girls and sleazy guys utilised to take advantage of others.

Also, “Touch me while your bros play Grand Theft Auto”—a notoriously misogynistic game? Tay Tay, what were you thinking?

This line sticks out uncomfortably because it depicts the type of immature and hyper-masculine environment Swift is usually more critical of. And worst of all, this song is stuck in my head now. Unbelievable.

And while we’re on the topic of lyrics that shouldn’t have made the final cut, ‘I Hate It Here’ features the lines: “My friends used to play a game where 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. Everyone would look down ‘cause it wasn’t fun now. Seems like it was never even fun back then.” Not sure where that was supposed to go, but in my opinion, not on the album.

Now, before we get too depressed, let’s visit two more of The Tortured Poets Department’s highs.

‘Who’s Afraid Of Little Old Me’ revives the high drama of Reputation and falls in the footsteps of ‘Mad Woman’, ‘Antihero’, and ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. Swift is the antagonist and “monster on the hill” again, as she lays out the many riveting and decimating tales the public spins about her.

“I wanna snarl and show you just how disturbed this has made me. You wouldn’t last an hour in the asylum where they raised me. So all you kids can sneak into my house with all the cobwebs. I’m always drunk on my own tears, isn’t that what they all said? That I’ll sue you if you step on my lawn. That I’m fearsome, and I’m wretched, and I’m wrong. Put narcotics into all of my songs, and that’s why you’re still singin’ along” is lyrical sorcery and what well-channelled anger looks like. I salute you Miss Swift, spot on.

And now, to wrap this review up: ‘I Can Do It With a Broken Heart’. This anthem is definitely Swift’s way of proving that she is a Gen Z icon because she managed to write a song that is absolutely, undeniably, proudly and loudly delulu.

@shims.9

"I can do it with a broken heart" 🥲🥺 #fyp #foryou #taylorswift #taylorswiftedit #ttpd #thetorturedpoetsdepartment #trending #viral #velocity

♬ original sound - shims - shims

In what should have been the album’s lead single, Swift describes how she hid her depression and heartbreak under a facade of cheerfulness and functionality for months, performing sold-out concerts while recovering from the worst breakup of her life.

The actual lyrics of this song are quite sad, but Swift contrasts them against an upbeat melody and laughs while calmly saying: “I’m miserable (Haha) And nobody even knows.” At the end of the song, the singer even dryly challenges us, the listeners, to “try and come for my job,” knowing full well that we could never lead a billion-dollar grossing world tour while simultaneously dying inside. Arrogance? She doesn’t care. Truth? Absolutely, and that’s why we love it.

@djrog1998

I Can Do It With A Broken Heart live from Perth, Australia one week after TTPD’s release. I am BEYOND impressed of the passionate Perth Swifties for memorising ALL THESE NEW LYRICS and having the best energy 🤩🤍 @Superficial Party @Taylor Nation @Taylor Swift #icandoitwithabrokenheart #thetorturedpoetsdepartment #ttpd #dj #djrog #swiftie #danceparty #taylorswift #albumreleaseparty #albumrelease #taylornation #djrog1998 #djrog

♬ original sound - DJ Rog 🎧

Overall, The Tortured Poets Department is Swift’s rawest and most personal album to date. It’s just not her best.

Some critics went so far as to dismiss the album with all its references to “cosmetic love” and a wedding that never came to fruition as desperate, starry-eyed, and immature. Spencer Kornhaber from The Atlantic even implied that the singer needs to come to the realisation that worshipping romantic partners and an enduring belief in fairytale romances will lead her nowhere. Ouch.

However, these reviews only reflect something that Miss Swift has always bemoaned about her critics: their tendency to belittle the global sensation and portray her as a love-sick teenager. Sure, some parts of the album feel like they were written in the middle of a night that saw the singer wandering off to some of the darkest, most incohesive corners of her mind. Some lines were definitely better left out.

But, Swift, above all, is a poet and fairytales and dramatic storytelling are vital to her art. From the terror, horror, and melodrama of ‘Who’s Afraid Of Little Old Me’, to the Beauty and the Beast references in ‘Clara Bow’, or the whimsical world of her older hits ‘the last great american dynasty’, ‘Love Story’ and ‘Today Was A Fairytale’, the core of her character and essence of her artistry have never been as clear as they are now.

By weaving elements of fantasy together with cold, harsh reality, Swift embraces the full spectrum of human experience. 

Maybe it’s these awkward but endearing clashes between the mature and immature, or loving and resentful, which lead to so much rawness and imperfection that make this album so compelling, despite a couple of hiccups. Anyways, if I had to rate The Tortured Poets Department, I’d give it a solid four out of five stars.

Keep On Reading

By Charlie Sawyer

Explaining Swiftonomics: Why NFL stans need to be thanking Taylor Swift big time

By Mason Berlinka

Taylor Swift teases Ice Spice collab only months after rumoured boyfriend Matty Healy insulted her

By Alma Fabiani

Taylor Swift was denied a part in ‘Twilight: New Moon’ because she would’ve been ‘too distracting’

By Charlie Sawyer

What is Christian nationalism? The alt-right inspired movement dominating US politics

By Charlie Sawyer

Vampire facials at unlicensed New Mexico spa have infected three women with HIV

By Fleurine Tideman

Is BeReal dead? We asked two social media experts and the app’s COO to find out

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Shocking last words of young vape addict before he went into coma

By Alma Fabiani

Watch terrifying moment waterslide explodes into huge fireball at theme park

By Abby Amoakuh

Trump to face trial in hush money case, as Fani Willis defends romantic relationship in Georgia case 

By Charlie Sawyer

JoJo Siwa fans shocked to discover performer’s mother started bleaching her hair when she was 2 years old

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

What is the viral red nail theory and does it actually work?

By Abby Amoakuh

As cities wage a war on wee, the UK public toilet crisis intensifies

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Move aside Tube Girl, Mumbai’s Train Girl Seema Kanojiya is here to slay

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Taiwan political stunt backfires as 3 hospitalised after eating free laundry pods distributed in campaign

By Charlie Sawyer

Piers Morgan responds to Shakira’s claim that the Barbie movie is emasculating

By Jack Ramage

Who is Estee Williams? Meet the Gen Z tradwife taking TikTok by storm

By Abby Amoakuh

Drake calls for release of Tory Lanez, proving once more that he’s a rapper for the manosphere

By Abby Amoakuh

We spoke to two anti-abortion advocates to test them on their feminism

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Natalia Grace launches GoFundMe following explosive docuseries revealing her true age

By Abby Amoakuh

Ice Spice fans hit back at online trolls following no-makeup selfie hate