Step into the world of Taylor Swift’s 11th studio album, from Stevie Nicks poetry to Florence + the Machine and Post Malone cameos...

“She was just flying through the clouds when he saw her. She was just making her way to the stars when he lost her.” – these are the last lines of the introductory poem written by the “Rock & Roll mystic poet” Stevie Nicks. Simply titled ‘For T and me…’, the poem serves as the prologue to Taylor Swift’s 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department (aka TTPD). The poem sets the tone for what is her most gut-wrenchingly honest album to date, as she perseveres through an almost unimaginable degree of grief: from heartbreak to fame to friendship.


It’s no secret that Taylor Swift has an uncanny ability to write the most relatable of breakup songs. Rather than chasing current music trends aiming to create the next radio hit, Taylor paints an atmospheric world through her confessional lyricism, and this is especially true on The Tortured Poets Department. The crux of Taylor’s writing is shared in small details: a casual exchange of words, a song played at a frequented pub, intrusive thoughts we relive in our head after a fight. The album’s opening track, ‘Fortnight’ featuring Post Malone, is cleverly dramatic with lyrics like “I love you / it’s ruining my life”. What feels like a part two to Midnights’ bonus track ‘You’re Losing Me’, Taylor comes face to face with that loss over glittery synths in the album’s titular track, ‘The Tortured Poets Department.’


The album’s recurring themes ooze out of every note: love, heartbreak, betrayal and self-deprecation. There are melancholic tales laced throughout mid-tempo synths and pounding drums, like ‘My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys’ and ‘Down Bad’, a trademark on recent albums with Taylor and her friend/frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff. Still, there’s a playfulness in how she handles these stories of heartbreak.

If you’re a true Taylor Swift fan, then you are likely familiar with ‘track five’ lore – she is known for placing each album’s most unguarded track in the 5th spot. TTPD’s track five, ‘So Long, London’, might just be the most painful one yet. She is not only feeling the pain of losing a person, but also a place that she spent the better part of her late 20s and early 30s that she fell in love with too. It’s in this song that Taylor lands her harshest jab – “You swore that you loved me / but where were the clues? / I died on the altar / waiting for the proof / You sacrificed us to the gods of your bluest days”.


Sonically, The Tortured Poets Department plays out like an elevated take on what she accomplished in folklore, but with decidedly personal stories instead of fictional ones. Lyrically, the album features some of Taylor’s darkest lyrics, but the most surprising part of this project is how she weaves in bits of hope and humour. This is showcased in songs like ‘But Daddy, I Love Him’ and ‘Fresh Out The Slammer’ and ‘I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)’, where she really flexes her satirical songwriting skills, breaking the fourth wall. On ‘Florida!!!’ Taylor is joined by the one and only Florence + The Machine as they sing about finding solace in alcohol and escapism, letting their stream-of-consciousness reflections lead the way into an imaginary world of life as a fugitive.


Although not typically a belter, Taylor’s voice strains with emotion in ‘Who’s Afraid Of Little Old Me?’, relishing in her ability to twist the knife in her songwriting with lyrics like “Who’s afraid of little old me? / You should be… / You wouldn’t last an hour in the asylum where they raised me”. ‘loml’ is a stripped back piano track that takes listeners on a journey from love to loss, as Taylor spirals anxieties that plague her every moment. “You shit-talked me under the table / talking rings and talking cradles / I wish I could un-recall / how we almost had it all” she sings, admitting to wanting to bury a relationship.


Taylor has an uncanny ability to write excruciating lyrics overtop a shimmery production. This rings true on ‘I Can Do It with a Broken Heart’. The words lay the rumour to rest that Taylor went through a breakup before she embarked on her record-breaking Eras Tour, singing “All the pieces of me shatter as the crowd was chanting MORE! / I was grinning like I’m winning / I was hitting my marks / ‘cause I can do it with a broken heart”. In ‘The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived’, Taylor is drowning in the residual feelings and tortured thoughts that linger after a breakup.

Named after the 1920s silent film star, the album’s 16th track ‘Clara Bow’ explores themes of appearance and public scrutiny. Clara’s personal and romantic life was speculated so much by critics that it drove her to have a breakdown and check into a sanitarium. Bonus track ‘The Black Dog’ paints a vivid picture of insecurity and self-doubt. She recalls listening to alt-pop band The Starting Line in a London pub that the song title is named after, singing “but she’s too young to know this song / that was intertwined in the tragic fabric of our dreaming”.


TTPD wouldn’t be complete without a poem written by Taylor herself as an epilogue. “Tried wishing on comets / Tried dimming the shine / Tried to orbit his planet / Some Stars Never align”, she explains in the piece, “And so I enter into evidence / My tarnished coat of arms / My muses, acquired like bruises / My talismans and charms / The tick, tick, tick of love bombs / My veins of pitch black ink / All’s fair in love and poetry”.


Arguably, The Tortured Poets Department is Taylor’s most vulnerable tour de force. It’s a collection of emotionally generous stories that explore the collapse of a relationship, covering every stage of grief along the way: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It’s an album that proves more than ever that Taylor cannot be bound to the confines of a single genre. “He never even scratched the surface of me. None of them did”, she writes. If this is true, TTPD is a sturdy and beautiful launching pad for what’s to come from Taylor.

Listen to The Tortured Poets Department now:

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