Taylor Swift – The Tortured Poets Department

The ultimate Millennial girl memoir...

Blithely announced during her 13th Grammy win acceptance speech, ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ marks Taylor Swift’s 11th studio album. Per Taylor, it’s been in the works for “the last couple of years,” meaning most of the work had to have been done while on the road of her stratospheric ‘Eras’ world tour. Some productivity.

At 34, that she can pull off a three-hour-long stadium show in every corner of the globe with attendees of every age certainly indicates an enduring work ethic. And while much has been made of her creating a full LP on the biggest tour of her career to date, it’s easy to see now why it came naturally. After listening, the verdict is: Taylor Swift has been Going Through It.

Conceptualised by the five stages of grief, this is an album that encapsulates heartbreak; the disappointment, the disbelief, the laborious start-all-over-again-ness of it. More than that, it is (potentially) an autopsy of (presumably) one of Swift’s longest, most formative relationships and (maybe) the brief situationship that followed it. Suitably, the prose is gutting and journeys darker than before, with ‘Down Bad’ a particular highlight—or lowlight? Elsewhere, unrestrained bitterness artfully delivers on ‘The Smallest Man That Ever Lived.’ Of course, only Taylor Swift truly knows how autobiographical her lyrics are, though she is known to write with cryptic accuracy. In any case, through spookily relatable storytelling sensibility, she lays out the ultimate millennial girl memoir; a dissection of getting ghosted, gaslit, and going no-contact (as well as a front-row view of the countless meltdowns it takes before getting over any of it).

With such a vast discography, it’s a wonder Taylor has new sounds left to try. Still, she finds unchartered sonic ground to tread, particularly on The 1975-esque title track ‘The Tortured Poets Department,’ and ‘Fortnight,’ her collaboration with Post Malone. Here, emotive 1980s power-balladry reminiscent of Roxette, Cutting Crew, even Phil Collins is cooked up with trusty sous-chef, Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff, whose quintessential synth-pop production tinges with nostalgia. Taylor also reunites with The National’s Aaron Dessner, a key collaborator on predecessor albums ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore.’ Echoes of those pivotal lockdown albums shine on ‘But Daddy I Love Him,’ a track where Swift’s country roots unexpectedly peak through. 

Should you have stumbled into ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ seeking wall-to-wall catchiness or the bubblegum pop of Swift’s bygone ‘1989’ era, you might find this is not the department for you. This work is heavier, an ode to failed relationships; the loss of all perspective, the what-ifs, the resentment, the fear of calling it. Even if embellished, it feels like this is the realest we’ve seen Taylor Swift. Admittedly, it’s also comforting to imagine a world in which she cries in the gym and chases toxic suitors, even follows her ex-boyfriend’s location (depicted on bonus track ‘The Black Dog’ – one can only empathise with the namesake London boozer, whose social media pages will undoubtedly never be the same after the call-out).

Towards the end of the album, tracks threaten to meld into each other, making for one big visceral haze of love-lamenting. But beat seekers should find their bag on dynamic tracks like ‘Florida!!!’, a thumping, bewitching collaboration with Florence + The Machine, ‘Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?,’ and triumphantly-erupting, more optimistic ‘I Can Do It With A Broken Heart.’ 

Though haunted by the phantoms of what could’ve been, Taylor’s most cathartic release to have created is her most cathartic to listen to; a spell-binding, toxic, chaotic illustration of what floating adrift and losing yourself looks like. Buckle up for a longer album, though Swift’s knack for crafting intricate storylines should captivate enough to see you through.

8/10

Words: Lauren Webb

Related: Taylor Swift – Her 15 Best Songs

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