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The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Album Review: ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ spins anger into dynamic vulnerability

Taylor Swift’s “The Tortured Poets Department” and its anthology features 31 new songs from the singer-songwriter. (Photo courtesy of The New York Times)

On her latest release, “The Tortured Poets Department,” Taylor Swift works to make sense of falling in and out of love all while experiencing the highest — and most public — point in her career. With her 11th original album, Swift blends the best of her recent work to produce a lyrically and sonically strong project.

Scattered with references to both murder and marriage, this album exists in a place of extreme emotional weight. She uses this imagery both as a reference to the death of a relationship and to a loss of self. Her death is described as something that is happening to her — “I leap from the gallows” and “Were you sent by someone who wanted me dead” — in a similar vein as the prospect of marriage is out of her control in lines such as “you take my ring off my middle finger/And put it on the one people put wedding rings on.”

These themes come to a head on track five, “So Long, London,” where Swift sings “And I’m pissed off you let me give you all that youth for free.” Her assertion of not only her imagined future with this person being taken from her but also her irreplaceable time becomes a central idea throughout the album. She does not miss the person as much as she misses the years wasted. While there are a few “angry” songs on the album, this line is perhaps her most powerful display of frustration.

My favorite song on the album is “loml.” She sings “Dancing phantoms on the terrace/Are they second-hand embarrassed/That I can’t get out of bed?/’Cause something counterfeit’s dead” over a steady musical arrangement, creating a devastating “matter-of-fact” tone as she details the end of a long-term relationship. The simplicity of the piano and vocals reminded me of “Sweet Nothing” on “Midnights” in a tragically full circle moment.

“loml” is followed by “I Can Do It With A Broken Heart,” an upbeat synth-pop song. The utilization of the audio Swift hears in her ears while performing her Eras Tour set on this track offers an added layer — the experience detailed is both relatable in its lyrics (“I cry a lot, but I am so productive”) and entirely unattainable in its production as Swift is uniquely situated as one of the most on-display celebrities.

While the mood change from “loml” to “I Can Do It With A Broken Heart” to the next track, “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived,” is stark, it is my favorite progression on the album and encapsulates the oscillating of her emotions post-break-up.

On the album’s closer “Clara Bow,” Swift peels the curtain back once more on her star status. The beautiful lyrical progression obtained as Swift says the expectation for women in the entertainment industry to out-compete one another pays off momentarily in the bridge as she sings, “Beauty is a beast that roars down on all fours … it’s hell on earth to be heavenly,” before jumping right back into quoted criticism disguised as praise.

“Clara Bow” would have been the perfect place for this album to land, but Swift had more in store for listeners on release night.

Just two hours after the album’s midnight release, Swift released a surprise additional 15 songs, collectively called “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology.” While the original album features more collaborations with producer Jack Antonoff, the anthology is dominated by Aaron Dessner — a win for fans of “folklore” and “evermore.”

Most of my favorites from the release come from this unanticipated second half, including “The Albatross,” “The Black Dog” and “How Did It End?” The musical build on these songs mixed with the same flowery (and somewhat dark) language of her 2020 albums give these tracks a more introspective, slower sound that I personally love.

A deviation from the, admittedly, pretentious title, “The Tortured Poets Department” achieves the familiar relatability of a Taylor Swift album while not feeling repetitive of previous work. The album has been out for a few days, and I still feel as though I am discovering something new on every listen.

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About the Contributor
Isabella Gaglione
Isabella Gaglione, Culture Editor
Isabella Gaglione (she/her) is a junior English and Film & Media Studies double major from Long Island, New York. The Lafayette's resident Taylor Swift Reporter. 

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