There’s no denying Taylor Swift’s lyrical genius with ‘The Tortured Poets Department’

Photo by Beth Garrabrant

If you still doubt the genius that is Taylor Swift, her new album “The Tortured Poets Department” may not be your cup of tea, but for seasoned Swifties — this album is everything.

Swift announced her 11th studio album after winning Album of the Year at the Grammys for her 2022 album, “Midnights”. 

“The Tortured Poets Department” released April 19 and has 16 songs, including two features — “Fortnight” with Post Malone and “Florida!!!” with Florence + The Machine. Each song is a collaboration with Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner — two producers that Swift teams up with regularly on albums.

Swift knows how to get her fans excited about a new era and a new album, and with “The Tortured Poets Department”, Swift went above and beyond with lyric releases like, “Crowd goes wild at her fingertips. Half moonshine. Full eclipse” on April 8 in honor of the eclipse. 

Words were hidden in her already released songs through random capitalized letters — a Swift staple. Capitalized letters were scattered throughout the lyrics and once discovered, would spell out a word. The phrase ended up being “We hereby conduct this post mortem”, which turned out to be lyrics from Swift’s new song, “How Did It End?”

The promotional queen herself also had QR codes painted in different cities around the world, which when scanned, revealed a letter. From Chicago, to Sydney, Australia, Toronto, Canada and even Paris, Swifties around the world came together to decipher Swift’s hidden message. What did the letters spell you ask? “For a fortnight”, which ended up being a line from her song “Fortnight” featuring Post Malone. 

All of this, plus the interactive library pop-up at The Grove in Los Angeles, had fans on the edges of their seats, eager for the clock to strike midnight and the album to release.

Upon my first listen, I have to admit I was underwhelmed. Most songs on “The Tortured Poets Department” sound very similar, which in turn became repetitive. But after allowing the album to sink in more, I am loving what Swift has done on this project.

It’s very clear that this album was made for the fans — not for the charts. None of the songs on the album follow the classic “radio hit” theme, instead, most of the songs are slower with very complex lyrics, so complex, you probably need a dictionary to understand some of her vocabulary.

Allowing yourself to sit with the album, really read the lyrics and digest the content is vital to truly appreciating this album. There are multiple parallels not only to Swift’s real life experiences, but parallels to her other songs as well.

While everyone expected this album to focus on the end of her six year relationship with Joe Alwyn — whom she started dating in 2016 and broke up in early 2023 — the album instead seems to be dedicated to a few different people.

While there are songs that are undoubtedly about Joe Alwyn, like “So Long, London”, there are many songs that seem to focus on her short-lived romance with Matty Healy, lead singer for The 1975, that quickly followed her breakup from Alwyn.

Songs like “But Daddy I love Him”, “The Tortured Poets Department” and “Fresh Out The Slammer” all hint at both their 2023 relationship and their rumored fling in 2014. 

“But Daddy I love Him” is aimed at her fans who were critical when her relationship with Healy was made public in May 2023. Fans were quick to vocalize their disapproval in her new man, mostly due to his very disturbing and controversial behavior throughout the years.

In the song, Swift sings, “And I’m runnin’ with my dress unbuttoned / Screamin’, ‘But, Daddy, I love him’ / I’m havin’ his baby / No, I’m not, but you should see your faces”.

Swift used this song as an opportunity to call her fans out for their cruelty towards the relationship disguised as concern for her, singing, “God save the most judgmental creeps / Who say they want what’s best for me”.

Despite Swift calling out her fans, many still stand by their disapproval of her relationship with Healy, largely due to his public racist and sexist statements, including saying dating Taylor Swift would be “emasculating” in a 2016 interview with Q Magazine.

This isn’t the only song where Swift sends a message to her fans, in “I Can Do It With A Broken Heart”, Swift sings about performing at the Eras Tour post-breakup. This is the only truly upbeat “pop” song on the album, but its lyrics are anything but upbeat. Swift’s lyrics about depression are disguised by synth sounds and cheery vocals.

Leave it to Taylor Swift to have something hidden up her sleeve. Two hours after “The Tortured Poets Department” was released on streaming platforms, Swift announced the release of a second version of the album with 15 additional songs. The second album is titled, “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology”. That’s right — Swift released 31 songs in one night.

The most surprising factor of this album wasn’t its existence, it was Swift’s song “thanK you aIMee”. When you place those capitol letters together, you get a very familiar name: Kim. 

That’s right, Swift wrote a song about her feud with Kim Kardashian that started all the way back in 2009. The lyrics of this song tell you everything you need to know about her feelings toward Kardashian and how everything she did impacted Swift’s career.

Each of these 31 songs hold deep meaning and exquisite storytelling through complex lyricism. Whether she’s singing about Travis Kelce making her feel “So High School”, bidding Joe Alwyn goodbye in “So Long, London” or feeling alone in “The Prophecy”, Swift’s album is a turning point in her music — and it’s working well.

Taylor Swift broke the record for most streamed album in a single day on Spotify with 313 million streams. Without a doubt, Swift has more in store for the world and this record isn’t the first, and surely won’t be the last of her high achievements. 

“The Tortured Poets Department” and “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology” are both available on all streaming platforms, so grab a box of tissues, a dictionary and headphones and tune into Swift’s most poetic album yet.

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