Music Reviews

With ‘The Tortured Poets Department,’ Taylor Swift offers love, intimacy and wisdom

Image from Taylor Swift's official Facebook page.

Portland, Oregon, U.S.A – Taylor Swift’s new release, The Tortured Poets Department, incisively tells the story of heartbreak with razor-sharp lyrics, experimental production, and a deeply emotional storyline.

The album opens with a collaboration with Post Malone aptly named “Fortnight.”

The song tells a story of a two-week relationship, filled with both love and deep retrospection for Swift. The chorus explodes with “I love you, it’s ruining my life.”

Throughout the song, stripped-down acoustics amplify the hidden darkness hiding between bright synths and cheerful drums.

The track “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys” slowly strips away the cheerful exterior present in “Fortnight” and “The Tortured Poets Department” with a growing chorus of instruments. 

“Stop trying to make him laugh, stop trying to make him drill the safe,” Swift reassures herself on the song “So Long, London,” weaving a story of a physically and emotionally abusive relationship.

Swift’s desperation grows as she grapples with her own feelings of guilt and the sense she can “fix” her lover. But with Swift’s careful songwriting, simplistic phrases gain more impact with each repeated listen. 

The album reaches its emotional crescendo with the song, “Guilty as Sin?” as Swift weaves in religious references with her own guilt surrounded around her own wants as her relationship falls apart. 

The storyline remains a strong thread within the album, creating the emotions within the stages of grief. With the chronological nature of the songs, Swift creates a strong narrative storyline within her album.

Painful lyrics evolve into ones with a deep sense of internal peace. 

Swift also pushes the pop genre to its limit with the minimalistic combination of harmonies, a  synthesizer and a piano. 

“I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)” is backed by a dissonant guitar reflective of alternative shoegaze music and Swift’s harmonies, highlighting Swift’s ability to transcend multiple genres and transform them to fit her style.

The songwriter embraces this transformation with common phrases transformed into the climax of a chorus, returning to the intimate songwriting and narratives present in her magnum opus, Folklore.

Surprisingly, Swift pulls away from using her guitar to embrace the magnetic aspects of the synthesizer. 

My favorite song off the album is the album closer, “Clara Bow.” The song remains simultaneously comforting and a source of wisdom as Swift tells the story of Clara Bow.

Yet The Tortured Poets Department has some flaws.

The album can feel slow and dreary. The emotional impact of songs are lost when listened to outside of the context of the album, most glaringly, “Guilty as Sin?”

Some sounds present in the album fail to fit the sonic palette, such as “Florida!!!” with Florence + the Machine. With a sound more similar to Swift’s reputation, the track sounds disjointed despite its strong lyrical content.  

Still, The Tortured Poets Department is a pop masterpiece that will last the test of time.  

“You’re not Dylan Thomas, I’m not Patty Smith.” Swift says in the song “Fortnight.”

But Swift doesn’t need to be. She is a tortured poet, after all. And one for the history books.

Dana Kim is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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