New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ is a humanizing and chaotic chronicle of heartbreak

Taylor Swift continues to keep her fans on their toes with an album that peers into her mind as she rises into incomprehensible fame.
Anna-Baird Hassell
The Tortured Poets Department is Taylor Swift’s 11th studio album, released on April 19, 2024. (Anna-Baird Hassell for WSN)

Taylor Swift is a polarizing artist. Aside from her music, many tend to hold very passionate opinions about her life, decisions and music, especially within her relationships. With the April 19 release of “The Tortured Poets Department,” it seems like Swift has realized it is virtually impossible to please everyone, and it’s futile to spend the rest of her life trying to do so.

The album is neither for the fans, nor is it an album made for the Grammy Awards or radio hits. This is an album purely for Swift herself — a cathartic release of diary entries about spiraling anxiety and angry messes of adulthood. Rather than viewing the tracks through the lens of a boyfriend or two, it’s a knotted collection of Swift’s struggles with insanity and incomprehensible fame. The highly-anticipated album is a glimpse into the shielded breakdown of quite possibly the most famous pop star of our time.

The first installment, comprised of 16 songs of dream pop and synth, is a quintessential Swift and Jack Antonoff piece. It combines the electronic instrumentals of “Midnights” with the gut-wrenching lyricism of “folklore,” and at times that combination can fall flat. With such personal storytelling and emotional vocal performances, threading her voice through aggressive reverb is jarring. While it’s definitely not revolutionary from a technical perspective, the deep connection Swift shares with her fans is incredibly prominent throughout — there are hundreds of little details and secrets only longtime fans would know through nuances in her writing. It’s not an album to simply listen to and digest immediately. It gradually builds up to an explosive, emotional finale, and tug at those heart strings when you least expect it.

“So Long, London,” a highly anticipated track by fans, did not disappoint. Swift’s anger and vengeance translates heavenly through her layered vocals as she sings “And I’m pissed off you let me give you all that youth for free / For so long, London / Stitches undone / Two graves, one gun.” And yet, she’s not afraid to take herself less seriously, with sillier lyrics. On “But Daddy I Love Him,” she belts in the chorus, “I’m havin’ his baby / No, I’m not, but you should see your faces.”

Swift’s talents plainly lie in her honesty and narration. The title track compares herself and an unnamed lover to Patti Smith and Dylan Thomas in the Chelsea Hotel, famous for being a rock-star safe haven in the ’80s where great poetry and literature was produced. It’s an elegant and gentle nudge away from the drama that has effectively built the fanbase she has today. Rather than make the self-destructive tortured nature central to her art, she’s trying to bring herself back down to Earth. The lyrics are a bizarre collection of ideas that shouldn’t work — with jarringly juxtaposed lyrics like “You smokеd, then ate seven bars of chocolate / We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist” and “At dinner, you take my ring off my middle finger / And put it on the one people put wedding rings on / And that’s the closest I’ve come to my heart exploding.”

Marriage and loss are major contributors to the story throughout “The Tortured Poets Department.” It almost feels as if the extra track from “Midnights,” “You’re Losing Me,” was meant to be in the album. It fits perfectly into the suicidal ideation and self-loathing that Swift is grappling with under thinly veiled quips about golden retrievers and fake impressionist paintings. It’s impossible to listen to tracks like “loml” without empathy rising up inside you in time with the building piano instrumentals, until she ends quietly on “Your arson’s match, your somber eyes / And I’ll still see it until I die / You’re the loss of my life.”

The catchiest song, and arguably one of the saddest, is “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart.” The chorus holds hilarious lyrics like “I cry a lot, but I am so productive, it’s an art,” where the fast beats sound nearly identical to her in-ear track from the Eras tour. But the pre-chorus, “Breaking down, I hit the floor / All the pieces of me shattered as the crowd was chanting, “More” / I was grinnin’ like I’m winnin’ / I was hittin’ my marks / ‘Cause I can do it with a broken heart,” is a sobering look into her perspective of on tour. Swift allows audiences a glimpse of this deep depression during tour shows where fans were unknowingly cheering her on while she struggled with the pain of a breakup — what was the best day of some fans’ lives was really some of her worst.

“The Tortured Poets Department” is a humanizing project for such a pop culture icon. It is Swift taking herself less seriously than she has, and simultaneously the most vulnerable. She leans into the tortured poet persona, and then makes fun of it. She’s crawled her way back from the depths of heartbreak, piece by piece, and won’t be taking any sliver of happiness for granted.

Contact Julia Diorio at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Julia Diorio
Julia Diorio, Music Editor
Julia Diorio is a sophomore studying journalism at CAS. When not reminiscing about 2000s pop-punk music, she can normally be found drinking copious amounts of Dunkin' iced coffee, curating hyper-specific Spotify playlists or struggling with the NYT crossword. Find her variations of all-black outfits and dog pictures on Instagram @juliadiorio_. Send song suggestions to [email protected].
Anna-Baird Hassell
Anna-Baird Hassell, Copy Chief
Anna Baird-Hassell is a junior studying Sociology with a minor in Irish Studies. She is an at-home barista fond of hugs, meditation, speaking her limited Irish Gaelic and reviewing films on Letterboxd @abairdhassell. You can also find her on Instagram @annabairdhassell or email her at [email protected].

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