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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: Taylor Swift is back, better and sooner than ever

Released two hours after the original album dropped, Taylor Swift’s “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology,” proves her mastery in lyricism and a complete understanding of her sound.
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Anna Baird-Hassell
“The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology” is the extended version of Taylor Swift’s 11th studio album, released on April 19, 2024 at 2 a.m. (Anna Baird-Hassell for WSN)

Taylor Swift fans dropped everything Thursday night to listen to the newly-released “The Tortured Poets Department,” a compilation of 65 minutes of heartbreak, angst and regret. Before listeners could even get through the album a second time and meticulously analyze its lyrics, Swift surprised fans — who should no longer be surprised by her antics — at 2 a.m. with an additional installment. “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology,” featuring an additional 15 songs, captures Swift’s songwriting at her best, the lyrics highlighted by a minimalistic production that contrasts the original release. 

The extended version opens with “The Black Dog,” and the transformation that occurs within the song is a style Swift does best: a slow, piano melody introduction that increases in tempo and drama as the song progresses. Swift sings, “Old habits die screaming,” as backup vocals merge and swell on the word “screaming” — doing just that. The tempo continues to pick up, with Swift telling her lover “And I hope it’s shitty in The Black Dog / When someone plays ‘The Starting Line’ / And you jump up, but she’s too young to know this song.” On the final “’Cause old habits die screaming,” her voice falters, contrasting the first scream she let out in the beginning. It’s hard not to feel the rage and sorrow that Swift executes in her vocal delivery, complemented by her heartbreaking lyrics that add to the song’s emotional depth.

Swift’s lyrical genius doesn’t end with “The Black Dog,” with metaphors and brutal honesty scattered in every song. In “How Did It End?,” Swift contemplates the ending of her relationship amid whispers and speculations from the public. The beginning of the song is haunting, with “uh-ohs” echoing above piano keys. While Swift is known for her deep-cutting bridges, even the verses here shine. In her smooth lower register, she sings, “We were blind to unforeseen circumstances / We learned thе right steps to different dancеs / And fell victim to interlopers’ glances / Lost the game of chance, what are the chances?” With each line comes a new and brutal way to depict the falling out of a relationship, vivid and beautifully explained. Swift even mimics a nursery rhyme to conclude the bridge, “My beloved ghost and me / Sitting in a tree / D-Y-I-N-G.” It’s remarkable how Swift continues to outdo herself, finding innovative ways to portray heartbreak.

The songs’ lyrics are highlighted by the minimalist production of slow piano keys and repeating guitar riffs, a mark of Aaron Dessner’s production, who dominates the second half of this release. His contribution is noted through similarities to other Swift songs he produced on the album “evermore.” The piano in “Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus” mirrors the riff in “cowboy like me,” and the melody in “Cassandra” sounds just like that of “mad woman.” Whether or not these similarities are intentional, it’s clear that Dessner and Swift have perfected the sound of their collaboration. 

In an album that everyone anticipated for its reflection on relationships, Swift surprised listeners by expanding the scope of her content for the anthology. She sings of betrayal and holding grudges in songs like “Cassandra” and “thanK you aIMee,” and centers herself as the focus in songs like “The Albatross,” “I Hate It Here” and “The Prophecy.” 

Despite what critics may think, her albums do not just scorn ex-lovers, and her vulnerability in “The Prophecy” proves this. “Please / I’ve been on my knees / Change the prophecy / Don’t want money / Just someone who wants my company,” she pleads in the song’s chorus. Swift’s honesty has truly reached new heights on this album, and her maturity allows her to contemplate the end of relationship, while at times spiraling more than reflecting. But that is what makes Swift so relatable for her listeners; each song feels as though it’s written in moments of high emotions and vulnerability. 

Fans of Jack Antonoff’s synth-heavy production that carried the original release may be disappointed with this second half. As a listener, I hoped for a few more upbeat songs that I could dance to. While the simplicity of the production worked in songs like “I Look in People’s Windows,” the repetitive piano chords and monotonous melody in songs like “So High School” lacked an air of excitement. With a melody that feels repetitive and stagnant at times, I would have liked some drama in the production that could push along the song where the melody could not. 

That said, a lot of the songs that are more slow and melancholy usually just take longer for me to fully process and digest. “evermore” was almost entirely produced by Dessner, and it’s one of my favorite of Swift’s albums. More than anything, this change in producers for the anthology makes it so that for the entirety of the 31-track album, there’s a song for everyone.

With every listen of “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology,” I note a lyric I hadn’t noticed before, or a call-back to one of her previous songs that I had yet to connect. That’s the joy of Swift’s songs: there’s so much to discover in every verse and every word. One of my least favorite songs today may very well be my favorite next week — something that would happen during previous albums releases. Eleven albums in, Swift has proved she has lots to say, and the freshness of the lyrics and combinations of sound in this album feels as though she’s just getting started.

Contact Emily Genova at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Emily Genova
Emily Genova, Managing Editor
Emily Genova is a senior studying Media, Culture, and Communication at Steinhardt. She spends her free time reading, obsessing over pop artists, and speed walking around campus. You can find her on Instagram @emilygenova or email her @[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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