Review: ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ Is Swift at Her Most Grown Up, Mature Sound

Taylor Swift has done it again. “The Tortured Poets Department,” was originally supposed to be one album and in typical Swift fashion, she dropped a double “anthology” with 31 songs. While 2022’s “Midnights” was for younger and bandwagon fans who jumped on The Eras Tour train, “TTPD,” as “The Tortured Poets Department” has been nicknamed, is for fans who’ve known Swift since she first started out in 2006 at age 17. I was 21 years old in 2006 and feel like I’ve grown up with Swift and her music.

At the height of the Eras Tour last summer, Swift’s fame reached Beatles proportion. It was fun to talk to my parents and hear stories from that time. With TTPD, Swift has left her Beatles pop mania and has entered a more mature, seasoned songwriter status reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks or Carly Simon. With Rolling Stone calling Swift’s TTPD “her most personal album yet,” the songs about heartbreak and depression are not for the 16-year-olds donning friendship bracelets at The Eras Tour. Instead, they are for the 30-somethings who grew up with Swift, the ones who were in six-year relationships that didn’t end in marriage (Joe Alwyn), or the ones who kept returning to the wrong guy (hello Matty Healy!).

Her lead single, “Fortnight,” features a collaboration with rapper and folk singer Post Malone. The accompanying haunting music video also features Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles as scientists in psych ward. Hawke and Charles were, of course, in 1989’s “Dead Poet’s Society,” a nod made to the film from Swift.

In her more recent albums, Swift has made references to historical women, which I think is a great way to introduce youth to important females who helped shape American culture. In July 2020, Swift released “Folklore,” which included Rebekah Harkness, a 1940s and ‘50s eara philanthropist and society woman who at one time owned Swift’s Rhode Island mansion. In TTPD, Clara Bow, Stevie Nicks and Patti Smith are all mentioned. Bow was a 1920s silent film star and the first “It Girl,” while singer-songwriter Nicks is a former member of the iconic 1970s band Fleetwood Mac. Patti Smith, a singer-songwriter, poet, painter, and author, never topped the charts but was a pioneer of punk rock in New York, Los Angeles and London.

In TTPD’s full anthology, it’s easy to see Swift gradually climbs out of her funk. Songs like “Alchemy,” has lyrics (see below) that clearly point to her current boyfriend, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.

So when I touch downCall the amateurs andCut ’em from the teamDitch the clowns, get the crownBaby I’m the one to beatCause the sign on your heartSaid it’s still reserved for meHonestly, who are we to fight the alchemy?

The bottom line is, TTPD is not for everyone. It’s meant to be played on repeat, in order, while really listening to the lyrics. It’s not meant to be performed on tour and is not easily digested at first. TTPD is vulnerable, deep and intense. It truly feels like the listener accidentally picked up Swift’s diary and set folksy (with a hint of synth pop) melodies to the words.

After listening to this album, as the black sheep of my own family, I felt vindicated after being teased for finding a “poetry rock” at my grandparents’ lake house when I was young. I’d go there to write terrible poetry at age 10 or 11. So thank you Taylor Swift, for making this young poet feel seen!





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