Review: Taylor Swift showcases her growth as an artist in The Tortured Poets Department

Review: Taylor Swift showcases her growth as an artist in The Tortured Poets Department

The singer embraces her 'Anti hero' as she writes about her own imperfect nature in her new album.
22 Apr, 2024

Call it what you want, but one thing is for sure, Taylor Swift has her fans in a chokehold. With her surprise announcements, easter eggs, vault tracks and now her new album, the singer-songwriter has managed to stay relevant for the past two decades, so much so that we know all too well that even her harshest critics admit Swift’s music is both a mixture of nostalgia and relatability.

Imagine then the frenzy her fans were sent into following her surprise album announcement at the Grammys. Theories abounded about The Tortured Poets Department (TTPD) from the genre to the people mentioned in the album. Right off the bat, Swifties had the date for the album underlined in red. The artwork of the album gave the impression that this was going to be a heartbreak album, much like Red. More importantly, this was going to be Swift’s heartbreak album after a really long time.

However, Swift has always had tricks up her sleeve when it comes to keeping people guessing. Many had anticipated 1989 would be a sombre album given her non-smiling face on the cover and it had turned out to be anything but. Similarly, despite the dark image of Reputation, it had more love songs than anticipated.

So TTPD was a blank space for me. Its sepia colour was considered the anti-thesis to Lover. As a Rep stan, I desperately hoped that the TTPD would have some trap-style drum sounds, however, Swift is also known to draw from her own experiences and the very public end of a six-year relationship had Swifties anticipating some ‘All Too Well’ tunes.

The most surprising, yet unsurprising part, was track number five. In the fanbase, the fifth track of Swift’s albums are infamous for being her most vulnerable. The track title ‘So Long, London’ and its placement ushered in a lot of speculation.

Swift announced that she would be collaborating with two artists, Post Malone and Florence from Florence + the Machine on the album with their influence being seen quite heavily in their collabs. ‘Fortnight’ starts off slow before picking up a synth beat much like Malone’s previous works. Malone proceeds to match Swift’s rhythm with his own. His presence was far more visible than Lana Del Rey’s in ‘Snow on the beach’— the original version.

First impressions

‘My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys’

From the get-go, I was drawn to this song because of its upbeat tone. Apart from a certain sadness lingering in the lyrics, there was also resignation — acceptance, if you will. As if the writer has come into terms that the boy in question had his own demons as he shared a tumultuous relationship with the her. She compares herself to a helpless doll in the song.

We can compare certain lines from the lyrics to other songs of Swift’s. For example, “Oh, here we go again / The voices in his head called the rain to end our days of wild” tells us about the inner battle the boy in question faces in the relationship. This was also a theme in Swift’s song ‘Renegade’, which also speaks about a significant other who self-sabotages their relationship.

‘Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?’

Perhaps the most Reputation song on the album, Swift is more confrontational than in her other songs. ‘Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me’ almost gives me feral vibes from the lyrics, as she sings “If you wanted me dead you should’ve just said / Nothing makes me feel more alive”.

The singer here alludes about the growing up in amidst the media frenzy and the battles (professional and personal) she’s taken up. The lyrics of the song remind me strongly of ‘My tears ricochet’ from her album Folklore.


A more fun take on an otherwise devastating relationship, in this song Swift admits to having conflicting emotions, saying she does not know whether she feels love or anger at the antagonist in the song.

‘The Tortured Poets Department’

The song, placed at number two in the album lineup, showcases how realistic Swift is about a certain relationship. We can draw comparisons with her much, much earlier song ‘White horse’ where she sings “I’m not a princess, this ain’t a fairytale”.

Swift in ‘TTPD’ sings “You’re not Dylan Thomas, I’m not Patti Smith / This ain’t the Chelsea Hotel, we’rе modern idiots”.

‘I Can Do It With A Broken Heart’

‘I Can Do It With A Broken Heart’ is the most upbeat and self-deprecating song on the album. If I were to guess the timeline for this song being written, I would say Swift penned this during her much-coveted Eras tour as she sings, “There in her glittering prime, the lights refract sequin stars off her silhouette every night”.

This song makes more sense if you think about in light of the rumours circulating around Swift’s three-hour performances every night during the tour. Swift did seem happy for a person going through a breakup.

As she employs an upbeat synth, she sings “I’m so depressed, I act like it’s my birthday, every day / I’m so obsessed with him, but he avoids me, like the plague”. Now, that is something most people might find relatable at some point in their lives.

Swift is definitely experimenting with this album because the theory of this being a two-side album turned out to be true. However, one side is synth-pop mixed with anger and anguish — mostly produced by the Jack Antonoff and Swift. The other side takes a more Folklorian approach — the Swift-Dessner duo being more prominent on this side. The other side cannot be called tamer, although it does feature Swift being almost apologetic for her own wrongs.

In her song ‘I Hate It Here’, Swift admits to using escapism because of her unhappiness with her reality. One can’t tell if Swift has turned into a cynic as she sings “I’m lonely, but I’m good/ I’m bitter, but I swear I’m fine/ I’ll save all my romanticism for my inner life”.

If one compares this song to Folklore’s ‘The lakes’, the song seems to more or less on the same wavelength except its markedly more bitter. ‘The lakes’ still romanticised getting away, but here Swift admits to having no real place to escape to.

The Swift-Dessner duo has another song that centres around the Neverland theme we saw in Folklore. In the song ‘Peter’, Swift seems to be using the metaphor as a way to express a person’s immaturity. This takes me back to the famous “Peter losing Wendy” lyric from ‘Cardigan’ where the singer is shown to be more mature.

Swift cleverly uses certain terms such as “boy” or “little old me” in a way to infantilise the person she is speaking of or herself. This is something she has struggled with in the past where people have infantilised her to the point of exhaustion, as noted in several of her previous interviews.

She seems to be comfortable in this album, more so than any other. She’s more comfortable with shedding the good girl image she’s held on to for so long, as she drops f-bombs and comes to terms with her own culpability when it comes to her relationships. She embraces her ‘Anti-hero’ self as she writes about her own imperfect nature.

She also seems more confident for putting out an album that may not be for everyone.


Taj Ahmad Apr 22, 2024 06:20pm
Simply a great singer in her present time.