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Review: Taylor Swift's new album gives heartbreak poetic justice


When Taylor Swift released her latest project "The Tortured Poets Department" on Friday, she posted a message to social media that read, "Once we have spoken our saddest story, we can be free of it."

That sentiment is at the heart of "The Tortured Poets Department" and the second surprise album, announced two hours after the release of the first, “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology.”

As an English major with a love of poetry, I had almost unrealistically high expectations for this album. Swift's use of literary references and her focus on heartbreak and healing live up to its name.

The 31 total released songs manifest Swift’s experiences with the grief of lost love and invite the listener to confront their emotions alongside her. 

Swift opens “The Tortured Poets Department” with the album’s first single, “Fortnight (Ft. Post Malone),” which, musically, had me hooked. Unfortunately, the lyrics for this song fell short, which has been a widespread criticism of some of the album's songs across social media.

I had high expectations for an album centered around poetry and I couldn’t help but be disappointed to hear the woman who wrote the album “evermoresing “You smoked then ate seven bars of chocolate” and call her lover a "tattooed golden retriever" on the album’s title track. 

The first few tracks on this album felt like they were made for fans’ consumption, but Swift shines most when she writes for herself. Luckily, most of this project is strikingly personal — almost like it was never meant to be heard at all.

Across Swift’s discography, it's no secret that the fifth song on each of her albums' tracklists is her most personal, and “So Long, London” may be her most unarmed to date. 

“I stopped CPR, after all, it’s no use. The spirit was gone, we would never come to. And I’m pissed off you let me give you all that youth for free,” she sings

Throughout the song, Swift sings with a stinging resentment, evoking both immense sadness and anger. This track is the first on the album that parallels the intense imagery and lyricism of “folklore” and “evermore.” 

“You swore that you loved me, but where were the clues? I died on the altar waitin’ for the proof. You sacrificed us to the gods of your bluest days,” she sings

“So Long, London” sparks a string of songs laced with indignation — “loml” and “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” are daringly unguarded realizations of hatred in the face of heartbreak.

But those high highs are contrasted by low lows. "I Can Do It With A Broken Heart" sounds like Kidz Bop and "So High School" felt too lyrically juvenile to fit in this project. The whiplash between highly emotional songs and the "bops" she left in to appease fans can sometimes make the overall albums feel disjointed. 

As a double-album, this project is the first of Swift’s to have two track fives. “How Did It End?,” the fifth track on “The Anthology,” ridicules fans who display “empathetic hunger,” demanding Swift share details of her breakups. Her message is clear: She needs space to heal.

“The deflation of our dreaming, leaving me bereft and reeling. My beloved ghost and me, sitting in a tree, D-Y-I-N-G,” she sings. 

While “The Tortured Poets Department” certainly has its shining moments, “The Anthology's" use of literary reference to validate and contextualize her own feelings is unlike anything I've ever heard.

On “The Albatross” — which alludes to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” — Swift expands on her assertion from “So Long, London," suggesting that her ex-lover will be haunted by his mistreatment of her. 

The album's allusions span centuries of literature, from references to Aeshylus’s “The Oresteia” on the track “Cassandra” to James Matthew Barrie’s “Peter Pan” on the track “Peter.” The result is a collection of songs that reveals the primordial nature of heartbreak. 

But “The Tortured Poets Department” isn’t just an outlet for Swift’s anger and heartbreak. With the addition of “The Anthology” it becomes clear — this project is a path toward healing. 

Swift’s message is manifested in the closing track of the project, “The Manuscript,” a nauseatingly vulnerable recollection of past betrayal that resolves, as does the album as a whole, with acceptance. 

“Lookin’ backwards might be the only way to move forwards,” she sings

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Through her engagement with historical literature, as well as her revisitation of her own past experiences, Swift proves this sentiment to be true. 

It is by no means perfect, but with a refreshing sense of vulnerability and songs with some of her best lyricism to date, Swift has delivered an album that feels like a piece of her heart.


@dthlifestyle |