Jessai Flores

It is nights like Thursday, April 18, that excite people across the world (myself included), persuading them to stay up for long past their bedtimes, perhaps on the phone with their sister, listening to the new release of pop megastar Taylor Swift. 

The Tortured Poets Department, the eleventh studio album from Swift, built anticipation for long before it was even announced. Her fans pieced together clues, such as her subtly placed twos, both in tweets and in music videos, hinting toward both a double album and a two-week long period (or a fortnight, the lead single of the album). Swifties theorized about what it might sound like, especially because unlike many artists with similar patterns in their music, Swift notoriously plays around in the studio, jumping from genre to genre (see: Red to 1989). Her fan base also expected a few, if not a significant number of songs to be about her ex-boyfriend, Joe Alwyn, whom she had split with after six years together. Perhaps also they would be gifted with a song or two about new beau, Travis Kelce. 

In every sense, Swift surprised and innovated. This became especially apparent when, at 2 AM on April 19, she tweeted to her fans that The Tortured Poets Department was a double album, whose sister, The Anthology, was already out. 

The first track, also the lead single of the album, is one of two collaborations. Fortnight (no, not that one), featuring Post Malone, is a dark, synth-pop track that highlights Swift’s pining for a love that will certainly be destructive, a common theme throughout the album. Both artists’ vocals layer well together, but in classic Swift style with her features, Malone is pushed slightly to the side. If you’re hoping for a track where Post Malone is evidently present, perhaps LEVII’S JEANS may be the better recent collaboration. Despite this, Fortnight is yet another excellent introductory song from Swift, the perfect lead-in to an album depicting the complicated feelings of love, ostracization, and loneliness.

Her second collaboration comes in Track 8 with Florida!!!, with a Florence + the Machine feature. A sinister anthem, Swift paints a somber picture of what it is like to be a guest in your own home, desperately needing a drug-like escape, often temporary, though beautiful while it lasts. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the song is ridiculously catchy and that Florence Welch graced the beat with her brilliantly unique voice, only an addition to a song that would have already been one of the album’s best. Often, when Swift allows her features to shine alongside her, she produces some of her best work. On other albums, songs like Nothing New with Phoebe Bridgers and exile with Bon Iver are perfect examples of this; by contrast, Snow on the Beach with Lana del Rey and no body, no crime with HAIM leave listeners hanging, with no resolution.

While Swift certainly retains her own unique style, there are moments that reflect the influence of other artists. My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys and I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can), for example, perhaps bear resemblance to the style of an older Melanie Martinez, whose use of childlike imagery to describe more adult sentiments rings true, especially for the former song. Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?, a personal favorite of mine from the album, is reminiscent of Halsey’s 2015 New Americana album. Swift’s power-packing screams seem to fit perfectly alongside songs like Castle and Control, yet she separates herself with lyricism like “I was tame, I was gentle till the circus like made me mean, Don’t you worry, folks, we took out all her teeth,” as a reference to the destructive tendencies of the life of a starlit.

In terms of the sound of the album, it is always hard to define an artist like Swift, especially the more she writes and creates. For Swifties, the album should remind them of sister albums folklore and evermore, Swift’s extremely successful trials at the Alternative genre. There is more than just that superficial connection, though; many songs have moments nostalgic to albums much older than her 2020 venture. So Long, London, her heart-wrenching goodbye to a love no longer fulfilling, begins similarly to Lover’s Death by a Thousand Cuts; loml, a play on the difference between love and loss, could fit perfectly on her 2012 album Red; and the piano backing of Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus sounds awfully similar to the tear-jerking finale of champagne problems

These sounds, however, soon became a hot topic on platforms such as X and TikTok, where fans, mild enjoyers, and disdainers alike had opinions on the songs produced by Jack Antonoff versus Aaron Dessner. Antonoff, responsible for hits like Getaway Car and a member of the band The Bleachers, and Dessner, responsible for the likes of cardigan and a band member of The National, are no strangers to Swift’s work; they live within her albums, and both contribute to each other’s respective success. Listeners took to the internet to discuss the distinct differences between their production styles, Antonoff with a preference for synth and Dessner for the piano ballad. While I would agree that Dessner allows Swift’s vocals and lyricism to shine in her music more, I would also argue that Antonoff’s production adds the angst that Swift often searches for in her voice and her songwriting. The songs that Antonoff produces are vicious and in-your-face, yes, but that’s the way Swift intends them to be. Violent and sultry ideas like “Your wife waters flowers, I wanna kill her” or “What if he’s written ‘mine’ on my upper thigh only in my mind” do not always need the soft solemnity of tolerate it; sometimes they need the gusto of Look What You Made Me Do. Moreover, Swift is not a malleable figure easily persuaded to change her art; her fight to own her Masters proves her determination alone, but also the importance of her music to her. Both Antonoff and Dessner are there to help Swift, not control her, and she retains the executive production for her work, always. The call for Swift to rid herself of Antonoff is a baseless one; she is bettered by a variety of producers to see her vision through. If she wasn’t, that is surely her prerogative to address

While of course these little details flutter the hearts of the most loyal Swiftie, the album is not meant for them. And if it is not meant for the artist’s own fan club, there is only one person it is truly meant for: her. Any focus on who the subject of the song may have been, whether it’s Matty Healy of the band the 1975, Joe Alwyn, or Kim Kardashian, is beside the point of the album. It’s beside the point of Swift’s entire discography, but especially with an album filled with raw and emotional breaking points. In many songs, she begs for love and company, which she has often received superficially, and vocalizes suicidal thoughts. At every turn, Swift reveals another vulnerable part of her diary, a cathartic way for her to release her past and continue forward. She does not need everyone to love her work — in fact, her prior artistry has made this point time and time again. 

In the finale of the album, she sings, “Now and then I re-read the manuscript, but the story isn’t mine anymore.” Perhaps Swift’s greatest accomplishment in The Tortured Poets Department is relinquishing this story to the world, releasing the crushing weight off of herself. The album is a masterclass from Taylor Swift, both in her powerful songwriting and in the emotions it elicits. It is a breakup album, it is a catharsis, and it is a story, all parts of a catalog Swift continues to do well.

Meredith Henderson |

Meredith Henderson covers women's basketball and field hockey. She is a first-year in Saybrook College from Keller, Texas. She plays varsity softball and is majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing.