The Tortured Swiftie’s Department

by Roxanne Ha

As a Swiftie, I have been on a never-ending thrill throughout the past decade, following Taylor Swift’s journey and resonating strongly with her discography. In the past year alone, Swift has continued with her spectacular record-breaking Eras Tour, releasing the rerecordings of her “Speak Now” and “1989” albums along with newly unreleased “vault” tracks, winning Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2024 Grammy Awards for her album “Midnights.” When she announced her 11th studio album, “The Tortured Poet’s Department,” at the Grammys, I felt the familiar anticipation building up once again — April 19 could not come soon enough.

Sitting in my room on a Thursday night listening to the new album on headphones, I found myself fascinated by the depth and roller coaster of experiences captured in each song. Swift’s lyrics are well known for their vivid storytelling details and being jam-packed with emotion; this album is no exception. Just when I thought it was over, in typical Swift fashion, she surprised us fans at 2 a.m. EST on April 19 by releasing 15 additional songs to complete the rest of the story on an extended album: “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology.” To say that it is a good album is an understatement. It is heartbreaking, messy, raw and cathartic.

Featured tracks

Track 1 — Fortnight (feat. Post Malone)

The titular single details a short-lived relationship full of longing and what-ifs in lyrics like “I love you, it’s ruining my life / I touched you for only a fortnight.” It carries a synth beat reminiscent of ’80s songs, reminding me of something I would listen to while driving down the freeway at night. Malone’s voice floats and blends into the track easily, offering a haunting-like echo that captures the long-lasting memory of the experience despite its short duration.

Track 2 — The Tortured Poets Department

This song was one of my favorites because I could feel the emotion throughout the lyrics, like “And who’s gonna hold you like me? / And who’s gonna know you, if not me?” It felt like a song played at an ending movie scene when the character reflects and bids farewell to the end of a relationship. Although the song hints the relationship did not seem to last, there are clearly moments that still remain special and especially poignant in the aftermath of the relationship, as seen in the line “At dinner, you take my ring off my middle finger / And put it on the one people put wedding rings on / And that’s the closest I’ve come to my heart exploding.”

Track 4 — Down Bad

I was down bad the first time I heard this song. The mid-tempo song starts off with beeping sounds that lead into lyrics describing the excitement of meeting someone for the first time and then being left abruptly. The chorus was especially catchy and relatable, full of pining, frustration and mourning for someone you can’t be with — “Now I’m down bad, cryin’ at the gym / Everything comes out teenage petulance / F— it if I can’t have him / I might just die, it would make no difference.”

Track 5 — So Long, London

The fifth track on Swift’s albums have always had a pattern of being some of the most heartbreaking and vulnerable songs in her discography, with songs like “White Horse” from “Fearless,” “Dear John” from “Speak Now,” “All Too Well” from “Red” and more. The quick heartbeat tempo of the track seems to suggest a positive mood, but the lyrics express otherwise — painting vivid imagery of a dying relationship and saying goodbye to a place she once loved and called home.

Track 8 — Florida!!! (feat. Florence + the Machine)

Paired with strong beats, dark melodies and thumping drums, the song details the feeling of escaping to Florida to start fresh and become a new person. Swift’s light vocals combined with Florence Welch’s mature and powerful voice blend wonderfully as they sing, “I need to forget, so take me to Florida / I’ve got some regrets, I’ll bury them in Florida.”

Track 11 — I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)

The slow, dark and moody guitar provides a whispery and mysterious tone for the song, automatically drawing me into the world she painted with her lyrics. The Western cowboy imagery in the lines “The smoke cloud billows out his mouth / Like a freight train through a small town … The dopamine races through his brain / On a six-lane Texas highway / His hand so calloused from his pistol / Softly traces hearts on my face,” highlights the dangerous nature of being with someone everyone disapproves of and the pull of desire to be able to change them for the better. This song struck a chord within me because I can relate to how it feels to want to help others and be a positive force to them, even when it causes damage to oneself. The ending line and realization, “Woah, maybe I can’t” left a haunting and tragic note that hung in my head long after.

Track 12 — loml

This song has to be my favorite off the album so far. It delves into the devastating feeling after the end of a relationship that once felt so magical and “legendary” but was only “momentary.” The somber piano chord progression, Swift’s soft, melancholic vocals and the poetic and intricate writing had me enraptured throughout the entire song. Changing the song’s meaning from “love of my life” to “loss of my life” at the final chorus brought the entire song around and added an extra layer of depth to the title and the heartbreaking sentiment of the story.

Track 16 — Clara Bow

Clara Bow was a famous early twentieth-century actress who became Hollywood’s “it girl” from silent films and had a highly scrutinized life in the public eye. Given Swift’s own struggles with fame and public perception, it is no surprise that she found similarities between her life and Bow’s. The guitar and strings in this pop-folk song immediately caught my attention because of its musical reminiscence of Swift’s “Folklore” and “Evermore” sister albums. The lyrics are written from the media’s point of view regarding their constant need to compare female stars and the price of beauty and fame. I was especially shocked at the last verse when Swift brings the parallels full circle (“You look like Taylor Swift / In this light, we’re lovin’ it / You’ve got edge, she never did”), as she comes to terms with being the one people compare younger female artists to now.

Track 22 — So High School

This song puts a smile on my face due to its upbeat guitar and drums production combined with nostalgic lyrics similar to love songs written during Swift’s “Fearless” era. I can hear Swift’s happiness in her voice as she sings about falling for someone as if she were 16 years old again in high school (“And in the blink of a crinklin’ eye / I’m sinkin’, our fingers entwined / Cheeks pink in the twinklin’ lights / Tell me ’bout the first time you saw me”). After all the heartbreak Swift has endured recently, I am happy that she has found love again.

Track 26 — The Prophecy

Like many of the album’s later songs, the acoustic guitar production brings back folk sounds explored in “Folklore” and “Evermore” with her producer, Aaron Dessner. I can feel Swift’s desperation and yearning to find her true love after years of failed relationships as she sings, “I’m so afraid I sealed my fate / No sign of soulmates … Please / I’ve been on my knees / Change the prophecy / Don’t want money / Just someone who wants my company / Let it once be me / Who do I have to speak to / To change the prophecy?”

Track 28 – Peter

This piano ballad seems to allude to the tale of Peter Pan and Wendy, describing the disappointment and loneliness of a relationship that was never rekindled. Swift’s soft vocals and cracks in her voice when she sings “Said you were gonna grow up / Then you were gonna come find me / Words from the mouths of babes / Promises oceans-deep / But never to keep” in the chorus made me feel her sorrow and pain projected through the lyrics.

Featured Image via © 2024 Taylor Swift, Album Cover

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