Photo Courtesy of Republic Records.

“The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology” Is A Heartbreaker

Taylor Swift’s new album seamlessly ties together past and present sounds to fiddle with your heartstrings.

While Taylor Swift’s new album “The Tortured Poets Department” may be extremely controversial, it’s no lie that it was beautifully crafted. With Billboard reporting 1.4 million copies sold on the first day alone, Swift has captured the world’s attention with this new heartbroken and, as the title states, tortured album.

Arousing contention and a symphony of scoffs from among peers, “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology” has stirred up long-kept quiet feelings about Swift. Many people, for instance, tend to dislike the album due to its somber tone and overly dramatic title. Arguably, the album is what most would call ‘sad girl:’ a dramatic, depressing album that’s sad just for the value of being sad. Lizzy McAlpine and Gracie Abrams also follow this melody with their music, crafting masterpieces that are perfect to bawl your eyes out to. Although sad girl music isn’t necessarily bad, if anything it’s ridiculously welcomed, people still ridicule the genre for its generic message and repetitive nature.

Along the line of ‘repetitive’-ness, many seasoned Swifties and new listeners alike found the lyrics of this album just that: repetitive, and to be quite honest, lacking. After her eighth and ninth studio albums which were released during Covid, the lyrical and poetic albums “Folklore” and “Evermore”, this album feels quite lacking in terms of depth. 

“I tried to keep a tally of how many songs yearningly reference wedding rings and ran out of fingers. By the end, this perspective makes the album feel a bit hermetic, lacking the depth and taut structure of her best work,” writes Lindsay Zoladz in the New York Times piece “On ‘The Tortured Poets Department,’ Taylor Swift Could Use an Editor.”

Due to these earlier albums, which were full of fictional characters, historical characters and a murder mystery song with the HAIM sisters, we were able to see the height of Swift’s true capabilities when it comes to writing. Swifties who listen to these albums on a regular basis were hoping TTPD would be like them in regards to the lyricism, and came up disappointed with the flat dullness of it. 

Others, however, find this new genre captivating, regardless of its lacking lyrics. Following her 10th studio album, the pop-synth purple and blue “Midnights, Swift manages to seamlessly connect her previous sounds into her brand-new monochromatic album. Teaming up with Aaron Dessner, a founding member of the National, to create the same fantastical feeling that came with “Folklore,” we get songs like the folktale Boy Who Cried Wolf spin-off, “Cassandra,” and the lost, sad voice behind “Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus.” Or, we could talk about the small “Reputation”esque cuts that “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” leaves with its blood-boiling lyrics, “I want to snarl and show you just how disturbed this has made me / You wouldn’t last an hour in the asylum where they raised me.” Either way, Swift has combined all of her eras into an intoxicating and addictive album that has captured the ears and hearts of millions.

With “TTPD, released around a year after her break up with her ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn, Swift attempts to navigate the deeper, harder heartbreak, the type that feels like crossing a chasm. She wasn’t wrong to name it “Tortured Poets,” as most of her tear-stricken ballads of heartbreak tend to feel that way. From the strangled sigh at the start of “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” that slices hearts as easily as ripping a butterfly’s wings, to the melancholy piano of “loml” and its disastrously epic lyrics (“Dancing phantoms on the terrace, are they second hand embarrassed // That I can’t get out of bed ‘cause something counterfeit’s dead”), Swift manages to explain the crack in her heart in a simple yet elegant way that catches listeners off guard.

And while there’s plenty of sadness to pass around, Swift’s mood board for this album is much more than just aesthetic pictures of brunettes crying; it’s speckled with a fresh golden that represents Swifts’ second studio album “Fearless”, providing us with songs like “But Daddy I Love Him” and “So High School”. The Romeo-Juliet theme opens yet again with Swift’s sixth track, “But Daddy I Love Him.” It’s bubbly and hilarious chorus (“I’m having his baby/ No, I’m not, but you should see your faces”) offers a glimpse into the head-over-heels young love feeling that’s reminiscent of high school, but this time with older lyrics and a wiser outlook that peeks through the main story (“Growing up precocious sometimes means not growing up at all”).

“Fortnite,” however, brings an all new sound to Swift’s discography, introducing a haunting and drawn-out sound that raptures listeners as soon as they hit play. The single features Post Malone, who adds delightful vocals and builds on Swift’s. The only other feature on the album is on “Florida,” when Florence Welch, the lead singer from Florence + The Machine, gets her own unique verse with ghostly yet stunning lyrics (“So I do my best to lay to rest / All of the bodies that have been on my body / and in my mind, they sink into the swamp / Is that a bad thing to say in a song?”).

In general, Swift’s new album has brought forward pronounced opinions and a motley of feelings. While Swift’s new songs may not be her best, they still deserve being published as an album.