I listened to Taylor Swift’s new album, ‘The Tortured Poets Department’

I should probably start with a disclaimer — I am a Swiftie through and through. My first Taylor Swift concert was in 2007 when she opened for Brad Paisley at Ford Field. I’ve attended most of the tours, bought the albums, sang the songs and cried to some of them. Like many fans, I feel like Taylor Swift and I have grown up together. Each album seems to freeze the timeframe of life and emotions I was experiencing. I understand the fandom isn’t for everyone, but in my opinion, many of us have benefitted from the vulnerability and creativity of Taylor Swift.

Now time for my thoughts:

This album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” seems to be a raw look into the past year of Swift’s life. She’s living out two truths that couldn’t be further from one another. On one hand, she’s on an extremely successful world tour that’s credited with boosting the economy, and millions of people scream her name, sing her songs, and create costumes and bracelets. On the other, she’s grappling with heartbreak from the ending of a six-year relationship with someone she thought might be the one. The dichotomy of hitting a peak moment of your career and a rock bottom of your love life is the recurrent theme on this album.

We are finally given the long-awaited explanation on what happened between Taylor and long-time boyfriend Joe Alwyn in the songs “So Long London” and “The Black Dog.” Lyrics like “I’m pissed off you let me give you all that youth for free,” and “And you say I abandoned the ship, but I was going down with it. My white-knuckle dyin’ grip, holding tight to your quiet resentment, and my friends said it isn’t right to be scared every day of a love affair, every breath feels like the rarest air, when you’re not sure if he wants to be there.” Overall, I don’t get the impression she’s angry or holding a grudge against Alwyn. It seems “So Long London” is a heartfelt and gut-wrenching goodbye to a chapter in her life she wished would have ended differently.

Sonically, this album is “Midnights” meets “Folklore,” a mixture of acoustic sounds and sonic beats. Some of the songs have a raw electric edge to start, and then build into a sound reminiscent of indie rock.

Many fans share the sentiment of growing up with Taylor. One line that stuck out to me as staying true to that point is in the song “Florida!!!” “All my friends smell like weed or little babies, and the city reeks of driving myself crazy.” People in their 20s and 30s feel this in their soul. There is always the pull to compare yourself to your peers. There is the youth you’re outgrowing and scared to leave behind, and the adult you are trying to become and the nagging feelings that you aren’t on track. Those with less responsibilities long for more, and those with more long for less. There are a million ways to “grow up” and no straight path to get there.

The song called “But Daddy I Love Him” seems to be a dig at fans who deeply criticized her brief relationship with Matty Healy. This is one of the only instances Taylor has negatively called out her fan base. The lyrics state, “I’d rather burn my whole life down than listen to one more second of all this b**ching and moaning. I’ll tell you something about my good name: it’s mine alone to disgrace.” This song has caught the attention of many fans, who despite the digs find it really catchy and snarky of Taylor to clap back at the “judgmental” fans, poking fun at criticisms of her.

As a longtime Swifite, part of the experience of every release is speculating about what each song is about, deciphering clues Taylor leaves behind. Since her first album, Taylor has always left Easter eggs for her fans. In all of her CD booklets that include the lyrics to her songs, Taylor uses strategic uppercase letters among lowercase to spell out a secret message.

A nod to those secret messages comes in the track “thanK you aIMee,” as the uppercases spell out KIM. It seems the longtime fued over an edited phone call released by Kardashian and West isn’t over yet. The bridge of the song says, “And maybe you’ve reframed it, and in your mind, you never beat my spirit black and blue. I don’t think you’ve changed much, and so I changed your name and any real defining clues. And one day, your kid comes home singin’ a song that only us two is gonna know is about you, ‘cause all that time you were throwin’ punches, it was all for nothin’.” I find it intriguing that Taylor continues to use this fight as fuel for songs. She once said in an interview she doesn’t believe you have to forgive or forget to move on. I think that sentiment of hers is personified in this ballad.

Another stand-out on the album is “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart.” It seems to have been written from the Era’s Tour. As Swift was entertaining fans night after night in a three-hour trip through all the albums she’s made, she was grappling with a six-year relationship ending. News of the break-up broke at the beginning of the tour. The upbeat sonic sound is ironic compared to the lyrics where Taylor is describing moments when she felt desperately depressed. Part of the chorus she sings, “All the piеces of me shatterеd as the crowd was chanting, ‘More’, I was grinnin’ like I’m winnin’, I was hittin’ my marks, ‘Cause I can do it with a broken heart.”

This album doesn’t have many skips for me.

My current top five tracks:

  1. Down Bad
  2. The Bolter
  3. Fortnight (feat. Post Malone)
  4. So Long London
  5. imgonnagetyouback

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