‘The Tortured Poets Department’ Is So Lana Del Rey-Coded That It’s Frustrating

I don’t like The Tortured Poets Department. I said it! Swifties, feel free to grab your pitchforks and storm the streets of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: I just wrapped up my second listen and my feelings haven’t changed a bit — I’m still at the restaurant. Now, this isn’t to say I think TTPD is bad. If anything, it’s kind of the opposite. It has the potential to be good… in a universe where Lana Del Rey made The Tortured Poets Department.

Look, you can either grab your pitchforks now, or simply click out of the tab: I’m giving you the out, because what I’m about to say will (most likely) hurt your feelings. But the truth hurts, and the truth is that this album doesn’t give Taylor Swift at all. And if you’ve ever listened to Lana Del Rey in your life, you’d know exactly what I’m talking about. This doesn’t belong in the 2024 Taylor Swift universe — it belongs in the vinyl section of Urban Outfitters in 2014 next to the special edition of Born To Die.

Transparently, I don’t consider myself a “massive Swiftie;” I started listening to her after she dropped folklore (mainly because I saw Bon Iver was featured), and really fell in love with her storytelling and songwriting. I went to the Eras Tour with my lifelong best friends and screamed the bridge of “Cruel Summer” at the top of my lungs and received a friendship bracelet from the crying 13-year-old seated next to me. Hell, “‘tis the damn season” was on my Spotify Wrapped for two years straight! The woman is a juggernaut, a generational talent that deserves all (yes, even AOTY) of her flowers. So, when the clock hit midnight on April 19, I instantly flocked to Spotify to listen to TTPD with the rest of the world. And I was met with disappointment.

The second Taylor started singing on “Fortnight,” I clocked that something was off. When she sang, “I was supposed to be sent away / But they forgot to come and get me / I was a functioning alcoholic / ‘Til nobody noticed my new aesthetic,” her voice just sounded… different. It wasn’t like it sounded more mature, or trained, or anything like that — it felt like some sort of impersonation or caricature. By the end of the song, I was practically ripping my hair trying to figure out what it was. But by “Florida!!!” and “Who’s Afraid Of Little Old Me?” it hit me: The Tortured Poets Department is so Lana-coded that it hurts.

I’ve been a Lana fan since conception (OK, like, 2010, but you get the point), but my love for her as an artist doesn’t blind me to the greatness of others. However, there’s no denying the impact that Lana has had on the music industry and, most recently, Taylor Swift.

I challenge you to listen to tracks like “I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)” and “Fortnight” and say that Taylor’s vocals aren’t giving Lana — especially with lyrics like “The dopamine races through his brain / On a six-lane Texas highway / His hands so calloused from his pistol / Softly traces hearts on my face” along with the sort of smokey, sulky, Western-Americana vibes of the track. Can someone AI generate Lana singing this instead of Taylor? I’m trying to see something.

With so many moody lyrics about drinking, smoking, and dating the “bad boy” (he’s literally Matty Healy), TTPD feels like Taylor is taking on a new persona: a scorned, “tortured” artist who abandoned the glitter pen to write lyrics in blood while downing liquor by the bottle. For Swifties, this is probably so sick and like, Mother of her. But I’ve seen this film before, and it’s a hard one to follow up.

It is worth noting that, in the past, Taylor has lauded Lana for her influence on pop music. At the 2024 Grammys, Taylor pulled Lana on stage with her (even though Lana has just lost that category) and said, “I think so many female artists would not be where they are and would not have the inspiration they have it if weren’t for the work that [Lana has] done.” The two collaborated on the Midnights track “Snow On The Beach” alongside Jack Antonoff, who has also worked on Lana’s albums Normal F*cking Rockwell, Chemtrails over the Country Club, and Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard?

Lana Del Rey’s aesthetic has been recognizable since the early 2010s. Her music includes drug use, alcoholism, sex, bad boys, old men, crime, and all of the Americana grittiness you could ask for. And despite Lana’s notable influence, she’s still touted as an underdog, indie-darling whose aesthetic is a little too “edgy” for the mainstream. But, add some popstar flair, and some of Taylor’s storytelling, and you’ve got something that mainstream music listeners will love.

So, do I think that Taylor purposefully copied Lana for TTPD? No; Lana’s obviously been a massive influence on Taylor throughout the years, and the two are friends and collaborators. Similarities are bound to come up. But do I think Taylor’s album does anything we haven’t seen before? No, and this iteration feels inauthentic. 

The Tortured Poets Department isn’t a bad album, it’s just not a Taylor Swift album. Sure, it all sounds the same to me, but maybe I don’t have supersonic Swiftie hearing abilities. Maybe I’m missing something here, or maybe I’m a scorned Lana fan who was rooting for her Grammy win. Or, maybe, TTPD isn’t my cup of tea, and that’s OK. (I’m allowed to not like things!) All I know is that I’ll be sitting pretty listening to Blue Banisters while y’all decide if you want to sharpen your pitchforks or pick up a Lana album.

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