Taylor Swift: The Tortured Poets Department (Republic) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024  

Taylor Swift

The Tortured Poets Department


Apr 20, 2024 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

How does one approach reviewing a Taylor Swift album? Well, with great difficulty, especially when there are no advance review copies or streams. It gets even more complicated when, just two hours after the release of The Tortured Poets Department, Swift casually announces The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology, featuring 15 additional songs. Swift’s prolific songwriting ability is almost as remarkable as the monumental shadow she casts over modern pop. So powerful is “brand Swift” that in the U.S., Republicans, fearing her potential support for Joe Biden in the upcoming presidential elections, have peddled wild claims about Swift being a psychological operation, or “PSYOP” created by the U.S. military. In these unhinged conspiracy theories, the idea is that Swift is using her celebrity to broadcast hidden messages about how people should vote for the Democrats. Amidst such distractions, the best approach is to ignore them and focus on the music. Beneath the celebrity, the gossip, the wild theories, the record-breaking streams, and the spectacular Eras tour lies an album that shines a light on Swift’s enduring talent and remarkable ability to weave heart-crushing and heart-burstingly beautiful music.

Framed by a prologue poem from Stevie Nicks (only available on physical copies)—“She brings joy / He brings Shakespeare / It’s almost a tragedy”—and an epilogue styled as a report from Swift herself as the head of a metaphorical “Tortured Poets Department”, “it’s the worst men that I write best,” the album builds upon the sonics and storytelling explored in folklore , evermore, and to a degree Midnights, but is far more direct. Diehard fans will doubtless be busy deciphering hidden messages, but TTPD‘s true power lies in Swift’s ability to evoke raw emotion. Pop music often faces criticism for lacking authenticity. Ironically, Swift, who pours her own genuine experiences of heartbreak into her songs, is criticized for the opposite. Detractors paint her as a “scorned woman,” and “vengeful.” This perspective is not only strange but undeniably inherently sexist. Male artists exploring heartbreak are rarely labeled “bitter” or “scorned”; they are lauded as the poets and mavericks.

The sonic landscape of TTPD sees Swift’s go-to collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner’s casting their glittering sheen across many tracks. However, the lyrical depth is undeniable. Swift sheds the elaborate metaphors of previous albums, opting for a more conversational, direct style. Despite revisiting the territory of heartbreak, Swift’s wit remains razor-sharp. Lines like “Oh, here we go again, the voices in his head,” from “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys,” are delivered with a knowing sense of exasperation. The album reaches one of many peaks with “So Long, London,” co-written with Dessner. The song opens with a haunting chorus of Swift’s vocals, seeming to echo the mournful chimes of Big Ben’s bells. Set against icy electronics, Swift recounts the slow demise of a love affair, very likely her long-term relationship with Joe Alwyn, with a blend of sorrow and simmering anger.

The album also appears to zero in on a shorter-lived, more volatile, problematic ex—rumored to be edgelord Matty ‘foot in mouth’ Healy of The 1975. On “But Daddy, I Love Him,” Swift appears to be setting boundaries, suggesting that she doesn’t feel the need for fans’ or anybody’s permission to date whoever she chooses as she sings “Don’t cater to all these vipers dressed in empath’s clothing / God save the most judgmental creeps / Who say they want what’s best for me/ Sanctimoniously performing soliloquies I’ll never see” and concludes, “I’ll tell you something about my good name, it’s mine alone to disgrace.” There are guest appearances too; “Fortnight” features Post Malone, whilst the blistering anthemic “Florida” features an uncharacteristically restrained performance from Florence Welch.

It concludes with “Clara Bow” and a biting moment of introspection. The final lines, “You look like Taylor Swift in this light / We’re loving it / You’ve got edge / She never did,” are knowingly self-deprecating, highlighting the burden of fame and the complexities of self-image and earning respect as an artist.

The additional 15 tracks in the “Anthology” are equally impressive, showcasing Swift’s prolific ability to create incredible music while touring, re-recording her back catalog, starting a new relationship, oh and working for the CIA. If that’s not genius, I don’t know what is.

Throughout The Tortured Poets Department—allegedly a reference to Alwyn’s WhatsApp group, “The Tortured Man Club,” which included Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott—Swift, herself, fully embraces the role of the tormented artist. There’s a self-aware knowingness but also an unmistakable authenticity, as she embarks on the cathartic journey through heartbreak. Perhaps, as Swift herself suggests, “these tears become holy in the form of ink on a page,” allowing closure as the wounds, some self-inflicted, heal. In Swift’s capable hands, even the deepest moments of despair are transmuted into songs which resonate with emotion and genuine insight. (www.taylorswift.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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