tortured poets department cover

The Tortured Poets Department by Taylor Swift

2 mins read

Grade: C

On Friday, Taylor Swift released The Tortured Poets Department, her wildly anticipated 11th studio album. Excluding the 16 tracks released as part of a surprise double album, this project is no competition for her classics like Fearless, folklore, and 1989. Although I was able to find one or two lyrical gems that I may relisten to in the future, I can say that I was left disappointed by the constant usage of cheap and nearly nonsensical wordplay as well as recurring cliches that already so heavily saturate her past releases.

The album opens with “Fortnight,” which features Post Malone and fails to make a lasting impression. The melody is flavorless and Malone hardly gets a verse; when he does, his vocals are mostly overshadowed by Swift’s. As for his solo, his lines include the perplexing, “Move to Florida / buy the car you want / but it won’t start until you touch, touch, touch me,” which were off-putting and did not help to contribute to any deeper tone of the song. Malone was, unfortunately, at best a glorified backup singer, much like Lana Del Rey’s feature on “Snow on the Beach” on Swift’s previous album Midnights.

The title track “The Tortured Poets Department” comes across as overly contrived. The strange line describing a man who falls “asleep like a tattooed golden retriever” has an especially forced nature to it, as its blatant fluff contributes to the album’s sense of trying too hard. In addition, the song’s overly sarcastic tone, especially in contrast with the overall somber vibe of the rest of the album, feels as if it’s depleting emotional depth. However, the chorus melody is one of the better ones on the project, making the song more bearable.

In “Down Bad,” Swift creatively embeds a fresh techno-futuristic voice filter that establishes a distinct futuristic vibe. However, she could have dialed back a bit on the galactic imagery as it pollutes the song, making it overly indulgent and removing any sense of genuine introspection.

On the bright side, Florence + The Machine came in hot and spared “Florida!!!” of mediocrity with Florence’s raw authenticity. The line, “Yes I’m haunted, but I’m feeling just fine” adds a powerful and evocative depth to the song. Relieved that Florence got her moment to shine, I feel as if the execution of this unique and unexpected collaboration showcased their individual styles by complementing each others’ vocal styles.

As “So Long, London” was already dubbed the “saddest Taylor Swift song” across social media by Friday morning, I expected some heart-wrenching, articulately distraught lyricism. While I like the eerie, church bell-esque vocals at the beginning of the track that establishes a gray and pensive tone, the desired aesthetic fizzles out as the track continues. Nothing is truly defining about the remainder of the song, and imagery of fairy lights and emotional burdens become a bit redundant. 

“loml” has enjoyable aspects such as the unique medieval imagery embedded into the lyrics of a typical love song. But the song itself, very similar to “I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can),” is forgettable, especially with the album being a supposed “sister” to Swift’s previous studio albums like Folklore and Evermore with such an abundance of scream-in-the-car worthy tracks. 

“Clara Bow” is a peculiarly excellent closer for a mediocre album. By reaffirming her legacy in a song titled after a 1920s silent film ‘It Girl’, singing, “You look like Clara Bow in this light,” and later, “You look like Taylor Swift in this light,” Swift adds a chilling sense of melancholic nostalgia with references to It Girls.
The album is a failed attempt at cleverness, falling far short of Swift’s full potential of genuine artistic expression that much of her past work proves she is capable of. Her flowery, teenage writing worked well on Speak Now, but at 34, has lost its charm.

Penelope is a sophomore at M-A, and this is her first year in journalism. She is interested in writing music reviews as well as incorporating unique student perspectives into her stories. In her free time, you can find her practicing tennis, watercolor painting, or knotting away at her growing collection of friendship bracelets.

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