The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology by Taylor Swift // Double Album Review & Analysis

All's fair in love and poetry....Taylor Swift's The Tortured Poets Department is a 31 song masterpiece that is so incredibly complex in her depictions of love and loss in what is likely her most self-aware and transparent album yet. It is evident that this album was made with a different intention behind it than all of her past work. The Tortured Poets Department doesn't seem like she made it expecting it to have any massive hits or be commercially successful in the way the majority of her music has been up to this point. Most of these aren't instantly gratifying pop songs, but instead read like emotional excerpts from her diary detailing a whirlwind phase of her life. Much of this album is meant to sat with for a bit to fully understand what she is trying to convey. Folklore and Evermore remind me of The Tortured Poets Department in that way too, although these were made under different circumstances.

The original track list of the album was supposed to be only 16 songs, but just two hours after the release of the standard version, Taylor released a second part with 15 more songs titled The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology. Obviously 31 songs and just over two hours of run time is a lot to process for even the most dedicated fans, but it is so worth it for the emotional journey she takes you on throughout it. There is no way to be able to accurately process this album just from one listen alone, is it very dense and layered in the narrative she is portraying. 

It has been in the works for about two years, starting right after she finished Midnights in 2022 and continued to work on it throughout the first leg of The Eras Tour in summer 2023. On stage in Melbourne, Australia before The Tortured Poets Department was released, Taylor talked about how she "needed to make it" and writing this album "was really a lifeline for me." She continued, "It sort of reminded me of why songwriting is something that actually gets me through life and I've never had an album where I've needed songwriting more than I needed it on Tortured Poets." She worked on it primarily with her two core collaborators, Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner. The three of them continuously create some of the best work of their careers together and I always look forward to hearing what they make next. 

It is also her most confessional work yet, fully ripping the veil off of what we think Taylor Swift™ should be and who Taylor, the real person, actually is underneath it all. The Tortured Poets Department deals with the collision of the two versions of herself in that way. She is so honest and self-aware in wanting to maintain all of this, but at the same time being fed up with the cycle of it all. She knows she can never fully leave it all behind and probably wouldn't want to even if she could. This inner battle within herself is so interesting to see unfold throughout this record. 

A song like "Dear Reader", which was the final bonus track from the 3 a.m. edition of Midnights, can be looked back on as the perfect precursor to what was to come to with The Tortured Poets Department two years later. That song bridges the gap between the two records and offers more insight into what her mission with this music is. A lot of people put her on a pedestal or a view her as a "guiding light", as she sings in that song, but ultimately doesn't want to always be seen as this bright, shining figure that can do no wrong. This album feels like it is her trying to shatter that idealized version of herself and portray more of who she really is behind the persona she presents as publicly. 

Taylor opens up more about her life than ever before, which really is saying something because of how inherently personal every other album she has ever made is too. As a whole, The Tortured Poets Department is very existential, dramatic and vivid in its writing. Ultimately, I do think that it is probably her saddest album she's ever written too, but moments from it are also very funny and self-deprecating as well. The entire spectrum of emotions she portrays is so intense, whether she is writing about love, heartbreak, anger, depression, and everything in between. It is highly theatrical at certain points, to which she even acknowledged at one of her shows in Paris, calling The Tortured Poets section of the set "Female Rage: The Musical". It gives so much insight into Taylor's real life behind the scenes and her unfiltered feelings about topics that I never thought she would address so bluntly. 

The majority of this album focuses on the short-lived, but extremely passionate, love story of two star-crossed tortured poets and everything that came in the way of them being together. On the surface it lasted for only a fortnight, but was actually something that has been off and on for the better part of the last decade and has been alluded to for years in her music. More than once she also breaks the fourth wall between her and the listeners, while also revaluating her relationship with the media and the parasocial investment some of her fans have in her personal life - both of which can be very deranged at times. Much of these songs are meant to be divisive and uncomfortable to listen to with how brutally honest she is lyrically. 

I love that Taylor isn't subtle in her writing at all either, she wrote this music in a way that you will know exactly what each song is referencing. No matter who or what it's about, the details of each song make it very clear what they are directed toward. I don't normally go too in depth about the specific relationships Taylor was in that inspired her music in an effort to avoid the tabloid gossip further overshadowing the music she is putting out, but the timeline of events that transpired over the last year is crucial in fully understanding this album and the headspace she was in while making it. I think many were probably surprised that the muse behind much of this album ended up being about Matty Healy, the frontman of The 1975, who she briefly dated in 2023 soon after her six-year relationship with Joe Alwyn ended. I thought it was obvious because after all, he is the definition of a self-proclaimed tortured poet, as pretentious as that may sound. Much of the theming of The Tortured Poets Department directly references him and his music with The 1975 in a very obvious way, so it could really be about no one else but him. I have always been a massive fan of both Taylor and Matty, and over the years I have picked up on the often subtle, but very apparent, references they would make about each other back and forth in their lyrics. I never knew if it was just a coincidence, or just them being inspired by each other artistically, but it seems that this album fully confirms that all of the references were absolutely intentional. It puts so much of their past work into a new perspective for me. Songs like "the 1", "cardigan", "Maroon", "Death By A Thousand Cuts", and "...Question?" come to mind right away as songs by Taylor that are very clearly connected to the same storyline of this album too. It also more widely puts an album like Folklore into a new perspective, as it may not have been as fictional as Taylor led on at the time. Honestly, the biggest loss of all in this situation is the music that we will never get to hear Taylor and Matty make together. Two of the greatest songwriters of this generation coming together would have been magic. 

Looking back on it now, I think the ending of her long-term relationship with Joe, who deeply inspired all of her art since Reputation in 2017, was more the focus of her 2022 album Midnights. That was more of a breakup album for him than what was initially known at the time of release, in my opinion. I really didn't expect Taylor to say much more about the end of that relationship than what has already been said on a song like "You're Losing Me". She does give him, and the city they lived in together for all those years, one last goodbye on one of the tracks of this album, but mostly doesn't seem to be referenced as the main subject much more than that.

Her relationship with Matty did draw a lot of negative attention to them during their time together publicly and the incessant media backlash is ultimately what drove a wedge between them. From what she says in this album, he left her to not further wreck her image, leaving her heartbroken over it. Much of this album is her trying to navigate such a massive heartbreak, at points wondering if she should either sell her apartment or get an exorcism to help her get over it...or maybe both! Again, it is obviously a very melodramatic album! Overall, Taylor doesn't even really portray him in a negative light for the most part, but more so focuses on the complications of their relationship and the ways it was a mutually destructive situation. 

Alongside the album's release, Taylor wrote a prelude to the record that best sums up her mindset now and the intentions behind putting out this music into the world; "The Tortured Poets Department. An anthology of new works that reflect events, opinions and sentiments from a fleeting and fatalistic moment in time - one that was both sensational and sorrowful in equal measure. This period of the author's life is now over, the chapter is closed and boarded up. There is nothing to avenge, no scores to settle once wounds have healed. And upon further reflection, a good number of them turned out to be self-inflicted. This writer is of the firm belief that our tears become holy in form of ink on a page. Once we have spoken our saddest story, we can be free of it. And then all that's left is the tortured poetry."

"Fortnight" is the opening song on the album that sets the scene for a time in the distant future. It is written almost as if this is what she imagines her reflections of this currently turbulent time in her life will be one day. While the relationship that is the focus of much of this album was brief in hindsight, it felt like forever in the moment. In "Fortnight", she looks into a future where they both have moved on with other people and "turned into good neighbors", but acknowledges that a part of her will always want to be with him instead and resents him for that. "I love you, it's ruining my life", Taylor repeatedly sings throughout the song. If there was one lyric to sum up the entire album, it would be that. It's not the most poetically written or complex from the record, but it simply captures the contrast in the all-encompassing emotions she battles throughout. That same sentiment is echoed by Post Malone, who features on this track and is representing the male perspective in the story. 

This song also served as the lead single for the album, which was accompanied by a stunning music video that brought all of the emotions and lyrical symbolism to life. It wasn't the obvious choice for the lead single, but it is a much-needed introduction into The Tortured Poets universe and set the tone for the rest of the songs to come. 

The album's title track, "The Tortured Poets Department" directly follows, which gives deeper insight into the dynamics of their relationship as she compares them to all of the typical tortured poet clichés, right down to him leaving his typewriter at her apartment. "I laughed in your face and said, 'You're not Dylan Thomas, I'm not Patti Smith, this ain't the Chelsea Hotel, we'rе modern idiots'", she sings in the chorus. 

This song also shows Taylor at her most unhinged lyrically, with some of the wildest (and funniest) lyrics from the entire album. She is certainly channeling Matty Healy in the writing of this, which I love and fits the song perfectly. It was one of my initial favorites from the album for all of those reasons, plus it does a great job at setting up the rest of the album with what was to come thematically. Lyrics like "You smokеd, then ate seven bars of chocolate, we declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist" to "Sometimes, I wonder if you're gonna screw this up with me, but you told Lucy you'd kill yourself if I ever leave, and I had said that to Jack about you, so I felt seen" is particularly what stands out to me as some of the most notable lyrics for just how wild they are. I also really love the line, "At dinner, you take my ring off my middle finger and put it on the one people put wedding rings on and that's the closest I've come to my heart exploding," for it being as romantic as it is crazy too. Above all of that, she repeatedly portrays them as each other's soulmates despite all of the toxicity, repeatedly asking questions like, "Who's gonna hold you? Gonna know you? Gonna troll you?" and in turn, "Who else is gonna know me?"

The following song, "My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys", further plays into those toxic tropes in the wake of them breaking up for the first time. There was a lot of chaos and turbulence that came with it, which she details throughout the rest of the album too. Taylor described this song being about "...being somebody's favorite toy, until they break you, and then don’t want to play with you anymore". She portrays herself as a metaphorical doll that was played with too much and is now completely broken and tattered, once loved and now completely devalued. "But you should have seen him when he first got me", she sings in the pre-chorus. Taylor also described this song as being in denial about the end of a relationship and still hoping to fix the broken parts. "Once I fix me, he's gonna miss me", she sings in the bridge. There is so much hurt and ache in her voice, it's clear how hard this time was for her. One of my favorite verses of this entire album is in the outro of this song, "Just say when, I'd play again, he was my best friend down at the sandlot, I felt more when we played pretend, than with all the Kens, 'cause he took me out of my box, stole my tortured heart, left all these broken parts, told me I'm better off, but I'm not". 

The fourth song is among my favorites from the entire album, Jack's production is so stellar and Taylor's vocals sound amazing too. It showcases the range of all the deepest emotions she experienced in the aftermath of this untimely breakup, with the levels of intensity getting stronger and stronger in her depictions. In "Down Bad", she compares love to feeling like she was abducted by aliens and got to see the entire galaxy for the first time, just to be dropped back down to Earth again when it was all over. After having an experience like that and being shown the whole universe like never before, she can never just move on like it never happened. She sings, "Showed me that this world is bigger than us, then sent me back where I came from, for a moment, I knew cosmic love". Taylor uses these intense metaphors to show how "heavenstruck" she was with him, while everyone else think she's crazy for wishing she could go back. She sings, "I loved your hostile takeovers, encounters closer and closer, all your indecent exposures, how dare you say that it's— I'll build you a fort on some planet, where they can all understand it". The loss is obviously very deep for her and feels like nothing else will ever compare, saying it's "like I lost my twin". 

Taylor talked about the meaning behind the song with iHeartRadio, "The metaphor in 'Down Bad' is that I was comparing sort of the idea of being love bombed. Where someone rocks your world and dazzles you and then just kind of abandons you," she said. "This girl is abducted by aliens but she wanted to stay with them…And then when they drop her back off in her hometown, she's like, 'Wait, no, where are you going? I liked it there! It was weird but it was cool. Come back!' The lyric "please leave me stranded, it's so romantic" that she wrote a decade ago in "New Romantics" is now directly contrasted in "Down Bad" with the line, "how dare you think it's romantic leaving me safe and stranded". It is an interesting call-back that shows the progression of her outlook on love from back then. 

On all of Taylor's albums, the fifth track traditionally resembles one of the rawest and emotionally significant songs for her. It's a little bit different with this album since every single song holds a lot of weight, but "So Long, London" sticks out as it is resembling the end of an important era for Taylor in her personal life. Following the end of her six-year relationship with Joe Alwyn, she is giving one last goodbye to him and the city they lived in together all those years. It was a love that she once described as the feeling of seeing daylight for the first time, but will now just be looked back on as a "moment of warm sun". Their time together has been the subject of most of her work since 2017, inspiring some of the best songs she has ever written and even co-writing a few together too. This song serves as an important reflection of their time together, while also detailing the frustration she has with feeling like she wasted so much time and is "pissed off you let me give you all that youth for free". 

Throughout "So Long, London", she is questioning his love and unwilling to fully commit to her with the line, "You swore that you loved me, but where were the clues? I died on the altar waitin' for the proof". It brings a stark contrast to the bliss and hopefulness that songs from Reputation and Lover had, but these problems have been alluded to in "You're Losing Me" already too. "I wouldn't marry me either, a pathological people pleaser, who only wanted you to see her", is the line in particular that felt the most telling of where it went wrong. It is such a heart wrenching song, the frustration and pain in her voice are evident. This is her final ode to him, finally letting go of a relationship that has ran its course and just wasn't meant to be. It is bluntly written, she's not holding anything back anymore. Perhaps one of the most scathing lines is, "I founded the club she's heard great things about". She isn't necessarily heartbroken over him anymore in this song, more so annoyed and hurt that the place she loved for all of these years will never be the same for her. "And I'm just getting color back into my face, I'm just mad as hell 'cause I loved this place for so long, London". 

It is so poetically written, one that draws many parallels to Taylor's past work and in a lot of ways closes the chapter for that time in her life. It particularly connects to a lot of the same themes that were present on the song she and Joe wrote together in 2020 called "champagne problems", which tells the story of a failed marriage proposal. In that song she sings, "'She would've made such a lovely bride, what a shame she's fucked in the head,' they said, but you'll find the real thing instead, she'll patch up your tapestry that I shred". Much of the music she made during that time was said to be generally fictionalized, but now that same sentiment she sang about four years ago is mirrored by her reality. The final line really hits so hard, as she sings that they "had a good run...but I'm not the one," to which she finishes the song with, "you'll find someone".

The aftermath of that relationship, as well as her subsequent rebound soon after, is the main focus for the rest of the album.  On "...Ready For It?" she declared "he can be my jailer", but now is likening that to being "Fresh Out The Slammer" now that it's over. Much of The Tortured Poets Department is truly the antithesis of the feelings she portrayed in albums like Reputation and Lover. Another obvious reference to that time in her life is with the lyric, "Another summer takin' cover, rolling thunder, he don't understand me," which is directly contradicts a lyric from "Lover", "I've loved you three summers now, honey, but I want 'em all". I love the inclusion of the "rolling thunder" line that is also consistent throughout a lot of Bleachers music too. This song is about her first moments of being single and having a new-found sense of freedom. "Fresh out the slammer, I know who my first call will be to", she sings. Throughout all of the music Taylor wrote that seems to have been inspired by Matty Healy in the past largely focused on being obsessed with the idea of him, which is the hard truth she discovers herself as the album progresses. But at the mid-point of the record, it's still a new and exciting fresh start for both of them, although we already know the ending. "All those nights, he kept me goin', swirled you into all of my poems, now we're at the starting line, I did my time," she sings. 

In a lot of ways "Fresh Out The Slammer" also connects to the ninth track "Guilty As Sin?" too. It's one of the best songs on the album, for how flirty and catchy it is, but also for the depth within the lyricism. It focuses on Taylor struggling with the complex problem of choosing her desires of indulging in a forbidden love over what's morally right for her to do. With that she also faces the question of "Without ever touchin' his skin, how can I be guilty as sin?" In "Guilty As Sin?" she opens up about outgrowing her long-term relationship and yearning for something new with someone she longed to be with for many years already. She sings, "My boredom's bone-deep, this cage was once just fine, am I allowed to cry?" The thought of being with him haunted her all this time and this is her finally admitting to these dreams that she keeps "lockеd, in lowercase, inside a vault". She said four years ago that she knew he'd "haunt all of my what-ifs" and this is one of several songs that expands on that exact sentiment. 

The use of religious imagery in "Guilty As Sin?" reminds me of "False God", it is so cleverly written. "What if I roll the stone away? They're gonna crucify me anyway," she sings in the bridge, "What if the way you hold me is actually what's holy? If long-suffering propriety is what they want from me, they don't know how you've haunted me so stunningly, I choose you and me religiously". 

Florida is randomly another recurring theme throughout the album that more abstractly connects to songs like "Fresh Out The Slammer" and "Guilty As Sin?" too, but is the main subject of the eighth track. "What happens when your life doesn't fit or your choices you've made catch up to you and you're surrounded by these harsh consequences and judgment, and circumstances did not lead you to where you want to be and you just want to escape from everything you've ever known. Is there a place you could go?" Taylor told iHeartRadio. "I'm always watching like Dateline—people, you know, have these crimes that they commit. Where do they immediately skip town and go to? They go to Florida, you know? They like try to reinvent themselves, have a new identity, blend in. And I think when you go through a heartbreak, there's a part of you that thinks, I want a new name, I want a new life, I don't want anyone to know where I've been or know me at all....Where would you go to reinvent yourself and blend in? Florida." 

"Florida!!!" depicts Taylor looking for a place to escape away to and hide from reality in the midst of a major change in her life. It draws from common tropes of true crime documentaries, similarly to the way "no body no crime" from Evermore was written. The song features Florence + The Machine, who really adds so much to the energy of the song. Their voices couldn't be more different, but it strangely works really well for "Florida!!!". It reminds me a lot of the sound from Florence's most recent record, Dance Fever, which was also primarily made with Jack Antonoff too. I have been anticipating a collaboration between the three of them for so long and I'm so happy it finally happened! Florence has a much bigger contribution to this song than Post Malone did in "Fortnight", where he mostly only did background vocals and sang the bridge. Florida fittingly is also referenced in that song too as a place to start fresh in the final verse, "Move to Florida, buy the car you want, but it won't start up 'til you touch, touch, touch me". 

I especially love Florence's verse in this song, "Yes, I'm hauntеd, but I'm feeling just fine, all my girls got their lace and their crimes and your cheating husband disappeared, well, no one asks any questions here," she sings. "So I did my best to lay to rest, all of the bodies that have ever been on my body and in my mind, they sink into the swamp - Is that a bad thing to say in a song?" The storytelling is so strong on this track, it is really so captivating to listen to. The way they both go back and forth with each line in the bridge is another highlight of the song for me, "I've got some regrets, I'll bury them in Florida, tell me I'm despicable, say it's unforgivable, what a crash, what a rush, fuck me up, Florida".

"But Daddy I Love Him" is the first of many moments Taylor breaks the fourth wall between her and the listener to speak out against the constant scrutiny she has been subject to since the start of her career, particularly when it comes to her relationships. The song's title is in reference to a quote from The Little Mermaid, when Ariel is forced to give up her voice for the chance to meet the man she loves. That fairytale narrative loosely follows through the song, which largely details the backlash she received in the media throughout the brief time she and Matty Healy were publicly together. The intensity of it continued to build until they eventually broke up to protect her image, all of which she alludes to multiple times throughout this album. Matty is a controversial figure, and while some of the criticisms of him are valid, at the same time a lot of it was so blown out of proportion or just completely not real from what I've gathered. It is sharply written, which I never could have imagined she would ever address in such detail like this. She says she would "rather burn my whole life down than listen to one more second of all this bitchin' and moanin'". A lot of the discourse surrounding them at the time was very dramatic and deranged, which is also exactly how she made this song sound too. It's very wordy and really not even that melodic, it basically sounds like she's just trying to get everything she ever wanted to say out in six minutes or less to be able to move on. 

"God save the most judgmental creeps who say they want what's best for me, sanctimoniously performing soliloquies I'll never see, thinkin' it can change the beat of my heart when he touches me and counteract the chemistry and undo the destiny," she sings. Another highlight is the line, "I'll tell you something 'bout my good name, it's mine alone to disgrace, I don't cater to all these vipers dressed in empath's clothing". She also reveals that despite the critics pulling them apart the first time, they eventually did briefly get back together again without anyone knowing, although it didn't last long. She sings, "Scandal does funny things to pride, but brings lovers closer, we came back when the heat died down, went to my parents and they came around, all the wine moms are still holding out, but fuck 'em, it's over." I love that it still has hints of humor and teasing in between some of the genuine anger she's showing too, like with the line "I'm having his baby," to which she quickly follows it up with, "No I'm not, but you should see your faces!" 

A lot of these feelings of anger and resentment toward the way she and this relationship were being portrayed in the media seems to reach a climax later in the album on "Who's Afraid Of Little Old Me?" This song is once again directed toward all of the "vipers dressed in empaths clothing" and is now fully fighting back against them. "If you wanted me dead, you should've just said, nothing makes me feel more alive", she sings in the first verse. She is rarely ever in a "scandal" to this degree, so it was definitely strange to watch it all play out in real time, especially since the allegations of him are the complete opposite of everything he has ever stood with own platform and in his art. "The scandal was contained, the bullet had just grazed, at all costs keep your good name, you don't get to tell me you feel bad", she sings. 

Taylor compares herself to a trained circus animal that is breaking free from the constraints that have been put on her all these years. "I was tame, I was gentle 'til the circus life made me mean, 'Don't you worry folks, we took out all her teeth,'" she sings in the chorus. That is a really thought-provoking and interesting metaphor for her life growing up as a child star, with forced expectations being placed on her from a young age. I'm sure that frustration has only continued to build, especially now that she is a grown woman and feels that people are still trying to control what she can and can't do. She definitely has a unique perspective, and I'm sure has been through many dark moments than what anyone could ever imagine. "I wanna snarl and show you just how disturbed this has made me, you wouldn't last an hour in the asylum where they raised me," she sings. It's very theatrical and dramatic with the pounding piano keys and growing anger in her voice as she sings. "So tell me everything is not about me, but what if it is? Then say they didn't do it to hurt me, but what if they did?" She finishes the song with such a poignant verse, that gives me chills every time. "'Cause you lured me, and you hurt me, and you taught me" she sings in the outro, "You caged me and then you called me crazy, I am what I am 'cause you trained me".

The latter half of the first installment of The Tortured Poets Department is when the harsh reality sets in that she can't change him or repair their relationship, no matter how badly she wishes she could. That sentiment is the focus of "I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)". It has a little bit of a country twang to it, which is so different from the rest of the record but fits really well into the storyline of this song. It's kind of like what "cowboy like me" was to Evermore in that way. It is another moment of trying to convince everyone that she can "handle me a dangerous man, no really I can". The storytelling on this song is so strong and vividly written. Once again, the bits of humor that are sprinkled throughout this heavy album really stick out to me as some of the best of the entire record. After spending the entire song trying to prove she can fix him, she stops and says, "Woah, maybe I can't!". I laughed out loud the first time I heard that, her delivery of that line is so hilarious.

The next couple of songs is her mourning this relationship, both having notes of sadness and anger for how it all went down. "loml" is among the saddest on the record but is also one of the most notable for the strong lyricism and emotional vulnerability. She details their entire love story, how it was never the right time for them to be together, but when it finally felt like it was, it was like he "blew in with the winds of fate". Now that she is left heartbroken, she sees that "it was legendary, it was momentary, it was unnecessary, should've let it stay buried". Their intentions to get married and start a family is something that she mentions quite a few times throughout The Tortured Poets Department, "You shit-talked me under the table, talkin' rings and talkin' cradles, I wish I could un-recall how we almost had it all," is one of the many times she does so in this song alone. In the aftermath of their relationship, she details the way she was left in a deep depression for all that their life could have been together. A lyric that has always stuck out to me from this song is, "But I've felt a hole like this, never before and ever since".

Taylor uses the acronym "loml" as the song's title in such a creatively ambiguous way. In the context of this song, she uses it as both "love of my life" and "loss of my life". In the chorus she sings, "You said I'm the love of your life about a million times" and in the final lines of the song she says, "Our field of dreams engulfed in fire, your arson's match, your somber eyes and I'll still see it until I die, you're the loss of my life". 

As time went on, a lot of that sadness seems to have turned into pure anger and rage toward her ex for ghosting her. "The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived" is a scathing message to him for all of the heartache she was put through and her now saying that she no longer even wants him back in her life again in any capacity. Taylor now wonders if his love was all performative or had ulterior motives, which she details in the biting bridge. "Were you sent by someone who wanted me dead? Did you sleep with a gun underneath our bed? Were you writin' a book? Were you a sleeper cell spy? In fifty years, will all this be declassified?" she sings. "You said normal girls were boring, but you were gone by the morning, you kicked out the stage lights, but you're still performing". Despite how strong the bridge is, this is one of my least favorites from the album, contrary to popular opinion. I just don't feel that the writing in the verses or chorus is particularly strong or progresses the story being told throughout the rest of the record. That's mainly because she goes on for another 15 songs more or less about how much she wishes she could still be with him, which is the opposite narrative of "The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived". Either this is just out of place in the track list or is insincere in the way it's basically just telling his biggest critics what they want to hear about him. If this came toward the end of the 31 songs, maybe I'd have a different opinion of it though. 

In between all of these intense back and forth emotions she's experiencing at this time around early summer 2023, she is also touring around the country on the first leg of The Eras Tour. While she is experiencing this massive public triumph as the biggest artist in the world on her most successful tour yet, she is also having a total breakdown in private. But regardless, the show much go on! "I Can Do It With A Broken Heart" is a collision of the two realities in her life, while also breaking down her public pop star persona. "They said, "Babe, you gotta fake it 'til you make it" and I did," she sings in the first lines of the chorus. "Lights, camera, bitch, smile, even when you wanna die".

The entire Tortured Poets set at The Eras Tour is truly the most meta form of performance art I've ever seen from her, the way she performs this song in particular is so wild.  "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". Jack's specialty as a producer is being able to make the saddest songs lyrically into the most fun, upbeat sounding pure pop bangers. This song is exactly that, creating a glittering chaotic synth landscape, a total contrast to the lyrics she's singing. "I'm so depressed, I act like it's my birthday every day, I'm so obsessed with him, but he avoids me like the plague, I cry a lot, but I am so productive, it's an art, you know you're good when you can even do it with a broken heart", Taylor sings in the chorus. I really love the dichotomy of this song, she pulls it off so well in the delivery, especially in the final words of the song, "You know you're good - and I'm good! 'Cause I'm miserable and nobody even knows! Ah, try and come for my job".

The final song on the first installment of The Tortured Poets Department is "Clara Bow", a beautifully introspective look into Taylor's life and career thus far. It is named after one of the most famous actresses of the silent film era, who is largely regarded as the "first it-girl". The message of it reminds me a lot of one of my favorite songs she has ever made called "Nothing New" from Red (Taylor's Version). Much like that song, "Clara Bow" opens up about the pressures of the music industry and fame through the female perspective, not just her own experience, but looking through the lens of the icons that came before her and giving advice to the ones that will come after. It reminds me in a lot of ways of the message behind "The Lucky One" too, which is one of the most underrated tracks in her entire discography, as well as "You're On Your Own, Kid". One of the lyrics from the latter feels particularly very connected to "Clara Bow" too, "I search the party of better bodies, just to learn that my dreams aren't rare". In this song she is now singing about being a young girl and dreaming of making it big one day, while also touching on the unrealistic beauty standards that women are conditioned to uphold. 

"You look like Clara Bow in this light, remarkable", she sings in the opening verse. "All your life, did you know you'd be picked like a rose?" She then sings about comparisons that are made about her to Stevie Nicks, who also plays a subtle role in the overarching theme of The Tortured Poets Department. They both share the same confessional and intimate approach to their songwriting, so the special poem that Stevie wrote for Taylor and herself that is included in the physical copies of the album is such a meaningful addition. "You look like Stevie Nicks in '75, the hair and lips, crowd goes wild at her fingertips, half moonshine, a full еclipse," Taylor sings in the second verse. 

The final verse flips the perspective to the present, looking at the new generation of female singer-songwriters that are coming up in the industry now. She becomes self-referential several times on the album, but goes all-in on the final verse, "You look like Taylor Swift in this light, we're lovin' it, you've got edge, she never did, the future's bright...dazzling". That is such a great twist in the story being told on the song, and the perfect way to end the first installment of the record. It reminds me of a lyric from the bridge of "Nothing New", "One day I'm gonna meet her, it's fever dream, the kind of radiance you only have it seventeen, she'll know the way and then she'll say she got the map from me, I'll say I'm happy for her then I'll cry myself to sleep". It is an interesting commentary on the way women are often pit against each other in the music industry and made to view each other as competitors in the space. It sounds like a cautionary tale more than anything, to not give into the pressure of the industry to become just another version of an existing star - whether it's to be the next Clara Bow, Stevie Nicks or Taylor Swift.

The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology is the surprise second installment of the album that was released just two hours after the release of the first 16 songs. It is now telling the complete story of every phase of her life from the past few years, giving even more insight into the first part of the record. After surprise releasing Folklore and Evermore, I couldn't ever imagine how she would ever be able to top the shock factor of those drops, but this one is definitely a contender! "I'd written so much tortured poetry in the past 2 years and wanted to share it all with you", Taylor said in her announcement of the double album. Listening to all 31 songs that night was actually such a crazy experience, it was definitely a lot to process another entire album worth of music all in one sitting. It is still absolutely worth diving into because some of the best work of her career is within these 15 songs. 

The first part of The Tortured Poets Department did seem to be more conceptual and followed a certain story from beginning to end, while The Anthology mostly seems like everything else that didn't really fit into that. At the same time though, it still tells a cohesive story. The message of a lot of these songs continues to follow a similar theme of heartbreak and longing for a different outcome for these star-crossed lovers. The songwriting is just so strong throughout every song that it is impossible not to get chills with how poetic they are, regardless of the potential for redundancy. 

The first part of The Tortured Poets Department was mostly produced by Jack Antonoff, while The Anthology was mostly produced by Aaron Dessner. Although Jack and Aaron did work on both parts of it, they do feel like two separate albums, even though they were written at the same time. Like she said on "I Can Do It With A Broken Heart", try to come for her job! No one is doing it like her! 

The Anthology as a whole reminds me a lot of Folklore and Evermore, both sonically and lyrically. There are many very specific call-backs and references to the stories being told on those albums. It kind of feels like this is the third sister album in a way, as if it's the famous Woodvale theories finally coming true. There is a lot of strong storytelling and deep introspection in these songs, which further proves that this is among some of Taylor's rawest and most personal work yet.

The second installment begins with "The Black Dog", which was previously announced as one of the four bonus tracks initially exclusive to the vinyl pressings. It includes some of the strongest lyricism from the entire album, which vividly depicts each setting and moments in time that she is singing about. The song is named after a pub in London, which she sees her ex going to with someone new and wonders why he doesn't miss her as much as she still misses him on a night like that. "And I hope it's shitty in The Black Dog when someone plays 'The Starting Line' and you jump up, but she's too young to know this song that was intertwined in the tragic fabric of our dreaming, 'cause tail between your legs, you're leavin'", Taylor sings. 

Even after all of the heartache she was put through, part of her still romanticizes what they once had and can't believe that he doesn't still feel the same. "Do you hate me? Was it hazing for a cruel fraternity? I pledged and I still mean it," she sings. It is made up of all the questions she wishes she could ask him, seemingly starting to lose her mind over never getting the answers she wants. "Were you makin' fun of me with some esoteric joke? Now I wanna sell my house and set fire to all my clothes and hire a priest to come and exorcise my demons, even if I die screaming and I hope you hear it". She grows increasingly resentful and keeps reiterating the phrase "old habits die screaming". By the end of the song she is no longer belting that line, but instead whispering those words, symbolizing that she is run down from caring so much about it. 

She still obviously did care a lot though, which she continues to prove throughout the rest of the record. "imgonnagetyouback" proves just that in the following song. It directly references The 1975's "Fallingforyou", even right down to the stylistic choice within the format of the song titles. Matty dedicated the song to her at one of his shows in 2014, which is another small detail that goes to show just how far back all of this lore goes. The intro even sounds exactly like the beginning of "Looking For Somebody (To Love)" too - I have to say Jack was insane for that one! She uses the dichotomous phrase of the song's title in both a negative and a positive way, kind of symbolizing that she doesn't even know what she wants herself. It is reminiscent thematically to "get him back!" by Olivia Rodrigo, although they are very different sonically. "Whether I'm gonna be your wife or gonna smash up your bike, I haven't decided yet, but I'm gonna get you back", she sings in the first chorus. It's chaotic and sarcastic, as all of the best songs on The Tortured Poets Department are.

The decade of back and forth and longing between the two of them is even further detailed in "Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus". I could see this song getting lost in the midst of all of the other 31 songs for many listeners, but it is honestly one of the most poetically written and truly heartbreaking songs on the entire album. It also connects together so many of the previous songs she wrote about him over the years in such an intricate way. "If you wanna break my cold, cold heart, just say, 'I loved you the way that you were', if you wanna tear my world apart, just say you've always wondered," she sings. It tells the complete story of how they watched each other from afar for all these years and now that it's over, she is still wondering what would have happened if they stayed together. It's very reminiscent of "the 1", with lines like, "if my wishes came true, it would've been you" and "it could've been sweet, if it would've been me". "About You" by The 1975 also echoes a lot of those same feelings of forever holding a piece of the other in their hearts, no matter how much time has passed. "We get married in our heads, hold onto hope that we'll find our way back in the end," is a particularly poignant lyric from that song that feels relevant to a lot of the feelings of The Tortured Poets Department. Now there are even more emotions to overcome in the aftermath of finally trying to be together and it going down in flames. All that's left is her wondering if she will ever be able to move on. She sings, "So if I sell my apartment and you have some kids with an internet starlet, will that make your memory fade from this scarlet maroon like it never happened?" The song ends with a final question of, "Will I always wonder?"

"I Look In People's Windows" also follows a similar pattern of thinking, which I view as a continuation of songs like "Death By A Thousand Cuts" and "Midnight Rain". This is her looking into a metaphorical portal of all the paths she could have taken in her life, as well as the people she could have taken those paths with that she left behind. It reminds me of the famous "Fig Tree" poem by Sylvia Plath in a lot of ways, which is one that I always connected with and feels especially relevant to the meaning of this song. Even though she made the conscious choice to go one direction in her life, she still wonders what could have happened if she chose differently. "I look through the windows of this love, even though we boarded them up," is a lyric she wrote in 2019 that directly mirrors the sentiment of this song now too. "I look in people's windows in case you're at their table, what if your eyes looked up and met mine one more time?" she sings in the final lines. 

Perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching moments in her entire discography comes with track 21, "How Did It End". It is a very vulnerable look into her personal life as someone who is one of the most famous people in the world. There has long been a public fascination with her dating life from pretty much the very beginning of her career, which in part she does feed into as someone is very open in her music about everything happening in her life. At the same time, I think the media's coverage of it is often so extreme that it does tend to feel like it is unfortunately overshadowing her music, tours, etc. "How Did It End" shows the darker side to that decision to live her life in the public eye, in what is one of the saddest songs she has ever made. The moment this song seems to have been written about is when the news of her long-term relationship was publicized, which became a bit of a spectacle in itself with everyone trying to find out what could have happened between them. "Come one, come all, it's happenin' again, the empathetic hunger descends, we'll tell no one except all of our friends," she sings. "We must know, how did it end?" While this album is full of a lot of really sad and vulnerable moments, you can especially really hear the pain in her voice in this song. The bridge also is a moment that gives me chills every time as she sings, "Say it once again with feeling, how the death rattle breathing, silenced as the soul was leaving, the deflation of our dreaming, leaving me bereft and reeling, my beloved ghost and me, sitting in a tree, D-Y-I-N-G".  Taylor does seemingly answer the question for everyone asking "How did it end?" with the verse, "We were blind to unforeseen circumstances, we learned thе right steps to different dancеs and fell victim to interlopers' glances, lost the game of chance, what are the chances?" 

Amidst the wide range of heavy, deep emotions she is portraying from what she has insisted was just a brief chapter of her life that is now over, there are also a few songs that feel truer to the current phase Taylor is in right now. "The Alchemy" and "So High School" depict a happier, brighter side of her with these really sweet love songs that sound straight out of a 90's rom-com. Once again, she doesn't hold back at hinting who these songs are about, this time with a lot of very obvious all-American references to football, touchdowns, cutting the amateurs from the team, etc. that are very clearly in reference to her current relationship with Travis Kelce. On their own, these songs are very cute, but honestly it doesn't match the rest of the album at all. It makes me wonder if this is giving a little bit of insight into what her next album will potentially sound like, I especially hope she fully leans into this indie rock sound in the future with Aaron Dessner. But for now, they do feel out of place conceptually. There's actually a lot of really funny lines throughout these songs though, "You know how to ball I know Arestotle" from "So High School" is one that has definitely been getting a lot of attention for obvious reasons, but "These blokes warm the benches, we've been on a winning streak" from "The Alchemy" is also such a great line too. 

Like I said from the beginning, there is really no room for debate for who these songs are about and Taylor really makes it clear who these songs are for. She was never known for being subtle and I always loved that about her!

Speaking of not being subtle, "thanK you aIMee" is among the most obvious of the entire album. Note that the intentional capitalizations in the song title that spell out "KIM", which is in reference to her ongoing feud with Kim Kardashian, who Taylor has a long and complicated history with, which I will save my full thoughts on for when Reputation (Taylor's Version) is eventually released. In short, Taylor's career and reputation were both nearly ruined by her and her ex-husband several years ago over something that turned out to be completely false. This song shows a lot of growth since then and even thanks "Aimee" for all of the pain that she put her through, as it made her the person she is today. "I wrote a thousand songs that you find uncool, I built a legacy that you can't undo, but when I count the scars, there's a moment of truth, that there wouldn't be this if there hadn't been you", she sings. She honestly doesn't go too hard on her though, but basically says that the best revenge she could have ever gotten on "Aimee" is when her daughter now comes home singing Taylor's songs, unbeknownst to her that they're actually about her mom. I can see that a song like this or "Cassandra" probably came out of the process of looking back at Reputation for the upcoming re-recordings, so it's evident how this is a topic that is fresh in her mind again. 

Some of my favorite songs from the entire album come toward the latter half of the second installment. They feel very reminiscent sonically and lyrically to Folklore and often seem to be direct follow-ups to the themes presented on that record. It shows a really sweet and gentle side of her in the songwriting, while also being so introspective and moving. They all give so much more insight into her deepest thoughts, fears, and fantasies than ever before. "The Prophecy" has quickly become one of my favorite songs Taylor has ever written for all of those reasons. She feels as if she "got cursed like Eve got bitten" and so badly wishes she could find her soulmate but at this point feels that she will never find one. "I guess a lesser woman would've lost hope, a greater woman wouldn't beg, but I looked to the sky and said, 'Please, I've been on my knees, change the prophecy, don't want money, just someone who wants my company, let it once be me, who do I have to speak to about if they can redo the prophеcy?'" The beautiful melody and production by Aaron Dessner on this song is truly some of their best work yet together. 

In "I Hate It Here", she describes her greatest wish to escape from reality as she dives into the "secret gardens in my mind", very similarly to how she dreamt of escaping to "the lakes where all the poets went to die" four years ago. "I hate it here so I will go to lunar valleys in my mind, when they found a better planet, only the gentle survived, I dreamed about it in the dark, the night I felt like I might die". She also looks back on history and wishes she could have lived in a different era, except "without all the racists" of course, even though she knows that she would probably have hated it there too. "Nostalgia is a mind's trick", she sings. 

"The Bolter" is also a song about wanting to escape and run away from all of her problems, this time through the lens of relationships. It's really cleverly written and so catchy, with a very different sonic approach compared to the rest of the album. It's almost as if "Blank Space" was a song on Folklore instead of 1989. The message of this song actually reminds me of the thesis of 1989 too, "She lost him, but found herself and somehow that was everything," especially when hearing her sing, "As she was leaving, it felt like freedom". 

"Peter" is another all-time career highlight for Taylor. It directly follows up "cardigan", the incredible lead single from Folklore, and the Peter Pan and Wendy storyline that is intertwined throughout it. It's kind of buried in the extensive track list as the 28th song, which is a shame because it is one of the best she has ever written and deserved to have gotten a bigger spotlight in the first installment. In the book by J.M. Barrie, Peter leaves and promises to return to Wendy multiple times throughout the story, always finding his way back to her. These reunions are often quick and spontaneous, but a testament to the enduring bond they share. That dynamic is at the core of "Peter", in which Taylor takes the perspective of Wendy's character, who left Neverland and is now grown up, finally realizing that Peter won't be coming back for her. "You said you were gonna grow up, then you were gonna come find me" she repeatedly sings in the chorus, almost as if she is pleading with him to keep his promise and return. "We both did the best we could do, underneath the same moon in different galaxies," is one of the most gorgeous lyrics that really captures these emotions and her longing for their relationship to one day work out. 

One of the best lyrics she has ever written from "cardigan" is at the core of this song; "Tried to change the ending, Peter losing Wendy". "cardigan" is my favorite song of all time; I love it so much and have always felt such a strong connection to it. That song, as well as the rest of Folklore, really changed my life since the first time I heard it. This was one of the few instances in my life where I just felt forever changed by music so immediately like that. As I referenced before, the most stunning line from The 1975's "About You" also directly connects to both "cardigan" and "Peter", "Hold onto hope that we'll find our way back in the end". It is so beautiful that they've been having this ongoing conversation in their music for all these years. All of the connections in their music only really came fully to light in the past year and even more after the release of this album. I hope that one day we get a response song dedicated to Wendy, although I can see "About You" already doing so just as well. "Do you think I have forgotten about you?" he repeatedly asks in that song. 

"And I won't confess that I waited, but I let the lamp burn, as the men masqueraded, I hoped you'd return, with your feet on the ground, tell me all that you'd learned, 'cause love's never lost when perspective is earned," Taylor sings in the emotional bridge. "And you said you'd come and get me, but you were twenty-five and the shelf life of those fantasies has expired, lost to the 'Lost Boys' chapter of your life". While Wendy had to grow up and move on from Neverland, Peter never could - even though he promised her he would mature and come back for her one day. Now that all this time has passed, she is left forever chasing the shadows in the grocery line looking for signs from him. "Forgive me, Peter, please know that I tried to hold on to the days when you were mine, but the woman who sits by the window has turned out the light".

The final song on The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology is such a special way to end this incredible body of work. "The Manuscript" feels like the perfect representation of why Taylor is the artist that she is and her mission behind putting out this music. The story seems to closely follow the process of filming and directing All Too Well: The Short Film in 2021, in which she revisits another particularly intense time in her life during the creation of Red, which was overcome with heartache, confusion and grief for the end of a different relationship. "All Too Well" is a song that was among her saddest and most vulnerable at the time, which for a while was difficult for her to perform every night on stage. As time went on, it started to become so much more as the fans so profoundly re-claimed the story and made it all their own. Now that Taylor is so far removed from that time in her life, well over a decade later, she is able to look back on it with so much more clarity for what all of it had been for. The same has happened time and time again with all of her music through the years, and the same will one day happen with the stories being told on The Tortured Poets Department too. 

"The professor said to write what you know, lookin' backwards might be the only way to move forward," she sings, which also more widely also feels representative of the entire thesis behind her current Taylor's Version re-recording journey too. "At last, she knew what the agony had been for."

The Tortured Poets Department takes the listener on such an intense, yet profound, journey from beginning to end and this is such a beautiful way to close that chapter of her life. As Taylor is writing all of this music, obviously it is very rooted in her own life experiences, but once she puts it out into the world, it takes on a new life in the hearts and lives of all who listen to it. I think anyone who has ever felt a connection to her music will be able to appreciate the message of this song, the final lines especially made me so emotional as it is a testament to how truly incredible Taylor is as a songwriter. "The only thing that's left is the manuscript, one last souvenir from my trip to your shores, now and then, I reread the manuscript, but the story isn't mine anymore". 

The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology is masterfully written and is crafted into such an ornate tapestry of emotions. Taylor's full artistic range is truly on display throughout this record, making it one of her most in-depth and vulnerable releases yet. The ability to create something so beautiful out of a difficult time in her life is such an incredible talent to have and a true testament to the healing powers of writing. The tragic love story that she presents is so complex and intense, but also is a testament to Taylor's strength and creative vision. 

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Tortured Poets Department*, I would really appreciate if you would do so through my affiliate link here* The packaging of both the vinyl and CD variants are so incredibly detailed and among the most special in my music collection. I'm sure you'll love it too! Shop more Taylor Swift music here*

Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below! I have written many other in-depth reviews of Taylor Swift's music, which are all linked here and below if you would like to read more! 

-Melissa ♡


Photo Credit: Taylor Swift, TAS Rights Management, Beth Garrabrant



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