A deep dive into Taylor Swift’s ‘Tortured Poets Department’, ‘Anthology’

FRIDAY, APRIL 26, 2024

In the days leading up to the highly anticipated release of Taylor Swift’s “Tortured Poets Department”, fans worldwide found themselves guessing which thematic direction this album would take.

Many wondered if it would have anything to do with her sudden breakup with British actor Joe Alwyn.

Upon the release of “Tortured Poets Department” last Friday, Swift defied expectations again by dropping a surprise second album “The Tortured Poets Department: the Anthology” in the early hours of Saturday. The double album has a collection of a staggering 31 songs.

Behind the scenes, longtime collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dresner lent their talent to crafting a sonic landscape that seamlessly melds traditional folk with modern synthpop. The resulting sound, while familiar to Swifties, presented a captivating fusion of genres. Yet some critics noted predictability in Swift’s delivery, attributing it to her signature style.

Like her previous albums “Folklore” and “Evermore”, the songs on the latest records mostly gravitate towards slow ballads, punctuated by a few lively tracks like “Fortnight”, “Florida!!!” and “So High School”.

“Fortnight” touches on the nostalgia of the ’80s, think synthpop, heavy drums and bass with light and airy vocals, while “So High School” is reminiscent of the early 2000s rom-coms.

Swift’s skill in crafting heartbreak anthems shines through in the “Tortured Poets Department”, highlighting her ability to weave touching narratives through evocative lyrics.

Themes of failed relationships and personal turmoil, possibly in her relationship with Alwyn, filter through in tracks like “So Long London”, “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me” and “Fresh Off Slammer”.

Meanwhile, “Thank You Aimee”, stylised as “thanK you aIMee” with the capital letters spelling out “KIM” is seen as a direct swipe at Kim Kardashian.

Far too poetic?

However, while Swift’s lyrics may be poignant, leaning towards themes of sadness, her overreliance on metaphorical language and verbose imagery occasionally loses the listener. Lines like “sanctimoniously performing soliloquies I’ll never see” may impress with their literary flourish, but risk alienating casual listeners seeking a more straightforward musical experience.

Nevertheless, Swift’s expertise in creating worlds in her lyrics shines through in tracks like “Cassandra”, where she delves into Greek mythology to create parallels with her own experiences.

For instance, the lyrics, “They knew, they knew, they knew the whole time/ That I was onto somethin’/ The family, the pure greed, the Christian chorus line/ They all said nothin'/ Blood's thick, but nothin' like a payroll”, are seen by some as a reference to her spat with Kanye West and the Kardashians.

Though Swift may not be a natural belter who can casually hit high notes like Beyonce and Ariana Grande, her relevance in the music industry remains undisputed even after nearly two decades.

In 2012, she channeled her broken heart into crafting an album about her unsuccessful relationships. In 2017, amidst a scandal involving Kim Kardashian, she salvaged her dying career by leveraging her strength: releasing another album. Then, in 2021, she embraced the folk genre, recognizing its potential to provide solace to listeners amid the pandemic-induced isolation. Throughout, she consistently transforms challenges into opportunities.

Making the most of everything

Swift is clearly a marketing genius.

After a dispute with her former record label, Big Machine Records, over the ownership of the masters of her first six studio albums, Swift re-recorded and released “Taylor’s Versions” of four.

In 2021, she released “her” versions of “Fearless” and “Red” and in 2023 she released “Speak Now” and “1989”.

This strategy kept her fan base riveted and even won her new followers because it proved that she would go the extra mile to win back the ownership of the 80+ tracks she had released since her career started. She also smartly kept her fans excited by including “vault” tracks or songs that did not make it to the original album. She would weave easter eggs and subtle hints about her future releases to give her fans an immersive experience.

With two more albums left to re-record, Swift’s trajectory suggests that her reign as one of music’s foremost icons is far from over.