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So Tortured, So Poetic.

Perhaps I took the motivational poster-isms of “Karma” for granted…
Cover by Beth Garrabrant.
Cover by Beth Garrabrant.

Taylor Swift’s lyrics are pretty. Pretty in the same way most populist, straight-from-the-Notes-app poetry is— an Instagram caption on speed dial. The other day, one of my friends was wearing a cheery, azure-blue friendship bracelet [a staple of the Swifties], strung together by beads that read, “PATHOLOGICAL PEOPLE PLEASER.” In the imperial age of Swift, self-abnegation is adorable. Of course, it’s a lyric from “You’re Losing Me (From The Vault) (Taylor’s Version)” off Midnights: The Late Night Edition. Of course, it might be a requiem for her 6-year relationship with actor Joe Alwyn. Perhaps there’s some Freudian transference going on as she subalterns herself to the role of a despairing fan, like me, repeating the same line. Stop, Taylor, you’re losing me.

With production helmed by indie-pop pundits Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, THE TORTURED POETS DEPARTMENT [the grammatically-averse title is questionable…] reaches new heights in the field of just-pleasant, mid-tempo synthpop. Opener “Fortnight,” featuring the subdued vocals of pop-crossover sensation Post Malone, is a somber ballad in the wake of Midnights’ (2022) ethereal malaise: “I was a functioning alcoholic till nobody noticed my new aesthetic.” Her once-cryptic lyrics are now beaming with blatantly transparent name-drops— you should know that Taylor is listening to only the coolest indie records. On the title-track, she believes [in a now-infamous line] Charlie Puth “should be a bigger artist,” declares that she’s no Patti Smith, and receives her gossip from boygeniusLucy Dacus.

There’s an onslaught of predictability throughout the record, such as the unnecessarily verbose polemics on exes Joe Alwyn and Matty Healy, which consume most of the album’s over-one-hour runtime. Additionally, there’s the mushy, last-minute-inclusion paean to her current boyfriend, Travis Kelce, on the nondescript “The Alchemy.” It leaves little room for, albeit in a lazy manner, Taylor to actually subvert the listener’s expectations on a song like “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart.” It’s an interesting concept, fusing bubbly electropop with rather plaintive lyrics regarding Swift’s struggle with depression. It’s unfortunate that it bears an uncanny similarity, in chord progression and production, to Midnights’ “Bejeweled” and ends with a cringey spoken-word outro.

Taylor Swift, photo by Beth Garrabrant.

On THE TORTURED POETS DEPARTMENT, the cursing sounds forced, the metaphors are banal, and there’s zero worldbuilding that could make this qualify for a set on her revered Eras Tour. The one thing that distinguishes this album from her previous “eras” is that she’s now posturing as an Emily Dickinson-type [apparently sixth cousins, thrice removed] in garish, Victorian attire. However, the record still has its striking moments—for instance, the pulsating house beat which populates “So Long, London” or her denouncement of the Swifties’ oft-performative nature, “sanctimoniously performing soliloquies” she’ll never see on “But Daddy, I Love Him.” Even with the rapturous chorus on “Florida!!!,” the song still comes equipped with off-kilter lines on what her friends smell like and trivial asides of self-consciousness.

Taylor Swift is an entertainer first, deftly talented at crafting pop hits for the masses. Look no further than to last year’s unprecedented fan-revivalism of her 2019 single, “Cruel Summer.” The Lover sleeper hit pairs striking visual imagery with infectious, synth-seeped production to create nothing less than pop bliss. Nevertheless, was Taylor Swift ever really a great songwriter—any “tortured poet” knows when a possessive apostrophe should be placed, anyways. Her new brand of mellow, reverb-heavy pop, circa 2020’s surprise release of folklore, coupled with angsty pseudo-poeticisms has been stretched thin at this point. The future for Taylor-as-artist looks dull… disastrous? One thing is for sure: She will sell a billion copies with this one.

Listen to: Fortnight [with Post Malone], Clara Bow, I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)

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Jack DeBoyace
Jack DeBoyace, Entertainment Editor

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