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Taylor Swift’s Unmatched Storytelling and Vulnerability in The Tortured Poets Department

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Texas chapter.

As articles, conspiracies, rumors and truths flood the internet minutes and hours after Taylor Swift’s release of her 11th album, The Tortured Poets Department, I now join the group of eager and presumptuous journalists analyzing Taylor’s every lyric, every word, every note. 

However, the art and unprecedented uniqueness of Taylor’s craft is that there is likely no end to the analysis of the hidden truths.

Taylor is vulnerable, yet conceals so many secrets within her songs. With this, her fans hear her putting their complicated feelings and stories into words while she’s still telling a story of her own. Taylor has mastered this over the course of nearly two decades, and has continued to out-do herself, especially when it comes to the articulate, ever-exposing The Tortured Poets Department. 

With hints of the encompassing, incomparable feelings of grieving the loss of a relationship Taylor sings about in her albums Red and Speak Now, and the self-effacing thoughts we hear in songs like Anti-Hero from Midnights, the 31 songs from The Tortured Poets Department bounds together themes Taylor is an expert at elucidating. 

She combines what seem like fictional stories that feel all too true, like she does in albums Folklore and Evermore, with upbeat anthems that are similar to motifs in 1989. Taylor is not unfamiliar with the aftermath of being ridiculed and feelings of revenge that lead to powerful and formative healing. Reputation and Fearless present powerful convictions related to this, but The Tortured Poets Department takes these compelling and relatable sentiments to another level. 

With my eyes glued to my television as the lyrics to TTPD illuminated and the speakers blared, I was in awe. As I mentioned, Taylor stays true to her roots as similar themes can be found across all her albums. TTPD goes above and beyond this in terms of her poeticism, vulnerability, and musical production. 

Under the unceasing limelight and subject to relentless criticism and analysis, Taylor has discussed the repercussions and consequences she faces due to the life she has chosen. Through TTPD, I can feel Taylor’s authenticity and strength as she navigates a very public breakup, “rebounds,” a record-breaking tour, new love, and auxiliary experiences and feelings. 

TTPD is Taylor’s most unguarded, wounding, poetic, and earth-shattering album to date. 

TTPD starts out strong with star-studded track 1, Fortnight featuring Post Malone. Fortnight is the lead single, and we can easily see why. Lyrics such as “Your wife waters flowers…I wanna kill her” give me nothing short of whiplash. 

Track 2 – the title track – The Tortured Poets Department is rumored to be about short-term boyfriend Matty Healy. While I am all for figuring out the truth behind Taylor’s lyrics, I find the art of them far more interesting. 

“You left your typewriter at my apartment, straight from The Tortured Poets Department, who else decodes you?” Taylor manages to craft simple lyrics that finish off a song, leaving the relatable sensation of confidence in feeling like you know someone better than anyone else does. 

I find as we move through the album in chronological order, we can imagine Taylor transitioning through stages of love, loss, and grief. The picture she paints as we listen emulates the sensation of reading a stranger’s diary – raw, revealing, and curious. Taylor’s magic also leads us to believe those stories are truly replicates of our own. 

As we move to track 3, My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys, listeners are plagued with compassion as we hear Taylor sound similarly to ourselves and our friends – excusing the behavior of an avoidant man and shifting the blame to the innocent. “I’m the queen of sand castles he destroys, cause it fit too right…Once I fix me, he’s gonna miss me, just say when, I’d play again.” Taylor, again, masterfully tells her own story while grabbing the hands of others who have experienced the same.

Track 4, Down Bad, feels like a new sound for Taylor. Vulgar, desperate, and dramatic, Taylor encompasses the despair of being built up in love just to come crumbling down in utter distress. “Did you take all my old clothes? Just to leave me here naked and alone…’I might just die it would make no difference.’’’ Lyrics like that speak for themselves. 

Taylor is infamous for her heart-wrenching, tear-jerking, miserably melancholy track 5’s. Track 5 is reserved for what Taylor decides is the most hopelessly sad song on the album. On TTPD, So Long London takes that spot. 

The highly-anticipated So Long London was (predictably) more sorrowful and poignant than one could imagine. Taylor dated London-native Joe Alwyn in 2016 through 2023. When Taylor released the gut-wrenching track You’re Losing Me preceding Midnights, Swifities, including myself, knew So Long London would be mournful beyond compare. 

“My spine split from carrying us up the hill…I didn’t opt in to be your odd man out…You say I abandoned the ship but I was going down with it.” Taylor’s lyricism is as open and vulnerable as ever. 

Track 6 [But Daddy I Love Him], 7 [Fresh Out The Slammer], 9 [Guilty as Sin?], and 11 [(I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)] allude to the circumscribing feeling of a crush. But Daddy I Love Him showcases Taylor’s humor and storytelling of a disapproved love, and Fresh Out The Slammer is another unique sound for Taylor that describes the relief of leaving a toxic relationship and the escapism a “rebound” provides. Guilty as Sin? and I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can) both allude to the delusion and autonomical deviance of yourself when succumbing to loving an avoidant man. 

One of my personal favorites, Florida!!! featuring Florence + the Machine (track 8), is idiosyncratically beautiful and curious. The musical production of Florida!!! is what makes it so eccentric and simply fun. 

Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me? (track 10) describes Taylor’s defiant angst. Defiant angst against what? The music industry? A lover? Friends? That I can’t quite figure out. But, this track is a favorite of mine – the detail in the production as you hear the echo of Taylor’s screams in the background make the song and its story beyond formidable. 

loml (track 12) and my absolute favorite, The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived (track 14) have done nothing short of change my life. From the double-meaning in loml (“loml” meaning love and loss of my life) and the alluring, relatable, lyrical poetry of The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived, I become a better writer every time I listen to Taylor. She describes feelings and situations in a way no one else can, making those stories her own and everyone else’s at the same time. How could you not take inspiration from a lyric like this one: “You didn’t measure up in any measure of a man…I don’t want you back, I just want to know if rusting my sparkling summer was the goal…I don’t miss what we had, but could someone give a message to the smallest man who ever lived?” Not to mention, Taylor heartbreakingly sighs repeatedly during The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived, which I can only see as a nod to You’re Losing Me, another harrowing song of losing love that begins with the same sigh.  

The most upbeat song on the album, (track 13) I Can Do It With A Broken Heart, leaves listeners laughing, crying, and dancing simultaneously. Taylor’s public breakup happened during her record-breaking Eras Tour. Taylor sings about navigating this – claiming the stage and happily doing her job, while dying on the inside. The production of this song is a masterpiece. The fast-paced music that makes you want to get up and dance combined with the compellingly sad and empathy-evoking lyrics perfectly describes what Taylor was going through – the confusion of immense success combined with losing the person you wanted to share it with.

Recounting a once-in-a-lifetime love, track 15, The Alchemy, and track 22, So High School are rumored to be about Taylor’s current romance with football star Travis Kelce. She sings of returning to a healthy love, where she belongs, a love that she can’t resist falling into, a love that feels like a high school crush. TTPD is inherently full of grief, but with the loss of love comes the birth of a new one. 

As Taylor closes off the first half of TTPD, she compares herself to starlets that came before her on track 16, Clara Bow. The vulnerability of succumbing to comparison is something Taylor has sung about before, but here, Taylor takes this daunting topic to another level. She breaks the 4th wall in Clara Bow as she sings of future starlets being compared to herself – “‘You look like Taylor Swift…You’ve got the edge she never did.’” Taylor’s humble modesty and self-effacing thoughts brought upon her by the music industry critics is enthralling to listen to and reflect upon. 

I find much of the second half of TTPD (also known as The Anthology) possesses a different personality than the first half. Songs like Robin (track 30), Cassandra (track 27), Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus (track 20), and The Albatross (track 19) have the most considerable hints of sounds similar to her albums Evermore and Folklore. Staying true to the themes of self-effacement and criticism, loss of love and the confusion that comes with it, and her unmatched storytelling, Taylor can easily take sounds from old albums and create something completely new and different, which is exactly what she did with those tracks.

Track 17, The Black Dog, and track 18, imgonnagetyouback, bring us back to the classic theme of heartbreak, confusion, and delusion. The lyrical masterpiece of “old habits die screaming” comes from The Black Dog. With similar undertones of the inability to let go, Taylor sings “Whether I’m gonna curse you out or take you back to my house, I haven’t decided yet, but I’m gonna get you back…Act like I don’t care what you did, I’m an Aston Martin that you steered straight into the ditch.” 

Both similar to the ache in So Long London, How Did It End? (track 21) and The Manuscript (track 31) allude to two very different stages of grief: denial and acceptance. How Did It End? agonizingly narrates what it’s like to tell others about a break-up, and the confusion that comes when you don’t know how to answer, and maybe even denying what really happened. Oppositely, The Manuscript is Taylor essentially saying she is giving her stories to us, the listeners. She recalls the chronicle of the “entire torrid affair” then says “the story isn’t her’s anymore” since it’s now been told to us, and we can make it our own. Taylor depicts true courage, maturity, and most of all, undeniable acceptance of what was lost and eagerness of what’s to come.

A theme hidden within the others, the magic of what if’s, is highlighted in tracks 25 and 26, I Look in People’s Windows and The Prophecy. Taylor tells us about being “addicted to the ‘if only’” – “What if your eyes look up and met mine one more time?” She sings of a lost love returning in I Look in People’s Windows. Similarly yet oppositely, Taylor sings about wanting to lose her fame in The Prophecy – “I’ve been on my knees, change the prophecy, don’t want money, just want someone who wants my company.” Taylor eloquently narrates yearning to change the past in I Look in People’s Windows, while also yearning to change the future in The Prophecy. 

Track 29, The Bolter, and track 24, thanK you aIMee, both stick out like no other song. With incomparable storytelling and unique production similar to sounds of her album Speak Now, these songs leave me speechless. The Bolter is a story of a girl that we learn to know personally in 4 minutes. thanK you aIMee is a confident and commanding diss track. Taylor’s range of lyricism is easily proven with these songs.  

Track 28, Peter, and track 23, I Hate It Here both attest to Taylor’s ability to fantasize and articulate these fantasies as reality. Peter is an account of loving a man all too similar to Peter Pan, and letting him go to Neverland. I Hate It Here recounts the longing for leaving a place you’ve outgrown, and the fantasies you go to in order to escape. She sings, “I’ll save all my romanticism for my inner life and I’ll get lost on purpose.” 

Through all 31 tracks, Taylor proves her inherent ability to out-do herself. 

The Tortured Poets Department is unlike all of Taylor’s albums. Her individuality in production, lyricism, and creativity is like no other. Telling her own stories and being able to make them feel like the story of the listener is an art Taylor has mastered. 

Taylor is a unicorn of a human, and there are never enough positive words to describe her and her work. The analysis of her lyricism is never-ending, as she is full of never-ending surprises and magnificence.

The Tortured Poets Department shines as a testament to Taylor’s strength in being vulnerable, courage in being herself, and pride in doing what she loves. 

Hi! I'm Abby! I'm a proud Longhorn studying speech-language-hearing sciences. While most of my background is in language, communication, and disability advocacy and awareness, I also love to read, write and journal, make bracelets, get outside, and spend time with my dog, family, and friends. One day I hope to work for a magazine as a writer and editor, or work for a company like Disney or Universal, where I can really unleash myself creatively. I love to write about my personal experiences with mental health, college, relationships and friendships, and pop culture, especially Taylor Swift. Happy reading! XOXO, Abby