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From Hurt to Healing: Taylor Swift Explores the Five Stages of Grief

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 Toronto MU chapter.

Taylor Swift’s personal experiences and dramatic heartbreaks are regularly reflected in her lyrics. As a fan of not only her music but also her songwriting, I’m always excited when a new album is announced.

Swift revealed her upcoming album, The Tortured Poets Department (TTPD), at the 2024 Grammys, which was released today, April 19. TTPD’s track list shows that this piece promises to be a profound exploration of her breakup with her previous boyfriend of six years, Joe Alwyn

Some of the song titles such as “I Can Fix Him (No I Really Can),” “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived,” “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys,” “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” and “So Long, London” have caused fans to theorize that this album might actually be a thorough exploration of the five stages of grief and in her case… heartbreak.

Recently, Swift revealed a set of five playlists with very distinct yet heart-shattering titles, ultimately proving that fan theories were, indeed, correct. 

Curated for Apple Music, with spoken taglines directly from Swift and songs from her previous 10 albums, the playlists showcase a separate phase of heartbreak that will likely frame TTPD’s story and songwriting. Let’s take a look at each playlist and how they wholeheartedly represent each stage of grief. 

Denial: “I Love You, It’s Ruining My Life”

Swift’s accompanying message to the playlist: “This is a list of songs about getting so caught up in the idea of something that you have a hard time seeing the red flags, possibly resulting in moments of denial and maybe a little bit of delusion. Results may vary.” 

According to Mayo Clinic, grief is an overwhelming emotion that makes it difficult for some to completely absorb and process news right away. Instead, denying what we feel and pushing it away can sometimes help numb us from feeling the intensity of a specific situation. In her songwriting, Swift explores the concepts of clinging to false hopes and downplaying negative events prevalent in a relationship, meticulously selecting songs embodying these themes.

Some of the songs representative of the denial stage on this playlist include “Sweet Nothing,” “Wildest Dreams,” “Bejeweled,” “Lavender Haze,” “Style,” and “Lover.” 

I found the title track, “Lover,” from the album Lover, to be the most shocking addition to this playlist. Swift fills this song with imagery of love and devotion, painting a picture of an idealized relationship. She has acknowledged that creating a fantasy world where all things are flawless is not actually a true reflection of reality.

Anger: “You Don’t Get to Tell Me About Sad”

Swift’s accompanying message to the playlist: “These songs all have one thing in common: I wrote them while feeling anger. Over the years I’ve learned that anger can manifest itself in a lot of different ways, but the healthiest way that it manifests itself in my life is when I can write a song about it, and then oftentimes that helps me get past it.”

Anger might just be the strongest emotion that one might feel in moments of grief or heartbreak. As Swift said, all of the songs on this playlist convey anger in unique ways. 

Songs representing the anger stage on this playlist include “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” “Vigilante Shit,” “tolerate it,” “Better Than Revenge,” “I Knew You Were Trouble,” and “Dear John.”

Of all these songs, I found “tolerate it” the most deserving on this playlist. It truly encapsulates the essence of a woman trying her absolute hardest to maintain a relationship while her significant other, who could be celebrating her, is instead merely enduring her existence.

In other words, he simply tolerates her. It’s gut-wrenching and an accurate depiction of anger that Swift wants to explore. 

Bargaining: “Am I Allowed To Cry”

Swift’s accompanying message to the playlist: “This playlist takes you through songs that I’ve written when I was in the bargaining stage, times when you’re trying to make deals with yourself or someone that you care about, you’re trying to make things better. You’re oftentimes feeling really desperate because oftentimes we have a sort of gut intuition that tells us things are not gonna go the way that we hope, which makes us more desperate. Which makes us bargain more!”

Bargaining is often the more overlooked stage of grief. It’s the phase where we grapple with the reality of a situation, trying to negotiate with ourselves to make it better. Even when deep down, we know things may not actually change. 

These emotionally charged songs on this playlist that represent the stage of bargaining include “The Great War,” “this is me trying,” “I Wish You Would,” “If This Was a Movie,” and “peace.” 

From her album folklore, the song “this is me trying” reflects one’s inner struggles while simultaneously attempting to reach out and connect with another. It delves into the notion of coping and wanting to make amends even when you might feel overwhelmed or uncertain about doing so. 

Depression: “Old Habits Die Screaming”

Swift’s accompanying message to the playlist: “We’re going to be exploring the feelings of depression that often lace their way through my songs. In times like these, I’ll write a song because I feel lonely or hopeless. And writing a song feels like the only way to process that intensity of an emotion. And while these things are really, really hard to go through, I often feel like when I’m either listening to songs or writing songs that deal with this intensity of loss and hopelessness — usually that’s in the phase where I’m close to getting past that feeling.”

Swift’s understanding of how she navigates feelings of depression and sadness is insightful and relatable. For those battling depression or who have overcome it, it can feel like an ongoing battle, a never-ending cycle of pain and loneliness. She is able to channel these emotions into her music, giving her the opportunity to process her feelings and help those who might also be struggling.

Some of the songs she has included on this playlist to represent depression include “Bigger Than The Whole Sky,” “You’re Losing Me,” “hoax,” “my tears ricochet,” “right where you left me,” and “Last Kiss.” 

The feelings of abandonment, loneliness, and stagnation are themes reflected in her song “right where you left me” from the album evermore.

She sings about being stuck in a place where she cannot leave, conveying the sense of being frozen in time. This relates to feelings of hopelessness that those battling depression may be most familiar with. 

Acceptance: “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart”

Swift’s accompanying message to the playlist: “We finally find acceptance and can start moving forward from loss or heartbreak. These songs represent making room for more good in your life, making that choice. Because a lot of the time when we lose things, we gain things too.”

Acceptance is the final stage of grief and quite possibly the hardest to reach. This playlist reflects a journey of growth and healing. As time passes, Swift recognizes that she has been able to eventually find a sense of peace and acceptance following heartbreak, no matter how difficult it must have been to do so. 

Songs that reflect the themes of self-discovery and resilience on this playlist include “Daylight,” “the 1,” “Midnight Rain,” “closure,” “happiness,” and “long story short.” 

The song “closure” from evermore reflects one’s ability to move on and forward after obtaining closure from a past relationship, ultimately aligning with the themes of acceptance. This playlist conveys a sense of self-empowerment and letting go of the past by embracing self-growth.

The release of these five playlists has caused me and other Swifties to look forward to the release of The Tortured Poet’s Department. This highly anticipated musical narrative of heartbreak and resilience seems as though it will deeply resonate with audiences, especially because we understand how Swift has revolutionized the music industry with her passionate, experimental, and introspective discography.

Arshneer Khaira

Toronto MU '23

Arshneer is a third-year Professional Communication student at Toronto Metropolitan University who has a passion for reading, writing, and digital content. She looks forward to channeling her love for fashion, media, sports, and photography through her written work at Her Campus.