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Unpacking Taylor Swift’s 11th Album: ‘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 U Conn chapter.

After delving into realms of country, folk, and a myriad of pop subgenres including pop rock, synth pop, and indie pop over her 18-year career, Taylor Swift has released her 11th studio album, THE TORTURED POETS DEPARTMENT. The 31-track double album is primarily synth-pop, with songs spanning soft rock and 80s pop. While debated prior to the release which genre the album would fit into, it was universally agreed from the title and promo that the lyricism would painfully detail the end of Swift’s six-year relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn.

Swift confirmed she began working on TTPD right after turning in Midnights, which was likely around April 2022, six months before its release. Assuming TTPD was similarly turned in around six months prior to its release, this would include the last year of Swift and Alwyn’s relationship and the eight months following their separation in the range of time for this album’s formation. This warned listeners to prepare for a breakup album full of classic Taylor Swift songwriting, and oh did we need it.

Track List

1. “Fortnight (feat. Post Malone)”

The album opener features one of Swift’s most exciting collaborators to date, Post Malone. Like Swift, Malone spans various genres, simultaneously reflecting the hip-hop/rap features of Kendrick Lamar and Future, alternative/grunge features of Fall Out Boy and Hayley Williams, and country/folk features of Keith Urban and Tim McGraw in Swift’s discography. In fact, this song could probably fit right in on Malone’s album Hollywood’s Bleeding.

The synth-pop song properly sets up the setlist, showing listeners this album would have a similar sound to Midnights and “Suburban Legends” on 1989 (Taylor’s Version), as suspected due to the timeline.

2. “The Tortured Poets Department”

This track perfectly explains the title of this album. Swift and Alwyn, both artists and poets, live their lives in unconventionally sensitive, artistic, and indulgent lives. This blurred their reality, and she didn’t receive the authenticity she maintained through the relationship. She believed he truly loved her, but not that he would ever truly commit to her.

3. “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys”

Continuing the synth-pop sound of the album, this song brings us to the first classic strong Taylor Swift bridge of the album.

4. “Down Bad”

This is the first song that switches up the sound of the album a little. While it still fits into the synth-pop genre, it’s more alternative and fun with a pronounced catchy chorus.

5. “So Long, London”

If you know anything about the track list ordering of Taylor Swift albums, you know that her fifth tracks are always extremely emotionally vulnerable and gut-wrenching. On top of this, the TTPD track five is called “So Long, London,” the most direct @ to Joe Alwyn, previously referred to as “London Boy.” 

Swift details her relentless investment in her relationship, hoping her lover would propose to her but slowly realizing she would have to give up after so many years. London, like her lover, had to be left in her past despite how long they’d been a part of her.

6. “But Daddy I Love Him”

This is the longest track on the list because it changes a few times, from an early 2000s Taylor Swift sound to the more classic TTPD synth-pop.

7. “Fresh Out The Slammer”

This is another sad song explaining the end of Swift’s relationship, using the metaphor of being jailed to describe feeling trapped in her relationship and serving time to try to make it better. The song also contains Swift’s first mention of her rebound, which we all unfortunately know is The 1975’s Matty Healy. 

8. “Florida!!! (feat. Florence + the Machine)”

On top of the Post Malone feature, Swift also features Florence + the Machine in TTPD, exciting new and overlapped audiences alike. As Florence + the Machine’s discography spans indie rock, indie pop, art pop, and folk genres, this song blended multiple genres effortlessly. While still fitting into the album, this song is a little different, with a more fun beat and easily receivable lyricism.

9. “Guilty as Sin?”

This song is a fun detailing of an emotional affair she might have had at the end of her relationship, crediting her not receiving the love she deserved similarly to “High Infidelity.”

10. “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?”

This song highlights Swift’s reputation female rage, mixed with the storytelling style of folklore’s “mad woman” and “the last great american dynasty.” While the sound mostly flowed with the rest of the album, I found the heavy instrumental at the end unique and moving, similar to a dramatic movie trailer.

11. “I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)”

This is the shortest song on the album because she did not have much to say, she really couldn’t fix him. If you do not know about her previously mentioned rebound, Matty Healy, he is very controversial and the public judged her greatly for excusing his acts in their time together. She had to give this love interest an American Western cowboy depiction to try to make up for making it so obvious.

12. “loml”

Track 12, “loml,” is the only track on this album written in lowercase, and further, the first track in Swift’s discography outside folklore and evermore to be titled in lowercase. The two others on this album are “imgonnagetyouback” and “thanK you aIMee.” The song doesn’t diverge far from the album toward folklore/evermore but I definitely feel the woodsy autumnal vibes, like “Sweet Nothing” on Midnights if it was extremely heartbreaking.

13. “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart”

Despite being distinctively fun and pop with a catchy chorus, this song details Swift’s performing the craziest tour ever while going through a breakup. This song really deserved to be written and commemorated, because regardless of whether you’re a Taylor Swift fan, everyone saw the effort she put into that tour and everyone also saw Joe slowly stop showing up, which is an insane load for a human to take on. She really did it with a broken heart.

14. “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived”

This is an insane diss track and I think it’s about Matty Healy or someone else other than Joe Alwyn because it’s uncharacteristically offensive and she says “If rusting my sparkling summer was the goal.” With less of a pop influence than most of the album, this song is a soft ballad that turns into an alternative female rage ballad.

15. “The Alchemy”

Alchemy was a medieval, seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination of matter to find a universal medicinal potion. As expected, the lyricism is complex and timeless, easily fitting into the 1830s life she dreams of.

16. “Clara Bow”

Clara Bow was an American actress who rose to stardom during the silent film era, described by many as both the first “it girl” and “sex symbol” due to her revolutionarily independent, career-driven characters for the 1920s. Swift’s experiences reflect Bow’s, both being vulnerable in Hollywood, with publicity around their romantic affairs. Having covered this concept before in “Nothing New,” Swift reflects on those she’s been compared to, and those who will be compared to her.

The Anthology

In classic Taylor Swift fashion, 15 additional songs were released in a second version of TTPD at 2 a.m. EST on the day of the release. I feel as though these songs fall into a piano ballad category more than the synth-pop sound of the beginning half of the album.

17. “The Black Dog”

The first song of the anthology establishes the new sound, comparable to “Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve” on Midnights.

18. “imgonnagetyouback”

Transitioning to more fun sound and lyricism, Swift describes the classic dilemma of missing and wanting to get revenge on an ex.

19. “The Albatross”

Albatrosses are seabirds that spend the first six years of their lives gliding above water off their large wingspan, never actually flapping their wings to fly or landing. This, painfully and poetically, describes Swift’s six-year relationship which constantly hindered her growth and ultimately did not change her fate or produce an end goal.

The saying “Albatross around one’s neck,” symbolizes a heavy burden of guilt that becomes an obstacle to success. Just like the title, the song is developed with extensive symbolism, leading it to be decoded in multiple ways.

20. “Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus”

This song discusses Swift’s moving past an old relationship, realizing that the details of her life were now vague and unknown to someone who used to know everything about her. Swift also includes a discussion of drug abuse, revisiting a theme from folklore.

21. “How Did It End?”

This song, cleverly titled, explains Swift’s feelings being pestered for details on her breakup while trying to understand her emotions in the first place. She asks herself how it could’ve ended after all they’d been through, while others ask her how they chose to go about it.

22. “So High School”

This is the first song in Swift’s discography rumored to be about her current boyfriend Travis Kelce, who she started seeing this past summer. It perfectly depicts their power-couple stereotype, with Kelce being the classic American football player-boyfriend. Shifting from the piano ballad style of The Anthology, this song reflects the first half of the album’s synth-pop sound.

23. “I Hate It Here”

As a true poet, Swift describes feeling out of place in modern society, unable to relate to those around her. She describes her days as mostly in her own head, romanticizing the mundane but highly aware reality will never amount to her visions. 

24. “thanK you aIMee”

Having been less obvious if just titled KIM, the letters of this song title are randomly capitalized to spell KIM. Rightfully so, this song is a diss track to Kim Kardashian, who alongside Kanye West, tarnished Swift’s reputation in 2016. Overall, Swift thanks those who betrayed her in life because she grew stronger from the situations they put her in.

Via Kim Kardashian’s snapchat

25. “I Look In People’s Windows”

Once getting past the title, this song is actually very emotionally deep and serious. Perfectly depicting the feeling of “what if?” in a failed relationship, Swift wonders in daily life how it could’ve been different or still could be different, with that one person. This reflects the subject matter of “the 1” on folklore.

26. “The Prophecy”

This song, which is my favorite after first listen (but this is subject to change), showcases a sound that works best with the form of lyricism this album takes. Like “Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve” from Midnights, the song can fit in soft rock and alt-pop genres beyond the synth-pop ballads this album is mostly comprised of, meshing well with the intricate poetic lyricism.

27. “Cassandra”

Reflecting themes of storytelling through a lens of female rage seen in “the last great american dynasty” and “mad woman” on folklore, this soft ballad reflects on the story of Cassandra of Troy, a princess and prophetess cursed by her ex-lover to always deliver true prophecy but never be believed.

28. “Peter”

Peter is about a man with Peter Pan syndrome, a psychology term for people who find it difficult to grow up. Often used to describe grown men off-put by commitment, Swift walks through her starting dating Alwyn when he was 25 but never seeing him grow up into his 30s. 

Fitting with the heavy piano of The Anthology, this song puts a light, catchy twist on the usual ballad that works really well with its lyrics. 

29. “The Bolter”

This song describes a girl preparing to leave a situation that is burdening her heavily, knowing she has much more to gain than to lose. This song puts a fun, indie-folk spin on this synth-pop album, distinguishing itself from most of the regular sound.

30. “Robin”

This is the slowest, sonically saddest song on the album. Swift describes holding onto youth before growing up, but puts a very “Peter”-like spin on it to suggest themes of holding onto youth while growing up, or refusing to grow up.

31. “The Manuscript”

A manuscript is an unpublished, drafted document that has not yet been polished or reproduced. Swift reflects on the manuscript of a relationship that was never finalized or committed. A sad piano ballad with lyrics about dating boys her own age, this song screams John Mayer, an ex detailed in Midnights to haunt her despite not having been in her life since 2009.


Personally, my favorites are “Down Bad,” “Florida!!! (feat. Florence + The Machine),” “I Can Do It With A Broken Heart,” “Clara Bow,” “The Black Dog,” “The Prophecy,” “Peter,” and “The Bolter.”

Though Swift’s extraordinary and inimitably poetic lyricism has been long established, her skillfully playing into influences and personas established new boundaries of modern songwriting. This is the reason why folklore did so well, as the lyricism sprawled with literary references and fancy words fit perfectly with the alternative indie folk sound, which this album would have as well. In my (non-musically inclined) opinion, the synth-pop sound was competing with the songwriting to stand out, meshing some of the songs together. Thereby, this wasn’t my favorite Swift album, but the lyricism was truly one of its own and for there to be 31 songs at that too shows that this woman really has no end. I hope to see a different genre album from her in the near future.

Neha Jammula is a senior at UConn pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and statistics. Applying her educational interests, she enjoys writing articles that utilize research to detail and provide explanations for different social events. Writing for a college women's magazine allows her to explore popular culture trends and ongoing conversations among college women. Aside from Her Campus, Neha is also helping write research reports for UConn's Student Life and Enrollment office as an undergraduate student researcher. Some of Neha's other interests that can be found in her archive below are art, poetry, beauty, and lifestyle.