The student news site of Argyle High School

The Talon

The student news site of Argyle High School

The Talon

The student news site of Argyle High School

The Talon

Taylor Swift Explores Grief in “The Tortured Poets Department”

A Complete Album Review

Taylor Swift’s 11th studio album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” is Swift’s most emotionally intimate and ambitious as she explores the five stages of grief. The album is a folder of poems spanning two years made into a cohesive narrative of the struggles and chaos one goes through.
“I think more than any of my albums that I’ve ever made, I needed to make it,” Swift said during her piano set in Melbourne, Australia. “It was really a lifeline for me.”


Co-producer of Swift for a decade Jack Antonoff is created in eight tracks: “Fortnight,” “The Tortured Poets Department,” “Down Bad,” “Fresh Out The Slammer,” “Guilty as Sin?,” “I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can),” “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” and “The Alchemy.” Aaron Dessner, co-producer of Swift since 2020, is credited in five tracks: “So Long, London,” “But Daddy I Love Him,” “Loml,” “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived,” and “Clara Bow.”
Swift is a composer on all songs and listed by herself on the tracks “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys” and “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” Both Post Malone and Florence + The Machine are credited on the songs they helped with, “Fortnight” and “Florida!!!”

Track Breakdowns

The album opens the melancholy track “Fortnight (featuring Post Malone)” and sets the theme for the album. The title is an old English word for fourteen nights, likely referencing her past partner from England. The song explores the effects of a relationship breakup years later. Swift sings ‘I love you, it’s ruining my life’ as she yearns for a past lover who moves next door. Swift begins the album with the first stage of grief – denial.
In the title track, Swift shoulders the responsibility of mishaps in previous relationships. Swift references famous poets Dylan Thomas and Patti Smith and compares herself and her partner to ‘modern idiots.’
“My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys” is the first song on the album with a synth pop sound reminiscent of “Reputation.” Swift describes a relationship in which she was treated as a toy: taken out of the box, played with, broken, and left behind. She defends her partner harming her as he treated her perfectly in the beginning of the relationship. Swift believes she is loved by him, as he ‘only breaks his favorite toys.’ The song ends in a fade as she attempts to fix her broken parts to have him return.
“Down Bad” has a similar sound to Swift’s previous album “Midnights” and describes the post-breakup depression she went through. She describes herself giving everything to the relationship, and now feels half a person and hopeless without him. ‘How dare you think it’s romantic / Leaving me safe and stranded?’
Similarly to “Fortnight” referencing England and therefore Swift’s past relationship, “So Long, London” describes leaving a partner as leaving a city. The track is Swift’s second reference to London in the title, with the love song “London Boy” from “Lover” being the first. The song opens with dreamy vocals and reminisces on the confusion and sadness she felt during the relationship. ‘You say I abandoned the ship / But I was going down with it / My white-knuckle dyin’ grip / Holding tight to your quiet resentment’ shows Swift’s confusion as the relationship broke apart.
“But Daddy I Love Him” references “The Little Mermaid,” released in the iconic year of Swift’s birthday and fourth album – 1989. In the movie, the main character gives up her voice to be with the one she loves. The track is the first love song on the album, describing loving a chaos filled relationship. Swift gives a subtle nod to Hamlet by William Shakespeare’s famous line, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” with ‘Stay away from her, the saboteurs / Protested too much.’ The lyrics ‘But I’m having his baby! / No I’m not – but you should see your faces!’ is one of many cruelly hilarious jokes sprinkled throughout the album. Swift uses the metaphor of a small town romance, where everyone is telling her not to date this person, to show that she will date whoever she wants – the public won’t accept it either way.
Track seven “Fresh Out The Slammer” describes Swift leaving a relationship and finally becoming free. Her time in the relationship was restricting and difficult, but she stayed for the ‘one hour of sunshine’ she received. Now that Swift is out of the prison of her previous partner, she knows exactly who she will rebound to after the breakup, singing ‘I know who my first call will be to.’
After feeling tormented and trapped in her current city, Swift runs to “Florida!!! (featuring Florence + The Machine).” Florence and Swift’s voices intertwine and give their similar reasons for leaving for Florida: ‘I need to forget / So take me to Florida / I’ve got some regrets / I’ll bury them in Florida.’ The first public appearance of Swift after the relationship with her long time boyfriend ended was in Tampa, Florida at an Eras Tour performance. Swift frames Florida as an escape from the suffocating problems waiting for her back home.
“Guilty as Sin?” has been previously used as lyrics in Swift’s 2022 “Carolina” outro describing herself as guilty for lying in a liars bed. Track nine uses religious imagery to show herself as sinful for wanting someone, if only in her mind. With the lyrics ‘I choose you and me religiously,’ Swift ends the song with a resolution that she does not care for being pure, as long as she has her partner.
Similar to “The Last Great American Dynasty” from her album “Folklore,” “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” mocks the media from diminishing her achievements. The sound follows the tone of “Reputation,” most likely in an effort to tie the theme of struggling with her public image to where she is today. The track describes Swift being gentle until being forced to carve her own path with the lyrics ‘I was tame, I was gentle ’til the circus life made me mean.’ Swift looks back on the impact of negative media taking away her accomplishments and making her docile, with ‘don’t you worry, folks, we took out all her teeth.’
“I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)” describes Swift going into a relationship with a dangerous man in an effort to help him. She believes she is the only person who can help him, as he’s a ‘perfect case for my certain skill set.’ Others pray and caution her of his reckless past, but Swift swears ‘Your good Lord didn’t need to lift a finger.’ She believes she can fix him, until Swift has a revelation in the last line that he is too far gone.
Track 12, “Loml,” is the only title in all lowercase, likely to match the slow-paced piano and soft lyrics. Swift reminisces on who she believed was the love of her life as ‘I wish I could unrecall / How we almost had it all.’ After the breakup, she is rethinking every decision she made and lies she believed. The song ends with a twist on the title, as Swift whispers ‘You’re the loss of my life.’
“I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” switches tone from the previous track with similar heartbroken lyrics matched to a glittery pop style. Swift describes herself as ‘a real tough kid’ as she continues to perform on tour without processing her feelings about a breakup. There are soft number cues in the background, likely to mimic the experience of performing on stage.
In “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived,” Swift expresses her disappointment with an ex-boyfriend to soft vocals similar to “Loml.” Her ex made her feel like their relationship was fake as he showed her off throughout the summer. She asks if any of their relationship was true, or ‘Were you sent by someone who wanted me dead?’ Swift doubts if he cared for her, questioning ‘In fifty years, will all this be declassified?’ Swift ends the track with the sentiment that ‘In plain sight you hid / But you are what you did / And I’ll forget you / But I’ll never forgive.’
“The Alchemy” is about the practice of mixing chemicals in hopes to create gold. Swift thought she had found a golden relationship, but it was only fools gold, yet she stays as ‘Honestly, who are we to fight the alchemy?’
The closing track on the album, “Clara Bow,” references the ‘20s actress in the title and her mental health issues due to her quick fame. The first verse says Swift is similar to Bow, whereas the second verse compares her to Stevie Nicks. Swift feels the pressure of fame as ‘You’re the new God we’re worshiping / Promise to be dazzling.’ The outro mirrors the first and second verse in saying ‘You look like Taylor Swift / You’ve got edge, she never did,’ likely showing how the cycle of abuse on famous women doesn’t die with a person but rather continues throughout the years.

“The Anthology” Track Breakdowns

In a surprise double release at 2 a.m., Swift released more songs with “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology,” bringing the album length to 31 songs. This is Swift’s longest album yet, beating “Red: Taylor’s Version” by just one track.
The album continues with “The Black Dog” where Swift watches her partner’s location and he walks into a bar named the title. Swift deals with depression as ‘Old habits die screaming.’
Similar to “Get Him Back!” by Olivia Rodrigo, Swifts song “imgonnagetyouback” describes the conundrum between desiring an ex lover and wanting him to pay for his mistakes. ‘Whether I’m gonna be your wife or / Gonna smash up your bike, I haven’t decided yet’
“The Albatross,” in a literal sense, is a sea bird that spends its first six years of life without ever touching the ground. Metaphorically, the albatross causes guilt and anxiety, such as in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Swift also quotes Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the line ‘A rose by any other name.’ Swift extends this metaphor to herself, feeling that she was the albatross that ruined the relationship.
Swift examines a relationship filled with betrayal of her partner choosing drugs or others over her in “Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus.” The track has a similar sound to “Cowboy Like Me” from “Evermore” and opens with her partner kissing someone whose name is unknown. Swift reflects that ‘You needed me, but you needed drugs more’ as her relationship ends.

“How Did It End?” begins with a soft piano as Swift describes the public’s reaction to her breakup. ‘The empathetic hunger descends’ as others ask how it ended, rather than her feelings on the matter. Swift answers the question of the title: ‘But I still don’t know / How did it end?’ The track describes news on real heartbreak and real people spreading as gossip for others to speculate. This is not Swift’s first song on privacy from the public, such as “Call It What You Want” from “Reputation” or “Peace” from “Folklore.”
The second love song of the album, “So High School,” compares her current relationship to how she imagined love when she was younger. The track a direct contrast to the loss of youthfulness in “So Long, London,” allowing Swift a new relationship which gives her sweetness rather than takes it away.
“I Hate It Here” describes the constant yearning for something more. ‘I hate it here so I will go to secret gardens in my mind / People need a key to get to / The only one is mine’ expresses the escapism into one’s mind Swift feels as a way to cope with daily life. She replays memories in her head to distract herself from her issues as ‘Nostalgia is a mind’s trick.’

Track 24, “Thank you Aimee,” is speculated to be about the same person as “Look What You Made Me Do” from “Reputation” due to the capitalized letters in the title. Swift describes someone who has pushed her around, similar to “Mean” from “Speak Now.” She sneaks a subtle poetry reference of Sisyphus, who was cursed to forever be driving a rock upwards, with ‘I pushed each boulder up the hill / Your words are just ringing in my head.’ Despite the pain caused, she thanks her bully, as ‘there wouldn’t be this if there hadn’t been you.’
Swift looks for the tiniest details for a glimpse of a past love in “I Look in People’s Windows.” She yearns for what could have been, and looks through others windows ‘in case you’re at their table.’ All Swift hopes for is her past lovers to look up and meet hers, ‘One more time.’
“The Prophecy” opens with a guitar strumming as Swift longs for change in her future, in her prophecy. She feels vulnerable as her efforts slip away, ‘I’m so afraid I sealed my fate, no sign of soulmates.’ Swift pleads for her life to reshape, ‘Please / I’ve been on my knees / Change the prophecy.’ Swift believes she is doomed to be alone, with no one to hold her and no one to know.
Track 27 describes isolation from the eyes of “Cassandra” of Troy, who resisted the Greek God of music and poetry Apollo’s advances and was therefore cursed to have everyone doubt her prophecies. ‘So, they killed Cassandra first ’cause she feared the worst / And tried to tell the town.’ Swift relates this to herself as she tries to speak against injustice and was dismissed, similar to “Mad Woman” in “Folklore”. The song ends with the lyrics ‘When the truth comes out, it’s quiet / It’s so quiet,’ leaving a haunting silence.
“Peter” is a figure from Swift’s past who she hopes for closure with. She waits for his return, ‘And I won’t confess that I waited, but I let the lamp burn.’ She sneaks a reference to Peter Pan with ‘Lost to the Lost Boys chapter of your life.’ Due to the passage of time, Swift begins to realize the extent of his lies. The song ends with acceptance of the lack for closure as ‘But the woman who sits by the window / Has turned out the light.’

Swift is “The Bolter” in track 29 as she runs from a difficult relationship. The song opens with Swift’s six-year-old self running from anyone she became close to. As an adult, Swift keeps others at arms length as ‘Hearts are hers for the breakin’ / There’s escape in escaping.’

“Robin” is a reflection on youthfulness similar to “Never Grow Up” from “Speak Now.” Swift reflects on the simplicity of being a child, as ‘You have no room in your dreams for regrets.’ The track is a celebration of the sweetness of childhood and the guidance needed to grow into an adult.

The final and most vulnerable track of the album, “The Manuscript,” begins with a soft piano melody before Swift reflects on dating a much older man. It deeply hurt, and ‘Afterwards she only atе kids’ cereal / And couldn’t sleep unless it was in her mother’s bed.’ Swift began to date others her own age, but ‘She thought about how he said since she was so wise beyond her years.’ Years later, Swift is told that looking back may be the only way to move forward, ‘And at last / She knew what the agony had been for.’ Swift ends the album with the last stage of grief – acceptance. Acceptance of the things she has caused and the people she’s been hurt by.

The End of a Chapter and Beginning of an Era

Swift embraces all aspects of herself in this album – her childhood from “Debut,” her budding fame with “Fearless” and “Speak Now,” her pop start with “Red” and “1989,” her chaos from “Reputation” and “Lover,” her innermost feelings from “Folklore” and “Evermore,” and her synth-pop sound from “Midnights.”

“The Tortured Poets Department” marks the end of a two year chapter in Swift’s life, one filled with tear-stained letters waiting to be seen.

“Our tears become holy in the form of ink on a page,” Swift posted on X. “Once we have spoken our saddest story, we can be free of it. And then all that’s left behind is the tortured poetry.”

Donate to The Talon
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Argyle High School - TX. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Tierney Withrow
Tierney Withrow, GoPhoto/Reporter
Tierney Withrow is a reporter for The Talon News. Currently a sophomore, this is her first year on The Talon staff. Outside of journalism, she is a member of the Argyle High School Band and the American Sign Language Honor Society. In her spare time, she enjoys scrapbooking, making jewelry, and visiting bookstores with friends.  
Donate to The Talon
Our Goal