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Taylor Swift’s new album, ‘The Tortured Poets Department,’ showcases the singer’s lyricism — but doesn’t break new ground musically. Here’s what critics are saying.

In Entertainment
April 20, 2024

The wait is over: On April 19, Taylor Swift dropped her 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department. The Eras Tour artist followed her Midnights pattern of dropping extra tracks when, just two hours after her album drop, she released 16 extra songs as part of the “Anthology” version of the album. (Eagle-eyed Swifties, however, already picked up on the “Fortnight” singer’s many Easter eggs hinting at the supersized surprise.)

Now that the 31-track grayscale and academia-themed album is here, fans are speculating about Swift’s many muses, including her famous exes. Heartbreak is the anthem of The Tortured Poets Department, but Swift won’t harp on it for long: in an Instagram post on release night, she declared The Tortured Poets Department the closing of a chapter, stating she now has “nothing to avenge” and “no scores to settle once wounds have healed.” All she leaves behind, she wrote, “is the tortured poetry.”

Critics, meanwhile, say that The Tortured Poets Department shows no big growth in terms of musical stylings, due in part to her continued collaboration with producer Jack Antonoff, whom she worked with on Reputation, Lover, Folklore, Evermore and Midnights. Lyrically, however, they say The Tortured Poets Department may pack her greatest punch yet.

Who fans think the songs on The Tortured Poets Department are about

Many fans went into the heartbreak-focused album assuming most songs would be about Joe Alwyn, the actor with whom Swift had a six-year relationship before April 2023 reports stated that the two had split. While Alwyn is seemingly all over songs like “So Long, London,” The Tortured Poets Department may be less about Alwyn than previously believed, according to Swifties who have faithfully studied the lyrics and her personal life.

When it comes to the muses Swift “acquired like bruises,” fans speculate that it’s mostly 1975 frontman Matty Healy who was on the singer’s mind, due to their whirlwind love affair in 2023. Healy clues include everything from name drops of his favorite band to lyrics about a man who loves tattoos and typewriters.

Swift’s NFL star boyfriend Travis Kelce also seemingly gets a song with the track “The Alchemy,” which is full of sports metaphors. Even more obviously, however, may be “thanK you aIMee,” whose title (and incendiary lyrics) suggest it’s about Swift’s longtime feud with Kim Kardashian.

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment: Is Taylor Swift singing about Joe Alwyn, Matty Healy or Travis Kelce on ‘The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology’? Fans investigate the personal lyrics.

What critics are saying

Overall, critics praise the star’s vulnerability — and occasional viciousness — in The Tortured Poets Department. While many approved of the lyrics and themes of the album, others questioned whether Swift was doing more of the same in terms of the synth-pop sound her longtime collaborator Antonoff is famous for.

Rolling Stone said the album has “the intimate sound of Folklore and Evermore, but with a coating of Midnights synth-pop gloss,” noting that the stories have the same “storycraft” of “Folklore,” only this time with “deeply personal exorcisms that are often equal parts “devastating” and “hilarious.”

Variety noted that while the album may be hailed as having “not enough bangers” or “too personal” by critics, The Tortured Poets Department reveals Swift has an edge. “In this album’s most bracing songs, it’s like she brought a knife to a fistfight,” they wrote. “There’s blood on the tracks, good blood.”

USA Today said the album belonged in lyrical (if not musical) “masterpiece territory,” calling it a “bona fide headphones album.” They praised “So Long, London” as well as the “melancholy piano ballad ‘Loml,’ which will make your heart feel raked over with nails.”

Business Insider wasn’t a fan of the sound Antonoff brought to the project with the lead single “Fortnight,” stating “the song immediately sounds like a Midnights B-side: boring, banal, and exactly what I do not want from this album.” However, it says the album “starts to pick up steam” with the fourth song “Down Bad,” during which “Antonoff’s sparkly synths and Swift’s breezy vocals persist, but we’re teased with a slice of her brain that’s enthrallingly unhinged.”

The Los Angeles Times said the album “showcases Swift’s gifts as a songwriter, musician and producer,” noting that her “melodies are sticky and her arrangements grabby; working in the studio with Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, she’s honed an electro-acoustic style that’s instantly identifiable (even if that’s sometimes because she recycles a melodic figure she’s used before).”

The Independent noted that the “melodic hooks take time to sink in,” as with her previous album, Midnights. However, “they’ve got anchors – designed to lodge slowly and securely in the mental seabed. The stories will snag you and you’ll be surprised to find yourself humming choruses hours later.”

Slate said the album “doesn’t show much growth lyrically beyond the Folklore stage,” adding that “musically, it mostly carries on in the manner of her past few albums.” While they praised Antonoff’s work on songs like “Florida!!!,” they noted “a person definitely can get to missing [1989 producer] Max Martin and the definitive shape and hooks of a song like ‘Blank Space.’”

The Telegraph called the album “a sharp, savage attack on her British exes” in its headline, noting, “Swift knows her way around metaphors and similes and delights in conjuring delicately cascading tranches of clever puns and dazzling word play rooted in real feelings.” Of the “anthology” — what Swift calls the 15 tracks dropped at 2 a.m. — the Telegraph said that though these songs were “less commercially focused” than the previous 16, there is “no discernible drop of quality.”

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