The Problem With Taylor Swift’s New Album The Tortured Poets Department isn’t a great breakup album. It’s something newer and tricksier, for us modern idiots.

Taylor Swift has made Spotify history with her new release “The Tortured Poets Department,” becoming the first album to exceed 200 million streams in a single day, Variety can exclusively reveal.

The feat comes less than 24 hours after its release, signaling that the numbers could stretch even higher once the final figures are tallied. Swift now has the top three most streamed albums in a single day, with previous records held by “Midnights” and “1989 (Taylor’s Version).”

Additionally, with “Poets,” Swift has become the most streamed artist in a single day in Spotify history. She previously broke her record as the most streamed artist in a single day when “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” dropped in October last year.

Even before “Poets” was released, Swift was breaking Spotify records as it became the most pre-saved album Countdown Page in Spotify history just a day before it arrived.

“Poets” was initially intended as a 16-track album, featuring guest appearances from Post Malone and Florence + the Machine. She didn’t release any singles in advance of the album, and little was known beyond what she teased in the lead-up to drop day. But two hours after it hit streaming services, Swift revealed that she had a trick up her sleeve, dropping an additional 15 songs to make the entire project cap out at 31 cuts.

“I’d written so much tortured poetry in the past 2 years and wanted to share it all with you, so here’s the second installment of TTPD: The Anthology. 15 extra songs,” she wrote on Instagram. “And now the story isn’t mine anymore… it’s all yours.”

 It happens by accident. From her early singles "Teardrops on My Guitar" and "Our Song," the musician has held the world in a snake-like trance with her prose, unable to release us from her devastating heartbreak ballads, seething revenge plots and introspective fairy tales that turn into nightmares. She is a storyteller after all.

If you expected something sonically and lyrically experimental from Swift, you will be disappointed.

And because of her mighty, lucrative pen, the now 34-year-old is at the pinnacle of her career. Honestly, does a peak even exist for someone who is a freshly minted billionaire because of a global world tour that revitalized local economies across the country? All the while, Swift has been cemented in history with the most album of the year Grammy awards and numerous record-breaking albums. She is an omnipresent, dominating force in culture and music. Last year, she was even at the center of American politics and sports after she started dating pro footballer Travis Kelce. Swift was swept into contentious culture wars sparked by right-wing conspiracy theories peddled by the likes of former President Donald Trump.

But before her seemingly immortal reign, Swift was in a six-year relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn, which ended in early 2023. The pair began dating in 2016 at the height of Swift's public shunning or cancellation by the general public, sparked by a feud between Swift, Kim Kardashian, and Kanye West. Thus, "Reputation" was born, and the then largely unpopular Swift was in love and didn't care what people thought about her or her music. For years, Alwyn was reportedly the inspiration for her following albums: "Lover," "Folklore," "Evermore," "Midnights" and now her 11th studio album, "The Tortured Poets Department." But now, Alwyn and the end of their near-common law marriage are at the center of Swift's most agonizing and emotionally indulgent work to date.

If you expected something sonically and lyrically experimental from Swift, you will be disappointed with "The Tortured Poets Department." However, if you are searching for glimmering variations of Swift's past selves in one album, this does that. In a mega two-hour, dual album, released in two parts as "The Tortured Poets Department" and "The Anthology," Swift pens 31 different heartbreaks, triumphs, and intimacies — tortured poems if you will. Her frequent collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner are back. While Dessner's work dazzles in "The Anthology," and Antonoff's production in "Tortured Poets" lacks variety and mystery, it raises the question if the singer will ever tap other producers to work on her new music.

However, Swift's songwriting and music-making model is contingent on the more, the better. During the 31-song album, some of it lands like the fun drama of "Down Bad," which thumps against Antonoff's synthesizer. She sings, "Now I'm down bad crying at the gym. Everything comes out of teenage petulance." She sings she may die if she can't have her lover. It's almost pathetically accurate to heartbreak's grief. Or some are just plain awkward like the title track where she compares her ex – problematic fling and frontman of the 1975, Matty Healy – to a "tattooed golden retriever."

Some of it is just a less exciting rendition of her previous works like the twangy, folk-influenced "But Daddy I Like Him," which could be plucked right from "Red." This is where "Tortured Poets" falls, inevitably caught between Swift's bleeding bars and production that sounds like a Swift we already know. But her sharp vulnerability and craftsmanship are apparent in the haunting goodbye ballad, "So Long, London." We can only assume it is about Alwyn as she sings quietly, "I stopped CPR after. It's no use." Her heart aches as she gives up on her love of London, a place she used to call home. She cries, "You swore that you loved me, but where were the clues? I died on the altar waiting for the proof. You sacrificed us to the gods of your bluest day."

Songs like "Florida!!!" featuring Florence + the Machine, "Guilty as Sin?" and "Loml," are standouts in the first album. "Florida!!!" is as experimental as the artist gets in the project. The song is a synthesized version of a Southern Gothic anthem built to make space for Florence Welch's sweeping vocals. "Guilty as Sin?" is a soft rock track, reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie, where Antonoff's production feels it moves in sync with Swift's vocals. The guilty pleasure track is about falling for the quintessential bad boy and how it reflects negatively on who you are. Swift may be referring to the public condemnation she faced for dating Healy, who has had a history of spewing misogynoir online towards Black women like rapper Ice Spice. Lastly, "Loml" is a soaring wounded ballad, where Swift confronts her ex-love about his little lies, "You holy ghost, you told me I'm the love of your life. You said I'm the love of your life/About a million times." She finishes the song with the conclusion: "You're the loss of my life."

Part One's lackluster quality is not fully rectified by the additional 15 songs in "The Anthology," but Swift does certainly try. For the most part, the attempt is a bold success. Swift and the tracks sound like her winning, fictionalized fantasies in "Folklore" and "Evermore." The following 15 songs are some of the singer's most captivating songwriting. It's a shame that it takes a whole album to get meaty songs like "The Black Dog" or "The Albatross." The latter is a woodsy, whimsical track that puts Swift in the hot seat as she vilifies herself as the albatross and that "she is here to destroy you." Other highlights are songs like "Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus," "Thank you AIMee" (a Kardashian diss track), and "How Did It End?"

The lyricist isn't looking for perfection; she's busy crafting yet another life-altering, death-invoking heartbreak into peaceful solitude.

Dessner's production, or ability to draw attention to Swift's vocals is the triumph in "The Anthology." Something shifts in Swift's lyrics too. In the masterpieces that are "Folklore" and "Evermore," Swift uses folktales to weave in her storytelling, however, that changes in "The Anthology." It's all reflective — the fantasy has vanished, and all that's left is heartbreak's ruins. Her self-aware, pensiveness glimmers against the soft strumming of guitars and strings in "I Hate It Here." Swift mischievously sings, "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." She stresses that she is lonely and bitter but, "I swear I'm fine."

Jaded by love and her reality, she continues:

I'll save all my romanticism for my inner life and I'll get lost on purpose
This place made me feel worthless
Lucid dreams like electricity, the current flies through me
And in my fantasies, I rise above it

"The Prophecy" is a rumination of Swift's past patterns where her gentle vocals are laid over the light strumming of Dessner's acoustic guitar. It's the singer at her barest. The prophecy Swift sings about is her damned eternal loneliness. It's a prophecy the stars or witches have predicted. She begs that the curse will be reversed in the chorus, "Please/I've been on my knees/Change the prophecy/Don't want money/Just someone who wants my company."

Lonely and single, she's terrified at what comes next, wishing to the sky, "I'm so afraid I sealed my fate/No sign of soulmates." It's the level of honesty Swift's fans and critics crave as we all come together to dissect her lyrics like a science project. The stages of grief are all endlessly explored, and it loses us as it meanders through some of the low parts of "The Tortured Poets Department." The artist lands just slightly off the mark. However, in Swift's 11th studio album, the lyricist isn't looking for perfection; she's busy crafting yet another life-altering, death-invoking heartbreak into peaceful solitude.

“Growing up precocious sometimes means not growing up at all,” Taylor Swift sings on “But Daddy I Love Him.” It’s the song on which her new album The Tortured Poets Department finally gains some momentum, six tracks in. It’s also the one on which the 34-year-old billionaire, who is one of the most famous humans on the planet, finally dares rebel a little bit against her parents. Even if partly tongue-in-cheek and via a Little Mermaid reference.

“Dutiful Daughter” Swift always has been ultra-protective of her mom and dad, who are also part of her management team, so it’s more shocking to hear Swift sing “I just learned these people only raise you to cage you” than any of the abundant curses and feints at sex talk that pepper the album. Pretending she’s pregnant by the bad boy of whom they disapprove—just to see the looks on their faces—is one of the best of the jokes with which Swift tries (and sometimes strains) to alleviate the core sadness of this collection of songs.

The second half of the track makes another startling pivot when she directs some of the same sarcastic ire at some of her own fan base, which she’s always carefully trained to view her as a mutually adoring best friend or big sister. No doubt a lot of them boggled momentarily at the pregnancy claim too. But what a sense of release when Swift calls out the “judgmental creeps” among them “who say they want what’s best for me” but then hound her online about her choices in her private life.

What feels less healthy, and not so grown-up, is that the former child star still can’t seem to feel good about herself without seeking out enemies she can complain are treating her unfairly. Seven years ago, when she put out Reputation, Swift really was dealing with widespread backlash, spearheaded by her antagonists Kanye West and Kim Kardashian (whom she, unbelievably, takes time out to feud with some more in the back half of this “anthology”). Four years ago, she had some reasonably legit grievances against business associates that prompted the ongoing and startlingly successful “Taylor’s Version” project of re-recording her old albums to claim ownership of the recordings. But in 2024, amid the ongoing “Eras” tour, the highest-grossing in history, today’s Swift faces less reactionary public hostility than pretty much any star in her position ever has—Elvis, Madonna, Michael Jackson, you name it. You like Swift, I like Swift, and people who don’t like her mostly recognize there’s no percentage in fighting over it.

Hell, in 1966, people were burning Beatles albums in the streets because John Lennon had joked the band was then more popular than Jesus. I doubt Swift will get any such grief for portraying herself as a Christlike figure in at least two songs here (singing “What if I roll the stone away?/ They’re gonna crucify me anyway” in “Guilty as Sin?” and “I would have died for your sins” in “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived”). Then again, what doesn’t Swift compare herself to in the course of the 31-count-’em-31 lyrically crammed tracks on The Tortured Poets Department, if you include the 15 that suddenly appeared in the middle of the night after the album was supposedly already out?

In such a state of excitation, looking around for a backlash and seeing practically none, Swift can only resort to accusing the people who do love her, like her family and her fans, of loving her the wrong way. Now she’s upset about her good reputation: “I’ll tell you something about my good name,” she sings, “it’s mine alone to disgrace.”

A similar state of mind is evident in the aspect of the album to which the world reacted most immediately when Poets leaked on Thursday: It mostly isn’t about what everyone thought it would be about, the breakup last year of her six-year relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn, which surely must have been, as Swift sings on “LOML,” not only the love but the loss of her life. Instead, it seems to dwell obsessively on a brief affair with another pop star, the aforementioned disapproved-of bad boy and “tattooed golden retriever” we all assume is Matty Healy from U.K. band 1975. In the verified introduction in the album liner notes, Swift writes, “A smirk creeps onto this poet’s face. Because it’s the worst men that I write best.” And that feels like the true explanation. I don’t question that Swift’s craving and anguish were genuine enough at the time, but focusing on the tumultuous affair instead of the longtime partnership allows her to reach back into her usual bag, to deploy the same range of voices as in the songs she’s spent most of the album’s two-year gestation period singing in stadiums. How could she generate that trademark Taylor Swift melodramatic emotion from the muted adult miseries of a slow-dissolving domestic partnership, without a villain to skewer? Moreover, how long could she stand to linger over that weightier, less easily processed loss, to capture it fully in song?

She’s proved she has the capacity. She did it on “You’re Losing Me,” a quietly wrenching single she released back in November. She does it on this album’s “So Long, London” (in the fifth-track slot that Swift famously reserves for gut-punchers), which deals with the fact that losing a person often comes together with losing a place, whether geographical or simply a grounding in familiar settings and routines. There’s an extension of that idea in the first bonus or “anthology” track (and frankly one of only a handful of worthwhile ones there), “The Black Dog.” It takes off from the very modern-love conceit of finding that you can still track a former partner’s location on your phone because he “forgot to turn it off.” Swift observes her ex patronizing a bar called the Black Dog (which was also Winston Churchill’s term for depression) and begins fixating on what he might be doing there, perhaps meeting other women, perhaps hearing one of their favorite songs, perhaps not missing her. Why can’t she stop these thoughts? Because, she sing-shouts, “Old habits die screaming.”

And then there is “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” likely the album’s most pop-friendly anthem and oddly, despite its scenario being so specific to the condition of being Taylor Swift, the one that perhaps makes the protagonist’s emotions easiest to identify with. Most people dealing with devastating life events may not have to get up in front of tens of thousands of screaming people and pretend “like it’s my birthday every day.” But we do have to swallow our feelings, go to work, and put on a mask. It uses the trick of wedding upbeat music to despairing lyrics, gaining extra poignancy from the contrast—but doubly so because that contradiction is also what the song is about. The song’s special force is that Swift knows that the listeners have seen her doing what she’s describing, whether in person or in the “Eras” tour movie or in the countless hundreds of hours of tour clips online.

Together, these songs suggest an alternate album that could have been, a breakup album more like the classics of the type, a kind of spiritual sequel to Red but from an adult point of view. Instead, she gets there only via lengthy detours, with mixed metaphors piling up to block the off-ramps. The Tortured Poets Department doesn’t show much growth lyrically beyond the Folklore stage. Musically, it mostly carries on in the manner of her past few albums, Midnights especially, with co-producers and co-writers Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner architecting the ambiances in which Swift’s stories can take place, but with few of them solidifying into juggernauts that carry the listener away. Vague verses might transition into vivid choruses stymied by run-on-sentence bridges (e.g., about what fingers rings go on), or vice-versa-and-reversa. The scatterings of fucks often seem to stand in for truly visceral, embodied evocations of eros and animus. It’s more of a stream-of-consciousness assemblage of parts than of gratifying stand-alone works of the kind you may associate with Swift albums past. I’m a staunch defender of Antonoff, and he does some excellent work here—the sultry contours of “I Can Fix Him,” the giddily trashy grand guignol of “Florida!!!” with Florence and the Machine. But a person definitely can get to missing Max Martin and the definitive shape and hooks of a song like “Blank Space.”

I could blame this on her crew’s superfluous productivity. No one was forcing Swift to release another album so quickly (her fourth in four years without counting the re-records and all their bonus material), much less 31 songs. But between her workaholism and the economic incentives of the streaming era, the ethos is the more the better. And given her place in the music industry food chain, there’s nobody to say no to, nobody to serve as an editor, nobody even to voice the dreaded old label complaint “We don’t hear a hit.” But that may be far too conservative and old-fashioned a way to take TTPD. It’s the arc of the album as a whole (bonus tracks not included) that’s really satisfying, more than individual songs. What it offers instead of bangers are unruly passages back and forth through the stages of grief, as Swift hinted with the themed playlists she made for fans earlier this month. The original impact of the breakup is absorbed by the all-consuming rebound affair (which some songs suggest was already waiting lustily in the wings), then it in turn falls apart, and the protagonist finds refuge and fulfillment in the artistic work itself. Even then, with the coda, “Clara Bow,” in which Swift parallels herself with that 1920s “it” girl and with Stevie Nicks in the 1970s, she counsels herself to remember that this too shall pass; her star must fade, like those of every generation. (I’m leaving out the part about a redemptive new love, because the football-metaphor-blitzed song “The Alchemy” and its bonus-track correlate “So High School” seem so weak and tossed-off as to be wholly extraneous, as if included only as a courtesy to the party in question.)

My friend and colleague Ann Powers calls TTPD novelistic. But I think that is also too much of a throwback, despite the album’s capital-R Romantic literary airs, equal parts sincere and in jest. It’s just as much like a role-playing game in which you and Taylor set off on a joint expedition while simultaneously engaged in dense, meandering cross-talk. As Swift cracks to her paramour on the title track, “You’re not Dylan Thomas, I’m not Patti Smith/ This ain’t the Chelsea Hotel, we’re modern idiots.”

As I’ve said ever since Reputation, I resist bringing celebrity gossip to bear on thinking about artists’ work, but on this album, it is all but formally part of the music, just as on rap beef tracks. All the “Easter egg” details and name-dropping (“you told Lucy … and I had said that to Jack …”) practically force the listener to read the songs via the stories we’ve gotten from the news and social media. Swift knows fans are going to do it anyway, and she long ago chose to feed it rather than fight it, even if she reserves the right to kvetch about it. As “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” reminds us, Taylor Swift–style feminism may not mean having it all, but it does mean getting to have it both ways, to be both the threatened and the threat or, as she puts it on “Cassandra,” both Eve and the snake.

The Tortured Poets Department might be the fullest realization yet of Swift's album as multimedia work. Forget visual albums. Here, every photo, film clip, article, rumor, and stray online comment in the world is in a sense part of the text, and we are all participants as well as spectators. It’s a more-than-three-dimensional portrait of the modern superstar caught in extremis, with heartbreak serving as a CAT scan to illuminate more of the interior of our global avatar.

Through this rendering process, Swift hopes to liberate herself. As tedious as I find many of the “anthology” tracks, I was moved to tears by the final one, “The Manuscript.” There, she looks back on a past relationship with an older man, no doubt one of the subjects of her classic kiss-off songs of the 2010s. She finds those emotions safely distant now, simply part of the story she’s woven into her musical score. “The only thing that’s left is the manuscript,” she sings. “The story isn’t mine anymore.” As she wrote recently on Instagram, “Once we have spoken our saddest story, we can be free of it.” Mind you, as “Thank you Aimee” demonstrates (decode the capital letters), Taylor Alison Swift has to our knowledge never in her life let anything go. But as an aspiration, it’s a very grown-up one to have.

The chorus of the title track of Taylor Swift’s 11th-era album mentions two literary legends and one of the places that connects them: Patti Smith, Dylan Thomas, and the Chelsea Hotel.

Swift sings in “The Tortured Poets Department”: “I laughed in your face and said, ‘You’re not Dylan Thomas. I’m not Patti Smith. This ain’t the Chelsea Hotel. We’re modern idiots.”

Dylan Thomas is a Welsh poet and writer famous for "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” “Under Milk Wood” and “Fern Hill.” Thomas was born in 1914 and died in 1953.

Patti Smith is a famous poet, author, songwriter, singer, and painter born in 1947. Her Instagram bio reads, “Writer. We are all alive together.” Smith is still an active writer. She did a book signing in New York City on Thursday morning.

The Chelsea Hotel (or Hotel Chelsea or The Chelsea) is in Manhattan. Built-in the late 19th century, the 12-story hotel is a New York designated landmark that has famously housed writers, painters, authors, and the who’s who of fashionable socialites. And still does.

Stephanie Burt, a Harvard professor who teaches a class on Swift, explained the layers of the lyric.

“Swift is not only telling (the guy in the song), you're not that talented,” Burt says. “She's saying, let's not be the kind of artists who make our self-destructive, tortured natures central to our art, which invites everyone to look at what a mess we are.”

Patti Smith performs during the induction ceremony into the institution of the US photographer Annie Leibovitz at the Institut de France in Paris, on March … Show more   

Both Smith and Thomas lived in the hotel. According to John Brinnin's 1955 biography, “Dylan Thomas in America,” Thomas was reputed to be a "roistering, drunken and doomed poet." Smith went on to produce albums and tour the world. She sang and performed with Bruce Springsteen

“Patti Smith is who you invoke if you want to talk about a woman onstage who is absolutely magnetic and a poet with a capital ‘P,’” Burt says. “Dylan Thomas is who you invoke if you want to talk about a romantic, self-destructive poet who had the talent to back it up, but had absolutely no self-care skills who made everything too much.”

Swift is saying let’s not be self-destructive artists and let’s leave that to the “modern idiots.”

'The Tortured Poets Department'

If you didn't get the memo from the department's Chairman, "Tortured Poets" is Swift's 11th-era album with 16 tracks and four bonus songs (four versions of the album each have a different bonus track).

Swift announced the project at the Grammys, when she won her 13th career Grammy for pop album of the year. Post Malone and Florence and The Machine are two contributors on the pop album.

Its track titles are brutal. Fans speculated the album was about Swift’s six-year relationship with English actor Joe Alwyn and their breakup. Both stars kept the relationship out of the public eye. The back of the first version of the album reads, “I love you, it’s ruining me,” serving as a dagger-to-the-chest harbinger.

The album was released during Swift's two-month break from her massively popular and economically fruitful Eras Tour. "Tortured Poets" serves as an exclamation point to the behemoth success the billionaire has seen over the past year since the three-plus-hour show launched in Glendale, Arizona. Swift will return to the stage in Paris, France, on May 9. Fans anticipate that her newest era will be added to the show.

Since emerging in 2006 with a tear-stained six-string, Taylor Swift has seesawed through public opinion perhaps more than any other 21st-century artist. In 2024, she landed as a monolithic force in pop culture with an unavoidable, omnipresent force permeating every facet of daily life. There are reporters appointed solely to cover her exploits, and University modules dedicated to dissecting her lyrics, not to mention that her name is permanently etched onto the internet’s trending topics. While the rest of the music industry grapples with an accelerated pop culture landscape and tirelessly attempts to orchestrate meaningful, viral moments, Swift remains unscathed — always at the epicenter of endless discourse and somehow each day pushing the boundaries of celebrity.

So, when she announced the forthcoming release of ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ at the Grammys earlier this year – while collecting the Album Of The Year prize for 2022’s ‘Midnights’ – it seemed to be met with an audible eye roll from a room full of artists perhaps jaded by competing for scraps of attention in a media sphere wholly dominated by Swift. And, after releasing 10 records (including live albums and re-recordings) in four years, this frustration from her peers seems to join the first splinters in her public opinion, deepening with every new typo-riddled, brand-partnered Easter Egg that has dropped in the run-up to release.

Perhaps Swift was tempting fate with this one. Above all else in her career, Swift has always found acclaim through her lyricism, and comparisons have gleefully been made between herself and The BardSpeaking in February, she says “I have never had an album where I needed songwriting more than I needed it on [TTPD]”. It’s surprising, then, that ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ delivers some of her most cringe-inducing lines yet.

The title track alone boasts the worst on the record, even if it’s a stab at sarcasm. “You smoked then ate seven bars of chocolate / We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist,” precedes the clunky “I scratch your head, you fall asleep like a tattooed Golden Retriever.” Elsewhere, on ‘Down Bad’ she’s unceremoniously “crying at the gym”, and ‘Florida!!!’, an otherwise cathartic, Southern gothic-imbued collaboration with Florence Welch is marred by the line: “My friends all smell like weed or little babies”.

Most bizarre, though, is ‘But Daddy I Love Him’, which seemingly exists as her response to the backlash against her brief relationship with The 1975 frontman Matty Healy. Their fleeting romance, which seems to be the muse for much of the record, triggered an explosive reaction from her fanbase who were distraught at Swift’s public association with the singer, given his slew of controversial comments (a few of which centered around her soon-to-be collaborator Ice Spice).

Swift has historically used her lyrics to assert her narrative. On ‘Speak Now’ (2010) she took the first of many aims at Kanye West following his stage invasion at the 2009 MTV VMAs, and much of ‘Reputation’ (2017) came from the social media haters. Intriguingly, on ‘But Daddy I Love Him’, she appears to tackle the people who claim to have her best interests at heart: “These people only raise you to cage you”, she sings, adding “God save the most judgemental creeps/Who say they want what’s best for me”.

Frustrated lyrics permeate the rest of the record, which operates as a knottier, if inferior, sequel to ‘Midnights’. But while the aforementioned shone in its ecstatic embrace of freedom with the frantic, false optimism of someone freshly out of a long-term relationship, ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ sees the dust settle and the misery creep in. There are inevitable parallels with 2019’s ‘Lover’, an album that seemed assured of a safe, lasting love. Here, the saccharine optimism of ‘Lover’’s ‘London Boy’ dissipates on ‘So Long London’, where she laments “I left all I knew/You left me at the house by the Heath”.

Musically, it’s an album mostly devoid of any noticeable stylistic shift or evolution. ‘Fortnight’, a Cigarettes After Sex-esque number featuring Post Malone hints at an interesting direction for Swift, and ‘I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)’ introduces intriguing elements of country and western. But it mostly descends into a monochromatic palette, existing in the same Jack Antonoff-branded synth pop as ‘Midnights’, yet struggling to capture any of its brightness.

‘I Can Do It With A Broken Heart’ highlights her unrelenting work ethic that doesn’t falter amid personal tragedy. But, it seems poised for internet virality than anything more substantial, given its restrained verses that plod along before catapulting into a euphoric, Carly Rae Jepsen-indebted pop chorus. Lyrics like “I’m so depressed I act like it’s my birthday every day” are almost too glaringly obviously written to be lip-synced into an iPhone 13 front camera.

‘The Tortured Poets Department’ ends up chasing its own tail with frenzied attempts to respond to critics despite Swift’s current stature. Closer ‘Clara Bow’ offers some respite, highlighting the inevitable lifecycle of young female stars who are raised up as shinier, improved versions of their predecessors only to be replaced by the same system years later. Though Swift herself seems immune to the machine-churn of pop stars — now maintaining a greater relevance than ever nearly two decades into her career — it’s one of the album’s most poignant and best moments.

Ultimately this record lacks the genuinely interesting shifts that have punctuated Swift’s career so far, from the lyrical excellence on her superior breakup album ‘Red’ to ‘1989’’s pivot to high-octane pop. Even ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’, perhaps her most dynamic works to date, came out of a need to prove herself as a songwriter.

It is peculiar then, that at the pinnacle of her success and acclaim, this is the record Swift chooses to make. Now acting as pop’s undeniable ruler, perhaps it’s just that she simply has nothing else to prove. After all, it’s bound to shift crate loads of slightly varied vinyl pressings, and will unlikely dampen the upcoming European leg of record-busting The Eras tour. It’s why the lyrical themes of victimhood that once aided her image come off as increasingly jarring today. On ‘But Daddy I Love Him’ she positions herself as a “simple girl” at the mercy of “too high a horse” from her naysayers, but it grates against a landscape that often declares her exempt from criticism.

Swift seems to be in tireless pursuit for superstardom, yet the negative public opinion it can come with irks her, and it’s a tired theme now plaguing her discography and leaving little room for the poignant lyrical observations she excels at. It’s why the pitfalls that mire her 11th studio album are all the more disappointing — she’s proven time and time again that she can do better. To a Melbourne audience of her Eras Tour, Swift said that ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ came from a “need” to write. It’s just that maybe we didn’t need to hear it.

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