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REVIEW: Taylor Swift holds no bars in 'The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology'

By Samantha Timbreza Published Apr 20, 2024 4:50 pm

This is the irony: It may be about suffering and torment, but The Tortured Poets Department is the catharsis we all needed. At least I know I did.

The much anticipated Taylor Swift album, The Tortured Poets Department (TTPD), has finally been released, with a bonus bit that it is, after all, a double album and is in fact called The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology. This is her 11th studio album, and it adds 31 more songs to her roster of over 240.

In the Philippines, the official release happened at 12 noon on April 19, a Friday. Did I want to drop work, put on my headphones, and listen to her new album all day? Yes. Did I actually do it? Let’s keep that a secret. But as I write this, rest assured that I have listened to the entire anthology and this is my first take.

She Did It with a Broken Heart

First off, let me get this out of the way as I expect to hear this from many: Yes, TTPD actually sounds like her older album 1989 (Taylor’s Version), especially the From the Vault songs. Also, when you get to the second part, you’ll feel like you listened to a fusion of 1989, Folklore, and Evermore.

It could be because like in her recent previous albums, she worked with the same friends/producers, Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner. So sure, I, too, agree that it’s a familiar-sounding body of work.

But who cares? It still sounds great. I would totally understand if Taylor Swift gets flak about her vocals, her relationships (she shouldn’t though), or her mound of wealth (which is really just a side effect of her productivity), but no one can say that she is not a good writer. As Aaron Dessner once said, she is a virtuoso in songwriting, and The Tortured Poets Department is a loud and resounding proof to that take.

But Daddy We Love Taylor

TTPD talks a lot about a dying or already dead love. She said that she started writing this two years ago, a time when she was still in a six-year relationship. TTPD unravels Taylor’s thoughts and feelings before the breakup, right when it happened, and after, when the pain dulls and fades.

Although, take note, that relationship is not the only one referenced to in the album. There was a shorter stint with a different guy after the longer relationship. To me, those songs stood out and became some of my early favorites. My hunch is The Tortured Poets Department, But Daddy I Love Him, and I Can Fix Him, (No Really I Can) are songs about this quick rendezvous with that guy. But Taylor never explicitly reveals who inspired her to write certain songs. So I guess we would all have to keep guessing (read: clowning).

One thing's for sure though: Most of the songs tackle the experience of ending the six-year relationship. Out of this difficult time in her life, she came up with masterful pieces such as How Did It End? (the piano riffs on this song? Ah, *chef’s kiss!), imgonnagetyouback, and Peter, with the last two going for a run on TTPD’s best bridge.

The Tortured Poets Department on phantom clear vinyl

There is also that one song born out of her current relationship and it's none other than So High School.

Sure, The Alchemy may have football references, but the song actually denotes a long-term relationship, clearly seen in “'Cause the sign on your heart said it's still reserved for me. Honestly, who are we to fight the alchemy?”—the alchemy being the revival of a rusting love back to a golden love.

However, in So High School, the amusing line, “I feel like laughing in the middle of practice, to that impression you did of your dad again,” clearly refers to Travis Kelce, whom she is currently dating, and who is known to impersonate his dad.

All that said, I think Taylor wants us to veer away from the typical “Ooh I wonder who this song is about” train of thought. In her Instagram post on the release of TTPD, she subtly touches on the subject, saying that the feelings have passed, they were mostly self-inflicted, and fans need not to avenge anything. I think she just wants us to enjoy the music and the experience in each song. Regardless of what triggered the writing phase, she loves to make every song between her and her fans. She wants us to make it our own.

And, boy, she gave us 31 songs to choose from.

The Manuscript that Heals

As a listener with just the right exposure to her 20-year discography, I wasn’t exactly blown away by this album; but I was pulled in close, in awe and wonder still.

When talking with friends, I noticed that most casual listeners of Taylor Swift prefer the “bop songs”—catchy, danceable, and songs I would refer to as “carrying simple emotions.” TTPD isn’t a bop album and the emotions it conveys are complex. The way it’s called an anthology is apt—it’s a collection of art pieces, and like any art piece, it may take time to be appreciated by many. But as for me, this type of album is my cup of tea.

Why? Because it tells me that it’s okay to express myself.

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A lot of times, our society likes to label women as “emotional” or even “crazy” for expressing how we feel. As a woman, I am encouraged by this collection of songs to, as long as I do no harm, honor the truth of my feelings and not to care about how the world will label me for having them. I used to have the exact same emotion that Down Bad portrays, but I felt like a weakling for having them in the first place. Listening to the song now makes me realize that it’s okay, people do go through that. I said it before and I’ll say it again—it really does feel like we are growing up with Taylor Swift.

In one of her banters in The Eras Tour, Taylor mentioned that this album reminded her of how writing songs serves as a lifeline for her. It’s what she does to survive. But by wielding her prowess at songwriting to save her life, she produced an anthology that may, in turn, be a lifeline for her listeners. Her songwriting indeed saves lives—hers and others. And to me, that is the very purpose of every single work of art: to cause people to live again.

Give this cathartic collection a listen. You might just find that in this world of tough crowds, messy relations, and hard, alienating feelings, you are not and never will be alone.