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‘The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology:’ Swift attracts listeners through skillful show of vulnerability

Brett Jordan/Flickr
Taylor Swift’s 11th album, “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology,” includes a total of 31 tracks. Swift announced this album at the 2024 Grammys Feb. 5, and it was later released April 19.

Taylor Swift’s latest album, “The Tortured Poet’s Department,” garnered 300 million streams on Spotify in the first 24 hours after its release, surpassing her previous album, “Midnights,” which had held the record of 184.6 million streams. The album features a mix of upbeat and slow songs with poetic lyrics and profound meanings and was released April 19.

When Swift first announced the album at the 2024 Grammys Feb. 5, she revealed it would consist of 16 songs and drop at 5 a.m. However, when the album dropped, an unexpected two-hour countdown began on Swift’s Instagram account. At 7 a.m., Swift released a double album called “The Tortured Poet’s Department: The Anthology,” which contained an additional 16 tracks.

Despite criticism that “The Anthology” is overly long, these songs are all individually valuable to the album, each exploring different themes such as betrayal, grief and heartbreak. They make the album appeal to a broader range of audiences, as there are a variety of songs for people to relate to.

Swift announced the names of the tracks on “The Tortured Poets Department,” with the fifth track titled “So Long, London,” Feb. 6. Previously, Swift has placed her most devastating and emotional songs in the track five spot of her albums — for example, “Tolerate It” from “Evermore” and “My Tears Ricochet” from “Folklore.” Thus, many fans expected this track to follow this pattern, which it certainly did.

Another reason “So Long, London” was so eagerly anticipated, especially by Swift’s British fanbase, was its title. “London Boy,” a track on Swift’s seventh album “Lover,” is an upbeat love song that references many locations around London. Fans appreciated that “So Long, London” served as a heartbreaking parallel to “London Boy.”

Furthermore, the album’s first track, titled “Fortnight,” piqued the interest of many after it featured popular musical artist Post Malone. Because both Swift and Malone have vastly different styles of music, I wondered whether the singers would complement or contrast each other through this song. Much to my surprise, the final result was a pleasant blend of both Swift and Malone’s musical talent.

With a slow tempo and upbeat tune, “Fortnight” has hyperbolic and exaggerated lyrics, like “I love you/ It’s ruining my life.” These lyrics capture the intense emotions of moving on with life after a heartbreak — a theme often left unaddressed in mainstream music. According to Slate, this track quickly became number one on the Billboard Hot 100. It gained 76.2 million streams in its first week, breaking Olivia Rodrigo’s record for her song “Driver’s License” released in 2021.

The album’s 13th track, “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” has an ironically upbeat tune compared to its disheartening lyrics describing how Swift struggled with heartbreak during her performances at the “Eras Tour.” The contrast in the tone and content of the song perfectly depicts the exhaustion of faking happiness. The lyrics, “‘Cause I’m miserable/ And nobody even knows,” describe how Swift masks sad feelings while acting cheerful towards others.

Although the vast majority of Swift’s listeners may not relate to the emotions associated with performing onstage, this song captures the common struggle to suppress one’s feelings. As someone who has found myself having to carry on with daily responsibilities despite being consumed by intense emotions, this song resonates deeply with me. I also feel more endearment and empathy towards Swift after discovering she faces similar struggles.

Moreover, “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” is about one of Swift’s previous toxic romantic relationships. The most compelling aspect of this song is its bridge, which demonstrates feelings of rage, conveyed through lines such as, “But you are what you did/ And I’ll forget you, but I’ll never forgive/ The smallest man who ever lived.” Swift’s strong word choice and descriptive similes render the song emotionally compelling and evocative.

There are over 20 thousand posts using the audio from “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” on TikTok as of May 7. Users post this song as a means of contextualizing their own lives by describing who they feel their “Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” is based on how they have been treated in past relationships. Watching fellow Swifties — a commonly used term to refer to Taylor Swift fans — use this song to share their stories has fostered a sense of understanding and community.

In addition, marriage is referenced consistently throughout the album. Even in her previous albums, Swift seems to idealize marriage. In “Paper Rings” from “Lover,” she repeats, “I love shiny things but I’d marry you with paper rings.” Furthermore, in a “Midnights” track titled “You’re Losing Me,” Swift sings, “I wouldn’t marry me either/ A pathological people pleaser.”

This pattern of mentioning marriage is why, in “The Tortured Poets Department,” lines such as, “You swore that you loved me, but where were the clues? I died on the altar waitin’ for the proof” in “So Long, London,” and, “You and I go from one kiss to gettin’ married” in the song “loml” intrigued fans who are curious about Swift’s life outside of her music career. Swift’s demonstration of vulnerability and opening up about the feelings she associates with marriage makes the album more engaging as Swift creates a more personal connection with listeners.

Some may argue that the songs in “The Tortured Poet’s Department: The Anthology” lack meaning and attempt to distract listeners from this with its use of complex words such as “precocious,” “esoteric” and “revelry.” However, despite these critiques, the album lyrics undeniably showcase depth. Take, for instance, “The Black Dog,” where Swift describes a song by the band “The Starting Line” as being “intertwined in the tragic fabric of our dreaming.” This demonstrates Swift’s ability to make profound connections through intricate wordplay, elevating the album’s emotional impact beyond mere superficiality.

Ultimately, Swift’s poetic ability to craft powerful metaphors and beautifully written songs shines through her latest release, cementing her as arguably one of the most iconic artists of our time.

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About the Contributor
Ayla Rafiq, Reporter
Ayla Rafiq ('27) is a Reporter for The Standard in Multimedia Journalism.

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