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Review: Taylor Swift’s “The Tortured Poets Department”

Izzy Smith

“Fortnight (feat. Post Malone)”

Emma: I think “Fortnight” is a great opening track, honestly. It provides a good transition from the synth-filled, upbeat “Midnights” to the complex lyricism of “The Tortured Poets Department.” The beat has a strong Jack Antonoff influence, with synths galore. I like how Taylor and Post’s voices work together in the bridge. It’s catchy, it’s a pop song, I like it. Not much else to say about it. My favorite lyric is “Your wife waters flowers, I wanna kill her.”
Tristan: The beat has me in a chokehold. It’s catchy and vibey, but the lyrics are jaw dropping. Post Malone’s vocals mesh angelically with Taylor, and I like that he doesn’t have an overbearing part. It is truly an honor he was given the bridge, and I love what he did with it. It’s the perfect introduction to this masterful album, touching on the overarching theme of heartbreak and pining. My favorite lyric is “I love you, it’s ruining my life.”


“The Tortured Poets Department”

Emma: I really like this one! It has an 80s vibe, with a beat that reminds me of “Afterglow” from “Lover.” I try not to paternity test songs, but I thought this song was about Matty Healy. He’s the epitome of trying to seem like a tortured poet. I mean, the man apparently writes his songs on a typewriter. That feels on the nose to me. I’m not fully dogging on him. I listened to The 1975 all throughout high school, but he seems pretentious and this song is peak “I do this because it’s deep and you wouldn’t understand.” Also, I love the Lucy Dacus mention. That woman has my heart. My favorite lyric is “Who else decodes you?”
Tristan: This track gives me an 80s synth vibe that took my breath away. I picked up on the mention of wedding rings, which was interesting seeing as there have been rumors that Taylor and her ex of six years, Joe Alwyn, were going to get married. I also wanted to touch on some parallels to her “Reputation” album that I picked up on. In her song “Delicate,” Swift sings “Do the girls back home touch you like I do?” which refers to “Who’s gonna hold you like me?” in this track. Additionally, in “Dress,” Swift says “Made your mark on me, a golden tattoo,” which refers to “You fall asleep like a tattoo golden retriever” in this track. 


“My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys”

Emma: I don’t have too much to say about this song. That doesn’t mean it’s bad! It just didn’t stick out to me compared to the standouts of the album. My favorite lyric is “Once I fix me, he’s gonna miss me.”
Tristan: This song has more of a deeper undertone, and I love the metaphor in this song, how Taylor, herself, is this toy that was once picked off the shelf to play around with. Now, she is broken at the hand of the toymaster. My favorite lyric is “Rivulets descend my plastic smile.”


“Down Bad”

Emma: Jack Antonoff strikes again with putting depressing lyrics to a synth-pop production! I managed to miss this in my initial listen through, but I actually found it pretty catchy when I came back to it. Who hasn’t tried to fix themself post-breakup only to end up crying in public? It’s relatable. Thank you, Taylor. My favorite lyric is “Now I’m down bad crying at the gym/ Everything comes out teenage petulance.”

Tristan: I love the juxtaposition of the depressing lyrics to such an upbeat anthem. This song is for all the desperate people coming fresh out of a relationship, still trying to cope with the fact that something they treasured just ended. The high of having something so fresh, then cutting to staying “down bad” because you can no longer have the one you really wanted. It is emphasized in my favorite lyric, “cause f*ck it I was in love/ So f*ck you if I can’t have us.”


“So Long, London”

Emma: Track fives always hit hard on Taylor albums. “So Long, London” is no different. I love her collaborations with Aaron Dessner of The National. The imagery in this song is beautiful, and it’s clearly the antithesis of “London Boy.” The charm of the city is gone and, despite loving it, she has to go. It’s what’s best for her. My favorite lyric is, “I died on the altar waitin’ for the proof/ You sacrificed us to the gods of your bluest days.”
Tristan: This has to be my most favorite intro to a song I have ever heard. I love the backing vocals, how it’s almost desperate. I feel like this track is her way of bringing closure to her ended relationship by writing goodbye to the place where their love flourished. She references London in so many of her songs, and in this one, she confirms how much she truly loved this city. My favorite lyrics are “And you say I abandoned the ship, but I was going down with it/ My white-knuckle dying grip holding tight to your quiet resentment.”


“But Daddy I Love Him”

Emma: This is one of my favorites on the album, which surprises me because I originally didn’t like the title. Both Antonoff and Dessner worked on this, and it’s a great mesh of their styles. The song calls out critiques on her relationships, saying that it’s ultimately her mistake to make. She’s allowed to be stupid because it’s her life! The only difference is that her mistakes are plastered on magazines and social media sites for the world to see. She frames fame as a restrictive upbringing, calling in some “folklore”-esque imagery. Also, the line “I’m having his baby/ No, I’m not, but you should see your faces,” is objectively hilarious. My favorite lyric is “I’ll tell you something ’bout my good name/ It’s mine alone to disgrace.”
Tristan: My absolute favorite song on this album. More specifically, I am obsessed. This song has altered my brain chemistry. Everything from the beat to the lyrics. To me, I took this song as Taylor calling attention to the Swifties, and how harshly they critique everything she does, or who she dates. She is saying that Swift is her own person. She has authority over her own life. No matter what we, or anyone else says, she will make her choices based on her individuality, regardless of our thoughts. We cannot interject ourselves into her life. I love when she says “I’ll tell you something about my good name. It’s mine alone to disgrace.” It highlights her individuality and boldness in calling out the world, or more specifically, her own fanbase. 


“Fresh Out The Slammer”

Emma: This one doesn’t stand out too much to me, and has a country-western twang to it. It shows the end of a relationship and the beginning of another, maybe a rebound. She’s freshly out of a relationship and going straight into another. My favorite lyric is “Swirled you into all of my poems.”

Tristan: This track took me aback at first with its Western-like anthem. The melody is almost intoxicating, transforming you into her mindset. I want to say this song analyzes the transformation from being in a relationship with her partner who did not understand her or appreciate her, now to a fresh relationship where she feels seen. She is “fresh out the slammer,” a relationship that felt like prison, and now is “runnin’ back home to you,” her new relationship.


“Florida!!! (feat. Florence + The Machine)”

Emma: I love Florence Welch. I love Taylor Swift. A perfect combination, really. She’s imagining running away to Florida, which is hinted at in “Fortnight”s bridge. It sounds really nice, and has clear Florence influences on it, which is just amazing. The loud beats that hit when they sing “Florida” is the icing on the cake. My favorite lyric is “all my girls got their lace and their crimes.”

Tristan: The entire basis of this song refers to the idea that people run away and escape to Florida. They escape to hide, to indulge in a fantasy, or to start over completely, and those are some of our first thoughts after having our heart broken. I like these moments after the two sing “Florida” where there are these loud bangs. The entire song feels like I am running away, attempting to escape something in my life. My favorite lyric is “Love left me like this, and I don’t want to exist, so take me to Florida.”


“Guilty as Sin?”

Emma: This one’s a banger (possible pun intended). She’s thinking about someone else while already in a relationship. While I don’t condone it, the song is great and Swift once again shows just how good she is at using imagery in her songs. Chef’s kiss for this one. My favorite lyric is, “What if the way you hold me is actually what’s holy?”

Tristan: Without a doubt, this is a song about intimacy. More specifically, I think she feels guilty for having these deep thoughts about another man while in a relationship with someone else. She is taking accountability for her mistake, but also addresses this question of is it really a mistake? My favorite lyric is her declaration of saying “I choose you and me, religiously.”


“Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?”

Emma: This one! This is tied for first place in my favorites. It’s angry, it’s raw, it’s taunting. The kitten has turned into a tiger and it’s on the hunt. I always love a song I relate to, so maybe that’s why I like it so much. Taylor has all of these pent up feelings and is tired of being underestimated. So who’s afraid of her? If you’re not, she’ll give you a reason to be. A lyric often misinterpreted from this song is “you wouldn’t last an hour in the asylum where they raised me.” She is talking about the music industry. If you weren’t trained for it, it’s a whole beast that is impossible to tame. She’s the way she is because she’s been in the spotlight most of her life. My favorite lyric is, “I was tame, I was gentle ’til the circus life made me mean.”

Tristan: This song is revenge coded, and you can hear the searing anger in her voice. It reminds me a lot of “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” two completely raw and haunting songs that I find captivating. My brain chemistry was permanently altered the first time I heard this track. I envisioned all the way this song could be interpreted, from Taylor’s life herself, and the way all of us fans can relate to it. “So tell me everything is not about me, but what if it is?” The way she delivers this line sent chills up my spine. My favorite lyric is “You wouldn’t last an hour in the asylum where they raised me.”


“I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)”

Emma: Like “Fresh Out The Slammer,” this song doesn’t immediately appeal to me. It’s not bad, but it’s one I skip when it comes on. My favorite lyric is “I’ll show you Heaven if you’ll be an angel, all night.”
Tristan: This track is another one that touches on these Western sounds, but it works seamlessly. People speculate this song is about another rumored relationship after Joe Alwyn. My favorite lyric is “He had a halo of the highest grade, he just hadn’t met me yet.”



Emma: God, this song hurts. It’s a simple piano ballad that changes the meaning of the acronym LOML to mean “loss of my life” rather than “love of my life.” I’m glad I’m listening to it while in a long term, very happy relationship, because otherwise I would cry every time I turned it on. Everyone has felt a serious loss that they didn’t see coming. This song tells the story of hers. My favorite lyric is, “I thought I was better safe than starry-eyed/ I felt aglow like this/ Never before and never since.”

Tristan: This track is another emotional punch to the gut. I had to close my eyes when listening just to truly feel the impact. It deals with the internal depression that comes when trying to heal from a valued relationship. Her vocals are raw and full of sentiment. It was a hard listen at first, but a song you just have no choice but to appreciate Taylor’s authenticity and ability to write such heartbreaking lyrics. My favorite line is “Dancing phantoms on the terrace, are they second-hand embarrassed that I can’t get out of bed, cause something counterfeit is dead.”


“I Can Do It With a Broken Heart”

Emma: Finally, a bop! No, wait, the lyrics are depressing. Taylor finally opens up about the difficulty of having to perform weekly while dealing with the end of her 6 year long relationship. Those videos of her crying while performing “Lover” or surprise songs suddenly make complete sense. She was trying like everything to put on a show and not think about the subject of the songs she was singing. I think it’s really cool how she used the live feed from her ear piece as a background to the song. The “1, 2, 3, 4” are the cues given to her while she’s on the stage. My favorite lyric is, “I’m so depressed, I act like it’s my birthday every day.”

Tristan: I’ve never been so utterly crushed by such an upbeat song. To hear the sheer pain Taylor was battling while performing in front of thousands of people just confirms how strong of a woman she is. I love how she chose to put these soul crushing lyrics to such a bop because it’s the sad ironic truth of last year in 2023. She was miserable for the first part of the Eras Tour, but still had to perform every weekend for hours on end. It’s empowering. It’s also just a total bop. My favorite lyric is “I cry a lot but I am so productive. It’s an art.”


“The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived”

Emma: Okay, this is the other song that’s tied for my favorite. What can I say? I love a good female rage song! Taylor is mad at the person she left everything for. He ended up being a royal disappointment who only enjoyed showing her off in public. He was a high shell of himself when they were alone. Once he’s gone, she wonders if he was part of some conspiracy to ruin her life. Someone wouldn’t coax you out of a relationship just to ruin you, right? Wrong. Small men with small egos do. She learned the hard way, and she’ll never give him forgiveness. My favorite lyric is, “Were you sent by someone who wanted me dead?/ Did you sleep with a gun underneath our bed?”

Tristan: This song is the epitome of the term “female rage.” Her prominent, audible sighs throughout the song show us that she’s grieving, yes, but she’s also unconditionally furious. The flip in this song where she speaks directly into the microphone had my jaw on the floor. My favorite lyric is the closing line, “I’ll forget you, but I’ll forgive the smallest man who ever lived.”


“The Alchemy”

Emma: Oh, this song was the sweet reprieve I needed from the heartbreak of the rest of the album. Travis Kelce, go get yourself a little treat because your song is adorable. They love one another, and he wants her more than anything. He found her at a low point and has only built him up. Also, shoutout to the Chiefs for getting an inadvertent Super Bowl win notice! Additional shoutout to my boyfriend, because the song made me think of him. My favorite lyric is, “Where’s the trophy? He just comes runnin’ over to me.”

Tristan: Call me crazy, but this song is about her relationship with Travis Kelce, and how their relationship is built on pure love and support for one another. I love all the references to touchdowns, and the shoutout hidden behind her lyrics made for Travis and the Chiefs for winning the Superbowl. 


“Clara Bow”

Emma: Womanhood is a cycle. Those who make it big are endlessly compared to other women. I personally read this as Stevie Nicks getting compared to Clara Bow, Taylor getting compared to Stevie Nicks, and the next big thing getting compared to Taylor. I mean, who hasn’t heard every new popstar get described as “the next Taylor Swift?” I know I have. The song’s production is beautiful and feels kind of like a lullaby. It’s a dazzling close to the album’s main 16 tracks. My favorite lyric is, “It’s hell on earth to be heavenly.”

Tristan: To me, this song briefly describes Taylor’s rise to fame and how she views herself now. There are comparisons to Clara Bow, Stevie Nicks, and her last reference is to herself. It’s the first time we have ever heard her say her own name in one of her songs, and I wonder if it’s because she sometimes feels like a character in her own life. So many times, people in the world forget she is a human, with human emotions, flaws and boundaries. The world picks her apart, and I think this track is another way of calling attention to it. My favorite lyric is, “It’s hell on earth to be heavenly.”

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About the Contributors
Emma Tanner
Emma Tanner, Editor-in-Chief
Emma is Editor-in-Chief of the Flor-Ala. She is a senior from Killen, Ala. She is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Mass Communications with a concentration in journalism and digital media. She was previously Managing Editor for the spring 2023 semester. She also served as News Editor from Jan. 2022 to Dec. 2022. She was previously a volunteer writer. Her favorite topics to cover are profiles and local news. Tanner has written since her childhood and grew a passion for journalism during high school. Aside from working on the Flor-Ala, she was also a research assistant for a psychological study at UNA and served as CASE ambassador president for the Fall 2022 semester.
Tristan Gregory
Tristan Gregory, Staff Writer
Izzy Smith
Izzy Smith, Lead Graphic Designer
Izzy Smith is a freshman from Tupelo, Miss. She is pursuing a B.F.A. in Digital Media and a minor in HCI/UX Design. She volunteered with the Flor-Ala in the Fall semester of 2023. She is somewhat excited to "make mediocre art" for the newspaper as the lead graphic designer.

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