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REVIEW: ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ lyricism shines amid repetitive production

Sela Margalit

As a passionate Swiftie I anxiously awaited this album drop, but when I heard the original 16 tracks on The Tortured Poets Department I was puzzled. 

The vibe of the album cover and reviews from reported leaks conveyed the album would have Folklore and Evermore-esque qualities via its poet/dark academia aesthetic. As a more acoustic leaning listener I was thrilled with the idea of this record being full of heartbreaking and vulnerable ballads. 

Come to find out, most of the original tracks from TTPD  were more Jack Antonoff-style synthetic pop, where the melodies ran similar to that of Midnights, 1989 (Taylors Version) and Speak Now (Taylors Version). 

I noticed the majority of the first 16 original tracks I liked had credits attributing to collaboration with Aaron Dessner, opposed to Antonoff. Dessner worked on “So Long, London,” “But Daddy I Love Him,” “Loml,” “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” and “Clara Bow,” all of which happened to be my favorites off TTPD thus far. 

Dessner worked on 12 out of the 15 songs on the second half of the double album. The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology was exactly what I had in mind for TTPD; unique personal odes to relationships past. So for me, Dessner is the unsung hero of TTPD, saving it from the repetitive nature of Antonoff’s recent work. 

But then again, if Taylor Swift’s producer and best friend just won Producer of the Year at the Grammys, I assume she would take the “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” mentality. 

There was so much hype around the album succeeding Swift’s “sparkling summer” and The Eras Tour phenomenon, it shouldn’t be surprising how well the album did on release day. 

According to Spotify, on April 19, TTPD became the first record in Spotify history to receive 300 million streams on the day it was released. “Fortnight,” the first track on TTPD featuring Post Malone, became Spotify’s most streamed single in a day. 

Outside of the production of this album, this project may just be Swift’s most intricate lyricism yet. Speculation precursing the album’s drop alluded to how most of the songs would be: Swift unpacking her breakup with Joe Alywn, whom she dated for six years. However, the album ended up being much more diverse in subject matter than I expected. Some fans who have analyzed Swift’s lyrics speculate possible references to Alwyn but also allude to her short-time ex-boyfriend Matty Healy, her new relationship with Travis Kelce and even a diss to a longtime Swift hater Kim Kardashian. 

I typically need ample time, especially with an album of this length, to let the tracks marinate and analyze the connections between lyrics and melodies. In this case from a first listen I can say that TTPD  resurrects Swift to her area of expertise which is ballads of resentment to lovers past. 

TTPD was released April 19, which was the first day of the Revolutionary War in 1775 when Great Britain, Alwyn’s home country, went to war with the U.S. Talk about petty  and I’m here for it.

Notably the film “Dead Poets Society” (which sounds strikingly like the title of this particular album) came out in 1989, which is Swift’s birth year and one of her album titles.  Not to mention that her video “Fortnight” features “Dead Poets Society” cast members Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles.

Swift also has several Peter Pan related themes in tracks such as “Peter” and “Robin.” Robin Williams was one of the main actors in “Dead Poets Society” and also played Peter Pan in “Hook.” 

So whether or not you find the album compelling, there’s no denying the interconnectedness and “Mastermind”-like relationships between music and pop culture that Swift fosters is fascinating. 

Overall I would highly suggest listening to all 2 hours and 3 minutes of Swift’s new music, specifically The Anthology section which has leaned towards being my favorite and kudos to my personal hero Dessner.

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