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Change The Record: Taylor Swift – The Tortured Poets Department

It’s been a very weird week for music, and that’s even beyond the utter shitshow that is the Drake vs Kendrick beef, a topic that could very well be its own article with all that’s going on with it, but I am beyond unqualified to comment there. So let’s instead talk about someone that the beef has brought up a number of times. 

Last review, I talked about fearing the retribution of stans, but that was for Ariana Grande—a warm up compared to this. Now I’m doing Taylor Swift, and frankly I’d feel less dread typing up my suicide note. Swifties scare me more than any other group on Earth. No use getting caught up in fear though, it’d probably just be better to be honest and talk about just how much of an absolute mess this record is.

Usually in these reviews I throw in a quick introduction to the artist at hand but, like, it’s Taylor Swift. If you don’t know who she is, you are either a complete liar, blind and deaf, or living on a desert island with no internet, which then I’d be confused as to how you’re even reading this. 

One of the biggest musicians on earth, who’s been around since 2006 and has held a decently consistent release schedule since then—meaning even if you wanted to escape her, you couldn’t. These past few years, she’s been spinning her wheels re-recording her old music to finally have full ownership of it and take it out of Scooter Braun’s greasy hands, a practice I whole-heartedly support. It’s incredibly depressing it would have to come to that in the first place. 

Her last album of full-on new material was 2022’s Midnights, a record that for sure had some good hits like “Anti-Hero” and “Karma”, but overall it was filled with boring and bland lowlights and extremely frustrating writing. It was weirdly followed up by one of her best “Taylor’s Versions” and then with her absolute worst one, her re-recording of “1989,” probably her most well-known album. All that the re-recordings ended up doing was bollocks all of them up though, making them feel like tepid and ill-thought out reworks. Of course there is also her “Eras Tour” and its corresponding film, which I still actually haven’t interacted with at all, so no comment.

So with all that, I went into her new album, “The Tortured Poets Society,” with extreme trepidation, especially when she revealed that the tracklist, and most of the song names, are stuff that would get thrown out by mid-tier midwest emo bands on their third Ayahuasca trip. Even the album name itself just sounds wrong, like someone poorly remembered a movie they half-watched once. Frankly, I’m tap-dancing around actually reviewing the album, ‘cause that’d mean having to relisten to the songs, and that idea fills me with immense dread, not because the songs are specifically poorly constructed— they’re not amazing, but Taylor still knows how to craft a decent melody. It’s just that the songs are so draining to listen to, and write about.

Let’s start with the opener, “Fortnight” feat. Post Malone, a very boring way to open this album up. It’s a bland tedious melody that plods along for nearly 4 minutes, and barely goes anywhere until the final minute when it finally expands a bit and Post Malone joins in, though his voice still struggles to appeal to me much at all beyond being bland fodder. Frankly, the song structures throughout the album just feel off, and many songs outstay their welcome, especially “Who’s Afraid Of Little Old Me” and “But Daddy I Love Him,” songs that go on for five and a half minutes, but could’ve gotten everything they want to say in about two. 

The album as a whole could be described as overindulgent, clocking in at just over an hour, which feels needlessly long for what we are given. It doesn’t help that the album’s sound feels like it hasn’t evolved or changed much from the previous records Taylor has given us, specifically “Midnights”, and while this was true for her album “Evermore,” as well when it came off of “Folklore,” the difference there was that “Folklore” was probably her best original album, and “Midnights” is one of her most frustratingly boring ones. This isn’t helped by her actual songwriting being overall worse, with several clunky choruses, and her vocals somehow managing to outbland themselves.

This album as a whole feels like Taylor is stuck in the mud creatively. When she isn’t taking her own ideas to keep herself afloat, she’s just nicking her contemporaries ideas—like doing the same kind of “my audience won’t shut up about my boyfriend”  type song aimed at her rabid audience, on “But Daddy I Love Him” that Ariana already did on “Yes, And?” but ten times better and more fun to listen to. The title track “Tortured Poets Department” feels like an attempt at overly-earnest and stream-of -consciousness writing of the Boygenius school, but falls flat because she lacks any of that same drive or grit. It isn’t helped by the track’s off brand 80’s new wave guitar melody in the background, leaving me cringing through the whole song. Then there’s all her attempts to be Lana Del Rey on tracks like “Florida,” who is probably the last artist I’d wanna imitate. That song is one of the few highlights to me, though, perhaps just because I liked Lana’s last album a lot, and Florence, of Florence + The Machines gives it enough power to get me through the slog.

And one more thing to talk about with the sounds of this album is that at this point I think Taylor desperately needs to work with someone other than Jack Antonoff, as he too seems to be stuck repeating the same instrumental styles he always does. Once again, specifically with “Midnights,” yet somehow he just does it all worse here. Maybe it’s just pure fatigue from the sounds, but this all feels so much sloppier and more fatiguing on the ears. 

As said above, it also takes some time to rip off the sounds of the 80’s, but done so much shittier, which is basically Jack’s specialty at this point, both here and in his own music. Lots of jokes were made about how much Antonoff has been putting work in, but frankly I think it’s now obvious that we are reaching a stage where he just needs to be doing anything else, or at least do something new. There’s signs of a half-decent country or folk song amidst these instrumentals, but they’re simply buried under the bland paste that we are given instead.

All this time, I’ve simply been railing on the sounds and structure of the album, when that’s only one layer of this dog poo wedding cake—we haven’t even talked about the writing, and oh boy, is it a doozy. It was obvious going into this record that much of its material was going to be focused on Matty Healy of The 1975, as Taylor and Matty’s relationship was short-lived, and heavily televised and gossiped about, and every single rumor was confirmed as Taylor barely even tries to hide them on this record. Taylor has never been an especially subtle songwriter at the best of times, but here it actively feels like she’s trying to make it as obvious as possible who she’s talking about, up to and including referencing his heroin addiction, which is given its own painful line with “he jokes that it’s heroin but this time with an ‘e.’” Somehow this still manages to outshine other spots on the record, like “Down Bad,” which not only features zoomer lingo that might just get outdated by the time this review makes it to publication, but tries to frame it through this weird alien abduction metaphor that just feels like she’s trying too hard to be creative and floundering. That’s not to mention the constant self-victimizing and pure narcissism Taylor radiates throughout the album, which makes it feel like she just can’t get enough of her own genius.

But that’s enough. I could talk a long time about this album, but I simply don’t want to any longer as I’m afraid my blood is about to start draining out of my eyes. The biggest issue with The Dead Poets Society—I mean Tortured Poets Department, is that it feels like it’s an album for people obsessed with Taylor as some lore-filled figure, rather than an album to have any actual enjoyment while listening to. 

Taylor has basically transformed herself into the music industry’s MCU, a bland basically enjoyable pile of slop, that now exists to please its ravenous fan base rather than actually create coherent, meaningful art. Are there any tracks I’d recommend here? Sure, “Florida!!!,” “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived,” and “Guilty As Sin” are all pretty good and worth a checkout, otherwise, I’d steer clear. Oh, and as for “The Anthology,” the bloated one-hour and 16-minute-long bonus album she stapled onto the main album, I haven’t listened to it. ‘Cause frankly, fuck that—I didn’t pull myself out of the quicksand just to jump into another pit of it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should really get around to writing my will.


Kate Megathlin

Hello there stranger, this is Kate Megathlin, writer for weekly music reviews for the Seattle Collegian, here to assert how much more important her opinions are than yours. She is a Seattle Central student with a major love of music and music culture, and every week she’ll try to deliver reviews of new albums coming out, if you want to recommend albums for her to review, email her at

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