Poetry professors, sorry. I may have pissed you off by invoking Sylvia Plath in connection with Taylor Swift. But this is one of two poems that came to mind when I was listening to Taylor’s new album, The Tortured Poets Department. “Mad Girl’s Love Song” was Plath calling out a lover, and herself, and love itself for fraud. 


“I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

The first time I read this poem it was in school, that particular class was about the toxicity of love, poetry that illuminated how love can f-ck with perception, make us lose ourselves. Our professor linked Plath’s line “kissed me quite insane” with a famous Edgar Allan Poe quote, when the dark master wrote in a letter, I think to one of his lovers, that: 

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.”


This is the performance that Taylor Swift is giving in The Tortured Poets Department, or at least trying to anyway. Those who’ve been following along and anticipating it probably expected this. What was much less expected is which one of her lovers inspired all this poetic madness. As it turns out, it’s not Joe Alwyn but Matty Healy. That’s the gossip, at least part of it, and now some things are coming into focus. We are basically exactly a year from when news first broke that Taylor and Joe were over and, very shortly after, that she and Matty were a thing. So she’s commemorating that mess with an extended 31-song (31 is 13 backwards) funeral for both those relationships, burying them for good under the tombstone of this double album: 


Needless to say, Matty Healy was more than just a rebound. Looking back there was the biggest of Easter eggs. I just did look back, at a post I wrote in January 2023. Taylor performed “Anti-Hero” for the first time live at The 1975 show at the O2 and I noted that Taylor is so intentional with what she does with her music and when and where and dates etc, that the fact that she chose to step on this stage, if I may quote myself: 

“Add to that the fact that she is Taylor Swift, the queen of Easter egging and all those games. What’s the hidden messaging then, if any, behind this move?”

Way more than a rebound, she was “Down Bad” for Matty Healy. And now we have a surprise double album that confirms it. 

So about the album, we’ll start with the music. For me, I like the ideas more than the music. The music is… well… in my opinion, there’s too much of it. And I thought that before the second part dropped. When it was just 16 songs ending on “Clara Bow” it was already too long. Those first four songs? Skips. 

Like, I don’t even want to talk about how cringe those lyrics are about chocolate and Charlie Puth and golden retrievers on the title track, track #2, “The Tortured Poets Department”. 


The album picks up thanks to an assist from Florence Welch on “Florida!!!” because Flo completely eats up that song. “But Daddy I Love Him” and “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me” are really, really, really good – her rage is delicious on these two tracks. But, again, there are 31 songs in total. And, to me, so many are skips. Too many skips with unnecessarily silly lyrics that weaken the lyrics that are clever and insightful. Like for every “You wouldn’t last an hour in the asylum where they raised me” (“Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me”) there’s one like this: 

“We would pick a decade

We wished we could live in instead of this

I’d say the 1830s but without all the racists”

If I used emoticons it would be the one for “grimacing face”. And that’s off the song “I Hate It Here”. Indeed. 

But it would be different if it sounded more varied. A lot of these tracks are kinda indistinguishable from each other. This is the biggest problem for me, and why it’s far from a “no skips” piece of work. We need some serious editing – and I feel like this is where Taylor’s pride is most evident. It’s almost like she wanted to show off how many songs she had, how prolific she is (which we already know) and succumbed to the cliché of quantity over quality. Ironic, because poetry is such a precise artform, perhaps the most precise of written artforms, and there’s no precision on Tortured Poets with how bloated this album is. 


To go back to my point, then, about how I prefer the ideas of the album over the music, thematically I’m into the performance she’s giving here – the performance of love-rage, of being f-cked over by this f-ckboy, and the TIMING of this particular character she’s playing. Because, sure, we’ve seen love mess with Taylor before but always in retreat. Over the last two years, though, Taylor has created for herself an almost mythical level of pop culture power, a stretch of dominance rarely seen in the celebrity ecosystem. And here’s an album full of songs where’s she’s saying that while she stomped on the mountain of fame and planted her flag, the boss of the boardroom, in the bedroom, well, she was kinda pathetic. She let a cliché of a man turn her into a cliché of a woman. While, at the same time, flexing now in retrospect that for all the attention she commands, she can still remain unknowable. We thought we knew, but we actually knew nothing. This is interesting, this is fun, this is Taylor “Clara Bow”, manipulating and molding her own celebrity in plain view – and I do NOT hate it here, I love it HERE. 

I love that the Lover album has found its spiritual opposite in this album of hate. To quote Poe, and back to the poetry class of my youth: 

“That years of love have been forgot

In the hatred of a minute…”

This is good stuff! It’s self-referential, it’s watching in real time an artist construct her own legacy. But that which makes Taylor great is also sometimes her greatest artistic blindspot. In that thrill of manipulation, of being the games master, building her maze of Easter eggs, her vortex of numerology, her magic castle of symbolism, she dilutes her own brilliance. To borrow from the library theme of this album, it’s like trying to fill a bookcase, not out of admiration for the books that you will read over and over again, but for the sake of the photo. 


And we haven’t even gotten to “thanK you aIMee”, which of course spells out “KIM” if you just take the capitalised letters and… like… girl… 


She’s promising to close the casket on this grudge. This time, can she mean it? Let's Squawk about it today! (app link here)