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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

‘The Tortured Poets Department’ is the “miracle move on drug” we all needed

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Clara Faulkner

The depiction of long-term relationships in “The Tortured Poets Department” feels hauntingly familiar—the gradual unraveling, the eventual understanding of their demise, and the enduring impact they leave behind. Interestingly, I wasn’t alone in this experience. On April 19 at midnight, Taylor Swift unveiled “The Tortured Poets Department” and its companion version, “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology,” at 2 a.m.

The album delivers an emotional blow akin to being “stabbed with push pins.” While the first two tracks weren’t my favorites, “Fortnight” holds its own. Its dreamy, laid-back vibe is a fitting opener, setting the mood for what follows. Though the clever lines are notable, they don’t necessarily appear exceptional. This album is a lot to take in, particularly lyrically, so future listens will be even more rewarding. 

“The Tortured Poets Department” takes the best parts of “Midnights” and adds a bit of the intimacy of “folklore” and “evermore.” The album may not match the narrative depth of “folklore” or deliver hit tracks on par with those like “Cruel Summer,” but that’s not its aim. It represents Swift’s storytelling evolution, blending elements of her past albums with a fresh perspective. 

“The Tortured Poets Department” feels like a well-thought-out era. It has a distinct style and something to say. Like “1989,” there is a story to the standard edition album, and no song feels like a skip or a filler. My biggest argument is that “The Manuscript” would’ve been a better album closer, and I’m glad it closed “The Anthology.”

With 31 songs, there’s not a track I’d skip. This album stands out as a collective and is Swift’s most emotionally direct and raw since arguably “Red.” What sets it apart is the intriguing metaphors are woven throughout—the alien abduction, the broken toy endlessly repeating “he loves me” when its string is pulled, the narrative of the “crazy lady” and the teens breaking into her house, and the overarching theme of madness. These elements contribute to a level of depth and complexity that, in my view, instantly elevates this album above its predecessors.

To truly grasp and appreciate this album, you must have lived through specific experiences that younger fans may not have encountered yet (and hopefully won’t have to). Those entering our 20s and early 30s and beyond are more likely to resonate deeply with its themes. Yesterday, I found myself overwhelmed by the album. It was like navigating through a dense fog; I couldn’t grasp its essence. But today? Everything has clicked into place. I find myself connecting with far too many of the songs on a visceral level—the emotions, the anger, the sadness—it’s all there. 

Upon seeing the tracklist, I immediately gravitated toward track five, renowned for being Swift’s most emotionally charged lyrically. “So Long, London” envelops you in a contemplative synth melody, evoking the sensation of standing at the altar, surrounded by darkness, and reflecting on a relationship that once brimmed with life but now lies lifeless. It’s a track I eagerly anticipated, surpassing my expectations.

The haunting and defeated tone in which she sings, “I loved this place for so long” in “So Long, London” struck me. It felt like the weight of all the nights, months, and memories spent there came crashing down. I could vividly imagine the city lights welcoming her as she landed, the streets infused with familiarity. 

London wasn’t just a place for Swift; it was home, not just because of Joe Alwyn, but beyond him. In a breakup, it’s not just the loss of your partner but also the myriad other things intertwined with your heart that leave their mark—the tiny places that become deep cracks, collectively wounding you. London became hers, and it stayed hers for so long, and she infused that exact emotion into the song through the production of faint wedding bells, a quickened heartbeat, and the repetition of love and loss. 

A personal favorite of mine is “Clara Bow.” In this song, Swift presents two contrasting versions of herself. There’s the marketed version of Taylor—angelic, seemingly perfect, a beacon of inspiration for others. And then there’s the honest Taylor, the one grappling with her struggles and imperfections. Through this juxtaposition, the song delves into the dichotomy between the public persona and the private struggles of an individual.

While much of the track explores the treatment of “It Girls,” the final lines resonate as if addressed to all of her fans: “You look like Taylor Swift in this light / We’re loving it / You’ve got edge / she never did. The future’s bright / dazzling.” These lyrics extend beyond the realm of celebrity, speaking directly to her audience and celebrating their uniqueness and potential.

The song’s ending transcends individual celebrities like Sabrina Carpenter or Olivia Rodrigo and isn’t intended as a cautionary tale like “The Lucky One.” Instead, it conveys that despite our challenges—whether as celebrities or ordinary individuals—we all can shine brightly and find joy in our uniqueness. It feels as though Swift is speaking directly to the listener, encouraging them to embrace their brilliance amidst life’s trials. 

“The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” is essentially Matty Healy‘s equivalent of “Dear John.” I’m captivated by the spy imagery throughout the song—were you an agent sent by someone who sought my demise? Did you keep a firearm hidden beneath our bed? Were you crafting a narrative or a covert operative lying in wait? In this particular track, her vocal delivery is “chef’s kiss.” It’s as if she’s intentionally exerting force within her vocal range.

There’s a noticeable shift in her approach to asking these questions, especially as the song progresses, where she amplifies her power while maintaining control and ease. It’s a captivating display of vocal prowess, characterized by a deliberate push of strength, particularly evident in the final third of the song when she delivers the bridge, “‘cause it wasn’t sexy once it wasn’t forbidden / I would’ve died for your sins / Instead, I just died inside.” 

Producer Aaron Dessner (“folklore” and “evermore”) encourages Swift to utilize her voice as an instrument, and you can hear the difference it makes throughout this song. She adopts a more open and transparent tone, with an increased sense of airflow, adding to her depth during the bridge.

“Florida!!! (feat. Florence and the Machine)” is our newfound summer anthem. This track should’ve been the lead single—it’s miles ahead of “Fortnight.” It evokes the irresistible urge to frolic through sun-drenched fields. And that bridge? It’s pure liquid gold, transporting listeners to sheer musical bliss. This track truly embodies the distinctiveness of TTPD. Those three exclamation marks—perfectly encapsulate the energy once you listen to it. Florence’s presence in this song feels natural, adding another layer of depth and resonance. 

It’s refreshing to see a featured artist truly shine on the album rather than just providing backing vocals. The anthemic bursts of “Florida!!!” that gradually build throughout the song are pure genius. It’s like a craving for another hit, perfectly emphasizing the metaphorical drug reference. I find this interpretation more compelling when I consider it a sequel to a track on “evermore” called “no body, no crime.” In that song, the narrator flees to Florida to escape the consequences of her crime.

If you approach this album expecting the catchy pop vibes of “Shake It Off,” you might find yourself disappointed. Apart from the nostalgic ’80s feel of “I Can Do It With A Broken Heart,” nothing here fits into the pop genre. Instead, the album delves into angst, grief, and poetic exploration themes. While it doesn’t neatly tie up all the loose ends from Swift’s previous records in terms of angst, a sense of catharsis and resolution is woven throughout. It feels like a necessary reckoning for her to continue evolving and maturing as an artist.

The conclusion of “The Anthology,” titled “The Manuscript,” encourages listeners to interpret the songs in their way. While some references may be obvious, others might be deliberate misdirections, adding layers of complexity to the album’s narrative.

If you approach this album solely to unravel its connections to Swift’s personal life and the timelines of her relationships, you might overlook its profound depths. Swift isn’t just documenting her experiences; she’s delving into the uncomfortable territory of grief and its aftermath, almost like journaling through songwriting. This is the essence of her craft as a songwriter.

Reflecting on the experience of eagerly anticipating an album for weeks only to be greeted with another release right as you’re trying to absorb the first one is indescribable. Maneuvering between the tracks of both “versions” must have been quite the endeavor. Overall, Swift’s storytelling prowess shines brightest in “The Anthology,” which I anticipate revisiting frequently.

Many of the lyrics resonate deeply with my emotions during a specific period. I, too, felt shattered, and looking back, I recognized the rawness and messiness reflected in the music. Recalling that time is almost cringe-inducing, but it’s a testament to the authenticity of Swift’s expression. Listening to this album feels like being truly understood.

Grief is messy, yet within its chaos lies a captivating narrative, masterfully portrayed by Swift in “The Tortured Poets Department.”

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About the Contributor
Clara Faulkner
Clara Faulkner, Business Manager
Clara Faulkner wears multiple hats at the Beacon, serving as both the Business Director and the Living Arts Editor. Prior to assuming these roles, she demonstrated her expertise as an assistant editor, specializing in living arts—a domain she is deeply passionate about, fueled by her love for pop culture and entertainment. Additionally, Clara served as a writer for the Boston Globe, Boston.com, is a part of NBCUniversal Entertainment Group, and contributed to the music team at Intersect Magazine. In addition to her editorial responsibilities, Clara actively participates in various campus organizations, including SPJ, Associate Entertainment Producer at WEBN-TV, programming director at WECB. fm, and AEPHI. Outside of her writing pursuits, Clara immerses herself in culinary exploration, cinematic enjoyment, and language acquisition, consistently seeking fresh experiences and knowledge.
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