Marriage, babies and bad boyfriends: Breaking down Swift’s new album

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As the title suggests, The Tortured Poets Department is a break-up album, and one that doesn’t disappoint in deconstructing Taylor Swift’s failed relationships and old boyfriends gone bad.

We hear about a chain-smoking man who tells jokes that are “revolting and far too loud” in I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can); a “coward” who pretends to be a “lion” in loml; and we learn about a ghosted Swift in I Can Do It With A Broken Heart, as she sings “I’m so obsessed with him but he avoids me like the plague”.

We’ve all been there, and that’s the trick to Swift‘s wide appeal.

Pic: Beth Garrabrant
Image:
Pic: Beth Garrabrant

The not-so-subtly titled The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived paints a picture of a drug-taking partner who: “In public, showed me off, then sank in stoned oblivion,” tried to “buy some pills from a friend of friends” and “didn’t measure up in any measure of a man”.

Amid dealing with these waste-of-space men, we learn about a Swift – who contrary to her sparkling and strong public persona – is “depressed,” “crying at the gym,” eating “kid’s cereal,” “unstable… on my knees” and very much the owner of a “broken heart”.

Of course, not all of her songs are purely confessional – she also adopts different personas (for example in But Daddy I Love Him which shares the basic storyline of Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach), but in each track, we firmly return to Swift and parallels in her much-publicly dissected ‘private’ life.

With a history of writing about her exes (past examples include Joe Jonas, Harry Styles, Jake Gyllenhaal and John Mayer), Swift hasn’t disappointed with seeming allusions to former British boyfriends Joe Alwyn and Matty Healy, plus throws forward to current beau NFL star Travis Kelce.

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Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn.
Pic:Blitz Pictures/Shutterstock
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Swift and Alwyn i n2019. Pic: Blitz Pictures/Shutterstock

So Long, London – positioned fifth in the tracklist, a spot Swift reserves for her most meaningful songs – is a choral ballad and seems to be about the end of her six-year relationship with The Favourite star Alwyn.

Her lyric – “I left all I knew, you left me at the house by the Heath” – references Hampstead Heath in north London where she lived with the star in the early 2020s.

As much a break-up song with the city as the man, she tells us “I’m just mad as hell cause I loved this place”.

In this song, we also get one of many references to marriage across the album – a theme which might be at the forefront of Swift’s mind?

Pic: Beth Garrabrant
Image:
Pic: Beth Garrabrant

Wedding bells and babies

So Long, London’s emotional lyric – “You swore that you loved me but where were the clues, I died on the altar waiting for the proof” – rings out loud and clear.

The song that gave the album its title – The Tortured Poets Department – describes a moment that paints a vivid picture: “At dinner you take my ring off my middle finger and put it on the one people put wedding rings on, and that’s the closest I’ve come to my heart exploding.”

In loml (an acronym which stands for Love Of My Life) she sings: “You and I go from one kiss to gettin married… you told me I’m the love of your life.”

In But Daddy I Love Him – a ballad with country tones – she sings: “No, you can’t come to the wedding.”

And in imgonnagetyouback she says: “Whether I’m gonna be your wife or gonna smash up your bike, I haven’t decided yet.”

There’s even a reference to future family in The Manuscript – the final song on the album – with the lyric: “He said that if the sex was half as good as the conversation was, soon they’d be pushing strollers. But soon it was over.”

In Florida!!! (featuring Florence + The Machine) the topic of children comes up again, with Swift escaping to the Everglades, running from friends who “all smell like weed or little babies”.

Taylor Swift is expected to attend the Super Bowl to watch her boyfriend Travis Kelce play, both pictured. Pic: AP
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Swift and Travis Kelce in February. Pic: AP

Loves old and new

The 1975 singer Healy, who Swift is rumoured to have briefly dated following her split from Alwyn, appears to be alluded to in Fortnight – a song featuring Post Malone which will be the first single from the album.

She sings: “I touched you for only a fortnight… I love you, it’s ruining my life.”

In Guilty As Sin, a slow, drum-backed track, Swift describes “fatal fantasies,” “recalling things we never did” and looking back on a past relationship – “how I long for our trysts… How can I be guilty as sin?”

And in But Daddy I Love Him, it’s possible Swift’s hitting back at criticism of her never-officially-confirmed relationship with Healy, telling naysayers: “I’ll tell you something about my good name, it’s mine alone to disgrace.”

Matthew Healy of the 1975 performs at the Reading Music Festival, England, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. Pic: Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP
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Matt Healy performing in 2022. Pic: Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP

The penultimate track on the initial album, The Alchemy, pulls in a wealth of American Football terms – seeming to mark the introduction of her latest relationship with NFL star Travis Kelce.

A swirl of “chemicals” – including “white wine” and “heroin” – are used as metaphors to describe the rush of first attraction amid a slew of sporting analogies.

Read more:
‘Secret’ double album announced in ‘2am surprise’
The hidden meanings in the album’s lyrics

Pic: Beth Garrabrant
Image:
Pic: Beth Garrabrant

‘Self-harm’ and ‘wounds’

Swift told her social media followers the album was a reflection of “events, opinions and sentiments from a fleeting and fatalistic moment in time,” calling them “both sensational and sorrowful in equal measure”.

And for Swift, the album itself appears to be a form of closure – in her words: “This period of the author’s life is now over, the chapter closed and boarded up. There is nothing to avenge, no scores to settle once wounds have healed”.

She also refers to personal wounding in the cover slip for the album, calling the period of her life one of “self-harm” and “cardiac arrest”. And on her love battle wounds she told fans: “A good number of them turned out to be self-inflicted”.


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It’s a self-reflection she shares in Who’s Afraid Of Little Old Me, calling herself “fearsome,” “wretched” and “wrong,” singing in the chorus “I was tame, I was gentle, til the circus life made me mean”.

After over two decades in the music industry – a notoriously tough one to survive in let alone thrive in – we perhaps see a glimpse into Swift’s psyche in I Can Do It With A Broken Heart. She sings: “They said, ‘Babe, you gotta fake it til you make it’. And I did. Lights, camera, bitch smile. Even when you want to die.”

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The album features a song inspired by her NFL superstar boyfriend Travis Kelce

The original It Girl

And in Clara Bow (the name of a 1920s American actress for whom the term ‘It Girl’ was coined), the final track of the original album, she gives us a self-referring dig which touches on both the fickleness of the music industry and pokes fun at her own ever-inflating success.

We hear a young wannabe praised by “suits in LA,” telling her: “You look like Taylor Swift in this light, we’re loving it. You’ve got edge she never did.”

Always looking ahead, to her next era, perhaps when her “girlish glow flickers”, a now 30-something Swift is always one step ahead of the industry she’s currently dominating.

As she tells us: “The future’s bright… Dazzling.”

The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology, featuring 31 tracks, is out now.

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