Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (2024)

Chevron icon It indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options. HOMEPAGE




Review by Callie Ahlgrim


Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (1)

  • Taylor Swift released her 11th studio album,"The Tortured Poets Department," on Friday.
  • The standard edition's 16 tracks are reminiscent of"Midnights," but more textured and chaotic.
  • The best tracks are "Loml," "I Can Do It With a Broken Heart," and "Who's Afraid of Little Old Me?"

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (2)


Sign up to get the inside scoop on today’s biggest stories in markets, tech, and business — delivered daily. Read preview

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (3)

Thanks for signing up!

Access your favorite topics in a personalized feed while you're on the go.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (4)


Taylor Swift's 11th studio album "The Tortured Poets Department" arrived Friday in all its messy glory after a pointedly low-key rollout.

In a prologue included with the CD booklet, Swift describes the album as "a detailed rewinding / For the purpose of warning / For the sake of reminding."

Swift frames "Poets" as a debrief of an ill-fated love affair, "a mutual manic phase" in the wake of a breakup — torrid, brief, yet creatively fruitful. "A smirk creeps onto this poet's face," she writes. "Because it's the worst men that I write best."

"Poets" is the first set of all-new songs that Swift has released since her breakup with Joe Alwyn, whom she dated for about six years before their split made headlines last April. Shortly after, she was linked to The 1975 frontman Matty Healy.


The follow-up to Swift's record-breaking 2022 album "Midnights" echoes the commercially favored pop-forward sound of its predecessor, with much of the album produced by Swift's longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff. Aaron Dessner, who worked extensively with Swift on sister albums "Folklore" and "Evermore," produced the remaining chunk of songs.

Two hours after the album's release, Swift surprised fans with "The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology," which contains 15 additional songs. However, for the purposes of our review, the standard-edition tracklist will be treated as the primary, cohesive body of work.

As Business Insider's senior music reporter, I listened to the new album on my own, jotting down my initial thoughts track by track.

Here's what I thought of each song on "The Tortured Poets Department" upon first listen. (Skip to the end to see the only songs worth listening to and the album's final score.)


"Fortnight" sounds like a vault track from "Midnights" (derogatory).

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (5)

Throughout my life, pressing play on a new Taylor Swift album has been a treat. But as soon as the opening synths on "The Tortured Poets Department" hit my eardrums, I felt my body tense up.

Antonoff has caught a lot of flack from music critics and other skeptics for doubling down on his signature sound and failing to innovate, particularly when it comes to his creative partnership with Swift. I don't tend to agree — to assign all blame to Antonoff is to belittle his female collaborators — but alas, "Fortnight" is a prime example of this complaint. The song immediately sounds like a "Midnights" B-side: boring, banal, and exactly what I do not want from this album.

Worse still, "Fortnight" squanders Post Malone. The rapper-turned-earnest-dude singer is coming off an acclaimed set of duets with Noah Kahan ("Dial Drunk") and Beyoncé ("Levii's Jeans"), both of which offered the proper platform for Malone's surprisingly folksy voice. In Swift's world, however, he is rendered superfluous.


"The Tortured Poets Department" is a cringe-worthy song and an unworthy title track.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (6)

It is objectively hilarious that Swift released "1989 (Taylor's Version)" in October with a direct request to stop speculating about her personal life, only to name her new album after a song that invites us to speculate about her personal life — specifically her (alleged) fling with Matty Healy last spring.

"You left your typewriter at my apartment / Straight from the tortured poets department," Swift sings in the song's opening line, perhaps confirming her album title was inspired by a caption from Healy's now-deleted Instagram, "Gay Poets Society." (I can't think of anyone else in Swift's social circle who's gleefully pretentious enough to carry around a typewriter.) "You smoked, then ate seven bars of chocolate," she sings later, likely a nod to The 1975's breakout hit "Chocolate."

Not only does "The Tortured Poets Department" invite speculation, but in the bridge, it even names names.

"You told Lucy you'd kill yourself if I ever leave / And I had said that to Jack about you, so I felt seen," Swift sings. Note: Her friend Lucy Dacus (of boygenius fame) was filmed dancing with Healy at The Eras Tour. The second name almost certainly refers to Antonoff, who also coproduced The 1975's latest album, "Being Funny In a Foreign Language."

"Everyone we know understands why it's meant to be," Swift adds in a teasing lilt. "'Cause we're crazy." No kidding!

This song is surely meant to be over-the-top corny and tongue-in-cheek amusing, and it succeeds on both counts. Even the title is an inside joke.

Unfortunately, lyrics like "We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist" and "I scratch your head, you fall asleep / Like a tattooed golden retriever" will haunt me until the day that I die. I can already see disparaging tweets about "Kidz Bop (Taylor's Version)" in my mind's eye. This is worse than the "sexy baby" fiasco.

Especially with its typical Antonoff production, this song sounds like an AI-created "Midnights" parody. Swift is right about one thing: This is definitely not the Chelsea Hotel.


"My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys" would be right at home on "1989 (Taylor's Version)."

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (7)

"My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys" sounds exactly like the vault tracks from "1989 (Taylor's Version)" — which, you guessed it, were accused of sounding eerily similar to "Midnights" songs.

To be fair, I love all the "1989" vault tracks (especially "Is It Over Now?"), so this isn't necessarily a knock in my book. But it does mean that "My Boy" fails to stand out. It relies on a fast-dulling formula.


"Down Bad" is the "slu*t!" sequel no one expected.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (8)

There were rumors The 1975 was meant to be featured on "slu*t!" and Healy is even listed as a cowriter in some physical copies of "1989 (Taylor's Version)." (He met Swift a decade ago, around the time the album was originally written.)

Healy's contributions to the song were apparently erased after fans condemned their relationship last year. We assumed it would go down as a glitch in her legacy. But as always, Swift gets the last word.

Where Swift once sighed, "If they call me a slu*t, you know it might be worth it for once," now she fumes, "f*ck it, I was in love. So f*ck you if I can't have us."

Both songs confront the disconnect between Swift's polished public image and her salacious desires, as well as the intersection of romance and delusion.

On "Down Bad," this album starts to pick up steam. Antonoff's sparkly synths and Swift's breezy vocals persist, but we're teased with a slice of her brain that's enthrallingly unhinged.


"So Long, London" illustrates the agony of a drawn-out goodbye.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (9)

In terms of sequencing, "Poets" is like the anti-"Midnights." Where the latter was front-loaded with album highlights, "Poets" kicked off by testing my loyalty. The first 16 minutes or so had me seriously concerned.

"So Long, London" marked a key turning point in my listening experience — a blessed wellspring of trust in Swift's vision.

Dessner's influence is immediately felt in the song's slow-burn pacing. As a production team, Swift and Dessner excel at creating tension and building toward catharsis. (Think "Exile," "Champagne Problems," "Would've, Could've, Should've," etc.) "So Long, London" is another such success story.

Swift's lyrics mirror the production, mounting with urgency as the seconds tick away — as if her love is crumbling in real time.

"I'm pissed off you let me give you all that youth for free," she sings, her voice heavy with grief. "You swore that you loved me, but where were the clues? / I died on the altar waiting for the proof."


"But Daddy I Love Him" is a scorched-earth song where Swift really comes alive.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (10)

Last year, I wrote an article encouraging Swift to criticize her own fans, particularly those with an intense fixation on her personal life. At the time, this felt like a pipe dream. Swift has long embraced a laissez-faire approach to fan behavior, even when it's been obviously invasive, hom*ophobic, or even threatening.

Now, my request doesn't seem so far-fetched. "But Daddy I Love Him" is the closest Swift has ever gotten to scolding parasocial Swifties, many of whom were vocal about their distaste for Healy.

After cracking some jokes at their expense ("I'm having his baby / No I'm not! / But you should see your faces"), Swift goes absolutely scorched-earth in the bridge.

"God save the most judgmental creeps who say they want what's best for me," she spits. "Sanctimoniously performing soliloquies I'll never see / Thinking it can change the beat of my heart when he touches me."

The song plays like a grown-up, jaded version of "Love Story," where societal pressures and family feuds are no match for Swift's wildest whims. And she goes all-in: "But Daddy I Love Him" is the longest song on the album, stuffed with Shakespeare-level dramatics.


"Fresh Out the Slammer" is a fascinating tale of freedom and lust.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (11)

"Fresh Out the Slammer" kicks off with an Orville Peck-esque electric guitar, adopting a vintage Western-rock vibe. After flipping off her audience in the previous track, this feels like the ideal moment for Swift to assume the role of an outlaw.

The song title, a euphemism for getting out of jail, works in this context, with Swift using the phrase to evoke her newfound single status. She's recently left a relationship and she's eager to "run back home" to an old flame.

This is juicy on many levels when compared to the timeline of Swift's love life (at least, the timeline the public is privy to). But speaking broadly, this song is juicy no matter who it's about. Swift revels in her long-sought freedom, justifying her rebound with a loaded shrug: "I did my time."

I don't know the intimate details of Swift's love life, but I do know one thing. If you ever compare your relationship to jail time, my hope is that you'll run — as fast and as far away as possible.


"Florida!!!" includes a potent feature from Florence + the Machine.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (12)

"Florida!!!" is a fascinating outlier on this tracklist. The lyrics are rich yet cryptic, boasting clear traces of Florence Welch's creative touch.

Welch is a painfully underrated lyricist, so I'm thrilled she was given a proper feature on this album. (We all remember what happened with Lana Del Rey's wasted vocals on "Midnights.") I can only imagine that Swift heard recent Welch cuts like "King" and "Girls Against God" and thought to herself, "I wish I wrote that."

"Florida!!!" is ambiguous with its bottom line, but with a song that sounds this cool and spooky, it's hard to care if the story has a moral. Swift sings of a town that "reeks of driving myself crazy," while Welch fantasizes about getting drunk and drowning her exes in a swamp. "Is that a bad thing to say in a song?" they harmonize with a knowing smile, all but winking at the listener.

Welch infuses a jolt of mystic, curious energy into Swift's modern-pop diarism. Their duet is a fever dream, full of hedonistic pursuits and hallucinations. It's perfectly placed at the album's midway point, foreshadowing a descent into madness in its latter half. Both women succumb to Florida's charms like they're following a siren song — and they're beckoning us to follow.


"Guilty as Sin?" is somehow sad and horny at the same time.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (13)

For those who'll accuse this album of barely addressing Swift's longest public relationship, allow me to enter the first verse of this song into evidence: "My boredom's bone-deep / This cage was once just fine / Am I allowed to cry? / I dream of cracking locks / Throwing my life to the wolves, or the ocean rocks / Crashing into him tonight."

In just a few lines, Swift offers a more poignant portrayal of the "seven-year itch" than I have ever heard or read. In reality, falling out of love is a sluggish and bitter process.

Swift copes with this phenomenon by projecting her carnal cravings onto a clean, blank slate — a man who hasn't disappointed her yet.

"Someone told me, 'There's no such thing as bad thoughts, only your actions talk,'" she continues. "We've already done it in my head / If it's make-believe / Why does it feel like a vow / We'll both uphold somehow?"

To put it bluntly, these lyrics are bonkers. I cannot believe Swift committed these thoughts to paper, recorded them in a studio, submitted them to her label, and then released them into the world. She has been horny in her music before ("Dress," "Maroon") and she's been audacious in her music before (the entirety of "Speak Now"), but given her current level of fame, this is unprecedented.

To be clear, I mean that in a positive way. I'm eating this up. After all, Swift's been warning us for years that she's the maddest woman this town has ever seen. She had a marvelous time ruining everything, haven't you heard?


"Who's Afraid of Little Old Me?" is an obvious standout.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (14)

Swift loves a self-righteous battle cry ("I Did Something Bad," "The Man," "Vigilante sh*t"), but this might be the first time she's gotten it exactly right. Backed by warlike drums, Swift lays siege to the celebrity machine.

"Who's Afraid of Little Old Me?" contains some all-timers in Swift's storied catalog of one-liners: "You wouldn't last an hour in the asylum where they raised me" is a personal favorite, but every lyric lands like a bomb or a punchline: "Put narcotics into all of my songs / And that's why you're still singing along."

This song is everything that "Reputation" wanted to be: darkly funny, sharply observed, vulnerable, sinister, and formidable at every turn.

"I was tame, I was gentle, 'til the circus life made me mean / Don't you worry folks, we took out all her teeth! / Who's afraid of little old me?" Swift wails in the chorus, before adding coyly: "Well, you should be."

Indeed, if that question is coming from Swift, the answer is me. I am terrified of this woman for making me feel so demented and powerful with a five-minute package of pop melodies.


"I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)" depicts Swift at a crossroads in her relationship.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (15)

As its title suggests, "I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)" begins to reveal the cracks in Swift's feverish love story. "The smoke cloud billows out his mouth like a freight train through a small town," she sings to open the song. "The jokes that he told across the bar were revolting and far too loud."

Although she spends the rest of the song pledging to "fix him," balking at any suggestion that she might be out of her depth, Swift's doubts taint the whole affair.

In a stroke of surreal brilliance, Swift paints her unlikable lover as an old-school cowboy — cruising down a Texas highway, hands calloused from his trusty pistol — calling back to her lawless behavior in "Fresh Out the Slammer."


"Loml" is the most heart-wrenching song on the tracklist.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (16)

"Loml" sees Swift reflecting on a doomed relationship, retracing her steps, watching helplessly as the "love of my life" becomes the "loss of my life."

"You sh*t-talked me under the table / Talking rings and talking cradles / I wish I could unrecall / How we almost had it all," Swift sings in the show-stopping bridge. "Dancing phantoms on the terrace / Are they secondhand embarrassed / That I can't get out of bed? Because something counterfeit's dead."

These questions recall "The 1," the opening track on "Folklore," which Swift began to perform on The Eras Tour after her breakup with Alwyn was made public.

"The 1" is all about existential probes and what-if doom spirals, all about "digging up the grave another time." In "Loml," Swift falls back into her old patterns: "Still alive, killing time at the cemetery / Never quite buried."

"Loml" is the only song on "Poets" that made me cry on the first play.

I'll admit I'm surprised there aren't more songs like this on this tracklist. But a love that burns, crackles, and explodes is much easier to obsess over (and write pop songs about) than a love that decays, resurrects, and dies again. That's what makes the painful precision of "Loml" even more impressive. Swift's grave-plotting memory is her greatest asset as a lyricist.


"I Can Do It With a Broken Heart" is extravagant, self-referential, and exhilarating.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (17)

"I Can Do It With a Broken Heart" might be the most pop-forward fit of maximalism on this entire tracklist. Against all odds, it's an album highlight.

This is a masterful exposé of a carefully constructed spectacle. Swift depicts her onstage performance as a kind of perverse wish fulfillment: "All the pieces of me shattered as the crowd was chanting, 'MORE!'" (Fans will recognize this imagery from the "Folklore" standout "Mirrorball," which Swift performed acoustically on the opening night of The Eras Tour.)

We don't have time to unpack all the revelations in this song, but suffice it to say that "Broken Heart" succeeds as a satire, a confession, and an indictment of sexist double standards ("Lights, camera, bitch, smile!"), all at the same time.

Women in pop music are expected to refract sequin stars, hit their marks, fake it 'til they make it — even when they wanna die — while men are permitted to show up in T-shirts, stand still, and lip-sync. If this song makes you uncomfortable, it's probably meant to.

In the outro, Swift leaves little room for ambiguity, exclaiming deliriously: "I'm miserable! And no one even knows!" It's campy and it's vicious. She lands the punchline, but it feels more like she's twisting the knife.


"The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived" is a classic Swiftian takedown.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (18)

"The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived" is alive with malice, full of deliciously specific anecdotes: "You tried to buy some pills / From a friend of friends of mine / They just ghosted you / Now you know what it feels like." If someone had written that lyric about me, I'd be forced to fake my own death and start fresh with a new identity. And that's just the first verse. The bridge is positively lethal.

If you're surprised by the proficiency of this takedown — all for a man who was "gone by the morning" — may I remind you of Swift's magnum opus, "All Too Well," which she reportedly wrote about a three-month relationship that blew up in her face.

This is where Swift thrives as a songwriter: the interpretive limbo between possibility and security; the yearning for what could've been; the aftermath of short-lived bliss, when all that's left is the future you once imagined.


"The Alchemy" is open to interpretation.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (19)

Much like "Mastermind," the closing track on "Midnights," "The Alchemy" could be interpreted as a love song or a metaphor for Swift's career.

"What if I told you I'm back? / The hospital was a drag / Worst sleep that I ever had," she sings in the first verse, poking fun at her own propensity to spin painful experiences into albums.

Indeed, the chorus plays like a tongue-in-cheek nod to Swift's dominance in the industry: "Ditch the clowns, get the crown / Baby, I'm the one to be," she winks. "Honestly, who are we to fight the alchemy?" She manages to toe the line between cheeky and sincere, tipping her hat to the fans who transformed her life and put her on the throne.


"Clara Bow" draws a parallel between Swift and the first "It Girl."

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (20)

"Clara Bow" joins Swift's collection of songs about the peculiar experience of fame. (Think: "The Lucky One," "The Last Great American Dynasty," "You're On Your Own, Kid," etc.) To hear her tell it, Swift felt stardom beckon from a very young age, almost like an invisible string was tying her to the stage.

In the song, Swift dreams of glory and promises to be "dazzling." She even name-drops Stevie Nicks and her mysterious moonlit magic. But she also allows for a sliver of regret in retrospect: "Only when your girlish glow flickers just so / Do they let you know / It's hell on earth to be heavenly."

As the song winds down, Swift adds her own name to the succession of Bow and Nicks, doubling as the observed and her own observer. It's a fitting end to an album full of pomp and performance.


Final Grade: 8.4/10

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (21)

Here's the thing: Swift knows that people will pore over the details of this album to dissect her romantic travails. I'm as guilty as anyone else, and I know it's not a noble practice. It's an obsessive storm Swift is willing to weather to do what she loves for a living.

But Swift did not become as big and beloved as she is because of that storm. In fact, I would argue she's successful in spite of it.

Most people are not chronically online Easter egg hunters. Most people do not play Swift's music in the car, in the shower, or in a dark room after a bad day, over and over for years, because they crave the details of her latest breakup.

We don't listen to Swift's music because it necessarily is true. We listen because it feels true. She writes about characters we recognize and experiences we've lived, blowing everything out of proportion in the way we wish we could. The size of Swift's platform is directly proportional to the bigness of her feelings, whatever or whoever may have provoked them.

That said, don't let the "tattooed golden retriever" (the man or the lyric) distract you from the truth. Corny as some moments may be, this is a marvelously deranged pop album.

Despite the rough start, Swift builds incredible momentum from track four onwards, tossing out confessions and confronting hecklers with a tearaway, absurd kind of zeal.

Of course, there are still mid-tempo synths and simple earworms by the fistful. This is hardly new sonic territory — nor would I praise the album as an artistic risk — but "The Tortured Poets Department" is bolder and more berserk than Swift's previous pop achievements. "1989" was a tricky pivot at the time, but Swift still made sure to play by the radio's rules, sticking to traditional song structures and repetitive hooks. More recently, "Midnights" gestured toward interesting themes but ultimately felt thin.

On "Poets," Swift doesn't exactly break with her well-established, commercial-friendly conventions — but she does toy with her audience in interesting ways.

There's depth and texture in these songs, even shades of the guitar-forward rock sound that many fans crave. It's a pop album without an obvious radio hit. Swift's lyrics are surprisingly meta, packed with fourth-wall breaks and self-aware pouts. Her vocal delivery is varied, passionate, often performative. She shrieks and snarls and deploys a whisper that's dripping with lust, such that we've rarely heard. For a pop star with Swift's relish for mass appeal, this album almost sounds bloodthirsty by comparison.

"The Tortured Poets Department" won't be everyone's cup of tea. It's chaotic, verbose, and full of words that scream "I own a thesaurus."

It still works, because Swift is in on the joke.

At the end of the day, I'd rather have a sensitive and self-indulgent album than one that's trying too hard to be pretty and perfect. I can't relate to the woman looking statuesque onstage, with her polite grin and sequined silhouette. But I can relate to the woman who bares her teeth when the crowd demands, "MORE!"

Worth listening to:

"Down Bad"

"So Long, London"

"But Daddy, I Love Him"

"Fresh Out the Slammer"

"Florida!!! (featuring Florence + The Machine)"

"Guilty as Sin?"

"Who's Afraid of Little Old Me?"

"I Can Fix Him (No Really, I Can)"


"I Can Do It With a Broken Heart"

"The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived"

"The Alchemy"

"Clara Bow"

Background music:

"My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys"

Press skip:

"Fornight (featuring Post Malone)"

"The Tortured Poets Department"

*Final album score based on songs per category (1 point for "Worth listening to," .5 for "Background music," 0 for "Press skip").

Read next

Taylor Swift review Music


Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' is the messiest, hornie*st, and funniest album she's ever made (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Sen. Emmett Berge

Last Updated:

Views: 6219

Rating: 5 / 5 (80 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Sen. Emmett Berge

Birthday: 1993-06-17

Address: 787 Elvis Divide, Port Brice, OH 24507-6802

Phone: +9779049645255

Job: Senior Healthcare Specialist

Hobby: Cycling, Model building, Kitesurfing, Origami, Lapidary, Dance, Basketball

Introduction: My name is Sen. Emmett Berge, I am a funny, vast, charming, courageous, enthusiastic, jolly, famous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.