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Review: Taylor Swift’s Latest Album Captures Struggles of Adulthood That Younger Audience Fails to Understand

Jadyn Arzola
“The Tortured Poets Department” search results on Apple Music.

World famous singer-songwriter Taylor Swift released her eleventh studio album (not counting re-recordings), The Tortured Poets Department, at midnight April 19. The album contains sixteen tracks, two of which are collaborations. Two hours later, Swift released The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology which contained sixteen additional tracks and a separate album cover. 

Though the production of the album is a bit rushed, Swift  perfectly captures the struggles and heartbreak that come with falling in and out of love, experiencing betrayal and witnessing as well as going through addiction. The songs are able to convey extremely complex messages in such an honest yet poetic way while still showcasing the beauty found in being human and experiencing emotions. The delivery of the album serves as a soft piece of bread for listeners to swallow while coming to terms with the hard pill that is adulthood fabricated within the lyrics. 

With such sensitive topics, the album has been quite unpopular amongst her younger fans. However, through her libretto, Swift triggers fierce emotions in those who have had similar experiences within their life, most of which happen to be reaching or facing adulthood.

The album’s opening track “Fortnight,” featuring American rapper and singer Post Malone, starts the album already exposing listeners to the topic of substance abuse within the second line of the song, “I was a functioning alcoholic.” The song also contains the repetitive lyrics “I love you it’s ruining my life,” emphasizing how love can be something that is powerful enough to take over one’s entire life. The album points to the negativities that come with love, especially love that is unhealthy, in many tracks, such as “Down Bad,” and “Guilty as Sin,” which border on the topic of obsession. The album even touches on obsession with ex-lovers’ new partners in songs such as “The Black Dog,” in which Swift goes through the motions of tracking an ex’s location as they “forgot to turn it off,” and watching them “walk into some bar,” with a girl who is “too young” to know lyrics to a song the two of them used to listen together. The envy explained in songs such as this one can only be fully comprehended by someone who has been in an obsessive and unhealthy relationship.

Lyrics from “Chole or Sam or Sophia or Marcus” discuss drug usage. (Jadyn Arzola)

Several tracks describe what feels like stagnant motions of life after one experiences a break up. When Swift announced the album Feb. 4 at the Grammys, many suspected the album would be entirely about her ex-lover of six years, Joe Alwyn. However, lyrics have led fans to believe the album is mostly about English singer-songwriter, Matty Healy, whom Swift saw for some time after her relationship with Alwyn. Many of these speculations derive from the fact that Swift has multiple lyrics touching on the heartbreaks that come with loving and being with someone, or not being able to be with someone, who struggles with substance abuse issues. The track, “Chole or Sam or Sophia or Marcus” found on the Anthology version of the album contains the words “You needed me, but you needed drugs more and I couldn’t watch it happen,” which showcases the struggle of leaving someone you love because they aren’t willing to change their life-ruining-ways for you. The song also talks about the yearning that comes with doing such a thing and the constant thought she has in which she asks herself “will I always wonder” what would’ve happened if she were to stay with that person. 

Obviously, the majority of her younger fans, especially those who are in their pre-teen years or younger have never witnessed or been exposed to addiction at any point of their life, rightfully so. Although they are unable to relate to lyrics such as these, which Swift is well aware of, she still released tracks about her experiences with substance usage and watching others use substances. The fact that she made the decision to release songs such as these knowing some fans would not relate proves that the purpose of the album is for her to tell her story, not for her fans to relate to her life.  

Though a large sum of the tracks on the album are capable of prompting a wide range of emotions in listeners who have lived similar experiences, there are positive tracks on the album as well, like the ones dedicated to her current boyfriend, Travis Kelce. They are all written in positive connotation and describe the positives of falling in love with someone who is good for you. Swift describes the  refreshing feeling of being with Kelce that allows her to feel “So High School,” as described in the 22nd track of the “Anthropology” version of the album. In this track specifically, she describes how her current relationship with Kelce brings her that nostalgia of having crushes in her youth. The tracks about Kelce and those with more upbeat rhythms have caught the most attention from her younger listeners as they are used to this type of music in addition to the fact that they idolize the relationship Kelce and Swift have. 

Despite all the negative comments on the albums delicate topics and so-called “messiness” Swift has managed to make a “historic debut at No. 1 on Billboard 200” within less than two weeks of the album release. She is now tied with Jay-Z amongst Billboard’s most No. 1 in the soloists category.  As of right now, the album is the top-selling album in the year of 2024.

Although the album may not draw in younger Swifties, those who are mature enough to not only understand but appreciate the authenticity and level of rawness Swift reveals in her latest album, have been able to develop a deep connection with some or all of the tracks. Nobody can describe life struggles, or the feelings that come alongside them, especially when it comes to topics like love, heartbreak and substance abuse perfectly but Swift manages to do an outstanding job of doing so in “The Tortured Poets Department.” Critics point to the “messiness” of the album but fail to appreciate the fact that the beauty of it is found in the most vulgar parts of the record. “The Tortured Poets Department”  is filled with emotion, courage, bravery and most of all vulnerability. 

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