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“The Tortured Poets Department” Is a Tiring Bore

The Tortured Poets Department is an album that will seem incredibly deep if the only music you listen to is from Taylor Swift.

(Image: Republic Records)

Yup. The Tortured Poets Department. A new Taylor Swift album. I’m sure you are all bored talking about her, but hey, she sounded bored of herself on her newest album. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Taylor Swift is back once again with a new studio album, The Tortured Poets Department. As expected, it immediately vaulted to the top of the charts everywhere, selling bucketloads, blah blah blah. We’ve all seen how well this album has been doing.

But record sales aren’t an indication of quality. If sales dictated how good something is, then Avatar would be the greatest movie ever made. Lo and behold, The Tortured Poets Department, while perhaps meant to be a reflection of Swift’s maturity as she gets older (she’s still only in her thirties), only shows how little she’s been able to grow and evolve.

The Writing

My initial reaction to this album was actually fairly positive. A big part of that came from a subversion of expectations, at least for me. When the track list for this album got announced, myself and pretty much everyone else dunked on titles like “Florida!!!” and “But Daddy I Love Him,” and justifiably so. These are terrible titles, implying a goofy, ridiculous, cringe-worthy listening experience. When you actually listen to it, though, you find a much mellower record than those names imply. It’s as if she made Folklore but added more of a traditional pop sheen to it. And had weaker songwriting. Like, infinitely weaker songwriting.

The writing is the biggest critique of this album. For one, with a theme about writing, words and poetry, there sure are some clunkers here (the whole title track lyric sheet should’ve just been sent straight to a landfill). None of them (besides Love of My Life) are really that great.

On the other hand, however, none of the songs themselves are truly that terrible. 

Okay, enough beating around the bush. I found this album to be incredibly tedious. Every song sounds exactly the same. It has the same moody piano, the same bland chorus that barely resonates, and the same whispered vocals. And when Swift tries to give the song’s personality (the schizophrenic “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?”), they go from boring to cringe-worthy. The singer has nothing to prove anymore. She sounds bored of herself, of her career, of her image, of literally EVERYTHING. And that mindset has, unfortunately, created a boring release.

Taylor Swift and Post Malone in the music video for "Fortnight."
Taylor Swift and Post Malone in the music video for “Fortnight.” Credit: Republic Records.

Why Does Taylor Swift Sound So Bored?

Before the release of this album, I lost a bet and listened to Taylor Swift’s entire catalog, including all her studio albums and “Taylors Versions,” updated re-recordings of her older albums. In that listen, I made two discoveries;

One- Overall, Swift’s better songs are her catchier ones, her ones with hooks. There are exceptions, obviously, but I can excuse sometimes weak songwriting if the beat is catchy enough.

Two- In recent years, Taylor Swift has lost interest in her own career. This is painfully evident from how much more energy the original version of an album like Speak Now has compared to its updated version. She has become too big to care, and that energy has leaked over to her recent original material.

Now to apply those points to The Tortured Poets Department (I guess she’s a big late 80s Robin Williams fan). This album does not have ANYTHING catchy on it, so the somewhat weak lyrics end up taking all the attention. She also has a lack of energy on this album, unlike anything I’ve seen from her previously… she knows this album would be a hit, and so she didn’t even try. 

The die-hard fans will no doubt be clamoring that this is the deepest, most emotional album they’ve ever heard, and while that’s not true at ALL, it is probably Taylor’s saddest. I mean, most of it is about her missing an ex boyfriend (a very common theme for her, one that is bordering on parody at this point), but a lot of it is dealt with more maturely.

At least… that’s what I thought after listening to the first half of the album. That was my initial review. I thought there was nothing more to say. But then…

An Early Morning Surprise

Yeah, if you didn’t know, somehow, Taylor Swift dropped an entire second album’s worth of material at 2 AM right after the album dropped. The album, which was already too long for its own good, ballooned up to a two-hour record. That means we now have TWO FULL HOURS of the same slow, boring, mellow sound. Part of why this review has taken so long is because of how long it took for the thirty-one tracks to register. Why are albums so long nowadays?

The lyrics were already bad on part one, but they get much much worse on this second volume, titled The Anthology. Take, for instance, “I Hate It Here,” where Swift sings about wanting to live in “the 1830s, but without all the racists.” Or, even better, take a look at the entirety of “So High School,” with such classic lines as “truth, dare, spin bottles, you know how to ball, I know Aristotle,” and “touch me while your bros play Grand Theft Auto.” 

This woman has won multiple Grammy awards. 

Final Thoughts

In summary, The Tortured Poets Department is an album that will seem incredibly deep if the only music you listen to is from Taylor Swift. It’s trauma for babies, and if that comment upsets you, I’m sorry, but you’re part of the problem.

Imagine making your whole persona for the last several months your happy relationship with the football guy and then dropping an album that is completely obsessed with your ex-flings. That’s an insane power move. It’s one that portrays Taylor Swift as a more vulnerable and fractured individual than she tries to convince us she is. It’s one that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It’s one that will likely win Album of the Year.

4 out of 10 stars. One of Swift’s most disappointing albums, and one that keeps getting worse the longer I think about it.

Written By

Danny Krastek is an award winning writer, director, on air DJ and film critic attending college at Montclair State University.

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