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Clearly you were not a “precocious child:” a defense of Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department

Taylor is right, old habits do die screaming. The release of her eleventh album, “The Tortured Poets Department” (TTPD), brought back a round of Swift hate that brings fans right back to the days of the 2009 VMAs, snakes, and hiding in her luggage. Fundamentally, most criticism misses the mark. Yes, the album is 31 songs. Yes, it is a two-hour listening experience. But no, it is not ‘one sound’ or ‘unedited.’ 

Swift has simply reached a new level of success, and TTPD proves it. She is no longer bound by the fear of not charting or being a commercial success. Like “Midnights” before it, “Tortured Poets” is currently (as of release week) ten of ten on the Billboard top 100 list. The much-awaited, surprise double album drop – where she released another set of fifteen songs at 2 a.m. the night of the release – provided a unique and extremely vulnerable look into Swift’s psyche as she navigates the end of a six-year relationship, the turmoil of a long-brewing situationship, and her mental health challenges. She teamed up with a dream team of writers, producers, and singers to make this album possible. Her long-time collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner are on many of the new songs, and she invited Post Malone and Florence and the Machine to be featured on “Fortnight” and “Florida!!!” respectively. 

However, the album is still hers. And, contrary to popular opinion, the songs on the album do not sound monotonous! I will admit that listening to TTPD is daunting. The night it dropped, it took me several hours to get through all of the new material. A two hour album is undoubtedly overwhelming, but that is a symptom of the sheer number of songs, not their quality. 

If you listen to songs they have clear and distinct subject matter. “I Can Do it With a Broken Heart” is about her experience with depression, suicidal thoughts, and mania while on a record-breaking tour set to an upbeat classic Antonoff pop beat. The tune and messaging have no overlap with “loml” or “So Long, London,” her more classic (and devastating) breakup songs. And those songs in turn are dissimilar to “The Alchemy” and “So High School” which seem to focus on her new relationship with football star Travis Kelce. There are also some outlying tracks like “The Manuscript” focuses on dating a man in his thirties (cough, cough, John Mayer) while a teenager, and “thanK you aIMee” on her ongoing feud with Kim Kardashian (see capital letters). The outcry about her being “Too Much” (New York Times), having “Quality Control Issues” (The Atlantic), or just as a whole being  “Unnecessary” (USA Today) is wildly misplaced. 

The media loves to hate Taylor Swift. She is objectively one of the most successful female artists of all time. She has released four new albums since 2020 (two of which won the Grammy for Album of The Year, making her the only four-time winner) and four re-records of her past albums, in order to finally own their masters. The Eras Tour, which is ongoing, is 152 shows across five continents and has grossed over a billion dollars. Yet, her accomplishments are rarely the focus of discussion. 

A relevant example is the accusation of her “climate terrorism” because of her private jet usage. The argument against private planes is incredibly valid and represents a larger societal issue. But Swift seems to be the only celebrity focused on in the media’s criticism. However, she doesn’t even make the top seventy on the list of top users of private jets sorted by their emissions – those 70, might I add, who are rarely mentioned. Did you know Pitbull is much higher on the list? Swift is often used as a scapegoat for more significant issues in a way other – particularly male artists – never are. 

Of course, everyone can dislike the album. I agree that it is not perfect, although it is close. The title itself – The Tortured Poets Department – is wordy, and perhaps it could have been named “The Anthology” or “The Manuscript” for either the name of the second album or the final song.

I will admit I am never a fan of her music videos. Although they are impressive, she is always a creative lead—or has a close friend like Blake Lively try their hand at directing. – I often wish she would let an artist in the visual rather than musical domain take over. The videos usually feel cliché and overdone, although they do an excellent job of conveying the message and her vision of the song. 

Some of the titles like “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys,” “But Daddy, I Love Him,” or “I Can Fix Him (no I really can)” have a certain millennial je ne sais quoi, and I was highly skeptical of them before the album was released. But these slightly cringe worthy titles don’t mean the lyrics on the songs aren’t incredibly written, often having a level of unseriousness and self-awareness, like: 

“My boy only breaks his favorite toys/ I’m queen of sand castles he destroys/ Cause I knew too much/ There was danger in the heat of my touch/ He saw forever so he smashed it up/ Oh, my boy only breaks his favorite toys.” 

“Now I’m running with my dress unbuttoned/ Screaming “But Daddy I love him!”/ I’m having his baby/ No, I’m not, but you should see your faces.” 

“They shake their heads saying, “God, help her”/When I tell them he’s my man/But your good/Lord doesn’t need to lift a finger/ I can fix him, no, really I can/And only I can.” 

Swift is not afraid of being herself. In the album, she bears all her flaws, challenges, and mania in a way she never has before. Although her previous albums, Folklore and Evermore, come close, she couched her own experience in the guise that they were fictional. Characters like August, Betty, and James were the main players in her stories – the names of her friends Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds first three children – instead of people we may recognize from her personal life. Before TTPD, I considered these two albums her best. But, the level of rawness shown in TTPD is a new level for Swift. Clearly, from the narrative she paints in TTPD, ‘fictional’ is a little bit of a stretch, but her owning her stories – and including thirty-one – is a gift to her fans, not something she should be criticized for. To everyone saying so, I ask: please listen to it again! If you spend time sitting with the songs, I promise you will like them. 

Taylor Swift is a singer, songwriter, and performer. She is not a political figure nor a director. Although I understand that she has more cultural sway than most other celebrities, she should be evaluated by her own musical merit. And in my opinion, her music is wonderful. 

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About the Contributor
Bea Culligan
Bea Culligan, Social Media Manager and News Editor
Bea (she/her) is a sophomore intended political science major from Los Angeles, California. She is interested in all things news, but most of all, what is happening at Carleton! Bea was previously a Staff Writer.

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