Taylor Swift: ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ / ‘The Anthology’

In 120 minutes, Taylor Swift molds together a raw, unedited marathon of music.

Brad LaPlante
4 min readApr 23, 2024

The Taylor Swift Phenomenon has reached new heights. She is at the pinnacle of stardom, a ceiling that seems to keep rising with each passing year. Her run of form has been a spectacle since she abandoned Big Machine in 2018 to re-record each album in pursuit of owning the original masters to her songs. That has culminated in a proper release cycle of eight albums since Lover in 2019.

Swift’s 11th studio album is a plethora of material. Even disc one of The Tortured Poets Department is 17 songs and 65 minutes long. Still, Swift carries a massive burden with the expectations of this record. It’s her first since the end of a years-long relationship and two high-profile romances, including one with The 1975’s Matty Healy. Her short-lived romance with Healy inspires a significant portion of this album, and to tell the story, she returns to familiar songwriters and producers Jack Antonoff and The National’s Aaron Dessner. The two have been Swift’s primary songwriting partners since Lover. There’s plenty to make of Swift’s familiar writing partners but the argument is clear: perhaps Swift should consider taking a break with Antonoff. Both are not producing the same level of quality they once did.

On Tortured Poets, Swift’s music is best-case raw and unbridled. Most of the tracks desperately need an editor. “Florida!!!” forces an unnecessary partnership between Swift and Florence Welch. On their own, Swift and Welch are extraordinary vocalists. Together, the pairing doesn’t make much sense. To its credit, this is a better fit than “Snow On the Beach” was for Swift and Lana Del Rey, considering I wouldn’t know she was on the song if not for the title: “featuring Lana Del Rey.” Still, Swift’s clear and bright delivery does not mesh with Welch’s unique and powerful range. The duo sound good on paper but reality doesn’t agree.

Taylor Swift — Florida ft Florence + the Machine

Tortured Poets’ biggest flaw is that the music isn’t inspiring. Nothing that Swift is doing on this LP is new. While her previous albums generally offer some new sound, this feels like regurgitated from her contemporaries. The closest cousin that Tortured Poets has is Reputation in the sense that everything Swift is doing here is several years old by this point. Just two examples: “But Daddy I Love Him” was so clearly done by Ariana Grande’s “yes, and…” while “imgonnagetyouback” repackages “get him back!” by Olivia Rodrigo. Themes of Lana Del Rey’s tragic romance, both in lyrics and tone, find themselves popping up often.

One clear piece of emphasis is on how vulnerable Swift wants to be perceived as. She is playing into her ‘brand’ of being that unlucky romantic she is best-known for on earlier albums. And she does it more than ever on these 31 songs.

Her ability to relate in memes is significant. “Down Bad” works because its hook is trite, not in spite of it; “I cry a lot but I am so productive” (“I Can Do It With a Broken Heart”) is already viral on TikTok; then there’s “I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can),” an ode to Healy and Swift’s romance: “They shook their heads saying ‘God help her’ when I told ’em he’s my man.”

“But Daddy I Love Him,” through all its faults, is the spiritual successor to “Love Story,” breaking down castle walls in the name of love. These are the moments on the album that I can get down with.

Taylor Swift — But Daddy I Love Him

There are some true gems here. Then there are some big misses. Those that stand out do so poorly. There’s the track that borrows its premise from Rodrigo, the diss track not-so-subtly aimed at Kim Kardashian, the one very weird lyric about racism in the 1830s. This “release everything” strategy isn’t new to Swift because this is her ninth and 10th album release since 2019. That is 10 albums in half as many years. It isn’t surprising to see, especially in the modern music industry, which incentivizes artists to release as many songs as possible.

Swift plays into her performative vindication of herself to new levels on Tortured Poets. Did the title track need to be five minutes long? Does she need more than 120 minutes of music between Tortured Poets and The Anthology? Absolutely not. Could some of these songs be heavily edited or omitted from the record? Yes. The album needs an editor badly. But Swift’s lesson should not be to release less music, in fact, the opposite. But please, take some time to process it.

The Tortured Poets Department: 6/10
The Anthology: 5.5/10

Label: Republic
Release: April 19, 2024
Best Tracks: “Down Bad” “But Daddy I Love Him” “LOML” “Peter” “Guilty as Sin?”
Worst Tracks: “Who’s Afraid Of Little Old Me?” “imgonnagetyouback”