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'The Tortured Poets Department': A track-by-track listener's guide to Taylor Swift’s 31-song double album


Taylor Swift released “The Tortured Poets Department” on Friday, a 31-track surprise double album, and she’s clearly in an emotionally evolved era.

On its surface, the album offers a pretty mellow listening experience, sounding like a marriage of the haunting depths of 2020’s “Folklore” and the synthy riffs of 2022’s Midnights.

Underneath it all, however, you’ll find a boldly vulnerable expression of the pop star poet’s innermost thoughts, and it takes some reading between the lines to understand the scope of her message – with some entries requiring a deeper dive than others. For that, we’re here to help:

1. ‘Fortnight’ (feat. Post Malone)

In an audio clip played during iHeartRadio’s Album Premiere Special on Friday, Swift said this song “really exhibits a lot of the common themes that run throughout this album,” including “fatalism, longing, pining away, lost dreams.”

“I’ve always imagined that it took place in this, like, American town where the American Dream you thought would happen to you didn’t, right? You ended up not with the person you loved and now you have to just live with that every day, wondering what would’ve been, maybe seeing them out,” she said. “And that’s a pretty tragic concept, really. So I was just writing from that perspective.”

2. 'The Tortured Poets Department'

It looks like the album’s title track may be about The 1975 band frontman Matty Healy, to whom Swift was first linked in 2014 and then later, briefly, after her 2023 split from British actor Joe Alwyn.

Clues include the opening in which Swift sings, “You left your typewriter at my apartment.” (Healy expressed a fondness for typewriters in a 2019 interview with GQ magazine.) Honorable mentions in this track also go to Lucy and Jack – who could be Swift’s friend Lucy Dacus of the band Boygenius and Jack Antonoff, her friend and frequent collaborator – and Charlie Puth, who Swift directly name-checks in the song and declares “should be a bigger artist.”

3. 'My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys'

“’My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys’ is a song I wrote alone and it’s a metaphor from the perspective of a child’s toy being somebody’s favorite toy until they break you, and then don’t want to play with you anymore,” Swift told iHeartRadio on Friday.

4. 'Down bad'

In one of the more synth-heavy tracks that leans into Swift’s recent “Midnights” era, “Down Bad” also feels slightly more contemporary in nature, with the modern-feeling refrain “cryin’ at the gym” in the chorus. The Grammy-winner told iHeartRadio that the song serves as a metaphor for “the idea of being love bombed where someone, you know, rocks your world and dazzles you then kind of abandons you.”

5. ‘So Long, London’

One of the more devastating tracks on “Tortured Poets,” it’s a safe bet to presume this one is about Alwyn, Swift’s ex-boyfriend of six years. The song covers a wide array of feelings about saying goodbye to not just a city she loved and spent a significant amount of time in, but letting go of both the good times and heartbreak which the former couple surely experienced there.

Many see the song as an answer, however bleak, to her upbeat track “London Boy,” featured on her 2019 “Lover” album, which is also believed to be about Alwyn during the heyday of their relationship. Swift and Alwyn were first romantically linked in 2016 and broke up in April 2023.

6. ‘But Daddy I Love Him’

This slow-building and breezy track calls to mind some of Swift’s earlier eras from before “1989” and some listeners suspect a double meaning is at play. We’ll leave it up to you to decide.

7. ‘Fresh Out The Slammer’

The opening guitar riff here resembles something inspired by an Orville Peck song, and turns into an upbeat and breathy pop track that equates getting out of jail to getting out of a relationship.

8. ‘Florida!!!’ (feat. Florence + the Machine)

Swift told iHeartRadio on Friday that she wrote this song with Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine, saying, “I was coming up with this idea of what happens when your life doesn’t fit, or your choices you’ve made catch up to you, and you’re surrounded by these harsh consequences and judgment, and circumstances did not lead you to where you thought you’d be and you just want to escape from everything you’ve ever known, is there a place you could go.”

That place to escape, according to Swift and Welch? Florida!!! Oh, and as an FYI: Oscar-winning actress Emma Stone is also credited as a contributor on this song, according to Swift’s YouTube page.

9. ‘Guilty as Sin?’

“Am I allowed to cry?” she asks. Sounds like the same question we’re all asking ourselves while listening to this album, to be honest.

10. ‘Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?’

Written solely by Swift, she declares here, “Who’s afraid of little old me?” and then warns, “You should be.” Reminder: stay on Swift’s good side.

The construction of the song title also calls to mind Edward Albee’s 1962 play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” about a troubled marriage, which in turn also references the famously tortured writer and poet Virginia Woolf.

11. ‘I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)’

We’ve all argued this case at some point in our lives, right?!

12. ‘loml’

Translation: “loml” is internet-speak for “love of my life.”

Written with Aaron Dessner, Swift sings on this moody track, “I wish I could un-recall how we almost had it all.” After singing the words “you said I’m the love of your life” several times over the course of the song, she concludes, “You’re the loss of my life.” Ouch.

13. ‘I Can Do It With a Broken Heart’

Imagine going through a breakup and then having to go on stage, put on a shimmering smile and perform for tens of thousands of people. That’s what Swift examines in this track. “I’m so depressed, I act like it’s my birthday every day,” she sings.

14. ‘The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived’

This is a brutal song with notes of anger aimed toward someone (who may or may not be Healy) who ghosted her after “rusting” her “sparkling” summer, presumably the summer of 2023 when they were thought to have briefly dated (Healy and Swift were seen in attendance at each others’ concerts around that time, among other indications). Other potential Healy references include one at the top of the song, when Swift mentions “your Jehovah’s Witness suit,” which calls to mind The 1975 frontman’s preferred fashion choices.

15. ‘The Alchemy’

Swift’s boyfriend, three-time Super Bowl champ Travis Kelce, appears to be the subject of this track, which also happens to be one of the only classic love songs on the album. The tell? It includes a number of football references with buzzwords like “touchdown,” “warm the benches” and “greatest in the league.”

Swift, of course, attended Kelce’s football games throughout last season, including the Super Bowl where his team the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers. “Where’s the trophy? He just comes runnin’ over to me,” she sings, perhaps a reference to the long embrace and kiss the couple shared on the field following the trophy presentation.

16. ‘Clara Bow’

While the title to this track references the famed silent film star from the 1920s and ’30s (surely a visual inspiration for Swift’s just-dropped music video for “Fortnight”), Swift also sings here about Stevie Nicks – who wrote a poem about both music stars’ past relationships in the liner notes to physical copies of the album.

The chorus for the song may or may not be an easter egg for Swifties and Marvel fans alike, who have long speculated that Swift will appear in her friend Ryan Reynolds’ sure-to-be blockbuster “Deadpool 3” this summer, as a musically gifted mutant named Dazzler. Telling lyrics include “Promise to be dazzling” and the final line, “The future’s bright, dazzling.”

17. ‘The Black Dog’

While entirely speculative, this song may reference a well known pub in London’s Vauxhall area. Swift longingly sings about trying to understand why an ex lover doesn’t miss her and then mentions how the subject she is singing about forgot to turn off their location, so, we’ll let you read between the lines.

18. ‘imgonnagetyouback’

Swift can’t decide whether she wants to “smash up” an on-again-off-again lover’s bike or be his wife. Either way, as the title suggests in this song, she’s determined to get him back.

19. ‘The Albatross’

“She’s the albatross,” Swift sings. “She’s here to destroy you.” ‘Nuff said.

20. ‘Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus’

Some Swifties are speculating that one of the names in this song is the still-unknown moniker of Reynolds and Blake Lively’s fourth child. The couple are close friends with Swift, who has mentioned the names of three of their daughters – Betty, James and Inez – in a number of tracks on “Folklore,” and featured the voice of one of their daughters on her 2017 song “Gorgeous” from “Reputation.”

21. ‘How Did it End?’

With a rolling piano melody, she conducts a “post mortem” on the end of a relationship, and devastatingly so. “The deflation of our dreaming / Leaving me bereft and reeling,” she sings. Grab the tissues.

22. ‘So High School’

If it feels like Swift and Kelce’s relationship has publicly been playing out like a romance between the coolest kids in high school, you’re not alone. Swift sings, “You knew what you wanted and, boy, you got her,” a line that is perhaps a reference to the fact that Kelce’s public declaration of his desire to date Swift led to the beginning of their romantic relationship. She also references the game of “kiss, marry, kill,” which Kelce was seen playing (and choosing to “kiss” Swift) in a 2016 interview that recently resurfaced.

23. ‘I Hate it Here’

“This place made me feel worthless,” Swift sings. We don’t know where she is that she hates so, but certainly hope she’s no longer there.

24. ‘thanK you aIMee’

Oh boy. This one is wild. While it may sound like Swift is singing about a mean girl in high school named Aimee, the references in this song – and there are many – clearly point to Swift taking shots at Kim Kardashian, with whom she’s had a… tortured history. The most obvious factor here being the letters that Swift chose to capitalize in the title of the song spell out “KIM.”

Other clues: “I don’t think you’ve changed much / I changed your name and any real defining clues / And one day, your kid comes home singin’ a song that only us two is gonna know is about you.”

25. 'I Look in People’s Windows'

It’s not as creepy as it sounds, we promise. It’s more of a metaphor about being on the outside, looking in.

26. 'The Prophecy'

Maybe keep that tissue box close by during this tragic song, too.

27. ‘Cassandra’

Some Swifties think this song may also be about Kardashian, since it references snakes (Kardashian famously played in to the #taylorswiftisasnake meme in the past). Others have connected the Cassandra that Swift sings about to the figure in Greek mythology, a priestess whose accurate prophecies were not believed.

28. ‘Peter’

The references here on the surface are about the Disney animated classic “Peter Pan,” which she previously referred to in 2020’s “Cardigan.” “Peter” could very well be a continuation of the lore from that track, but the jury’s still out on who Peter may truly be based on – if anyone.

29. ‘The Bolter’

“As she was leaving it felt like breathing,” Swift sings. The instrumentation and guitar strumming is reminiscent of the sounds on “Folklore,” her 2020 album on which Swift worked with Dessner, who is also credited to have co-written “The Bolter.”

30. ‘Robin’

Maybe this is Lively’s and Reynolds’ baby’s name?!

31. ‘The Manuscript’

This is a devastatingly sad song that will leave you breathless as you come to the end of this poetically “tortured” journey. With just a piano and Swift’s voice, she seems to be reflecting on the experiences described in the previous 30 songs, singing, “looking backwards might be the only way to move forward.”

The powerful lyrics suggest Swift is coming to terms with the realization that “at last she knew what the agony had been for,” and even though she looks back on these memories, “the story isn’t mine anymore” now that she’s shared it with the world. Top Stories

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