Taylor Swift Basks in Her Own Madness on Surprise Double Album

If Midnights was about "self-loathing" then The Tortured Poets Department is about fully basking in your own insanity—the insanity that comes after a breakup, after having your life fall apart, or while dating someone everyone tells you is insane.

Taylor Swift Basks in Her Own Madness on Surprise Double Album

Last spring, one of the standout tracks from Taylor Swift’s Midnights era was finally released to streaming. “Hits Different,” a boppy but heartbreaking song about losing your mind after losing the love of your life, was originally (for some inconceivable reason almost certainly related to profit-making) a Target exclusive track. After it broke free of big box stores, it peaked at number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 last summer and I was very relieved to finally listen to it normally instead of through the bootleg upload hidden on Spotify as a random podcast episode. The song’s final verse is the third act in the story of a woman on the verge of psychosis after a breakup: “Is that your key in the door?/Is it OK? Is it you?/Or have they come to take me away?”

With The Tortured Poets Department, it’s clear that they probably should have taken her away, but they clocked off early. The album literally starts with the lyric, “I was supposed to be sent away but they forgot to come and get me.” So not only have we fully lost our minds, but barely anyone noticed. Or maybe they just don’t care. Either way, Taylor’s songwriting has never been darker and her storytelling’s never been sharper. Set against Jack Antonoff’s now-infamous shimmering synths, TTPD might not make you want to dance, but the twinkling melodies paired with Swift’s ability to romanticize everything from the gym to Charlie Puth (yes, that’s real) to kid’s cereal might inspire you to blow up your life.

If Midnights was about “self-loathing” then TTPD is about fully basking in your own insanity—the insanity that comes after a breakup (“So Long, London”), after having your life fall apart (“I Can Do It With a Broken Heart”), or while dating someone everyone tells you is insane (“But Daddy I Love Him”). It’s a more muted 1989; a hungover Midnights with the lyrical finesse of folklore and evermore.

Speaking of dating someone everyone tells you is insane… there appear to be a lot of songs about Matty Healy—like a lot of songs. There are significantly more songs about the British guy she had a three-month situationship with than the British guy she had a six-year relationship with. Luckily, the songs are great and, if nothing else, at least her scathing, biting lyrics confirm that yes, Healy sucks—even if some other songs prove that she was way too into him at one point. (“But Daddy I Love Him” is a true jam that I will have on repeat all summer.)

But don’t get me wrong, this is absolutely a breakup album—but where Taylor’s other breakup albums or songs have marinated in the pining for or sorrow of losing someone you didn’t want to, this breakup album isn’t really sad. Or at least Taylor’s not sad; we are universes away from Red. She’s definitely angry (“And I’m pissed off you let me give you all that youth for free”), she’s for sure annoyed (“I just want to know/If rusting my sparkling summer was the goal”), and she’s got a lot of intrusive thoughts (“Your wife waters flowers, I wanna kill her” and also “Throwing my life to the wolves or the ocean rocks”). But crumpled-up pieces of paper lying here on the floor, we are not. 

“So Long, London” and “loml” are the two heartbreaking outliers, with the former anointed as the fabled track five. The melody immediately struck me as similar to “The Archer,” the fifth track on Lover, where Taylor sings, “Help me hold onto you” and, “Who could ever leave me darling, but who could stay?” In “So Long, London,” she sings, “My spine split from carrying us up the hill” and, “You sacrificed us to the gods of your bluest days.”

But besides these references to her split with Joe Alwyn, the album’s vibe is much more that of a 30-something who can’t believe she’s still putting up with so much bullshit. 

I wrote the above after The Tortured Poets Department dropped at midnight. Taylor then dropped the surprise second album at 2 a.m., so here’s a surprise second review.

Mark April 19, 2024, as a day in Swiftie history because, for maybe the third time ever, Swifties got it right. When Swift first announced The Tortured Poets Department at the Grammys in February, she held up two fingers. Swifties immediately set out trying to decode what that meant, and many guessed that she was hinting that TTPD would be a double album. Swifties have been speculating on about double album for years so I guess, eventually, they’d be right. But still, huge day, congrats to all.

Where the first half of TTPD was largely produced by Antonoff, the second half was almost entirely produced and co-written with Aaron Dessner. And it really does sound like it could be a third album from the 2020 era when he and Taylor first collaborated, rounding out the trilogy of folklore and evermore. These songs are more sad (“Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus,” “Peter”) and more pleading (“The Prophecy”).

But the song I really wanna talk about is the major middle finger to Kim Kardashian song which…I fucking love. The sweet-sounding, seemingly innocent little ditty is called “thanK you aIMee.” (Note that the capitalized letters spell out “KIM.” Subtle!) Some of the lyrics include “Screamed ‘Fuck you, Aimee’ to the night sky, as the blood was gushin'” and “Everyone knows that my mother is a saintly woman/But she used to say she wished that you were dead.” (If you don’t know why Taylor hates Kim Kardashian, Google is free.) People give Swift a lot of flack for holding grudges and never letting anything go, and I’m sure this song will get both praise and backlash. But I still hold a grudge against my second-grade bully—and frankly, people who don’t hold grudges are boring.

But anyway! People who’ve been dazzled by Swift’s Eras Tour or first became a fan during Midnights might not immediately take to this album—but on the other side of the spectrum, if folklore and evermore remain your favorites, you’ll be delighted. Swift is more pared down, more mature, more sonically cohesive, more honed, and still as witty and romantic as ever.

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