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Taylor Swift brings mature, reminiscent tone to ‘Tortured Poets Department’

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Collegian | Trin Bonner

Taylor Swift’s 11th studio album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” released April 19, is about as vast of a tonal departure as the singer could possibly manage.

Surprise announced at the Grammy Awards Feb. 4, “Tortured Poets” includes 16 tracks on the standard format, which Swift doubled with a surprise 2 a.m. second album component, called “The Anthology,” that clocks the entire album in at a whopping 31 songs and just over two hours of music.

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Sonically different from any album of Swift’s in the past, “Tortured Poets” is a mix between “Evermore,” “Midnights” and “Red,” with both upbeat and deeply sad tracks fraught with metaphors, multisyllabic words and the singer’s iconic emotional bridges.

The two collaboration songs, the dreamy “Fortnight” with Post Malone the first single off the album complete with a music video — and the raucously upbeat “Florida!!!” with Florence & The Machine are two of Swift’s strongest collaborations. Swift’s lyricism blends aesthetics nearly seamlessly with Malone’s and Florence & The Machine’s respective tones and envelopes them into the sultry, psychotic world of “Tortured Poets.”

Filled with more anger than sadness, Swift’s retrospection in “Tortured Poets” is her most mature to date. A fully adult album, “Tortured Poets” is Swift’s most scathing album so far, with tracks like “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived,” “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys” and “So Long, London” aching with the spite of healed wounds that have left scars.

Despite the significantly autobiographical approach, “Tortured Poets” is filled with stories and metaphoric lyrics, from a circus in “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me” to a small-town, bad-boy forbidden romance in “But Daddy I Love Him.” It is littered with high school storylines, first-love-lost plots and the sting of bitterness for people who have wronged Swift.

It is possibly Swift’s least crowd-pleasing album since her country debut. However, it is her most mature, fully introspective album that feels both desperately personal and achingly raw and has echoes of Swift’s flippant attitude toward people’s feelings about her work. Swift, quite simply, is not seeking approval for any of the emotions she’s experiencing on “Tortured Poets,” and the album exists not to explicitly top the charts but simply because Swift needed to share it.

“The Anthology,” produced almost exclusively by longtime producer and collaborator Aaron Dessner, has echoes of “Folklore” and turns to more storytelling plot lines. Some tracks are weaker than the original 16, but “The Anthology” also includes the achingly painful “The Prophecy,” a track about being last in love, but also more high school storylines like the romantic “So High School” and “thanK you aIMee,” a school bully narrative that has been connected to Swift’s feud with Kim Kardashian.

It’s a sneaking, tormenting album that feels almost psychotically dizzy on first listen and becomes even more potent when the listener cracks open the lyric booklet to inspect Swift’s carefully penned turns of phrase. The scope of the album has been criticized for needing an editor, but the thought dump of emotions and material connects “Tortured Poets” with its intended spiraling narrative. This is the lyrical equivalent of what happens when composed people spiral into madness, and it’s addicting.

Stevie Nicks’ influence on this album is tangible no matter where you look. Swift mentions her in “Clara Bow,” yes, but Swift also included a poem penned by Nicks in the prologue of the album, found in the physical editions. “The Prophecy,” a standout in terms of lyricism, also is reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” which Nicks penned in her 20s while visiting Aspen, Colorado. In Swift’s Spotify pop-up library in Los Angeles days before the release, fans noticed a tambourine on a bookshelf that looked incredibly similar to Nicks’ iconic tambourine she performs with. This is not surprising; Nicks and Swift have publicly been friends for years and even performed “Rhiannon” together in 2010. 

There’s a purposeful ambiguity to the plot lines; internet rumors about the muse of each specific song lend to more questions than answers, and that is an intentional way for Swift to mislead the audience about what each song is about. In “Tortured Poets,” Swift is leaning into the insanity and crafting a world fraught with lost love and the brutal realities of misunderstanding.

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Reach Allie Seibel and Aubree Miller at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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About the Contributors
Allie Seibel
Allie Seibel, Editor in Chief
Allie Seibel is the editor in chief of The Rocky Mountain Collegian, a role she loves more and more with each day. Previously the news editor and news director of The Collegian, Seibel has a background in news, but she’s excited to branch out and experience every facet of content this and following years. Seibel is a sophomore journalism and media communications major minoring in business administration and legal studies. She is a student in the Honors Program and is also an honors ambassador and honors peer mentor. She also is a satellite imagery writer for the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere at Colorado State University. Seibel is from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and loves how The Collegian has gotten her acquainted with Fort Collins and CSU. When she’s not writing, reporting or in class, you can always find her with a book, cross-stitching, planning where to travel to next, trying out a new recipe or listening to Taylor Swift. Seibel is incredibly proud of The Collegian’s past and understands the task of safeguarding its future. She’s committed to The Collegian’s brand as an alt-weekly newspaper and will continue to advance its status as a strong online publication while preserving the integrity and tradition of the print paper. Seibel is excited to begin a multi-year relationship with readers at the helm of the paper and cannot wait to see how the paper continues to grow. Through initiatives like the new science desk and letting each individual desk shine, Seibel is committed to furthering The Collegian and Rocky Mountain Student Media over the next few years.
Trin Bonner
Trin Bonner, Illustration Director
Trin Bonner is the illustration director for The Collegian newspaper. This will be her third year in this position, and she loves being a part of the creative and amazing design team at The Collegian. As the illustration director, Bonner provides creative insight and ideas that bring the newspaper the best graphics and illustrations possible. She loves working with artists to develop fun and unique illustrations every week for the readers. Bonner is a fourth-year at Colorado State University studying electronic arts. She loves illustrating and comic making and has recently found enjoyment in experimental video, pottery and graphic design. Outside of illustration and electronic art, Bonner spends her free time crocheting and bead making. She is usually working on a blanket or making jewelry when she is not drawing, illustrating or brainstorming.

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