How much is too much, Taylor Swift? A Tortured Poets Department Review

Meghan Boucher ‘27 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Taylor Swift will never fail to surprise her listeners. Whether that comes as 15 bonus songs released two hours after the original release, or shockingly underwhelming lyrics, Swift’s latest album The Tortured Poet’s Department was an ambivalent listening experience.

Despite this, Swifties across the globe still showed their support for their favorite artist. The Tortured Poets Department became Spotify’s most-streamed album in a single day and the first album in streaming history to garner 300 million streams. And yet with all of these victories considered, the album is still very much imperfect. 

That’s not to say there aren’t some truly excellent examples of musicianship, lyricism, and vocals on the album, but all these pros are undermined by its repetitive nature, which left some listeners a bit disappointed. With such a prolific career under her belt, it was frustrating to hear another Taylor Swift album that leaned towards quantity more than quality. 

The album could definitely have been edited down a lot. The additional 15 songs is a classic Swift move of intrigue and mystery, which keeps her fans on their toes. But in this instance it just feels like a cash grab. The songs were not revolutionary, nor did they add anything to the rest of the album. Since the second half has some songs that stand out significantly more, why not hunker down and make a concise cohesive album to begin with? It almost feels like Swift is unable to kill her darlings, and the results are a subpar album that pales in comparison to the rest of discography. 

However, maybe the intention wasn’t to make a cohesive concept album. The theme is rooted in the idea of poetry, so long, lyrical ballads seem to fit. But, it sounds very much like a diary droning on. This could be an intriguing vibe to put forth, but as an album this far into her career, it doesn’t seem to work. Her self-referential lyrics seem to be purely for fan service and the iconic lyrics heard on albums like Folklore and Evermore seem to be missing here. Swift continues with her verbose writing style, which could be one of the reasons why this album feels way too long. 

Additionally, one critique of Swift that has remained true throughout her career is perhaps she is a more talented writer than vocalist. There’s no denying she can carry a tune, but the love of her music is more so what she says and less of how she says it. Take “Florida!!!” for example, which features Florence and the Machine, a powerhouse of a singer who breathes a new sense of life into a repetitive and stale album. The song is a solid collaboration, but when Swift sings alongside Florence, her vocals seem especially average. She becomes a background singer, which is not an effect that should have intended nor wanted for this album. 

Perhaps one of the most underwhelming songs on the album was the titular track, “The Tortured Poets Department.” The lyrics are cringey in a way that distracts from the song. Swift sings, “You smoked then ate seven bars of chocolate/We declared Charlie Puth should be a better artist.” After hearing these sorts of lyrics and frequent name drops (which she also does a lot in “Clara Bow”) listeners are left scratching their heads a bit. Especially for such an integral part of the album, this song in particular falls incredibly flat, both in the lyrics and the vocals. The robotic synth in the background makes Swift sound even more deadpan and overall gives a poor impression of the album as a whole. 

Even Swift seems bored singing her way through this incredibly long album. Her past works like Midnight and Folklore demonstrate this too, but she has developed a sort of repetitive cadence, which leaves her songs indistinguishable from the next. After the excitement had worn off that she released 15 more songs, indifference soon settled in as the songs flowed into each without any standout qualities. Maybe this was a purposeful production choice on behalf of Jack Antonoff and Swift, long time collaborators, but it raises the question of if their partnership is getting a bit boring as well? 

Obviously after nearly two decades in the limelight and 11 studio albums it makes sense that Swift might be running on steam a little bit. But after such a successful venture with the Eras Tour, fans deserve more than an album that has the same auditory qualities as a white noise fan. 

But there are still positives to The Tortured Poets Department. “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” and “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” shows off Swift’s range as an artist and definitely gets stuck in your head. “So Long, London” and “The Albatross” exude that classic Swift lyricism and whimsicality. While the album is not unlistenable, the standouts like these seem to be few and far between. 

The Tortured Poets Department falls into the background of Swift’s previously established, stellar discography. Fans have seen her reinvent her sound so many times from Fearless to Reputation to Folklore. No one can deny Swift’s influence on the music industry and the classic hits she’s put out, but this album raises the question, how much is too much? And could it be time for another Taylor Swift rebrand?

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