The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Taylor Swift’s Pen is Running Dry in “The Tortured Poets Department”

Taylor Swift Via Instagram

Taylor Swift grapples to convey how she is an all-powerful icon and a defenseless victim at the same time in The Tortured Poets Department, her 11th studio album. As a historical enjoyer of several of Swift’s records, this one left an impression of creativity running dry; a rushed and incohesive work with more Easter eggs than substance.

Riding the massively lucrative success of the Eras Tour and at the apex of her popularity, Swift has taken the comfortable route of relying on old crowd-pleasing tricks: callbacks to previous hits, attempts at humor that miss more than usual and the tiresome underdog narrative. 

I was disappointed to be immediately hit with the sanitized synth-pop sound that infected the “Midnights” record on the first two tracks, “Fortnight” (feat. Post Malone) and “The Tortured Poets Department”. 

To quote one of my friends, “What is Post Malone doing there? Is he one of the tortured poets?”

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Swift is 34, and has the vocabulary of any millennial who repeats what they hear on the internet from teenagers. “Now I’m down bad, crying at the gym,” Swift sings of a painful situationship on “Down Bad”, a song that is obviously an attempt at a viral TikTok soundbite.

Swift relies on the lovelorn and scorned archetype that has made her career, but with corny, phoned-in figurative language that brings to mind a middle school poetry slam. Her lyricism has grown overwhelmingly self-referential and less and less relatable. 

It’s not particularly easy to sympathize with a grown woman dominating an entire industry whose greatest cause for grief is a month-long fling with frontman of English pop band The 1975, Matty Healy. As a controversial figure, Healy was mocked as a romantic prospect by practically everyone, Swiftie or not, because of his historical cultural insensitivity and lack of dental work (the bottom line tends to be ‘why him?’). From what one can gather, Healy’s public image caused their relationship to strain under secrecy and criticism, two things Swift has yet to learn to cope with since her career started almost two decades ago. 

Healy’s poorly received Tweets and eyebrow-raising behavior is nothing new or shocking. It doesn’t interest me to parasocially evaluate the ethics of Swift’s dating choices. However I do find it amusingly out of touch that she portrays herself as a persecuted scarlet letter being dragged away from Healy and torched at the stake for it. 

“But Daddy I Love Him” is the story of a cowgirl smitten in forbidden love, which falls terribly flat coming from a fully grown woman (again, 34) with a net worth of 1.1 billion, who has the privilege to do anything she pleases. 

“Who’s afraid of little old me?” Swift asks on track 10. “Well, you should be,” is her response, illustrating the true-to-life paradox in which she wields immense power but still feels as victimized as a helpless child. Her music reveals an unreliable narrator, who is by no means a small-town underdog anymore, yet she wears this like a plastic badge of honor.

The album closer, “Clara Bow”, is honest and vulnerable, with a stripped-back sound that transported me to the 2012 Red era. My favorite lyric, “Beauty is a beast that roars // Down on all fours // Demanding more,” (finally some poetry) touches on the complex relationship female icons have with the public eye, which is fraught with exploitation and objectification. The song is especially reminiscent of slept-on Red track “The Lucky One”, which conveys a budding starlet’s fear of being disposable. Hit with a wave of nostalgia and recognition, I was left wanting more of this side of Taylor, “flesh and blood amongst war machines”.

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Sophie Kim
Sophie Kim, Staff Writer

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