In the title track of The Tortured Poets Department, Taylor Swift acknowledges that she's “not Patti Smith.” This is a rare case of self-awareness from the singer, as she definitely can't belt like the “People Have the Power” singer can, but she's also not a poet.

At one time a fun pop singer, Swift has become an overly-self-serious, self-proclaimed “poet.” Long gone are the days of “Love Story” and “Enchanted.” Now, we're stuck in an era where Swift has to re-record her old hits to put out a somewhat enjoyable sonic experience.

Enter, The Tortured Poets Department, which is essentially an extension of Midnights. This particular listener was hoping for a new sound after the disastrous Midnights. The album saw Swift cease all creativity and singularity in favor of Jack Antonoff's indistinguishable radio-friendly sound.

It's a shame, as Swifties will undoubtedly praise her “lyrical genius” on her latest album. Her strangling ethos is scary for any non-Swiftie, as it appears most listeners are afraid to admit the album is anything short of a masterpiece (Did Reputation scare off critics that badly?).

But not yours truly. Unfortunately, Swift's Tortured Poets Department is an exhaustive exercise of self-indulgence that you can only wish was satire.

Taylor Swift's The Tortured Poets Department review

Taylor Swift's The Tortured Poets Department tracklist

Note: This review is only based on the standard Tortured Poets Department album, not the Anthology edition.

Beginning with “Fortnight,” Swift's collaboration with Post Malone, was smart. It's probably the peak of the album, though Antonoff's fingerprints are instantly recognizable.

You see, Antonoff's work on Midnights resulted in nearly all of the songs sounding identical. With drum machines and techno-beats galore, the song's choruses were the only distinguishing feature most of the time.

Songs like “But Daddy I Love Him” are complete white noise. Even if Swift stepped up her game lyrically, it's impossible to note thanks to the middling musical arrangements. A few more synthesizers on The Tortured Poets Department don't add enough whimsy to a project that sorely needs it.

Swift's “lyrical genius” 

Taylor Swift would like to think of herself as a poet, but that couldn't be further from the case. She's not Edgar Allan Poe or William Blake, as much as no one would like to admit it.

Lines like “At dinner, you take my ring off my middle finger and put it on the one people put wedding rings on” are less than convincing of her lyrical prowess. Ditto for “You swore that you loved me, but where are the clues? / I died on the altar waiting for the proof.”

Going back to the well 

“So tell me everything is not about me / But what if it is?” ponders during “Who's Afraid of Little Old Me.” It's a cheeky line, but all of pop culture does seem to be all about Swift.

If it's not Swift's so-so writing, perhaps the album's central themes are to blame. Once again, Swift goes back to the well of writing about her exes. Not to discount scars from past relationships existing — on “Blank Space,” Swift even acknowledges that relationships with her could “leave a nasty scar” — but Swift's entire ethos is built on this victim complex and unmatched self-importance.

Everyone is out to get her, and no one (except the millions of Swifties worldwide) is on her side. Yawn. After hearing several songs that attempt to subtly call others out, it all becomes the same.


There's a fine line between creative expression and self-indulgence. Every artist is guilty of releasing their albums with several colorways on countless formats, hiding extra tracks on each release, but Swift is the master of masking exploitation of her fanbase (How is this less self-indulgent than releasing an album for free on iTunes?).

No matter what she does, she receives praise. As noted, it feels as though Reputation has scared the critics away. Collectively, pop culture pads her ego to avoid catching a stray on her next single.

On “Anti-Hero,” a song that The Tortured Poets Department constantly harkens back, making me concerned that the album is made up of Midnight's scraps, features the line “I'm the problem, it's me.” That line has never rung more true.

Oh yeah, Swift also announced an Anthology edition of the album. Apparently, there were just too many great tracks from the Tortured Poets Department sessions that she had to grace us with 15 more.

Should you listen to The Tortured Poets Department? 

I'm not entirely sure what era of Taylor Swift we're in. Whatever we want to call it — I'll volunteer the “overly-self-serious era” — needs to come to an end.

Legal issues aside, albums like Midnights and now The Tortured Poets Department raise the question of why Swift is re-recording her albums. For someone who poses oblivious to the public's opinions of her, maybe Swift knows her best material is in her back catalog.

Currently, Swift is lost as an artist. She should go and dream it all up again.

Grade: D

The Tortured Poets Department is out now.