Taylor Swift is a heartbroken savant on blistering Joe Alwyn breakup album ‘The Tortured Poets Department’: review

Taylor Swift is a heartbroken savant on blistering Joe Alwyn breakup album ‘The Tortured Poets Department’: review
Music review

The Tortured Poets Department

Taylor Swift’s got bad blood again.

After making a name for herself as one of the most prolific songwriters of all time with her autobiographical chronicles of love, loss, family, friends and heartbreak, the pop superstar flipped a switch in 2020 and began introducing fictional characters and narratives into her work, making her somewhat of an enigma overnight.

But there’s no mistaking that Swift’s devastating 11th studio album, “The Tortured Poets Department” (out Friday), is about her ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn, the struggling actor she paints as a soul-sucking wallflower who, for six long years, tried to dull the same sparkle that made her the biggest star of her generation.

Taylor Swift sings about the heartbreak of her 2023 breakup from Joe Alwyn on her new album, “The Tortured Poets Department.” Republic Records The former couple dated for six years. GC Images One song is titled “So Long, London,” a nod to the actor’s hometown. GC Images

Their 2023 breakup brings out a ferocious side of Swift we haven’t heard since “Dear John,” her 2010 takedown of another past lover, John Mayer.

“You say I abandoned the ship / But I was going down with it,” she snarls on the menacing “So Long, London,” a nod to Alwyn’s hometown, where the notoriously private couple cohabitated in their glory days.

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At times, Swift, 34, roasts Alwyn, 33, mercilessly. She says he failed to “measure up” to “any measure of a man” on the blistering “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived,” while the epically titled “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys” sees him childishly destroying the sand castle of which she’s queen.

The pop superstar also looks back fondly on her starry-eyed honeymoon phase with Alwyn. Getty Images for TAS Rights Management “I wish I could unrecall / How we almost had it all,” she sings. Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

Matty Healy, with whom Swift had a post-Alwyn fling, is another target of the Grammy winner’s biting humor, with the ’80s-influenced title track poking fun at the “tattooed golden retriever” for being more committed to his dilapidated typewriter than his summer paramour.

“You smoked then ate seven bars of chocolate,” she sings, referencing Healy’s 2013 hit “Chocolate” with his band, The 1975. “We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist.” (Facts.)

Across the album, though, Swift is more of a heartbroken savant turning her pain into poetry than a scorned woman filling out a burn book.

Swift also sings about “tattooed golden retriever” Matty Healy. GC Images She had a fling with the 1975 frontman after her split from Alwyn. Getty Images

She is mature enough to acknowledge that she “chose this cyclone” with controversy collector Healy (on “The Tortured Poets Department”) and continued to love Alwyn even when it was “ruining” her life (on the Post Malone-featured opener and lead single, “Fortnight”).

Swift looks back fondly on her starry-eyed honeymoon phase with Alwyn (“You should’ve seen him when he first saw me,” she enthuses at one point), but as soon as their relationship takes a left turn, chaos unfolds.

“You s–t-talked me under the table / Talkin’ rings and talkin’ cradles / I wish I could unrecall / How we almost had it all,” her voice quavers on the plodding, “Exile”-like piano ballad “LOML.”

Swift released four variants of the album featuring different bonus tracks. Instagram/@taylorswift/Beth Garrabrant The lead single, “Fortnight,” features Post Malone. Instagram/@taylorswift

Swift’s mental health reaches an all-time low on “Down Bad,” which finds her “crying at the gym” and repeatedly screaming, “F–k it if I can’t have him.”

However, by “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” a healed Swift realizes she’s “a real tough kid.”

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“They said, ‘Babe, you gotta fake it ’til you make it’ / And I did,” she intones. “Lights, camera, bitch, smile / Even when you wanna die.”

That optimism ultimately leads Swift to her current boyfriend, NFL star Travis Kelce, whose influence on the penultimate track, “The Alchemy,” is all too obvious with lyrical references to touchdowns, trophies and benchwarmers.

Swift is currently dating NFL star Travis Kelce. AP The song “The Alchemy” references touchdowns, trophies and benchwarmers. AP

With 16 songs (20 if you collect all four special-edition variants with bonus tracks), tuning in to “The Tortured Poets Department” may seem like a chore in an age where snappy TikTok videos have diminished our attention spans. After all, Ariana Grande and Kelsea Ballerini’s comparable post-divorce projects clocked in at just 35 and 15 minutes, respectively.

But Swift’s latest opus, which sonically is a combination of 2020’s “Evermore” and 2022’s “Midnights,” is such a pièce de résistance that spending an hour-plus studying it in the poetry department may not be so bad after all.

Just keep an eye out for Alwyn across the hall in detention.