In the 18 months after Taylor Swift released Midnights, it often felt as though the universe had fully opened up to her. The Eras Tour was breaking records and blowing past the billion-dollar mark; its attendant concert film became the highest-grossing of all time. She generated interest and commerce and headlines everywhere she stepped foot, from tour stops to the tunnels of NFL stadiums. In 2023, she was named both TIME magazine’s Person of the Year and—just as iconic, tbh—Apple Music’s Artist of the Year. But do songs about that level of success speak to you? As the news broke that her highly private six-year relationship to Joe Alwyn had ended, Swifties started Swiftie-ing, quickly recirculating a clip on social media of Swift a few weeks earlier, onstage during an early Eras show, in tears as she sang “champagne problems”—a song she and Alwyn had written together. It was a reminder that, despite the superhero-like aura she now radiates, Swift, at her peak, still hurts like the rest of us. What sets her apart is her ability to sublimate that pain into pop. When she announced her 11th studio album in early 2024—while accepting another Grammy, as one does—we probably shouldn’t have been surprised. “I needed to make it,” she’d say of THE TORTURED POETS DEPARTMENT a few weeks later, to a crowd of—[rubs eyes]—96,000 in Melbourne, Australia. “I’ve never had an album where I’ve needed songwriting more than I needed it on TORTURED POETS.” Working again with trusted collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, she returns to the soft, comfortable, bed-like sonics of Midnights. But the stakes feel noticeably higher here: This isn’t so much a breakup album as it is a deep-sea exploration of everything Swift has been feeling, a plunge through emotional debris. On “But Daddy I Love Him”—over strings and guitar that faintly recall her country roots—she lashes out at the crush of scrutiny and expectation she’s been subject to from the start. Naturally, catharsis comes after the chorus: “I’ll tell you something right now,” she sings. “I’d rather burn my whole life down than listen to one more second of all this bitching and moaning.” On “Florida!!!” she and Florence + the Machine team up for a pulpy escape fantasy wherein they Thelma and Louise their way down to the Sunshine State in hopes of starting over with new lives and identities: “Love left me like this,” they sing. “And I don’t want to exist.” At turns hilarious and heartbreaking, TTPD is a study in extremes, Swift leaning into heightened emotions with heightened, hyperbolic, ALL-CAPS language and imagery—how we think when we’re drunk on love or flattened by its sudden disappearance. Note the dark humor she weaves through the Post Malone-enriched opener “Fortnight” (“Your wife waters flowers/I wanna kill her”). Or the thrilling self-deprecation of “Down Bad,” a foray into science fiction wherein Swift likens the warmth of a relationship to being abducted by love-bombing extraterrestrials—only to be left “naked and alone, in a field in my same old town.” But this remains her most candid and unsparing work to date: As a listener, you frequently get the feeling that you’ve stumbled across emails she’d written but never sent, or into conversations you were never meant to hear. There’s a density and a specificity and a ferocity to her lyrical work here that makes 2012’s “All Too Well” feel sorta light by comparison. If you’re the kind of Swiftie who likes to live in the details, well, this one might be your Super Bowl. “You swore that you loved me, but where were the clues?” she asks on the devastating “So Long, London,” a high point. “I died on the altar waiting for the proof.” Alone at a piano on the haunting “loml,” she flips the script on someone who’d told her she was the love of their life, by telling them that they were the loss of hers: “I’ll still see it until I die.” The story, as you likely know, doesn’t end there. We get a glimpse of new beginnings in “The Alchemy” (“This happens once every few lifetimes/These chemicals hit me like white wine”) and something like triumph in the montage-ready synths of “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” when Swift, shattered on the floor, “as the crowd was chanting, ‘More!’,” still finds the strength to deliver: “’Cause I’m a real tough kid and I can handle my shit.” But we also get a sense of acceptance, of newfound perspective. On “Clara Bow”—named after a 1920s movie star who was able to survive the jump from silent film to sound—Swift reflects on the journey of a small-town girl made good, sung from the vantage of an industry obsessed with the next big thing. She zooms out and out and out until, in the album’s closing seconds, she’s singing about herself in the third person, in past tense, acknowledging that nothing is forever. “You look like Taylor Swift in this light, we’re loving it,” she sings. “You’ve got edge she never did/The future’s bright, dazzling.”

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