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Since 2020, no artist has had an oversaturated presence in pop and the overall zeitgeist than Taylor Swift. From surprise drops to re-recordings of her albums, and a total of 4 new albums, including the newly released The Tortured Poets Department, it’s easy to see how one may feel that it’s too much; the Swifties feel otherwise, but this new album continues to prove many things, most importantly, a much-needed divorce from Jack Antonoff. As evident through the album, some of its strongest works come from works with Aaron Dressner of The National, who offers a different palette more astute to what has been Taylor Swift’s strengths. It says more when his work speaks louder (ironically), as it isn’t hooked on more tepid and forgettable pop flavors that Antonoff has made his. The two create some solid work here and there, but the balance is inconsistent—more tracks are tiring and lacking fruitful pushes from the production that it doesn’t feel as inventive or new. I haven’t felt this way since Reputation, and with TPD, it’s a sign that Taylor Swift needs a new producer and doesn’t need to try hard to be someone she isn’t.

The Tortured Poets Department is an interesting writing exercise for Taylor Swift; Her writing isn’t styled through poeticism, she’s more of a composite of a direct storyteller, who has recently grasped the art of fiction with Folklore; However, Swift goes about the writing here with some focused poeticism within potent storytelling, despite some questionable lines that are bad, but not to the levels it’s been memified like that of “going back to 1830 without the racists” line on “I Hate It Here.” Though if we’re being honest, much of the writing isn’t as cringe as people make it out to be, these examples are just more glaring because they come out of left field like “You smokеd, then ate seven bars of chocolate/We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist/I scratch your head, you fall asleep” from the title song. It’s easy to make these assessments and say much of it is poor; however, we get some approaches that can be mediocre, but you give it some points for being something new as a finite product. So it’s there and can cause some slight pause, but Swift is consistent and comes with some highlights, especially on the Dressner productions and “Fortnight.”

“Fortnight” starts the album on a sobering note with one of Antonoff’s better co-productions, this time alongside Louis Bell, a vocal producer she’s worked with on Lover; he gives both Taylor Swift and Post Malone great synchronization, layering the vocals so beautifully that it makes you forget about the tepid production that relies too much on its strings. This lover’s tale of two humans, antithesis of each other, speaks glowingly about their lust through their lavish vocals; unfortunately, that doesn’t reflect positively with “Florida!!!” where Florence Welch outshines Swift as a writer and performer, making something out of a predominately weak track. It follows a thematically resonating track in “Fresh Out The Slammer,” which is equally weak. It further shows a lingering disappointment from the quality emanating from Antonoff, despite understanding this output and current status level already adding to the saturation. It doesn’t fully benefit her that relatability has shifted now considering her new level of superstardom, especially the overexposure—she tackles that on the album, and only one of which feels centered and authentic to her (the final song). However, it’s easy to separate the two and look for what can get delivered, especially as Swift keeps us close to her life, and shockingly telling off the Swifties.

As evident through the years, Taylor Swift draws from her romantic life to establish these wonderful compositions that elevate meaning through tone, like “Never Grow Up” off Speak Now or “Dear John,” and that isn’t a knock; as she focuses on her relationship with Matt Healy from The 1975, here, and at one point Swift calls her fans saboteurs “But Daddy I Love Him,” and mostly because of the outcry over Healy’s past problematic situations. She doesn’t want the outside noise to be a factor in maneuvering her personal decisions, a subject she leans on with the final track of the album “Clara Bow,” named after the actress who left the limelight due to the stress of fame, amongst other factors. It’s a solid track that reaches, but it’s good to see Taylor Swift successfully deliver something self-aware and non-cringe like the contentious “Who’s Afraid Of Little Old Me,” where she aims at the media and their perception of her, or the equally try-hard “The Alchemy.” It makes “So Long, London” more powerful, and “loml,” as she aims Joe Awlyn, her ex, the latter via a commitment angle. We’ve had reports in the past where Taylor Swift assumed he was the one, but as quiet as the relationship was, this builds into the histrionics of it. How she weaves them makes them a standout, benefiting quite a bit from Aaron Dressner’s production.

The Tortured Poets Department has replayable hits from Taylor Swift, especially as a vocal performer, i.e., the melodies and harmonies bolstering others. Still, Jack Antonoff doesn’t help as you get composites of sounds we’ve heard before or more so doesn’t do much to make it pop, that even Swift’s talents can supersede its mediocrity. Though that isn’t to say there isn’t solid synergy here and there between the two; “Guilty As Sin?” sees Taylor Swift at some of her horniest, as she plays to being with someone was the antithesis of her political grandstanding from her 2019 documentary Miss Americana. It’s fantastic via minimalism. “Down Bad” uses spacial allusions like beam teleportation and planets to expound on this relationship she’s describing. It’s fantastic via minimalism. “I Can Do It With A Broken Heart” feels like a throwaway from Midnights but it’s fun as Antonoff strides in doing less. There is enough here to enjoy, but it’s mostly an oversaturation of nothing that doesn’t offer much to replay or reflect on. I wanted to like The Tortured Poets Department as any Swift fan, but it lacks the juice to make me care much for it, especially seeing how reflective it is toward her current status in life.

The Tortured Poets Department is a formidable project for Taylor Swift as she tries to keep it grounded in reality. But her reality is warped, and the writing is evidence of that, even if the quality is good, relativity strays from what we’ve gotten in the past. It’s hard for me to love this as much as others, but it has some quality moments to reflect on, specifically, the Dressner tracks as they have more juice than whatever Antonoffs making. At least the music isn’t total crap, and I can get something out of it, but it won’t be one that I go to as often as others like 1989 and Folklore.

Rating: 6 out of 10.