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  • Writer's pictureErin Brown

REVIEW | Taylor Swift - The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology

Taylor Swift on the cover of her album "The Tortured Poets Department"
© Taylor Swift - The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology - 2024

10:59pm, at a hand-me-down Queen Anne desk that used to belong to a loved one who isn't here anymore. The last chord of 'The Manuscript' is still echoing. These are words their subject will likely never read. But someone will, and that someone matters.

To that end -

For Taylor. And for you, whoever you are.

With my love, and a tall glass of whatever they're serving in Florida these days.

It's thoroughly fair to say that this album - The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology - won’t be for everyone, even amongst fans who have loved every Taylor Swift that Taylor Swift has ever been.

Even the unreleased ones.

But it’s fair as well, I think, to say this album isn’t a fingerprint. It’s not a cheerleader’s “Ready? Okay!” Not even close. Nor is it a pick-me hand in the air to wave at the critics come Album of the Year time.

Tortured Poets is a brand. White hot. And a bruise.

This album, down to its marrow, is for anyone whose healing and personal process of catharsis from trauma, has ever been judged or commented on because it didn’t happen on a timeline or in a way that was convenient to others.

It’s an album about how if you’re a mess, then be a mess. About the shattering courage of not pretending you’re not a mess just because other people are uncomfortable with messiness.

This work is visceral.

A symphonic lament on the complexity, beauty and terror of the human condition.

A mural a thousand feet high about what it sometimes looks like to pursue the bad thing - relentlessly in technicolour secret, and second by grinding second in monochrome shame - because bad things are broken things, because you feel broken too and you’re hoping broken things can get better. But it’s also because you know the bitterness of when something that was meant to be good, burns you, and it makes you furious.

But this is an album about doing the work, too. About holding your own feet to the fire when you need to, hard looks in hostile mirrors, and taking responsibility for your own closure.

In between the manic, neon ripples of a synth - melody, lyrics and loss unfolding over rhythms and poetry with the hunted clarity and unapologetic honesty of a captive fist beating at the door holding them in - this is an anthology of acknowledgment, too.

A confession, blunt as the butt of a gun.

That we don’t always take the good advice. That sometimes hope and desperation are passionate but woefully misguided bedfellows. This is an album about how sometimes the fear and fantasy are so loud, we stop having the ears to hear advice, but also that even when that’s the case, it doesn’t absolve us of owning up to the facets and implications of our own pain that we are responsible for, either.

This is an album about saying - emphatically - to the people who love you, the people who don’t, and everyone in between, who tell you your style of healing isn’t good for them, that your healing isn’t ABOUT them. That they aren’t entitled to a version of you who keeps the shelf they put you on, looking impressive for guests you don’t know, in the home of their life.

This is an album about the act of saying a glorious Fuck You, with your whole chest, to anyone who’s ever ridden the coattails of your resilience.

About the power of an unmitigated point-blank "I see you" to the ones who know just when to pull out what you’ve had to heal from, right in front of you, like it’s crystal out of the good cabinet. Who use your weaknesses as tools for pouring out a comparison by which they can establish a sense of superiority over you. All while they stick around for however long, under the curated, borderline algorithmic guise of caring.

(You don’t need those people. You need to know you never did. They need you, and life is better and healthier without you paying the price of an emotional transaction you never asked to be part of. Because to paraphrase a prince of the tortured poet pantheon, the great Oscar Wilde, some people really do make a room better just by leaving it).

These words are a war cry about being and remaining thoroughly yourself, just as you are. Frayed, burnt edges and all. A story in 31 chapters, about being intentional in feeling what you feel in the fire, and going through it all, line by line without looking away. About taking stock before you box up the ashes, and dealing with your pain in a way that’s authentic to you.

Above all, this album is a testament - an absolute fucking monument - to how it’s this exact process that helps you best see where there’s a lesson to be learned. Wisdom to be gained. A reason, as the lady says, for the agony.

This is the prose of what comes before you put the darkness away and throw yourself back out into the light.

A story about freedom. About truth and running head-long into the joy you earn, knowing what it cost, knowing what it weighs, and knowing you have what it takes to meet the hurricane if you have to. Eyes wide open, with your knuckles bare and your back straight.

So no.

Tortured Poets Department won’t be for everyone.

But for me? For me, it was everything.


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