The dark side of Taylor Swift albums can be found in the tortured poets department

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In the days after the April 19 release of The Tortured Poets Department, the latest album from Taylor Swift, I came across a presentation explaining the artist’s relationship with 1975 frontman Matty Healy.
Like Dark Souls, it’s about the lore.
But if Swift has been doing this for over a decade, what is so special about The Tortured Poets Department?
The Tortured Poets Department, on the other hand, lacks that authorial intent.
That isn’t to say there isn’t a point to the album, it’s just more musically and narratively messy.
So is The Tortured Poets Department.
The Tortured Poets Department leaves fans craving more, and after so many years of hidden messages, the only way to satisfy that urge is to dive into the lore.
But where Souls fans seek to unearth and contemplate meaning, Swifties seemingly are seeking to look for something beyond the obvious surface meaning of The Tortured Poets Department.

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I stumbled upon a presentation outlining Taylor Swift’s relationship with 1975 frontman Matty Healy in the days following the release of her most recent album, The Tortured Poets Department, on April 19. It is longer than a hundred pages, and there are other similar presentations, videos, and articles. Swift’s TTPD album is more abrasive to her fan base than anything she has ever released, and fans are begging for an explanation of what is going on. Many find it to be a perplexing and unsettling experience that takes careful examination to comprehend. Like Dark Souls, the lore is the main focus.

For Swift’s ardent followers, that may come as no surprise. She has always had an eye for the dramatic. Swift has employed devious tactics, such as concealing messages in her CD lyric books, since 2008’s Fearless. With her career soaring to new heights, Swift’s fascination with mystery and deceit has developed over time. Swift is known for her use of hidden tracks, album teases, and other techniques. Her fan base, known as Swifties, adore it. Because you could miss the next big clue if you’re not paying attention, it turns music fandom into a game that keeps you engaged not just when new albums and singles drop but every time Swift does anything. In a 2019 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Swift said of her fans, “I’ve trained them to be that way.”.

It bears a resemblance to the storytelling style of FromSoftware’s games, including Dark Souls. Fans will fervently insist that Dark Souls has a narrative; you simply need to know where to look. That usually refers to item descriptions. FromSoftware creates games that take place in entire worlds with tons of characters and stories, most of which are never told to you. You have to look for it. Usually, vibes are the only factor used to determine the game’s surface level. Although it is oversimplified, that effectively captures the essence of Dark Souls’ storytelling methodology. The Tortured Poets Department has been around for more than ten years, so what makes it unique, in Swift’s opinion?

Swift has always had a strong musical storytelling ability, which is one of her greatest assets. Swift is a storyteller, whether it is on her early albums or in any of the genres she has experimented with, from pop to country and everything in between. That contributed to the success of songs like “Love Story” from Fearless and helped her become well-known. Folklore and Evermore, the sister albums released in 2020, showcase this talent the best. Even though Swift’s more autobiographical songs are still present on the albums, they typically demonstrate her expanding beyond her own viewpoint. In particular, Folklore is much more of a conceptual album, featuring a theme of a love triangle at various stages in several of its songs. This gives a new life to her love of poignant songs about heartbreak and falling in and out of love. It’s Swift creating a story and a world. She has the ability to reframe her feelings to tell a story, instead of expressing them verbatim in song.

But there’s none of that authorial intent in The Tortured Poets Department. It’s not that the album lacks purpose; it’s just that the music and story are more disorganized. As opposed to being the spectacular breakup record about her long-term boyfriend Joe Alwyn that fans had anticipated, TTPD is much more about her obsession with frontman Matty Healy of 1975 and the response from her fan base. For those unaware, Healy and Swift started dating in May 2023. Swifties weren’t fond of the couple when they first came out together. Healy was in hot water after a string of incidents involving alleged racist actions. The couple had broken up by June 2023. For better or ill, TTPD is essentially a record of Swift’s intense emotions toward Healy. In spite of her love for him, Swift is upset that her partner of choice is being mocked by fans in the song “But Daddy I Love Him.”.

While many of Swift’s greatest songs undoubtedly draw from her experiences with previous lovers, she is sometimes unfairly dismissed as a musician who only writes songs about her relationships. If TTPD is indeed another relationship-focused song from Swift, then the relationship she’s analyzing here is with her fan base. The core of TTPD is the tension that exists between Swift and her followers. The album explores the concept of “making it” through the eyes of your fan base—only to have them judge, jury, and executioner over your romantic relationships, personal affairs, and musical endeavors. It makes sense why it turns off fans who have made such a large commitment to the fandom.

Referring back to the Souls metaphor, viewers frequently find it difficult to respond to art that sets expectations that are harsh for the viewer. Even though the Souls series has grown since Demon Souls was first published in 2009, players who aren’t willing to “get gud” are said to get chewed up by the games. Dark Souls will bury you if all of your gaming experiences have consisted of satisfying player demands and player gratification. It teaches humility. The Department of Tortured Poets is likewise. The record challenges listeners to think about whether or not Swift really benefits from their parasocial relationship. The album’s final track, “Clara Bow,” addresses Swift’s devil-may-care agreement with her fans in exchange for fame.

Swift’s conflict has also resulted in TTPD becoming a musically uneven album (in its anthology form, with 31 tracks), with few of the songs feeling like radio-ready hits or epic ballads. Swift seems to be saying, “Maybe this stinks, maybe it’s not what you think I should do, what are you going to do about it?”. Tracks that are particularly irritating, like “Florida!!!,” are similar to the infamous poison swamps found in many FromSoftware games. I now view TTPD more favorably because of Swift’s audacious yet assured statement. “It may very well be the most hostile mainstream pop record we’ll ever see from an artist at this level of public attention,” writes Giovanni Colantonio on Medium. Swift and her fans are left to rely on folklore as a crutch as a result of the album’s lack of musical coherence and boldness.

After so many years of hidden messages, The Tortured Poets Department leaves fans wanting more, and the only way to sate that desire is to delve into the lore. Because of this, TTPD has become the epitome of Swiftie fandom. In the same way that many FromSoft fans will spend time reading the 107-page fan-made Bloodborne lore bible or watching VaatiVidya explainers about the newest Souls game, an equal, if not greater, amount of time can be spent reading and watching explainers about the album than actually listening to it in the hopes of discovering more secrets.

But while Souls fans search for deeper meanings, Swifties appear to be searching for something more than The Tortured Poets Department’s surface-level interpretation. It’s an unpleasant pill to swallow because of its prickly challenge to fans. So instead the emphasis is on lore. Since lore is more easily absorbed.

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