Taylor Swift’s ‘Tortured Poets Department’ Divides Critics: ‘She Blurs the Lines Between Her Personas’

The Grammy winner surprises the world with a double album, featuring 31 tracks and “The Anthology”

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The album cover for "The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology" (Taylor Swift)

The music critics have weighed in on Taylor Swift’s surprise double album. Some love it, others feel it’s a bit melodramatic and select listeners are calling it her most intimate piece of work yet.

The multiple Grammy winner officially dropped her highly anticipated 11th studio album “The Tortured Poets Department” on Friday. However, Swift then doubled the dose of music with a 15-track second album titled “TTPD: The Anthology,” bringing her newest slate of songs to a total of 31.

There’s lots of music to parse through and the critics equally have a lot to say. Here’s a roundup of the critical response to Swift’s “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology.”

Los Angeles Times’ Mikael Wood says Taylor Swift is “owning her chaos and messiness”

“The LP turns out to be something of a heel turn; it’s got a proudly villainous energy as Swift embraces her messiest and most chaotic tendencies,” pop music critic Wood wrote. “… All this lore — it’s a lot. Yet ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ also showcases Swift’s gifts as a songwriter, musician and producer. Her melodies are sticky and her arrangements grabby; working in the studio with Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, she’s honed an electro-acoustic style that’s instantly identifiable.”

The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis says “Tortured Poets Department” may be too lengthy

“If you wanted to pick holes, ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ is a shade too long; the synth glitter of ‘I Can Do It With a Broken Heart’ is less interesting than the lyrics it supports; you could argue that this stuff protesting her fans attempting to control her private life is the unintended consequence of minting a style of songwriting that basically invites speculation about her private life,” Petridis wrote. “That said, those lyrics are as well-turned as the pen-portraits of her ex. The central conceit of ‘But Daddy I Love Him’ (‘but I’m having his baby! / No I’m not – but you should see your faces!’) is genuinely funny, their tone of fatigued exasperation both believable and affecting. There’s clearly a risk involved in calling out elements of your own fanbase, however justified said attack is, but Swift pulls it off.”

NME’s Laura Molloy calls the album a “rare misstep”

“‘The Tortured Poets Department’ ends up chasing its own tail with frenzied attempts to respond to critics despite Swift’s current stature,” Molloy wrote. “Closer ‘Clara Bow’ offers some respite, highlighting the inevitable lifecycle of young female stars who are raised up as shinier, improved versions of their predecessors only to be replaced by the same system years later. Though Swift herself seems immune to the machine-churn of pop stars — now maintaining a greater relevance than ever nearly two decades into her career — it’s one of the album’s most poignant and best moments.”

Molloy continued: “Ultimately this record lacks the genuinely interesting shifts that have punctuated Swift’s career so far, from the lyrical excellence on her superior breakup album ‘Red’ to ‘1989’’s pivot to high-octane pop. Even ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore,’ perhaps her most dynamic works to date, came out of a need to prove herself as a songwriter.”

Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield says it’s “stunning” and her “most personal album yet”

“‘Tortured Poets’ has the intimate sound of ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore,’ but with a coating of ‘Midnights’ synth-pop gloss,” Sheffield wrote. “The songs go for that detailed ‘Folkmore’ style of storycraft, yet instead of fictional characters, she’s pouring her heart into her own deeply personal exorcisms. Sometimes her adult break-up tales are devastating, as in ‘So Long, London’ or ‘loml.’ Sometimes they’re hilarious, as in ‘My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys’ or ‘Down Bad.’ But they’re usually both. As she quips in ‘Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?’ ‘Tell me everything’s not about me/But what if it is?’”

Business Insider’s Callie Ahlgrim calls the album Swift’s “messiest, horniest and funniest”

“Throughout my life, pressing play on a new Taylor Swift album has been a treat. But as soon as the opening synths on ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ hit my eardrums, I felt my body tense up,” Ahlgrim explained. “There’s depth and texture in these songs, even shades of the guitar-forward rock sound that many fans crave. It’s a pop album without an obvious radio hit. Swift’s lyrics are surprisingly meta, packed with fourth-wall breaks and self-aware pouts. Her vocal delivery is varied, passionate, often performative. She shrieks and snarls and deploys a whisper that’s dripping with lust, such that we’ve rarely heard. For a pop star with Swift’s relish for mass appeal, this album almost sounds bloodthirsty by comparison.”

Ahlgrim continued: “‘The Tortured Poets Department’ won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s chaotic, verbose and full of words that scream, “I own a thesaurus.” It still works, because Swift is in on the joke. At the end of the day, I’d rather have a sensitive and self-indulgent album than one that’s trying too hard to be pretty and perfect. I can’t relate to the woman looking statuesque onstage, with her polite grin and sequined silhouette. But I can relate to the woman who bares her teeth when the crowd demands, ‘MORE!’”

BBC’s Mark Savage says Swift is “vulnerable but vicious”

“On ‘The Tortured Poets Department,’ she blurs the lines between her personas – writing both as diarist and fantasist, sometimes within the same song,” the music correspondent wrote. “The music is full of the pillowy synths and muted drums that served the hypnagogic vibes of her last album, ‘Midnights,’ so well. That’s fine when she submits to melancholy on the delicately percolating ‘Down Bad,’ but when she writes something salty and mischievous like ‘Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?’ it gets suffocated by layers of echo and gauzy strings.”

Associated Press’ Maria Sherman calls the album “great sad pop, meditative theater”

“In moments, her 11th album feels like a bloodletting: A cathartic purge after a major heartbreak delivered through an ascendant vocal run, an elegiac verse, or mobile, synthesized productions that underscore the powers of Swift’s storytelling,” Sherman wrote.

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