Taylor Swift’s ‘The Tortured Poets Department’: All 18 Tracks Ranked (2024)

One of the constants of Taylor Swift’s storied career has been the chances she’s taken at the precise moment when taking a chance wasn’t necessary. She was a country superstar who didn’t need to go pop; she was less than a year removed from a major pop album and didn’t need to take an indie-folk detour; she was in the middle of a blockbuster run of new albums and didn’t need to re-record her old ones. Time and again, Swift has identified artistic opportunities that other stars would have blanched at (or at the very least, set aside for a different time, so as to not muck up any professional momentum), and she has leapt into them fearlessly, always coming out on top.

So right now — in the middle of a mega-selling stadium tour, after a record-breaking fourth album of the year Grammy win, in a high-profile new romance and at the commercial zenith of an already all-time career — is, naturally, the time Swift has chosen to release a knowingly messy, wildly unguarded breakup album.

She didn’t have to do this! But then again, making an album like The Tortured Poets Department is exactly what separates Swift from her more careful peers. Challenging herself to shape-shift, to accomplish something new at the moment anyone else would rest on their laurels, is what makes her so fascinating.

Click here for a full review of The Tortured Poets Department. And while there are no skippable tracks on the new album, there are a few standouts out of the 18 on the deluxe edition. Here is a humble, preliminary opinion on the best songs on Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department.

  • “Fresh Out the Slammer”

    Compared to the expansive storytelling found across the rest of the album, “Fresh Out the Slammer” features more free-association writing and clipped phrasings, eventually rearranging its molecules in the final stretch to become more reflective. With crashing cymbals and guitars straight out of a spaghetti Western sliding into a shimmery wobble, “Fresh Out the Slammer” exists more as connective tissue on The Tortured Poets Department, a falsetto-heavy breather in between towering moments.

  • “The Alchemy”

    Considering that this glittering love song includes phrases like “touchdown,” “winning streak” and “the league,” the inspiration for “The Alchemy” won’t be a huge secret — but nothing is ham-fisted, either, as a new love story starts to unfold above a tender arrangement of echoing drums and layered vocals. Thoughts of destiny buzz around “The Alchemy,” and chest-thumping becomes a form of attraction: “Baby, I’m the one to beat,” Swift sings, before dismissing the “blokes,” natch, that came before.

  • “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?”

    There’s a reason why the titular phrase is screamed upon its first uttering — and followed up with, “You should be.” Swift is at the end of her rope and taking names post-scandal on “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?,” portraying herself as an underestimated force whose reported demise was greatly exaggerated. The production simply clears out of Swift’s war path here, and she raises hell way harder than the drums beneath her; take it as a spiritual sequel to “Vigilante sh*t,” or perhaps a swing back to Reputation, Swift’s snake re-emerging with newfound purpose.

  • “I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)”

    Yes, he tells off-color jokes and drives too fast; that doesn’t mean Swift isn’t going to adopt him as a project. Over a skeletal production that’s primarily defined by forlorn guitar strums, Swift makes “I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)” sound like a late night, convincing herself to reject others’ disapproval before many hours of tossing and turning. Swift nicely operates in her lower register at points here, letting syllables lilt in the half-convinced feelings behind them.

  • “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys”

    As Swift returns to the road on her Eras tour following this album release, a big, booming song like “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys” deserves the stadium treatment — imagine the galloping pace of the chorus’ second half being experienced by tens of thousands in unison. In its studio version, the track is more sharpened synth-pop, finding Swift so vexed by missed potential and miscommunication that she finally throws her hands up and declares, “I know I’m just repeating myself.”

  • “Clara Bow”

    Far more Taylor Swift songs focus on relatable human experiences rather than gargantuan professional successes, but on “Clara Bow,” she reflects on the realities of being the hero that gets the worship, having lived out so many of her fantasies that she can parse what they have meant to her to this point. “It’s hell on earth to be heavenly,” Swift breathes in between guitar rumbles, capturing classic beauty and concepts of achievement alongside careful pop-rock, then turning self-referential at the end.

  • “The Black Dog”

    This piano ballad about location stalking — The Black Dog is a bar that a certain someone didn’t want anyone to know they were swinging by — ratchets up its volume as Swift, heartbroken and deceived, loses her cool after realizing that she’s been misled. “Old habits die screaming,” she concludes, down so bad that she’s considering hiring a priest to perform an exorcism on her relationship demons. “The Black Dog” squeezes in some distinct lyrical details, but its foundation is universal: who hasn’t wondered if they can trust their own memories, once someone else breaks that trust?

  • “LOML”

    On this piercing what-if, an early love gets re-assessed, warts and all, and Swift imagines a happy outcome that separated itself from reality (“What we thought was for all time was momentary,” she offers). There’s little window dressing besides Swift’s voice and some wandering keys, with this Dessner collaboration recalling the most straightforward stories of the Folklore/Evermore two-pack; the 11th hour plot twist (spoiler: “LOML” doesn’t stand for what you think it does) sticks the landing, elevating this piano ballad.

  • “The Tortured Poets Department”

    Amidst the striking non-sequiturs, typewriter eye-rolls and Charlie Puth shout-out on the title track, a yearning slices through: “Who else decodes you?” Swift asks. “And who’s gonna hold you like me?” The drums sound light and unobtrusive as her voice sways and bends, and Swift references mutual friends and collaborators amidst the pretty synth noodling and “whoa-oh” rejoinders, leaving bread crumbs for expert listeners while walking deeper into the synth fantasia.

  • “The Manuscript”

    Following all the big-picture anger of The Tortured Poets Department, Swift ends up focusing on the minuscule moments she can’t let go, trying and failing to script life’s remarkable spontaneity on “The Manuscript.” A few stray memories contain quiet exchanges that ultimately don’t lead to some grand future, and become more wrenching in their intimacy; the final lines land in a way that causes a lump in your throat. “The Manuscript” was written for anyone who’s parted ways with someone they thought would be in their lives forever, only to arrive at the last page too soon.

  • “Guilty as Sin?”

    A beautifully rendered song about adult desire, “Guilty as Sin?” features Swift extrapolating her self-doubt across a series of unfinished acts, with small gestures turning into pivotal decisions. The pop-rock arrangement is unfussy, the shout-out of The Blue Nile’s “Downtown Lights” is well-placed, but the real fireworks come from Swift’s vocal nuances — listen to how she sings the word “die” on the chorus, packing a complex world into a melisma.

  • “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart”

    Gesturing towards performing the Eras Tour night after night during a period of personal devastation, Swift makes the “it” in “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” mean “dazzle the world while feeling completely awful,” at one point exclaiming with fake pep, “I’m so depressed I act like it’s my birthday!” The percolating synthesizer harkens back to “Mastermind,” but the songwriting most resembles “Blank Space” in its wild-eyed self-assessment. Rollicking, snarky and strikingly funny, “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” will soundtrack a million posts from heartbroken masses trying to act like everything is fine.

  • “Down Bad”

    After a run of more opulent productions to open the album, “Down Bad” serves as one of the album’s purest pop pleasures: Antonoff’s zapped beat winds itself up, the melody chimes, and Swift’s voice quivers through the exasperation. Here, “cosmic love” turns into “teenage petulance,” the joyful highs leading back down to gym-session weeping — although a cry of “F–k it, I was in love!” shrugs off any potential regret from the whole ordeal. The most minimalist moments of Midnights have led to “Down Bad,” one of its follow-up’s easiest wins.

  • “Fortnight” (feat. Post Malone)

    As the first single and opening track on The Tortured Poets Department, “Fortnight” immediately introduces the album’s chillier tones, blurted-out feelings and violent extremes beneath the casual pleasantries — and while the opening minute might not resemble Swift’s standard radio offerings, the song leaves the ground as it continues, morphing into an undeniable pop track with a self-lacerating sheen. While Swift sings in a dulled monotone that flares up with the stabs of emotion, Post Malone swirls around her upon arrival, delivering a showy bridge with subtle power and hangdog charm; together, they make a natural pairing and help the album hit the ground running.

  • “So Long, London”

    Every line of “So Long, London” drips with such a raw honesty that, by its conclusion, Swift sounds like she’s been slightly healed from the act of catharsis. She tosses out angry observations in quick succession to keep up with the tempo, then pulls back and utters the titular phrase as a grim kiss-off; meanwhile, the elastic synths sound like a shaking tightrope, occasionally making room for understated piano and ghostly harmonies. Feeling defensive and deceived, Swift shoves her darkest insecurities out into the light, and the result is breathtaking.

  • “Florida!!!” (feat. Florence Welch)

    Okay, how many of you had Taylor declaring “F–k me up, Florida!” on their lyrical bingo card? “Florida!!!” earns every titular exclamation point by barging into the album as a brash song of escape, with Swift and Florence + The Machine leader Florence Welch trading lines about the inability to find solid ground in any state (literally and figuratively). There are cheating husbands, rotting timeshares, regrets and swamps; there are also arena-rock drums, which crash down like lightning strikes. And maybe it’s partially to match one of the more celebrated pop-rock singers of this century, but “Florida!!!” arguably features Swift’s strongest vocal performance on the album — fiery and icy in equal parts, collapsing in some moments and spitting venom in others.

  • “But Daddy I Love Him”

    “I’ll tell you something right now,” Swift spits on “But Daddy I Love Him,” “I’d rather burn my whole life down/ Than listen to one more second of all this bitching and moaning.” As one of the most famous people on the planet whose every relationship is endlessly pored over, Swift rails against expectations on the track, embracing her missteps and need for free will on this unapologetic album centerpiece. The finger-picked guitar luck is slightly reminiscent of “Invisible String,” but unlike that hushed Folklore highlight, the low-key verses bloom into a large, open-hearted chorus that’s much closer to Swift’s early country-pop anthems.

  • “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived”

    After Swift asks someone to deliver a message to “the smallest man who ever lived” early on, she lets out a depleted sigh; at that point, the track is all broken feelings and atmospheric hum, suggesting another rumination soundtracked by piano and blinking programming. But then, the minor annoyances are balled up, Swift’s emotions boil over to rage, and “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” becomes a wildfire that torches everything in its path, with Swift’s voice turning rivetingly unsteady as she declares, “You kicked out the stage lights, but you’re still performing!”

    The spiteful provocations and spat-out accusations convey an anger that is proudly unbridled, and deeply felt. “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” is another Taylor Swift post-breakup takedown for the ages, but it’s also the beating heart of The Tortured Poets Department, the sound of a larger-than-life personality prodding at her wounded humanity.

Taylor Swift’s ‘The Tortured Poets Department’: All 18 Tracks Ranked (2024)


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