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Matty Healy Is Taylor Swift’s Unlikely Inspiration and Six Other Takeaways From ‘TTPD’

We were already prepared for the devastation Taylor Swift’s eleventh album The Tortured Poets Department might yield but no one could have imagined that she had two albums’ worth of material for everyone to sift through. Her latest is mix of Midnights synths and Folklore/Evermore indie-folk, giving insight into the romantic chaos behind one of her biggest career years yet. Here’s what we learned from all 31 new songs.

The Tortured Poet In Question Is Matty Healy

For the past couple months, fans had been anticipating a tell-all from Swift about the end of her six-year relationship with Joe Alwyn. While there are some post-mortem feelings on the end of their romance, Swift’s main muse on this album appears to be the 1975’s Matty Healy, whom she dated for a few months last year in between Alwyn and current beau Travis Kelce. A few signs: the “tattooed golden retriever” line on the album’s title track to her defense of wanting to date him in spite of fan backlash on “But Daddy I Love Him.” Several other songs seem to be more about this apparently intense rebound while she keeps the majority of what went wrong with Alwyn a bit more vague and private. —B.S.

She’s Calling Out Everyone. Full Stop.

Swift has always been fearless when it comes to clapping back at haters (e.g., “Mean” and “Shake It Off”), but this time she’s coming for the Swifties. On “But Daddy I Love Him,” Swift holds no bars when it comes to denouncing the detractors who condemned her rumored romance with Healy, describing them as “saboteurs” and “judgemental creeps” for “bitching and moaning” online about his very obvious flaws. By the end of the track, a seething Swift reminds listeners and fans that her choices, even the bad ones, are her own to make and her name is her own to “disgrace.” —M.G.

She Gets the Last Word on Her Kim Kardashian Beef

“Everyone knows that my mother is a saintly woman/But she used to say she wished that you were dead.” Okay, well, no one saw that coming. Bundled up in the Anthology is “thanK you aIMee,” and we don’t need the “No Body, No Crime” detectives to tell us who it’s about (your honor, the meta line “And so I changed your name, and any real defining clues” only makes it more obvious). Across fluttering guitar and strings, Swift appears to be reflecting on her years-long beef with Kim Kardashian, which stems from her famous feud with Kardashian’s ex-husband Kanye West. Swift brings us to the present here, addressing all that she’s overcome in the years since: “I wrote a thousand songs that you find uncool/I built a legacy which you can’t undo.” Co-written with Aaron Dessner, the delicate instrumentation balances the biting lines, but no mandolin can ease up a bulldozer like “And one day, your kid comes home singin’/A song that only us two is gonna know is about you.” —A.M.

She’s at Her Best When Truly Heartbroken

Unsurprisingly, The Tortured Poets Department shines when the songs are the most tortured. Cue the absolutely devastating track five “So Long London,” where Swift chronicles her relationship of six years between shaky breaths and gut punch lyrics like, “You let me give you all that youth for free.” She is equally shattered over the loss of love on “Loml.” It’s the only piano ballad on the first half of the album, but Swift’s words still shoot to kill as she sings  “I wish I could un-recall how we almost had it all.” It’s a testament that no matter the range of emotions circulating through the album, Swift’s finest fountain pen moments come from a somber place.  —M.G.

Taylor Is Naming Names

When it comes to naming people in her songs, Swift has always maintained a “strict personal policy” of keeping it vague. Now, the singer-songwriter has warmed up to the idea of outright referencing real life people in her songs. On the title track, Swift name-drops friends Lucy Dacus and Jack Antonoff, poet Patti Smith and author Dylan Thomas, and even hilariously “declare[s] Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist.” But the left-field references don’t stop there; Swift mentions Scottish Eighties band the Blue Nile (“Guilty As Sin”), mid-aughts pop-punkers The Starting Line (“The Black Dog”) and even the notorious Chelsea Hotel (“The Tortured Poets Department”). It all feels more typically Swiftian on “Clara Bow,” a song named after a 1920s actress in which the singer conjures the celestial spirit of the one and only Stevie Nicks. But the best name drop of them all? It’s her own when she compares an unnamed rising star to herself: “You look like Taylor Swift.” —M.G.

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She Gives Us Another History Lesson

Just as she did on “The Last Great American Dynasty,” Swift unfurls the story of another mad woman on The Tortured Poets Department. The obvious move would have been to craft a song about poet T.S. Eliot’s wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot — who inspired The Waste Land and was committed to a mental hospital — or even Zelda Fitzgerald, but Swift takes the Hollywood route here. “Clara Bow” is an ode to the tragic film star from Brooklyn, who sold hot dogs on Coney Island prior to getting famous (knowing Swift, this is not a coincidence).

With a devastating childhood and the stigma of her birthplace, Bow overcame her limitations and rose to fame in the silent film era and beyond, beginning with 1925’s The Plastic Age, her first hit. With lips painted red to match her flaming hair, Bow was a Hollywood sex symbol and flapper icon — the term “It Girl” was literally coined for her — but she quickly gained a reputation for being a sexual libertine. She faced intense media scrutiny over her many affairs (sound familiar?) and soon retired, her career made into a tiny footnote that deserves way more recognition. “Clara Bow” describes the actress’ life as being “picked by a rose,” before she goes on to mention Stevie Nicks and, by the track’s end, herself. She’s written songs like this before — this is practically “Nothing New” 2.0 — but never has Swift crafted something so visceral about the life of an ingénue, and how quickly we dispose of them. —A.M.

She Adds Some Leather and Lace

You may have spotted a certain someone’s tambourine on the shelf at The Tortured Poets Department pop-up. Not only does Swift sing about Stevie Nicks in “Clara Bow” (“You look like Stevie Nicks/In ’75, the hair and lips”) but she enlisted the rock goddess for an introductory poem on the physical copies of the record. It’s one thing for Swift to sing about Nicks and her signature “half moonshine” instrument, but having the original tortured poet herself on the record is another. A lifelong diarist, Nicks’ poem fits perfectly into the Swiftian universe, while lines like “She was just flying/Thru the clouds/Where he saw her/She was just making her way/To the stars/When he lost her” could have easily been on Bella Donna. This is probably why it was lovingly inscribed with “For T — and me.” It’s a twin flame thing.—A.M.

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