Constantly Hating: The Tortured Poets Department

Eli’s thoughts on the new Taylor Swift album…and everything?

Art by Tyler Farmer.

In 1518, Strasbourg, France was the site of the most famous event of mass hysteria in history.  L’épidémie dansante, or the Dancing Plague, was either stress-induced psychosis or bacterial food poisoning causing French citizens by the dozens to crowd into the street and dance hysterically for days until their bodies gave out due to exhaustion. It is one of those singular moments in civilization that is truly baffling, unfathomable to modern humans—or so you’d think. 

This ongoing bout of TaylorMania makes me think we have entered The Second Dancing Plague. Only now, the spectacle has morphed into a dialectical state, in which we are bombarded by images of mass catastrophe and violence every hour, and yet told to be captivated by the mundane and uninteresting. Mass graves, torture, death and destruction, the removing of a nation’s identity and its institutions, entire bloodlines systemically eradicated, while we sit here, rewarding debilitatingly offensive slop, factory-made tripe, poured into the trough for the pigs. Worldwide psychosis. 

I would say The Tortured Poets Department is the worst thing Taylor Swift has ever put out but I don’t have to traffic in absolutes for her work. If you think Speak Now or Fearless is her worst due to their insufferable Hallmark pop-country tracks, you wouldn’t be wrong. If Red or 1989 peeve you on account of experimenting with different subgenres poorly, that’s fair too. Or how about Reputation’s bad girl image, rebellion as fashioned by a 14 year old who’s scared to step into Hot Topic. Maybe Folklore and Evermore’s woman of the woods bit is truly blase. All fine options!

But her newest is unique in that she’s styling herself to be an intellectual. As if she’s saying, didn’t you know that I’m into Patti Smith? Or Dylan Thomas? How about the Blue Nile? My, how cosmopolitan. I would only have to assume that lyrics like “Growin’ up precocious sometimes means / Not growin’ up at all” or “At the park where we used to sit on children’s swings / Wearing imaginary rings” are tongue-in-cheek for such an erudite soul, as I simply wouldn’t admit to being stuck in arrested development at 34 years old, shipping my Honors English homework as these grandiose, heartfelt gestures. 

And the carpet does indeed match the drapes. This is the milquetoast pop of Midnights in a glossier, dreamier color, evoking Cyndi Lauper and Bonnie Tyler, except it’s Taylor, who has nowhere near the voice quality or complexion, and has to do her weird doubletime choruses on half the songs anyways, thus eliminating any semblance of personality. You expect Jack Antonoff to apply his listless production, but Aaron Dessner having hands in the last 4 years of Swift’s releases is making the National retroactively worse, not making Taylor better.

This, plus the fact there was an immediate 2AM deluxe edition. Obviously she must feed the Swifties their extra slop, their gift for propelling her to the stratosphere. God is it exhausting being Taylor, am I right? All the fame and money and ardent gossip about your personal life and having to appease your fandom and self-referentialism. How fucking quaint to be so cheeky about being the hollow husk of a pop icon you exist as. How long are we going to do this? At least with Drake, a.k.a. male Taylor, you can sometimes see the faint trace of that kid from Degrassi rapping his ass off in between becoming a capitalist behemoth. With Taylor, nothing. A rich kid primped by the Nashville machine and an immaculate PR team’s mythmaking ate up by facile critics and fans alike. 

This should and will be the last time I write about her. Blowing a gasket every time she releases an album is getting pretty boring, I’m self-aware enough to admit that. But you motherfuckers keep pushing me. “Motherfuckers” being the endless cultural fawning, critical salutation and tiptoeing around those scary stans, and algorithmic industry practices that helped along the way to make Lululemon playlist-core the most popular music on the planet. No I’m not fucking budging about Red or 1989 or whatever inane “great songwriting” everyone claims she possesses. I feel like goddamn Roddy Piper man. 

It’s not enough. It’s never enough. TIME Person of the Year. Four Grammy Album of the Year wins. More than Stevie Wonder. Steve fucking Wonder, who has a case as America’s greatest songwriter, who redefined soul and funk and pop in his everlasting image, weaving his songs into the fabric of pop culture for generations. And yes the Grammys don’t actually fucking matter but as historical record it’s terribly embarrassing, like goldfish swallowing and pet rocks and other fads where you think, “Haha, can you believe people actually did that?” But it’s been 15 years and the fad never ends.

4 thoughts on “Constantly Hating: The Tortured Poets Department”

  1. The lack of impact on the actual art is something that needs to be recognized more, since the popularity can obscure that fact. Glad you wrote this even with the gasket-blowing and all.

    • I can’t think of a musical trend she’s started or even popularized. She only pivots to things that are already in fashion.

  2. In the words of Taylor Swift “You need to calm down” 😂
    Out of all things Taylor Swift and her success triggers you that much? Then what does that say about yourself, mr constantly hating everything. Lol

  3. She is the “frontman”, the star of the production – the Product.
    She is employed by the conglomerate. She works with producers, managers, and directors – for a take at the gate.


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