The Tortured Listener’s Department: Why Everyone is Tired of Taylor Swift

By Claire Wilson 

May 6, 2024
Photo credit: TAS Rights Management LLC; Beth Garrabrant

On April 19, 2024, Taylor Swift fans around the world celebrated the release of her 11th album, The Tortured Poet’s Department. But it seems that many were disappointed by the album, which was highly anticipated by fans leading up to its release. 

Taylor Swift is no stranger to publish backlash. Kanye West’s outburst at the VMAs in 2009 sparked a long feud between the two, resulting in Kim Kardashian’s Taylor Swift is Over Party and Swift's subsequent disappearance from the public eye. She has been slammed for being the most carbon polluting celebrity due to her frequent use of private jets. In November of 2022, fans were outraged by the price of Eras Tour tickets, a concert with such high demand TicketMaster cancelled the sale after countless site failures. This time, however, it’s her music that is under scrutiny. 

Many fans are asking questions about the strange lyrics in many of her newest songs. In the title track, Swift sings, “at dinner, you take my ring off my middle finger / And put it on the one people put wedding rings on.” It’s a little shocking when you realize that Taylor Swift has been working on the album for two years, and never thought this line was a little wordy. 

In “I Hate it Here” Swift sings, “my friends used to play a game where / We would pick a decade / We wished we could live in instead of this / I’d say the 1830s but without all the racists and getting married off for the highest bid.” This lyric immediately sparked controversy online. Twitter user @CannyZanny said “there is no way Taylor Swift said she’d like to live in an era where Chattel Slavery was the law of the land and say ‘but without the racists.’ Like it was some casual micro aggressions or something. Is this what we’re doing??” 

In “So High School” Swift sings, “you know how to ball, I know Aristotle / Brand-new, full throttle / Touch me while your bros play Grand Theft Auto.” Taylor Swift is one of the world’s most popular singer-songwriters. She has built a cult-following of hundreds of millions fans globally, and it is absolutely absurd that she would even think of releasing a song with “Aristotle” and “Grand Theft Auto” in the same line. 

But the biggest problem with these lyrics is not that they’re out-there. It’s that they’re corny and annoying, and create a choppy and confusing narrative. “It’s more of a stream-of-consciousness assemblage of parts than of gratifying stand-alone works of the kind you may associate with Swift albums past,” writes Carl Wilson of Slate. Many of her lyrics are self-indulgent, such as “so tell me everything is not about me / But what if it is?” from “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” Andrew Korpan of ClutchPoints writes, “at one time a fun pop singer, Swift has become an overly-self-serious, self-proclaimed “poet.” Long gone are the days of “Love Story” and “Enchanted.” … Swift's Tortured Poets Department is an exhaustive exercise of self-indulgence that you can only wish was satire.”

Not only is the lyricism some of her worst, the music itself all sounds basically the same, something like if you put Midnights and folklore into an AI music generator. Songs such as “Guilty as Sin”, “The Tortured Poet’s Department", and “So Long, London" all melt into one conglomeration of similar chord progressions and retro-synth. “The Albatross”, “How Did it End?”, and “Clara Bow” are a drudgery of confessional lyricism and watered-down melody lines, making them indistinguishable from each other. Although these tracks are vaguely comparable to songs from folklore and evermore, they lack the rich storytelling from tracks such as “the last great american dynasty”, or “invisible string”, and the acoustic variety that sets each song apart. It’s for this reason so many fans struggled to enjoy the album. It’s formulaic and it’s boring. And it’s only exacerbated by the Anthology Edition, which is just fifteen more of the same type of song. 

It’s impossible to criticize this album without mentioning producer Jack Antonoff, who had a huge influence over the album’s sound. Antonoff’s production style has been frequently criticized for homogenizing the sound of the artists he works with, even throughout the different genres of music he produces. “The creeping sentiment online about our favorite pop stars’ favorite producer is that he’s annoyingly, inescapably, maddeningly…. Everywhere,” writes Quinn Moreland of Pitchfork. And that, as the designated steward of Tasteful Pop, maybe his omnipresence has flattened the sound of that niche between mainstream pop and indie music.”

Taylor Swift’s extensive influence in pop culture and the music industry is undeniable, so is it possible the public is beginning to experience Swiftie fatigue? The already widely recognized singer has exploded in popularity in the past few years since the release of Midnights. In 2023 alone she was named 2023 TIME Person of the Year, started the Eras Tour, released the Eras Tour movie, which broke the record for the highest-grossing concert film, released two Taylor’s Version albums, and single-handedly gave the U.S. economy a $5.7 billion boost. In fact, Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the United States, hired the first-ever Taylor Swift reporter last November. Swift’s influence on pop culture is remarkable, but it seems to be getting old. Perhaps the luke-warm reception of The Tortured Poet’s Department, can be attributed to burnout. Taylor Swift is inescapable. She has been for years. In her article I Fear Taylor Swift Fatigue Is Coming, Stephanie Mcneal explains, “it’s all getting to be too much. Even some Swifties will admit, anonymously of course, that they are getting a little tired of seeing Swift’s name everywhere they turn… It’s an endless cycle that’s led to a Swift monoculture.” 

Bizarre lyrics and boring, repetitive songs in combination with an oversaturated Taylor Swift news cycle have arguably made The Tortured Poet’s Department one of Swift’s worst albums. The public is tired of Taylor Swift, and no amount of new music can fix that.