Our Wildest Dreams and Theories for Taylor Swift’s ‘The Tortured Poets Department’

Graphics by: Aryana Johnson
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson

On Sunday, February 4, 2024, the stage was set for Taylor Swift to finally announce Reputation (Taylor’s Version). All the signs pointed to it. Her Instagram grid was aligned, she changed her profile picture to black and white, and her website displayed a very suspicious error code. When she showed up to the Grammy red carpet in a black and white dress with a suspiciously Reputation-esque hairstyle, the only piece left of the puzzle was the announcement itself.

In what I’m calling “the album drop heard around the world,” Taylor Swift surprised us all by not announcing Reputation (Taylor’s Version) alongside her 13th Grammy win, and instead announcing a brand new album for Swifties to obsess over, The Tortured Poets Department. What’s more, she revealed in her speech that she’d been keeping this album a secret for two years. For those keeping track, that’s before her last album Midnights even came out.

Fans immediately began diving deep into Taylor Swift’s actions over the past couple of years looking for all of the clues we missed along the way. With the album tracklist dropping just one day later, Swift left us with even more easter eggs to overanalyze as we anxiously count down the days until April 19, 2024.

Your resident The Everygirl Swiftie Department (of which I am self-proclaiming myself Chairman), has been right alongside you, dreaming and theorizing about what’s in store for us with this next album. After spending the last week watching countless TikToks, reading lengthy Twitter threads, and discussing every crumb of information with every Swiftie I know, I asked my fellow Swifties at The Everygirl to share their wildest dreams, hopes, and theories for The Tortured Poets Department.

What The Tortured Poets Department will be about

According to Taylor Swift, this album has been in the works for the past two years, putting her writing this in early 2022. While we only know what Taylor chooses to tell us about her personal life, we can infer quite a bit about the narratives that will be present on this album. Since 2022, Swift has rocketed to a new level of success and fame thanks to the success of Midnights, broken up with her long-term boyfriend Joe Alwyn (fans are calling this THE official breakup album), gone on a wildly successful world tour, and reclaimed her personal life after years of hiding away. While I’m so excited for the potential breakup songs (based on the track titles alone, there are a few guaranteed tear-jerkers), I’m also equally excited to explore non-romantic themes with a mature Taylor who can look back on where she’s been and how far she’s come in all areas of her life. Before we dive into our wishlist and theories for the album, let’s get the timeline sorted:

Key dates to know

  • December 2021: According to Jack Antonoff, Taylor Swift writes and records “You’re Losing Me.” This song doesn’t appear on Midnights but is later added to The Late Night Edition of the album, which was released in May 2023.
  • October 2022: Taylor Swift releases her tenth studio album, Midnights, to wide acclaim
  • March 2023: The Eras Tour begins
  • April 2023: Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn’s breakup is officially announced
  • November 2023: Taylor Swift releases “You’re Losing Me” on streaming, and Jack Antonoff reveals it was written in 2021, causing fans to speculate Swift’s relationship was rocky long before the split was announced.
  • February 2024: Taylor Swift announces The Tortured Poets Department at the Grammys and reveals she’s been working on the album for two years. Fans speculate this will be the breakup album and provide insight into what has been going on in Swift’s private life since “You’re Losing Me” was written.

Everything we’re hoping for from The Tortured Poets Department

1. A continuation of the story “You’re Losing Me” started

In May 2023, Taylor released an updated edition of her 2022 album Midnights. There were a couple of key changes to this album that recontextualized its theme. Notably, the songs “Glitch” and “Paris,” widely theorized to reference the beginning of her relationship with Joe Alwyn and the subsequent private, protective bubble they existed in while keeping out of the limelight, respectively, were missing. In place of those songs was a previously unreleased track, “You’re Losing Me,” a heartwrenching song about the final desperate attempts to bring a relationship back to life.

This song’s inclusion in the updated edition is a sign that behind the scenes, Swift’s relationship might not have been as it seemed—especially since, per Jack Antonoff, this song was written and recorded in December 2021, more than a year before Swift and Joe Alwyn’s breakup was announced. One of the track’s most devastating lyrics comes in the bridge, with Swift lamenting, “I wouldn’t marry me either.” Evie, The Everygirl’s Social Media Intern, pointed out that Swift’s Grammy look reminded her of a wedding dress, leading her to believe we could be in store for more of the devastating marriage-related material “You’re Losing Me” introduced us to.

2. A dark academia theme

Some fans (us at The Everygirl among them) are putting a lot of stock in the name of the album as insight into what the album is going to be. I personally love the take that this album is for the eldest daughters and the “pleasures to have in class.” With a name like The Tortured Poets Department, coupled with her recent street-style looks (there’s been a ton of autumn hues and plaids) it’s not a big leap to infer this album will be more “the lakes” and less “Bejeweled.” Think references to famous poets, literary heroes, and deep-cut historical allusions. It might be time to dust off our high school required reading and study up. Analyses of the song titles alone have already led eagle-eyed Swifties to make connections to The Little Mermaid (“But Daddy, I Love Him”) and the story of Clara Bow’s life.

This theme is particularly interesting when you consider Swift herself seems to be entering the literary canon. She’s been a master lyricist for her entire career, but now universities are dedicating entire courses to studying her work. This parallel, and Swift’s continued mastering of her craft, only cements the idea that this album will be for all of the literature-loving, Rory Gilmore-identifying, Jo March-sympathizing girlies.

3. Songs that give “The Alcott” and “Renegade” vibes

Of her most recent work, it’s Taylor’s collaborations with The National (“The Alcott”) and Big Red Machine (“Renegade”), that have left me wanting so much more. The songs are lyrically some of Swift’s best work and stand out for their unique sound even against folklore and evermore—which were huge artistic departures from her norm. They’re littered with imagery, references, and lyrics that cut to the quick, and perfectly fit the dark academia aesthetic fans believe Swift is currently curating. McKenna, our Branded Content Editorial Assistant, put it perfectly: This album should be the more mature older cousin of folklore. The only hints we currently have are the aesthetic and collaborations with Post Malone and Florence and the Machine, but we might be onto something. McKenna believes songs like Post Malone’s “Whitney” and Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Off” hint at what The Tortured Poets Department could sound like.

4. A breakup album to end all breakup albums

It’s no secret that Taylor Swift’s songs have put words to the feelings and experiences of love in all its different stages: crushing, falling, reveling, ending, and healing. Per Madeline, our Fashion Editor, Taylor’s current relationship with Travis Kelce (while truly the stuff sports romance novels are made of), has overshadowed the fact that she has presumably experienced one of her worst breakups ever. If young love brought us tracks like “Last Kiss” and “All Too Well,” we can expect that the dissolution of a six-year-long relationship would produce tracks that absolutely shatter us, while maintaining that unique Swift brand of art that is both specific and diarastic while still being relatable to the masses.

Let TS11 put words to the uniquely devastating experience of the end of a long-term relationship. TS12 can provide us with lovesick bangers inspired by Travis Kelce and the joy of being on top of the world.

5. An absolutely devastating track 5

The first thing I noticed when Taylor dropped the tracklist was a song titled “So Long, London.” The title alone is enough to make me want (really, need) to listen to this track immediately. But when I noticed it was a track 5, I fell into a frenzy the likes of which only Taylor Swift can inspire.

For the uninformed, Taylor Swift’s Track 5s have a reputation for being some of her most vulnerable songs. Swift herself explained the honest nature of each of her track 5s when she released “Delicate,” track 5 on Reputation. If we look back at other track 5s in her discography, we can see that “So Long, London” will be joining the likes of “Dear John,” “All Too Well,” “The Archer,” “my tears ricochet,” “tolerate it,” and “You’re on Your Own, Kid.” As a group, those are some of her most heartwrenching and forthright songs.

Taylor Swift is known for the autobiographical nature of her music, but her track 5s provide insight into her emotional state on a level typically unmatched by the rest of her songs. Because of this phenomenon and Taylor’s personal history with London (she previously wrote “London Boy” about falling in love with both Joe Alwyn and the city), “So Long, London” promises to be one of the album’s most honest moments, and I’m preparing to be emotionally wrecked by it.

6. A dive into Taylor Swift’s life as a writer

Stepping away from the Joe Alwyn of it all, Taylor Swift is one of the most interesting public figures currently making art. Her songs have always been deeply personal, providing insight into her private life (at least the parts she wants us to know about), while also being deeply relatable to the female experience. This is the aspect of Swift’s life over the past two years that Emma, our Podcast and Editorial Assistant, is most excited to explore in The Tortured Poets Department. We want songs about her career, her status as a public figure who capitalizes on her private life while still wanting to maintain a semblance of normalcy and privacy, and her creative process. Songs like “The Tortured Poets Department,” “Clara Bow,” and “The Manuscript” might give us this.

7. A healing narrative

While we all love a good breakup song (as mentioned, I’ve preemptively added “So Long, London” to my crying playlist), Megan, our Senior Account Manager, pointed out that for this album to be complete, we need a resolution to the heartbreak. Over the last two years that Swift has been working on this album, she’s released Midnights, gone on a world tour, and won countless awards all while dealing with the private fallout of an important relationship. And while fans have speculated that certain clips of Swift show her processing these emotions, there’s also no doubt that she has reached a new peak in the past few months. For this reason, The Tortured Poets Department wouldn’t be a complete story without a hopeful resolution. I’m personally looking to tracks “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” and “Fresh Out the Slammer” to provide silver linings.

8. A bridge between the Lover House and the next phase of Taylor’s career

A hallmark part of the Eras tour visuals is the presence of Taylor Swift’s Lover house. The Lover house was first introduced in 2019’s “Lover” music video, and with the release of 2022’s Midnights, contains references to Swift’s first 10 albums. Each room in the house represents one of her first nine albums, while Midnights is represented by the night sky surrounding the house. Not only is the house present throughout multiple parts of the show, it is also seen burning down, signaling an end to this phase of Taylor’s career. Notably, the Lover house has no more open space (i.e. nowhere for The Tortured Poets Department to go), so it stands to reason that this new album is a bridge toward whatever comes next for Taylor.

With this theme, I expect we’ll see Taylor reference some of her earlier work, particularly parts of Lover and Reputation, in a manner that undoes them. Fans have already pointed out the parallels between Swift singing “I love you ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard” in Lover’s “Cruel Summer” and writing “I love you, it’s ruining my life” on the back cover of The Tortured Poets Department. The song titled “Fresh Out The Slammer” calls back to the “Ready for it…?” lyric where she tells her muse, “You could be my jailer.”

The parallel that’s been keeping me up at night, personally, is Taylor’s previous references to a love that was golden (specifically in the songs “Daylight” and “gold rush”) and the new track, “The Alchemy.” Alchemy is a process by which something that isn’t gold is made to look gold, implying Taylor is now thinking about her former muse in a new light, especially as she continues to make music outside of the Lover House.

9. Reputation (Taylor’s Version)

I’d be remiss not to mention the fact that millions of Swifties were all expecting (and praying) for the Grammy announcement to be Reputation (Taylor’s Version). In retrospect, the signs were so clearly pointing to a return to 2017 and yet also couldn’t have pointed to anything other than a new era (it was a red herring, you could say). I watched the announcement live and was so stunned my first thought was to laugh and say “oh, she’s joking, she’ll announce Reputation with her next win.”

Our Reputation re-record will come—hopefully with no fewer than 30 vault tracks—but Swifties have made an interesting connection between that album and The Tortured Poets Department. There’s so much more to Swift’s music than the relationships that may or may not inspire them, but if we look at what we know about her personal life, Reputation was the beginning of what we all believed was the final chapter of Taylor’s love story. The Tortured Poets Department promises to reveal how the love story that began with that 2017 album broke down and how she healed from it. So it’s only fitting to finish that story before taking us back to the beginning with Reputation (Taylor’s Version). When that truly iconic re-record drops, we’ll have the full story, which means we’ll be able to listen to our favorite songs with context we’ve never had before.