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Every Theory Swifties Have About ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ Based on the Tracklist

Every Theory Swifties Have About Tortured Poets Department Based on Tracklist
Terence Rushin/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

Swifties have plenty to think about between now and April 19.

Taylor Swift announced her forthcoming 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, while accepting the award for Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2024 Grammys on February 4.

“This is my 13th Grammy, which is my lucky number. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that,” Swift joked to the crowd. “I want to say thank you to the fans by telling you a secret that I’ve been keeping from you for the past two years, which is that my brand new album comes out April 19th.”

Moments later, the singer shared the album art via social media and followed it up with the tracklist the next day. Armed only with song titles and a black and white photo of Swift in bed, Swifties have formulated some compelling theories about the album’s subject matter.

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Keep scrolling to unpack every theory with Us:

The Album Title Could Be a Nod to Joe Alwyn

Every Theory Swifties Have About Tortured Poets Department Based on Tracklist
Joe Alwyn. Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

“All’s fair in love and poetry,” Swift captioned her Instagram announcement of the album, a satisfying declaration coming from someone who has been criticized for writing songs about her romantic relationships.

The Grammy winner has mentioned poetry in her music before — see “The Lakes” and “Sweet Nothing” — but The Tortured Poets Department could also be a nod to Swift’s ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn, whom she dated from 2016 to 2023.

During a joint interview with Variety in December 2022, Alwyn and Paul Mescal — who have both served as brooding male leads in television adaptations of Sally Rooney novels — revealed they have a group chat with Andrew Scott called, “The Tortured Man Club.”

The connection has led many Swifties to think that The Tortured Poets Department will focus primarily on Swift and Alwyn’s breakup.

No Longer in Screaming Color

The black and white album cover depicts Swift lying in bed dressed in a sheer tank top and black high-waisted shorts. The aesthetic is reminiscent of 2017’s Reputation, which featured Swift’s first songs about her relationship with Alwyn.

“Interesting that [Reputation] was also black and white and that was her and Joe falling in love and now this is the break up. There were colors in between but now they are gone,” one fan wrote on a Reddit thread discussing the forthcoming release.

Swift followed up Reputation with 2019’s Lover, trading in monochrome and snakes for bubblegum pink and butterflies. In the closing track, “Daylight,” Swift sings, “I once believed love would be black and white, but it’s golden.” The Tortured Poets Department’s color scheme seems to suggest the end of that golden era.

The ‘Little Mermaid’ Connection

Every Theory Swifties Have About Tortured Poets Department Based on Tracklist
Harry Styles. Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Track 6 is titled “But Daddy I Love Him,” which Ariel famously says about Prince Eric in Disney’s The Little Mermaid (which came out in Swift’s birth year 1989, by the way).

Swifties have drawn parallels between Ariel giving up her voice for love and Swift keeping a low profile during her relationship with Alwyn, who is notoriously private.

“But daddy i love him being an exact reference to the little mermaid because of ariel giving up her voice to be with the love of her life,”” one fan wrote via X.

However, not everyone is convinced that the song is about Alwyn. Some fans have pointed to old photos of Harry Styles wearing a shirt that bears the Little Mermaid quote as proof that he could have inspired the track.

Swift and Styles dated from late 2012 until early 2013. Their romance is believed to be the inspiration for several of Swift’s songs, including “Style,” “Out of the Woods” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.”

No More London Boy

Swift has been known to reserve the track five spot on her records for particularly vulnerable, heart-wrenching songs. “Dear John,” “White Horse” and “You’re on Your Own, Kid” are among the tear-jerkers to earn this tracklist placement.

The Tortured Poets Department’s fifth track is called “So Long, London,” and is almost certainly a farewell to one of Swift and Alwyn’s happy places. Alwyn grew up in the capital city and inspired the lighthearted Lover tune “London Boy.”

Some fans think the album’s opening track, “Fortnight,” which features Post Malone, could also be a nod to Swift’s former British beau.

“Fun noting that fortnight is apparently not used much in American language and that it comes from British language,” one X user wrote.

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The Clara Bow Lore

Every Theory Swifties Have About Tortured Poets Department Based on Tracklist
Clara Bow. Don English/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

A closing track called “Clara Bow” is unsurprising coming from Swift, who has penned songs about misunderstood socialites (“The Last Great American Dynasty”) and starlets disillusioned with fame (“The Lucky One”).

Bow became a star during the 1920’s silent film era and is widely known as the first “It Girl.” Later in life, she struggled with mental health issues and became increasingly reclusive.

“All the time the flapper is laughing and dancing, there’s a feeling of tragedy underneath, she’s unhappy and disillusioned, and that’s what people sense,” Bow once said, per The Guardian.

The sentiment is similar to the thesis of Swift’s 2020 track “Mirrorball,” in which she compares the idea of celebrity to the shiny, shattered orb.

“I’m a mirrorball, I’ll show you every version of yourself tonight / I’ll get you out on the floor, shimmering beautiful, and when I break it’s in a million pieces,” she croons.

Swifties have guessed that “Clara Bow” will serve as a reminder of the cost of fame and public scrutiny.

“I’m sick … Clara Bow’s personal life and speculation about her romantic life was talked about so much that she ended up having a breakdown and going to a sanitarium … Taylor Swift is sending EVERYONE A MESSAGE,” one X user wrote.

Taylor’s Single Era

Two song titles have fans thinking that Tortured Poets Department will document Swift celebrating her independence from Alwyn.

A track called “Florida!!!” — which features Florence + the Machine — seems to be a reference to the location of Swift’s first Eras Tour show after her split from the Conversations With Friends star was confirmed in April 2023.

Swift conspicuously changed the setlist for the Tampa performance, swapping out “Invisible String,” which is laden with romantic references to Alwyn, for “The 1,” a tune about a love that got away.

Another Tortured Poets Department song title, “Fresh Out the Slammer,” has fans thinking Swift will compare her six-year relationship with Alwyn to a stint behind bars. She previously compared love to prison time in her 2017 song “…Ready for It?” which is believed to be inspired by Alwyn.

“He can be my jailer, Burton to this Taylor,” she sings on the Reputation track, referencing Elizabeth Taylor and her ex-husband Richard Burton. Swift nodded to Taylor and Burton again with the Tortured Poets Department track 10 title, “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” The duo portrayed unhappily married couple George and Martha in the 1966 film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? based on the play of the same name.

Track 13, meanwhile, “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” seems like a nod to Swift continuing to tour after she and Alwyn called it quits.

“I know I’m going on that stage whether I’m sick, injured, heartbroken, uncomfortable or stressed,” Swift told Time in December 2023. “That’s part of my identity as a human being now.”

A Potential Matty Healy Song

After she parted ways with Alwyn and before her whirlwind romance with Travis Kelce began in summer 2023, Swift had a brief fling with The 1975 frontman, Matty Healy.

The romance sparked backlash due to Healy’s controversial comments during a February 2023 appearance on “The Adam Friedland Show” podcast. During the interview, Healy called Ice Spice an “Inuit Space Girl” and a “chubby Chinese lady.” He issued a public apology later that month.

The Tortured Poets Department track “Guilty as Sin?” could be Swift’s response to getting criticized for Healy’s behavior. Track 11, “I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can),” is another contender for a possible song about Healy, who has perhaps the worst reputation of all of Swift’s exes.

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Every Theory Swifties Have About Tortured Poets Department Based on Tracklist
Taylor Swift. Kevin Winter/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

Track 12, “Loml,” invokes the popular acronym for “love of my life.”

Swift memorably had to hold back tears while performing her 2017 Zayn Malik duet “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” at the Eras Tour in July 2023. She seemed particularly moved while singing the lyric, “Wondering if I dodged a bullet or just lost the love of my life.” Some fans interpreted the moment as a rare glimpse into Swift’s pain over her split from Alwyn.

“Loml” could be inspired by Swift’s longest relationship to date, but maybe not in the way we think.

“What if loml doesn’t even stand for ‘love of my life’ and actually stands for ‘loss of my life’ or something i feel like taylor would do that,” one X user theorized.

Life Ruined

On the Reputation track “Gorgeous”, which is believed to be about Alwyn, Swift playfully sings, “You’ve ruined my life by not being mine.”

A less lighthearted version of the phrase appears on a photo of Swift shared alongside the Tortured Poets Department tracklist.

“I love you, it’s ruining my life,” the text reads.

Who Is the Smallest Man Who Ever Lived?

Swifties are taking guesses at who might’ve inspired track 14, “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived.” Some think the title points to Alwyn, a man of few words.

“Going from ‘your integrity makes me seem small’ to ‘the smallest man who ever lived’ is a big upgrade,” one X user wrote, referring to Swift’s 2020 song “Peace,” which is about Alwyn.

However, there’s also a possibility that the song could be more political.

“I hope this is a Donald Trump diss track,” one fan wrote via X.

‘The Bolter’

Swift announced on February 16 that physical copies of The Tortured Poets Department will include a bonus track called “The Bolter,” and fans immediately found a clue linking the song to Alwyn.

“The bolter in question,” one X user captioned a video of Alwyn running into a car while holding Swift’s hand to avoid being seen by photographers after a VMAs afterparty in August 2022. Another fan shared the same clip, writing, “YALL KNOW DAMN WELL THIS IS THE BOLTER SHES REFERRING TO! OH ITS BAD FOR HIM YALL. IM KINDA SCARED!”

Other fans wondered whether the title might refer to Swift herself.

“You’re gonna tell me that the one with a Getaway Car isn’t also the Bolter?” one person tweeted, referring to Swift’s Reputation track about leaving one relationship for another.

The same day Swift announced the additional song, she told concert goers at an Eras Tour show in Melbourne, Australia, that writing The Tortured Poets Department was “a lifeline” for her.

“I needed to make it,” she said. “It sort of reminded me of why songwriting is something that actually gets me through life, and I’ve never had an album where I’ve needed songwriting more than I needed it on Tortured Poets.”

Taylor Swift Fans Think They Found Significance of The Albatross Bonus Version
Taylor Swift Don Arnold/TAS24/[SOURCE] for TAS Rights Management/Getty Images

Lady Idina Sackville

A deeper theory about “The Bolter” wonders if Swift was writing about Lady Idina Sackville, a British aristocrat who settled in colonial Kenya in the 1930s. Her great-granddaughter Frances Osborne wrote a non-fiction book about her in 2008 titled The Bolter.

Sackville got the nickname after leaving her husband to run off with another man. She was married and divorced a total of five times, which also led to “The Bolter” moniker.

While Swift is a fan of writing about historical figures (see Clara Bow above), “The Bolter” could also be a reference to the reputation she’s had throughout her career regarding the string of celebrities the singer has dated.

The Release Date Could Be an Easter Egg

As if the tracklist didn’t provide enough clues, the album’s release date is also significant. April 19 happens to be the date that fans noticed Swift’s pals Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively had unfollowed Alwyn on social media.

It’s also the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which were among the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. You know, when the Americans fought for their independence from the British? Kind of like how Swift wrote a breakup album about her London Boy and then her Grammys announcement about it was the shot heard round the world?

‘The Albatross’

During her February 23 Eras Tour concert in Sydney, Australia, Swift announced another bonus track titled “The Albatross,” and her fans have had a field day with theories connecting the song to Alwyn.

Initially, Swifties went straight to Merriam-Webster, which defines albatross as “something that causes persistent deep concern or anxiety” or “something that greatly hinders accomplishment.”

Others have connected the theory to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a year 1798 poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which introduced an albatross metaphor after the bird — which symbolizes good luck — follows a ship out to sea. When the mariner kills the albatross, the ship starts to suffer and the mariner is forced to wear the dead albatross around his neck as a symbol of guilt — or as a burden. (Also important to note, albatrosses can fly for six years without landing. Swift and Alwyn had a six-year relationship.)

‘The Black Dog’

Swift announced a fourth special edition of the album during a March Eras Tour performance in Singapore. The variant will feature a bonus track called “The Black Dog,” which is a popular expression for depression or profound sadness.

“For many people, this metaphor describes a state of depression characterized by sadness or lack of will, including the loss of desire to partake in activities you once loved,” reads a definition from BetterHelp, a mental health service. “This metaphor can be helpful for adults and children living with depression and those with loved ones experiencing symptoms.”

While it seems likely that the title points to a dark period in someone’s life, one X user pointed out that it could be a connection to another song on the album.

“Not only did Clara Bow have a black dog she wrote a three-page eulogy for him when he died and that’s the most Taylor-coded thing ever,” the fan wrote.

The Stages of Grief Theory

After Swift announced two special editions of the album, fans began speculating that Swift would release five total versions, each representing a different stage of grief. The five stages of grief, first coined in Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ 1969 book On Death and Dying, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

One X user pointed to the taglines that Swift has included alongside her Instagram announcements for each version as proof of the theory.

“‘The Manuscript would represent denial, due to the version’s tagline, ‘I love you it’s ruining my life,’” the user began, referring to the OG edition. “As for ‘The Bolter,’ the tagline suggests it may symbolize anger, as it reads, ‘You don’t get to tell me about sad.’ ‘The Albatross,’ which asks ‘Am I allowed to cry?,’ may represent bargaining.”

The theory seemed to be bolstered when Swift announced a fourth version of the album titled “The Black Dog,” which could represent the depression stage.

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