Breaking Down ‘Tortured Poets Department’ Lyric Clues ? Which New Taylor Swift Songs Are About Matty Healy, Joe Alwyn or Travis Kelce

Taylor Swift‘s fans are always poring over her lyrics for clues about her personal life, and things are no different with the release of her newest album, “The Tortured Poets Department

Published Time: 19.04.2024 - 22:31:41 Modified Time: 19.04.2024 - 22:31:41

Taylor Swift‘s fans are always poring over her lyrics for clues about her personal life, and things are no different with the release of her newest album, “The Tortured Poets Department.” Before her world-famous relationship with Travis Kelce that debuted last year, Swift had a long-term romance with British actor Joe Alwyn, and then a relatively short rebound with Matty Healy, frontman of the 1975.

Most of the material was written and recorded before Swift and Kelce became an item, so he isn’t a key player in the album, although he makes a key late entry, assuming no one else drove her to use football metaphors for the first time. Fans were initially surprised to see that Swift’s short, tumultuous time with Healy appears to take up the majority of the emotional real estate on the album, rather than her six-and-a-half years with Alwyn before that. The long poem that is included in the album packaging makes it clear that the album’s arc begins with the end of one long-dying relationship and then documents the rise and fall of a much more passionate one. The exposition in the poem lends weight to the fact that —surprisingly — this song cycle is focused on feelings about someone that most fans wouldn’t have realized had such a deep emotional effect on Swift until it came out in this record.

Bellow, Variety has done our best to decode the lyrics song-by-song to find out which former (or, in a couple of cases, current) flame Swift is spilling tea about. Plus: bonus Kardashian content.

1) FortnightWho we think it’s about: A love-related song, but not necessarily about either Joe or MattyThe evidence: This is one of the few songs on “Tortured Poets Department” that seems fairly vague in its reference points. Swift sings about an affair that only lasted for 14 days, if we take the title literally, though if it’s more symbolic, it could refer to the relative brevity of her known time being involved with Healy. However, the lyrics are largely concerned with the difficulties of staying friends with someone after a breakup, and even politely sharing mutual family time. The other songs indicate she is estranged from Alwyn and Healy, and that those were not especially amicable splits. It recalls the 2020 song “Invisible String,” in which Swift seemed to sing about another Joe — Joe Jonas — and said, “Cold was the steel of my axe to grind / For the boys who broke my heart / Now I send their babies presents.” But “Fortnight” seems to present a less settled flip side of the still-pals scenario.2) The Tortured Poets DepartmentWho we think it’s about: Being smitten with MattyThe evidence: Taylor’s ode to chaotic love between two modern poets is one of her most vulnerable moments on the record, seeming to refer to Matty’s notorious ability to be “in self-sabotage mode / Throwing spikes down on the road.” The reference points in this one come fast and furious, starting with the reference in the opening verse to the subject’s love of typewriters, which she finds curious — and Healy is on record as naming the typewriter on a list of things he couldn’t do without, along with sometimes sending 1975 fans typewritten messages. “We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist” is also close to a seeming dead giveaway, as there seems to be something of a mutual admiration society between Healy and Puth. The latter artist covered a 1975 song during a BBC session in the 2010s, and then Healy later expressed his love of at least two different Puth songs. “Thank u Matty!” Puth tweeted in 2018, in response to a bit of praise from Healy.3) My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite ToysWho we think it’s about: Breaking up with MattyThe evidence: Although this song is not as thick with specific references, it’s part of the throughline of numbers on the album that has to do with feeling discarded by a fickle lover. More pointedly, the “this time” in the line “There was a litany of reasons why we could’ve played for keeps this time” suggests that this was not the first time for these particular lovers… and Swift and Healy were believed to have spent time together in the mid-2000s, at least flirting, if not necessarily entering into any serious relationship at that time. 4) Down BadWho we think it’s about: Breaking up with MattyThe evidence: “How dare you think it’s romantic / Leaving me safe and stranded” indicates that the narrator in this song did not instigate the split, and is having a difficult time moving past it, which fits with what is believed to be the Healy scenario. Also, “They’ll say I’m nuts if I talk about the existence of you” could reflect the idea that the world didn’t know that the affair was such an emotionally intense one, as the commonly held wisdom at the time of the Healy relationship was that this might be more of a casual rebound hookup than the deeply-in-love situation this album would seem to indicate.5) So Long, LondonWho we think it’s about: Breaking up with JoeThe evidence: A no-brainer: This one is a sad sequel to “London Boy.” The title alone points to her cutting off her ties with England, aka her longtime British boyfriend Joe. The length of the relationship seems hinted at by lyrics such as “I’m pissed off you let me give you all that youth for free” and “You say I abandoned the ship, but I was going down with it / My white knuckle dying grip holding tight to your quiet resentment,” signaling the slow death of a relationship versus the apparently brief and passionate whirlwind with Matty. Perhaps the most obvious reference, as metaphors go, is “I stopped CPR, after all it’s no use / The spirit was gone, we would never come to” — a callback to the earlier song “You’re Losing Me,” which used cardiac-patient metaphors in what was clearly understood as a song about the fading of that longtime relationship.6) But Daddy I Love HimWho we think it’s about: Being smitten with MattyThe evidence: The most celebratory song on the album is about relishing in the idea of taking up with a “wild boy” who brings “chaos and revelry,” and dealing with the public disapproval of that — it comes off as a moment frozen in history, however badly things went later. “Scandal does funny things to pride, but brings lovers closer,” she sings, indicating that disapproving scorn only made an affair heat up more. She sends a message to everyone who was sending her messages to ditch the bad boy: “I don’t cater to all these vipers dressed in empath’s clothing / God save the most judgmental creeps who say they want what’s best for me / Sanctimoniously performing soliloquies I’ll never see / Thinking it can change the beat of my heart.”

7) Fresh Out the SlammerWho we think it’s about: Breaking up with Joe and being smitten with MattyThe evidence: This is seemingly the only song on the album besides “So Long, London” that gives a lot of weight to explaining the breakup of a long-time relationship, although the main focus is on who the narrator is moving on with. She describes that previous steadiness as a jail she finally busted out of: “Splintered back in winter / Silent dinners, bitter… / Handcuffed to the spell I was under / For just one hour of sunshine / Years of labor, locks and ceilings / In the shade of how he was feeling.” And that’s almost the last time on the album she devotes much time to that particular character who is receding in her rear-view. As for the guy she’s making her first phone call to after springing herself from prison: ” As I said in my letters, now that I know better I will never lose my baby again” — a reference to a previous affection with someone, which seems to fit the scenario of there having been a near-miss with Healy in the mid-2010s.8) Florida!!!Who we think it’s about: No one —it’s just a quirky songThe evidence: This light anthem seems more focused on its refrain of “Florida is one hell of a drug / Florida, can you fuck me up?” than making any sort of statement about love. But on a metaphorical level, the theme of escape from routine drudgery does fit in with the album’s overall arc about fleeing a dying relationship for a more exciting one, as seen as Swift and Florence’s symbolic excitement about ditching Texas for a more exciting area.9) Guilty as Sin?Who we think it’s about: Being smitten with MattyThe evidence: It’s pretty obvious from the opening call-out to a cult band: “Drowning in the Blue Nile / He sent me ‘Downtown Lights’ / I hadn’t heard it in a while.” Healy is more than just partial to that group, and that song. He said that the 1975 hit “Love It If We Made It” is “based on a song by the Blue Nile called ‘Downtown Lights’… I didn’t want to hide away from referencing it. I wanted it to be fucking obvious to people that know.” Of course, that’s not the only indication of who the song might be about. The song would seem to be written about fantasizing about rekindling a promised romance that never got consummated, which would fit the long-thwarted crush scenario: “I keep recalling things we never did.” Meanwhile, there is a fleeting callback to the guy who was considered a jailer, a la “Fresh Out the Slammer”: “My boredom’s bone-deep / This cage was once fine.”10) Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?

Who we think it’s about: Being Taylor Swift, scary superstarThe evidence: No romance in the equation in this outlier of a song. This is more along the lines of a callback to her “Reputation” period, when she was on the defense against the slings and arrows of much of the public, although those songs referenced the Kim and Kanye scandal, and this song is vaguer about what might have prompted Sw -

ift to feel under attack — except maybe for the fact that, even as America’s Sweetheart now, she still gets millions of contrarian haters. “Is it a wonder I broke? / Let’s hear one more joke / Then we could all just laugh until I cry,” she sings. First comparing herself to a circus freak, then to a feared town witch, she offers: “I want to snarl and show you just how disturbed this has made me / You wouldn’t last an hour in the asylum where they raised me.” The most obvious previous point of reference here: “Folklore’s” “Mad Woman,” to which this feels like a close cousin.11) I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)Who we think it’s about: Being defensive about, and then having an epiphany about, MattyThe evidence: “The jokes that he told across the bar were revolting and far too loud” comes off as a direct reference to Healy’s propensity for getting himself in big trouble with his irreverent (to put it mildly) sense of humor. In particular, his appearance on “The Adam Friedland Show” was considered so risible that it alone convinced many Swifties that he was not the guy for her. In this somewhat light-hearted but pointed song, she acknowledges the scandal of being with him — “They shake their heads saying, ‘God help her’ when I tell ‘em he’s my man” — and indicates she believes she can put him on the righteous path, before concluding, at the finish, “Whoa, maybe I can’t.”12) LOMLWho we think it’s about: Falling in love with, then breaking up with, MattyThe evidence: This song is rife with references to how there was some kind of possibility for romance in a previous era, but the narrator set it aside at the time in favor of going with a partner who brought stability: “I thought I was better safe than starry-eyed.” Making good on that old flirtation seemed to be headed toward a happy ending: “Who’s gonna stop us from waltzing back into rekindled flames if we know the steps anyway / We embroidered the memories of the time I was away stitching ‘we were just kids, babe’ / I said ‘I don’t mind. It takes time.'” But things go deeply south in the second half of the song, as she laments falling for the sweet talk of “Mr. Steal Your Girl, then make her cry.,” and “love of my life” becomes “loss of my life.” A conclusion about the belated rekindlement: “Should’ve let it stay buried.”13) I Can Do It With a Broken HeartWho we think it’s about: Taylor Swift as a boss… with breaking up with Matty as a sidebarThe evidence: A song about being able to pull through doing the Eras Tour every night while mourning a breakup: “Lights camera bitch smile / Even when you want to die / He said he’d love me all his life.” There’s a reference to the fact that the general public didn’t know the magnitude of the love that was experienced: “I can hold my breath / I’ve been doing it since he left / I keep finding his things in drawers / Crucial evidence I didn’t imagine the whole thing.” But this is a song about her indomitability, not about her mourning: “I’m miserable, and nobody even knows!” is a point of pride.14) The Smallest Man Who Ever LivedWho we think it’s about: Breaking up with MattyThe evidence: The bitterest song on the album. “I don’t even want you back, I just want to know / If rusting my sparkling summer was the goal” seemingly refers to how the guy in question ruined, at least in the short term, what should have been a personally triumphant moment — i.e., the Eras Tour. There are drug references that will cause a lot of speculation: “You tried to buy some pills from a friend of friends of mine / They just ghosted you / Now you know what it feels like”, and “In public, showed me off / Then sank in stoned oblivion.”15) The AlchemyWho we think it’s about: Being in love with TravisThe evidence: Although her current love doesn’t seem to figure much into this album, which was seemingly largely written beforehand, “The Alchemy” has so many sports references that it’s impossible to interpret this as anything but a late-breaking update on current bliss. “Shirts off and your friends lift you up over their heads /. Beer sticking to the floor / Cheers chanted cause they said there was no chance / Trying to be the greatest in the league / Where’s the trophy? / He just comes running over to me.” There’s an allusion to the fact that other recent loves were British: “Those blokes warm the benches.” There may also be a pointed reference to a previous love’s drug habits when Swift sings, “He jokes that it’s heroin but this time with an ‘E’.”16) Clara BowWho we think it’s about: Taylor Swiftas an archetype, not the realityThe evidence: It doesn’t hurt that Swift name-checks herself in the final verse. The first two verses start with call-outs to silent film star Clara Bow and Stevie Nicks, and in all three instances, the verses “quote” an admirer who wants these figures to “promise to be dazzling”… or else, with the implication that they could be replaced. A new up-and-comer is told, in the final verse: “You look like Taylor Swift / In this light / We’re loving it / You’ve got edge / She never did.” If it calls back to anything, it’s probably the duet Swift did with Phoebe Bridgers, “Nothing New,” in which she imagined being replaced by a popular successor.The Manuscript (Bonus Track)

Who we think it’s about: A love-related song, subject indeterminateThe evidence: This clearly isn’t about any recent love, and may or may not be related to personal experiences. The narrator is looking back on a youthful affair with a much older man — which could be a reference to the age difference with Jake Gyllenhaal back in the day, although any parallels there aren’t obvious, as she refers to going back to dating boys her age, with dartboards on the backs of their doors. The issue is also raised as to whether the relationship was morally inappropriate, which almost feels like it refers to a professor/student relationship rather than two celebrities of different ages. Instinctively, this feels more like a “Folklore”-style bit of fiction, though as ever, attentive fans could yet turn up the clue that makes this turn out to be autobiographical.

The Black Dog (Bonus Track)

Who we think it’s about: Breaking up with MattyThe evidence: The key here is probably the repeated references to the band the Starting Line. Healy was such a fan of the Starting Line that he covered one of their songs, “The Best of Me.” The intriguing first verse posits a scenario in which her recent ex has forgotten to turn off his location tracking, and so she sees him entering a bar called the Black Dog. As fans have pointed out, there’s Black Dog Tavern in Martha’s Vineyard, and also a heavy metal bar called the Black Dog in Paris, among others with that name, so it’s tougher for fans to exactly geo-locate this location than it is for Swift.

thanK you aIMee (Bonus Track)

Who we think it’s about: Kim Kardashianwith a protective bit of Mama SwiftThe evidence: No major points for subtlety here, as Swift has gone back to the trick from her early lyric sheets of capitalizing seemingly random letters that spell out a message… as in, here, K-I-M. So no, it’s not actually the diss track you were expecting against Aimee Mann. (Just kidding.) But any points lost for not being truly cryptic are made up for with sheer chutzpah. “A bronze spray-tanned statue of you” would seem to be a reference to Kardashian’s penchant for taking on a chemical shade. And “One day, your kid comes home singin’ a song that only us two is gonna know is about you” seems to be a callback to the time North West and her mom danced to a Swift song in a home video (although the song they used in that particular instance, “Shake It Off,” doesn’t qualify as being about Kardashian). Shout-out to mom, too: “Everyone knows that my mother is a saintly woman / But she used to say she wished that you were dead.” Now we know not to invite Kim and Andrea to the same party.

Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus (Bonus Track)

Who we think it’s about: Matty… with just a trace of KelceThe evidence: Although it’s clearly not a Kelce-centric number, Swift seems to be making a connection between recent-past and very-present relationships when she sings: “And you saw my bones out with somebody new / Who seemed like he would’ve bullied you in school.”

So High School (Bonus Track)

Who we think it’s about: Being in love with KelceThe evidence: Aside from the sheer fact that the Tay/Kelce romance feels like the ultimate homecoming king/queen gig, there are these lines: “Are you gonna marry, kiss, or kill me (Kill me) / It’s just a game, but really (Really) / I’m bettin’ on all three for us two (All three).” If Swift is singing in the present day here, as it seems she is, it’s striking enough that she’ll go out on a limb and predict this is the stuff of marriage material. But more than that, specifically, these lines would seem to refer back to an old interview Kelce did when he was asked about Swift, Ariana Grande and Katy Perry and queried who he would marry, kiss and kill. (He put down his future girlfriend at the time for a kiss.)

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