In her new album, The Tortured Poets Society, Taylor Swift sings about Travis Kelce.
Taylor misses no opportunity to make out publicly with her aggressively wholesome boyfriend. (Photo illustration by The Free Press and images via Getty.)

Taylor Swift: Why You Gotta Be So Mean?

In her latest album, the pop star crucifies ex-boyfriends like never before.

Last year, Taylor Swift broke up with Joe Alwyn, the man she thought she’d marry—and she’s not trying to be mature about it. In her new album, The Tortured Poets Department, she literally sings, Everything comes out: teenage petulance. One of her songs is called “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived,” and it absolutely crucifies an ex-boyfriend for wanting weird sex and creepily sliding into DMs and texting her friends for drugs.

This would be fine but for the fact that everyone—even I, who claim to hate it when women are reduced to the men they date—listens to the new Swift songs wondering, “Which boy is this song about?”

We can’t help sniffing for clues about Alwyn, who was so notoriously private he was photographed with her maybe ten times in their six-year relationship. When it was all over, not only did every glossy magazine dust off its listicle of her exes, but everyone weighed in on her wretched rebound: Matty Healy is “problematic!” He must be dumped! 

Taylor seems to address Healy, who may or may not be “The Smallest Man,” as well as the target of her delightfully titled song, “But Daddy I Love Him.” She describes her fans’ reaction to their relationship as “bitching and moaning.” And dump him she did.

Taylor Swift, obviously, knows people listen to her songs for clues about her ex-boyfriends. She’s taken legendary potshots at John Mayer and Taylor Lautner and Joe Jonas and Jake Gyllenhaal. Which is why, when Tortured Poets dropped on Friday, I texted a friend the following one-line review: 

This album is SO MEAN!!!

To be fair, Taylor knows this, too—at one point, she sings, the circus life made me mean.

These days, Taylor—who is now 34—misses no opportunity to make out publicly with her aggressively wholesome boyfriend, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, and honestly, it’s kind of cute. They jived adorably at Coachella last week. Fifteen years ago, she sang that life is about more than “the boy on the football team,” and now she’s in love with him—and it’s like she’s fifteen again. The only happy song on the new album is also the only one about Kelce: their love, Taylor sings, is “So High School.”

No one can blame her for wanting to be young again. She dedicated the best years of her twenties to a man she no longer speaks to—and as the saddest line of the saddest song on the album goes, I’m pissed off you let me give you all that youth for free. While she’s beaming in public, in her songs she’s declaring, I’m miserable and no one even knows! 

Decoding Taylor’s lyrics is so fun that it’s easy to miss, on a first listen, or even a second, that this album isn’t great, musically. The tunes are repetitive, and we’ve heard them all before. Overall, it feels like she’s regressing, not evolving—in more ways than one.

Freya Sanders is the associate editor at The Free Press. Read Eli Lake’s review of Kanye West’s new album, Vultures 1, here.

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