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Everyone Taylor Swift name-drops in ‘The Tortured Poets Department’

Ever since Taylor Swift first announced her 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, she has referred to herself as the “chairman” of the department. But what exactly is this bureau, and who are its other members?

Although you could make a case that it ultimately includes her friends, fans, and anyone who worked on the album — such as collaborators Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff, Post Malone, and Florence + the Machine — the title track of the record offers the best clues to the inception of the group.

The second song on the album, “The Tortured Poets Department” is a hazy dreamscape that evokes lazy afternoon pensiveness punctured by the occasional prick of anxiety over a new relationship. Underneath that, though, Swift manages to pack in the most name-dropping and history that she ever has in one song. Here’s what you need to know about all the famous references — and how they relate to the Chairman herself.

Taylor Swift.

Beth Garrabrant

The Tortured Poets Department

The song begins with Swift alluding to a love interest (possibly the 1975 frontman Matty Healy, if her mention of tattoos is anything to go by) who leaves a typewriter at her apartment “straight from the Tortured Poets Department.” This is the only time she references the TTPD on the album.

Dylan Thomas and Patti Smith

Patti Smith.

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

The couple in the song are sharing afternoon musings, seemingly comparing themselves to other artists. “I laughed in your face and said, ‘You’re not Dylan Thomas. I’m not Patti Smith. This ain’t the Chelsea Hotel. We’re modern idiots,'” Swift sings.

Famous for his poems “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” Thomas was a Welsh writer who was equally famous for his troubled life. Considered something of a “rock & roll” poet, he set a template for his successors with his poetry tours in the early 1950s. In a 2014 feature on Thomas, the BBC reported, “He crossed over to influence rock stars like Bob Dylan (who changed his name from Zimmerman) and the Beatles, who included his image on the album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Now, we can add Swift to that list.

Smith is a singer-songwriter known for fusing poetry and rock & roll. She once defended Swift when discussing her celebrity status. “She’s a pop star who’s under tremendous scrutiny all the time, and one can’t imagine what that’s like,” Smith told The New York Times in 2019. “It’s unbelievable to not be able to go anywhere, do anything, have messy hair. And I’m sure that she’s trying to do something good. She’s not trying to do something bad. And if it influences some of her avid fans to open up their thoughts, what does it matter?”

Both Thomas and Smith have a history with the Chelsea Hotel mentioned in the lyrics. Which brings us to…

The Chelsea Hotel

The legendary Manhattan hotel was notorious for years as an enclave for artists of all types, including Mark Twain, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Arthur Miller, Bob Dylan, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sid Vicious, and Thomas and Smith. Thomas spent the last few days of his life staying at the hotel, and Smith lived there for a while. According to an oral history of the hotel by Vanity Fair, many works of art were created at the landmark (Arthur C. Clarke wrote his sci-fi novel 2001: A Space Odyssey there) or inspired by it (Leonard Cohen’s song “Chelsea Hotel #2”).

Charlie Puth

Charlie Puth.
Photo by Mike Windle / Getty Images

In “The Tortured Poets Department,” Swift sings, “We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist,” something she and her paramour in the song agreed on. She rarely name-drops a first and last name (an exception: her 2006 debut single, “Tim McGraw”). This reference comes with a bit of history, though. Puth has been open about his respect for Swift in the past, performing mash-ups of her songs at his shows and posting videos of himself covering some of her hits. When Swift joined TikTok in 2021 and he welcomed her in a comment, she responded, “I’ve lurked your account for ages! Thanks for the welcome, piano prince.” We sense a collaboration coming.

Lucy and Jack

Lucy Dacus.
Ebru Yildiz

Swift drops two other names in “The Tortured Poets Department,” and though she doesn’t include their surnames, they still seem like important shout-outs. During one of the narrator’s intrusive thoughts, she muses, “Sometimes I wonder if you’re gonna screw this up with me / But you told Lucy you’d kill yourself if I ever leave / And I had said that to Jack about you, so I felt seen.”

While we don’t know for sure — and Swift never confirms who her songs are about — it feels pretty safe to say that Jack is her frequent collaborator and longtime pal Jack Antonoff, who has worked extensively on her recent albums.

Jack Antonoff.
Moog Music Inc/YouTube

As for Lucy? Swift is most likely alluding to singer-songwriter and Boygenius member Lucy Dacus, who has connections to both Swift and Healy, the song’s rumored love interest. Swift herself said she started working on TTPD nearly two years ago, right after releasing her 10th studio album, Midnights. This means she was writing it during her Eras Tour, and Boygenius, which also includes Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, performed together in Nashville when Bridgers was Swift’s opener. And at the Grammys earlier this year, where Swift announced her new album while accepting an award, she was seen bursting into the press room to congratulate Boygenius on their own Grammy wins.

Healy was also seen at those Eras Tour dates in Nashville, and he took the stage with Bridgers at one point. The 1975 singer and Bridgers have also collaborated in the past. So all of these musicians have known each other, or known of each other, for quite some time.

The Tortured Poets Department is out now.

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