The Appendix: A deep dive into Taylor Swift's references on 'Tortured Poets' tracks

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Taylor Swift dropped a double album on Friday for her 11th era. She released a total of 31 — the inverse of her favorite number 13 — songs. From "Fortnight" to "The Manuscript," here are some of the references she makes in Part 1 and Part 2. We enter into evidence "The Appendix" to "The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology."

'Fortnight' (ft. Post Malone)

The opening chapter and lead single to "The Tortured Poets Department" starts off where her "Midnights" song "Hits Different" left off. In the bridge, Swift sang: "I heard your key turn in the door down the hallway. Is that your key in the door? Is it OK? Is it you? Or have they come to take me away?" Have they come? Swift answers in the Post Malone collab: "I was supposed to be sent away but they forgot to come and get me." The singer also described her "Midnights" album as "stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout (her) life." Fortnight is a measure of two weeks or 14 days. So the first song is what happens after the 13 nights.

The song peers into the worlds Swift imagined when creating the album. Her music video crosses over with classic movie "Dead Poets Society." Actors from the 1989 film Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles portray scientists studying Swift's tortured thoughts. There's a slew of Easter eggs in the music video including a "Forget Him" pill bottle with the code "121389 - 041924." The first number is Swift's birthday. The second is the day the album was released.

'The Tortured Poets Department'

A line from a 2018 Matty Healy video with GQ magazine could serve as the thesis of this album. In a list of 10 things the 1975 frontman couldn't live without, Healy mentioned typewriters.

"The thing is with typewriters and writing with pen to paper, there's kind of an element of like commitment that goes with the ceremony of it," he said.

Swift briefly dated Healy in spring 2023. The "self-sabotaging"/"tattooed golden retriever" ex in Swift's second track leaves his typewriter at her apartment. In the chorus, Swift says neither of them have the talent of poets Dylan Thomas and Patti Smith, who lived at the Chelsea Hotel in New York, a residence known for housing famous literaries and "who's who" socialites.

Smith mentioned the shoutout on Instagram in a poem of gratitude: "This is / saying I was / moved to be / mentioned in / the company / of the great / Welsh poet / Dylan Thomas. / Thank you Taylor."

Singer and songwriter Charlie Puth hasn't commented on his hat tip, but Swift declares he should be a bigger artist.

The line, "You smoked then ate seven bars of chocolate," could have a double meaning. Bar is another word for a measure of music and "Chocolate" is a 1975 song.

Swift sings, "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." Lucy may be Boygenius singer Lucy Dacus, who Healy named in a barbed, insensitive tweet in September. The "Jack" mention is more than likely co-producer Jack Antonoff who knows both Swift and Healy.

'So Long, London'

In a love letter to the English capital and a notable Track 5, Swift mentions "Heath." Although a heath is an area of open, uncultivated land, in this instance the capital H points readers to Hampstead Heath, one of the highest points in London and a grassy space full of hills, ponds, woodlands, playgrounds and a training track.

This dark track answers the upbeat "London Boy" with shades of jagged gray. In the "Lover" track Swift sang, "Like a Tennessee Stella McCartney on the Heath." In "So Long, London," she says, "I left all I knew, you left me at the house by the Heath."

'But Daddy I Love Him'

"How the West Was Won" is a 1962 film spanning decades of America's westward expansion. The five chapters include the Gold Rush, the Civil War and railroad construction. The movie title refers to America’s colonization and pursuit of Manifest Destiny, an ideology that the U.S. ought to stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. "I forget how the West was won" is not remembering how history came to be, just knowing that it happened.

Sarah (wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac) and Hannah (wife of Elkanah and mother of Samuel), in biblical terms, are two women who struggled with infertility and waited on God's timing to conceive later in life. "Sarahs and Hannahs in their Sunday best" refers to women who may be named after the two matriarchal figures.

'Florida!!!' (ft. Florence + The Machine)

"So you work your life away just to pay for a timeshare down in Destin" highlights the panhandle city in Florida known for white sandy beaches and emerald green waters. A "timeshare" could be a metaphor for an unfaithful spouse who shares time with multiple partners. The mayor of Destin, Bobby Wagner, loved the city's mention and posted a photo with a "Tortured Poets" sand sculpture.

In Verse 2, collaborator Florence Welch sings, "And the hurricane with my name, when it came." In 2018, a Category 4 hurricane sprawled from the western coast of Africa to the East Coast of the United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina and Virginia.

'Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?'

Swift has sung about witches in several songs. She usually use the term in the context of being burned at the stake of public scrutiny. "I Did Something Bad" from "Reputation" included the line, "They're burning all the witches, even if you aren't one." In "Mad Woman," she sang, "And women like hunting witches, too, doing your dirtiest work for you." The theme is continued in "Who's Afraid of Little Old Me" with the chorus line, "So I leap from the gallows." A gallows is a structure of wood where condemned criminals or witches would be hanged in public. She levitates like a banshee spirit ready to "crash the party like a record scratch."

The title is similar to "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" a 1962 Broadway play written by Edward Albee. In the dark comedy, George and Martha are a middle-aged couple who engage in a nightcap with a young couple freshly in love. The rounds of fun and games get increasingly more dangerous. In the 1966 movie adaption, George and Martha were played by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, a couple referenced in Swift's song "...Ready For It?": "And he can be my jailer, Burton to this Taylor."

Swift sings "I was tame, I was gentle till the circus life made me mean. Don't you worry, folks, we took out all her teeth." To get circus animals to perform and minimize the threat of an attack, there have been cases of cruel measures: declawing, drugging, electric-prodding and taking out teeth.

'I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)'

There are several 1975 songs that use parentheses including: "It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)," "Looking For Somebody (To Love)," "I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)," "Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)" and "If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)."

The cover for Taylor Swift's new album, "The Tortured Poets Department"
The cover for Taylor Swift's new album, "The Tortured Poets Department"

A guide to 'Tortured Poets': What to know about Taylor Swift's new album

'I Can Do It With a Broken Heart'

The song about her performing the Eras Tour while dealing with heartaches showcases the dichotomy of conducting a record-breaking tour while slowly dying inside. The first line, "I can read your mind," references the first song of the tour, at least when Sabrina Carpenter is the opening act. She starts off the show with her song "Read Your Mind." Engineer and programmer Oli Jacobs counts Swift in similarly to the click track she would hear during the concert as she's hitting her marks and the crowd is screaming, "More!"

'The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived'

According to the Justice Department's website, information is "automatically declassified once it reaches 25 years of age unless an agency head has determined that it falls within a narrow exemption."

In 2008, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13526 which allows for a 50-year rule that says a classified document does not qualify for declassification if it "identifies a confidential human source or a human intelligence source or key design concepts of weapons of mass destruction." So when Swift sings, "In fifty years will all this be declassified?" she's referring to this rule.

The line before Swift asks if the smallest man is "a sleeper-cell spy"? Sleeper-cell spies are trained to live under cover in another country and act as a potential asset on short notice.

'Clara Bow'

"Clara Bow" is a mature version of "The Lucky One" from "Red" with the same theme of fame and the costs that come with it. The song spans a century starting with the silent film actress made famous in the 1920s. Clara Bow was the "it girl" during the Roaring '20s.

Fifty years later, Swift points to Stevie Nicks. It's no coincidence she uses the year 1975. Not only is it the name of Healy's band; it's also the year Fleetwood Mac's eponymous album achieved global success. In 2010, Swift sang with Nicks at the Grammys a combination of Nicks' "Rhiannon" and Swift's "You Belong With Me." Nicks wrote the introductory poem to "The Tortured Poets Department" that starts: "He was in love with her / Or at least she thought so / She was broken hearted / Maybe he was too / Neither of them knew / She was way too hot to handle / He was way too high to try / He couldn't even see her / He wouldn't open his eyes / She was on her way to the stars / He didn't say goodbye."

Finally, Swift mentions herself as a 2020s legend making way for the next "dazzling" star.

Stevie Nicks wrote the introductory poem for Taylor Swift's "The Tortured Poets Department."
Stevie Nicks wrote the introductory poem for Taylor Swift's "The Tortured Poets Department."

'The Black Dog'

In addition to being a symbol for intense depression, the "Black Dog" is a bar in London. Swift mentions the American pop-punk band The Starting Line. The band thanked Swift on Instagram, "Dear Taylor, We heard the song, thank you for name checking our band. We feel flattered and humbled by the reverberations of love that have come back as a result. It's an honor to have TSL memorialized on such a lovely song. You didn't have to do that, but you did, and we appreciate it wholeheartedly. Respect!" Healy covered the band's song "Best of Me" as part of the 1975's At Their Very Best tour.


Track 18 is the only title where all five words are merged into one similar to the 1975 song "Fallingforyou." In the first verse, Healy sang, "All we need's my bike and your enormous house" to which Swift offers a rebuttal: "Whether I'm gonna be your wife or gonna smash up your bike, I haven't decided yet, but I'm gonna get you back. Whether I'm gonna curse you out or take you back to my house, I haven't decided yet, but I'm gonna get you back." Fans have noticed the back-and-forth whiplash and duality of wanting to resume a relationship and exact revenge is similar to Olivia Rodrigo's song "Get Him Back!"

There is also a line about Aston Martin. Swift could choose any car. What's interesting about this choice is the Aston Martin Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso. In April 2023, it was rumored Alonso and Swift were dating. The gossip took the Formula 1 world by storm at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with the commentators and social media engaging in an inundation of Swift song puns. Alonso and Aston Martin are in on the joke; after "imgonnagetyouback" came out, they created a TikTok where the driver puts his finger over his mouth in a "Shhh!" manner.

'The Albatross'

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in 1834. It's a poem about an albatross that is abused by sailors as a metaphor for poets or artists abused by society. The sailors fail to understand the beautiful creature, similar to how society fails to understand writers. The main character is haunted by the decision to kill the bird long after the actual act. Swift's line places the blame, in an ironic sense, on herself, "She's the albatross. She is here to destroy you."

'How Did It End?'

The first line of "How Did It End?" is the answer to Apple Music's six-day game where Swifties had to scour the singer's lyrics in search of code words: "We hereby conduct this post mortem." The clue hinted at the double announcement. According to the National Library of Medicine, "Rigor mortis appears approximately two hours after death in the muscles of the face, progresses to the limbs over the next few hours, completing between six to eight hours after death." Swift released her second album at 2 a.m. with 15 additional tracks.

'So High School'

In the lyric video to "So High School," four letters appear in light pink during the line "cheeks pink in the twinkling lights" nodding to her and her boyfriend Travis Kelce: TKTS. The song is a possible keyhole into their relationship —feeling young, in love and like "bittersweet" 16-year-olds watching "American Pie," playing Grand Theft Auto (among other things) and snogging in the back seat. She mentions teenage games like truth or dare, spin the bottle and marry, kiss or kill? It's a question that Kelce was asked in 2016 to which he answered he would kiss Swift.

'thanK you aIMee'

If you missed the obvious "KIM" reference in the song title, "thanK you aIMee" brings Kim Kardashian back into the conversation as a high school bully immortalized with a "bronze, spray-tanned statue" in the hometown square. The track is similar to "Mean" from "Speak Now," but Swift thanks Aimee for all of the pushes down the stairs (i.e. being called a snake, the false edit on the Kanye recording that went viral, etc.) because Swift bounced back stronger.

The line "so I pushed each boulder up that hill" is one of many Greek mythology references. Sisyphus, the king of Ephyra, killed visitors to show how powerful he was. This angered the gods and, as a punishment, he was forced to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity. The boulder never made it to the top. Every time Sisyphus neared the crest, the rock rolled back down to the bottom.


"Cassandra" may come after "The Prophecy" because she was the Greek goddess with the power of prophecy. Her gift came from the god Apollo because he was enamored with her, but — after she rejected him — he sabotaged the power with a curse that no one would believe her predictions. She was seen as a liar and madwoman. "So they killed Cassandra first 'cause she feared the worst.'" The line about filling the cell with snakes directly correlates Cassandra to Swift and being called a snake by Kardashian. Cassandra tried to warn the Trojans about the Greeks hiding inside the Trojan horse, but they didn't believe her. "Do you believe me now?" Swift sings.

"When the first stone's thrown there's screaming" is a biblical reference to John 8:7: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And "I was in my tower weaving nightmares" references Homer's "The Iliad" when women would weave and watch from towers as men fought wars.


The song about childhood toys, "Lost Boys" and a boy who never grows up is "Peter" as in Peter Pan. This isn't the first time Swift has mentioned the fictional character frozen in boyhood. In "Cardigan" from "Folklore," she sings, "Tried to change the ending, Peter losing Wendy."


Finally, in a message of reflection — almost as if Swift is speaking to her youthful self — is "Robin." And while there are many images of childhood (dinosaurs, mud, dragonflies, a swing set and a trampoline) reminiscent of, say, Christopher Robin, the song may be about co-writer Aaron Dessner's son Robin. Dessner thanked his wife and three kids after "Folklore" won album of the year at the Grammys in 2021.

"I just want to say thank you to my family, my beautiful wife Stine, my children Ingrid, Robin and Mimi," he said.

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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Taylor Swift's references on 'Tortured Poets' tracks: a deep dive