Taylor Swift’s Tortured Poets Department : Who Is Clara Bow?

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Originally appeared on E! Online

Taylor Swift truly gave everything with her new album.

The "Fortnight" singer's 11th album The Tortured Poets Department is finally here, and with it are tons of new lyrics to decode. Among the subtle callouts to her past relationship with Joe Alwyn, which eagle-eyed fans even pointed out may be given a nod in the album's title, and perhaps even brief flame Matty Healy, she also has plenty of historical references in her new songs.

For one, Clara Bow, a silent film star better known for being the original ‘It' girl (a name coined because she starred in a movie called It), earned the title of the album's 16th track. She is only the latest and greatest of Taylor's references to 20th century socialites. In fact, the "Karma" singer's intrigue in 1920s culture dates all the way back to her first breakup album Red, and permeates throughout her discography with references to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rebekah Harkness, Richard Burton and more.

However, Tortured Poet's "Clara Bow" is perhaps her most layered historic reference yet—as she spins her references all the way back to herself in modern day by making a reference to herself, and uses some hyper-specific callouts while singing about the pressures of stardom.

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In the song, the speaker tells someone that they look like Clara, before replacing the lyric with Stevie Nicks in 1975 in the following verse, and eventually saying the subject looks "like Taylor Swift," implying that they could be a fresh face ready to replace her.

"This town is fake but you're the real thing," Taylor sings on the track. "Breath of fresh air / Through smoke rings / Take the glory, give everything / Promise to be dazzling."

And like prior songs including Red's "Nothing New" and "The Lucky One" where Taylor sings of the anxiety that comes with the fickleness of fame, Taylor switches tones to speak of the not-so-sparkly parts of these supposed "It" girls' lives.

"Beauty is a beast that roars," Taylor continues. "Down on all fours / Demanding more / Only when your girlish glow flickers just so / Do they let you know / It's hell on Earth to be heavenly."

Taylor is a vocal fan of the Fleetwood Mac frontwoman, so it's not entirely surprising she used the 75-year-old as a motif for dazzling beauty and given everything Taylor herself has achieved at the moment, her own name drop also makes a lot of sense in this context.

As for why Taylor decided to mention Clara? Shortly after the album's track list was announced, Swifties took note that Clara's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is on the cross streets of Sunset and Vine, a location that is referenced in the Reputation song "Gorgeous"—a song all but confirmed to be about meeting, and the very early stages of falling in love, with Joe.

TTPD Clara Bow
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

And Clara's career trajectory—while in film—is similar to someone who had a sharp rise to fame before being "replaced" by the next "remarkable" thing. For one, the Brooklyn-born actress was known as a silent film star—leading 46 silent films—before "talkies," or modern movies, came into the picture in the 1930s. While Clara was among the few silent film stars to successfully make the leap into speaking roles—starring in 11 talkies—she ultimately gave up her career after several failed romances led to harsh public scrutiny, and, as Biography describes, "fodder for Hollywood gossip." In 1933, just six years after It made her a sensation, Clara, who although was talented at her craft was regarded as "birdbrained" by studio executives, retired from acting entirely.

TTPD Clara Bow, Rex Bell

Perhaps more interestingly, though, Clara's official retirement came shortly after she tied the knot with her husband Rex Bell after two years of dating. The couple got married in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1931, and Rex, who met Clara on the set of a Western film, notably denied marrying his wife to press the following day.

As a 1931 New York Times article reads, "In answering questioners today, intimated that if he and Clara Bow were married or knowledge of marriage became known generally, contracts would be endangered."

Elsewhere in the article, Clara, who had an absent father and a mother who struggled with mental illness, is said to have "announced her intention to cease being a movie queen and start being a cattle queen," in reference to her dedication to her relationship with Rex, as the couple moved onto a cattle ranch.

However, despite Clara giving up her fame, Rex later reentered the spotlight to become a politician. Meanwhile, Clara stayed home to tend to the couple's ranch and care for their two sons. In 1944, distressed by her husband's fame and her own mental health struggles, Clara attempted suicide, according to National Museum of American History.

A few years later, Clara checked herself into a psychiatric institution and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Following treatment, she relocated to Los Angeles to live alone instead of returning home to her family. In September 1965, three years after her husband's passing, Clara died at the age of 60.

TTPD, Joe Alwyn
Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

As for how Taylor connects to all of this? Although she has not spoken candidly about her mental health outside of music, she did make quite a bit of noise to it faltering throughout TTPD, even satirically saying she was raised in an "asylum" in "Who's Afraid of Little Old Me?"

The references to Clara and Stevie could be subtle nods at old flames, too. In fact, Matty—who Taylor briefly dated in summer 2023—also lists Stevie as one of his heroes and interviewed the singer in a lengthy 2020 podcast.

The 1975 frontman is also known to be highly referential of old films in his band's music videos—which he conceptualizes. In fact, several of the band's music videos, including "Change of Heart" and "I'm in Love with You," mimic the aesthetic of the silent film era—and even have a female protagonist who somewhat resembles Clara.

Meanwhile, what Taylor and Joe have revealed about their relationship seems to resemble Clara and Rex. For her part, Taylor appears to have written about wanting to marry Joe before their April 2023 breakup, and often spoke highly of him in interviews. However, his tune didn't quite hit the same notes.

"If I had a pound for every time I think I've been told I've been engaged, then I'd have a lot of pound coins," Joe told WSJ Magazine in an article published April 2022. "I mean, the truth is, if the answer was yes, I wouldn't say, and if the answer was no, I wouldn't say."

Read on for more Easter eggs from The Tortured Poets Department.

<p><strong>"Fortnight" (featuring Post Malone): </strong>In the first track of <em>TTPD</em>, <strong>Taylor Swift</strong> and <strong>Post Malone</strong> team up to sing about a "temporary" romance that lasted for a fortnight (two weeks).</p> <p>"And I love you, it's ruining my life," the lyrics tease. "I touched you, for only a fortnight."</p> <p>It appears the song is a reference to Taylor's <a href="https://www.eonline.com/news/1373681/matty-healy-spotted-at-taylor-swifts-eras-tour-concert-amid-romance-rumors" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:rekindled romance;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">rekindled romance</a> with <strong>The 1975</strong>'s <strong>Matty Healy</strong>, which first began in 2014 and revived a decade later in the spring of 2023 following <a href="https://www.eonline.com/news/1099908/taylor-swift-and-joe-alwyn-break-up-after-6-years-together" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:her breakup;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">her breakup</a> with <strong>Joe Alwyn</strong>. </p> <p>And although the revival of Taylor and Matty's relationship was brief, it was jam-packed with emotion, according to these lyrics. </p>

<p><strong>"The Tortured Poets Department":</strong> While fans <a href="https://www.eonline.com/news/1394477/why-taylor-swift-fans-think-tortured-poets-department-is-a-nod-to-ex-joe-alwyn" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:previously pointed out the connection;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">previously pointed out the connection</a> between the album's name <em>TTPD</em> and Joe's <a href="https://twitter.com/raspberhrriies/status/1754334230056976824?s=42&t=0L6eq_mDaLALpQODpLKQtQ" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:WhatsApp group chat;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">WhatsApp group chat</a> called "The Tortured Man Club," the titular song actually includes references to Matty.</p> <p>Even the track's opening lyrics, "You left your typewriter at my apartment," gives a nod to Matty, who noted he "really" likes typewriters <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tde3nYmKFlI" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in a 2019 interview;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">in a 2019 interview</a> with <em>GQ</em>.</p> <p>Later on in the song, the lyrics offer more insight into Taylor and Matty's strong bond. Taylor even recalls, "At dinner you take my ring off my middle finger and put it on the one people put wedding rings on. And that’s the closest I’ve come to my heart exploding."</p> <p>Taylor's lyrics also include shoutouts to poet <strong>Dylan Thomas</strong>—"you're not Dylan Thomas"—and singer-songwriter <strong>Patti Smith</strong>—"I'm not Patti Smith." As well as <strong>Charlie Puth</strong>. "You smoked then ate seven bars of chocolate / We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist."</p>

<p><strong>"My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys":</strong> "I'm queen of sandcastles he destroys," Taylor sings on the third song on the album, in which she recalls a partner who ran away from their relationship. </p> <p>"Cause I knew too much / There was danger in the heat of my touch," the lyrics note. "Saw forever so he smashed it up."</p> <p>She previously compared lovers to toys in 2019's "Cruel Summer," in which she sang, "Bad, bad boy, shiny toy with a price / You know that I bought it."</p> <p><strong>"Down Bad": </strong>In the lyrics to this song, Taylor reflects on being ghosted by a guy, who she calls her "twin," after being infatuated by him.</p> <p>"How dare you think it's romantic / Leaving me safe and stranded," she sings. "Cause f--k it, I was in love / So f--k you if I can't have us."</p> <p>The "stranded" lyric may sound familiar to Swifties, given that Taylor uses it in the <em>1989</em> song "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-BcH7KowGE" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:New Romantics;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">New Romantics</a>": "Please leave me stranded / It's so romantic."</p>

<p><strong>"So Long, London": </strong>Taylor has been known to reserve track five for her most heartbreaking songs, and, yes, "<a href="https://www.eonline.com/news/1399781/untangling-taylor-swifts-heartbreaking-goodbye-to-joe-alwyn-in-so-long-london" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:So Long, London;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">So Long, London</a>" definitely fits the bill.</p> <p>In this track, Taylor reflects on the end of her relationship with Joe (who previously inspired "London Boy") and the memories they shared in the city together over the years. She also alludes to <a href="https://www.eonline.com/news/1371346/taylor-swift-seemingly-shares-what-led-to-joe-alwyn-breakup-in-new-song-youre-losing-me" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:what led to the demise of their relationship;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">what led to the demise of their relationship</a>. </p> <p>"I didn't opt in to be your odd man out," she sings. "I founded the club she's heard great things about / I left all I knew, you left me at the house by the Heath."</p>

<p><strong>"But Daddy I Love Him": </strong> Taylor raised eyebrows when she spent time with Matty, <a href="https://www.eonline.com/news/1386675/ice-spice-reveals-where-she-stands-with-matty-healy-after-his-controversial-comments" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:who's been called out for his controverisal comments over the years;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">who's been called out for his controverisal comments over the years</a>. In "But Daddy I Love Him," she addresses a similar theme of wanting a relationship to work despite criticism from the outside world.</p> <p>"No I'm not coming to my senses," she declares. "I know it's crazy but he's the one I want."</p> <p><strong>"Fresh Out the Slammer": </strong>After getting out of a long relationship with Joe, Taylor seemingly knew who she wanted to call: Matty. </p> <p>"I did my time," she sings. "Now pretty baby I'm running back home to you."</p>

<p><strong>"Florida!!!" (featuring Florence and the Machine): </strong>What to do when you need an escape? Head to Florida. At least, that's what Taylor and <strong>Florence Welch</strong> advise in this track. </p> <p>"You can beat the heat if you beat the charges too / They said I was a cheat, I guess it must be true," Taylor sings, referencing speculation about her personal life. "And my friends, all smell like weed or little babies / And the city reeks of driving myself crazy."</p> <p>"I need to forget, so take me to Florida," the lyrics later continue. "I've got some regrets, I'll bury them in Florida."</p> <p>Taylor explained that the song was actually inspired by true crime sagas of escaping town.</p> <p>“I’m always watching like <em>Dateline</em>—people, you know, have these crimes that they commit," she told <a href="https://www.cosmopolitan.com/entertainment/music/a60547858/taylor-swift-florida-lyrics-explained/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:iHeart Radio;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">iHeart Radio</a>. "Where do they immediately skip town and go to? They go to Florida, you know? They like try to reinvent themselves, have a new identity, blend in. And I think when you go through a heartbreak, there’s a part of you that thinks, 'I want a new name, I want a new life, I don’t want anyone to know where I’ve been or know me at all. And so that was the jumping-off point behind, Where would you go to reinvent yourself and blend in?' Florida.” </p> <p><strong>"Guilty as Sin?": </strong>In another apparent nod to Matty, Taylor starts "Guilty as Sin?" with the lyrics, "Drowning in the Blue Nile / He sent me downtown lights." Well, it just so happens that, back in 2022, Matty <a href="https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/matt-healys-favourite-80s-albums/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:named;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">named</a> <strong>The Blue Nile</strong>'s <em>Hats</em> as one of his favorite albums of the 1980s.</p>

<p><strong>"Who's Afraid of Little Old Me?"</strong>: Taylor tackles her critics in this passionate track."Is it a wonder I broke? Let’s hear one morе joke," she sings. "Then we could all just laugh until I cry."</p> <p><strong>"I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)"</strong>: As Taylor notes in this song, she believed she could help change someone, despite any naysayers.</p> <p>"The smoke cloud billows out his mouth like a freight train through a small town," she sings. "The jokes that he told across the bar were revolting and far too loud."</p> <p>"Thеy shake their heads saying, 'God, help her' when I tell 'em he's my man," the lyrics continue. "But your good lord doesn't need to lift a finger / I can fix him, no, really, I can / And only I can." </p>

<p><strong>"Loml": </strong>In this moving track, Taylor first sings about being called the love of someone's life "about a million times." However, the dynamic soon changed. </p> <p>"If you know it in one glimpse, it's legendary," she notes. "What we thought was for all time was momentary."</p> <p>She ends the song by letting the person know, "You're the loss of my life."</p> <p><strong>"I Can Do It With a Broken Heart": </strong>The song appears to be about Taylor slaying her Eras Tour despite the heartbreak, noting that she's "hittin' my marks" on stage in front of a chanting crowd. She hides her emotions by putting on a strong face: "Lights, camera, bitch smile."</p> <p><span>Though this song is upbeat, it's filled with lyrics of unrequited love. </span></p> <p>"I'm so obsessed with him, but he avoids me like the plague / I cry a lot, but I am so productive, it's an art," she sings. "You know you're good when you can even do it with a broken heart."</p> <p><strong>"The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived": </strong>Taylor has a few questions for "the smallest man who ever lived," who seemingly left their relationship out of nowhere.</p> <p>"You kicked out the stage lights, but you're still performing," she sings. "And in plain sight you hid / But you are what you did."</p>

<p><strong>"The Alchemy":</strong> After ditching "the clowns," Taylor found the guy on the Chiefs. In "The Alchemy," an <a href="https://www.eonline.com/news/1399785/taylor-swift-proves-travis-kelce-is-the-mvp-of-her-heart-in-these-tortured-poets-department-songs" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:apparent nod to her NFL player boyfriend;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">apparent nod to her NFL player boyfriend</a> <strong>Travis Kelce</strong>, Taylor makes several sports references.</p> <p>"I haven't come around in so long / But I'm coming back strong," Taylor sings. "So when I touch down, call the amateurs and cut 'em from the team."</p> <p>She later references her past "blokes," who "warm the benches," noting "we been on a winning streak."</p>

<p><strong>"Clara Bow": </strong>The lyrics to the final song on the album address the connection between Taylor and the late actress <strong>Clara Bow</strong>, whose life, similar to Taylor's, was subjected to much speculation and scrutiny.</p> <p>"It's hell on earth to be heavenly," Taylor sings. "Them's the brakes, they don't come gently."</p> <p>The lyrics also put a spotlight on the comparisons of women in the public eye, with the mention of Clara, <strong>Stevie Nicks</strong> and Taylor herself.</p> <p>And, as if being told to the next star in line, "You look like Taylor Swift / In this light, we're loving it," the lyrics state. "You've got edge, she never did / The future's bright, dazzling."</p>

<p><strong>"thanK you aIMee":</strong> After <a href="https://www.eonline.com/news/1399782/taylor-swift-surprises-fans-with-double-album-drop-of-the-tortured-poets-departmen" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:surprising fans at 2 a.m. with a double album;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">surprising fans at 2 a.m. with a double album</a>, featuring 15 additional <em>Tortured Poet</em> songs, Swifties were <a href="https://www.eonline.com/news/1399788/taylor-swift-shades-kim-kardashian-on-the-tortured-poets-departments-thank-you-aimee" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:quick to spot;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">quick to spot</a> <strong>Kim Kardashian</strong>'s name in the title of "thanK you aIMee."</p> <p>"And it wasn't a fair fight, or a clean kill / Each time that Aimee stomped across my gravе," Taylor sings, seemingly referencing <a href="https://www.eonline.com/news/1390960/taylor-swift-calls-out-kim-kardashian-over-infamous-kanye-west-call" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the infamous phone call between her and Kanye West;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">the infamous phone call between her and <strong>Kanye West</strong></a> that Kim posted online in 2016. "And then she wrote hеadlinesIn the local paper, laughing at each baby step I'd take."</p> <p>But, as the lyrics note, Taylor is stronger now: "All that time you were throwin' punches, I was buildin' somethin' / And I couldn't wait to show you it was real / Screamed "F--k you, Aimee" to the night sky, as the blood was gushin' / But I can't forget the way you made me heal."</p>

<p><strong>"So High School": </strong>Taylor seems to compare her love story with Travis to a sweet high school romance.</p> <p>"Are you gonna marry, kiss or kill me?" she sings. "It's just a game, but really I'm bettin' on all three for us two."</p> <p>She alludes to the night she rode in a convertible with Traivs after one of his football games, noting, "Get my car door, isn't that sweet? Then pull me to thе backseat." </p> <p>Not to mention this mic-drop: "You know how to ball, I know Aristotle."</p> <p><strong>"The Manuscript": </strong>The lyrics may reference her romance with <strong>John Mayer</strong>—who she dated in 2009 when she was 19 and he was 31—since she sings about an age gap. </p> <p>“In the age of him, she wished she was thirty / And made coffee every morning in a Frеnch press," Taylor sings, later adding, "She thought about how he said since she was so wise beyond her years / Everything had been above board / She wasn't sure."</p>

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