Everything You Need to Know About Taylor's Chelsea Hotel

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Taylor Swift's 'Chelsea Hotel' Lyrics, ExplainedGraham Denholm/TAS24 - Getty Images
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On Taylor Swift's newest album, The Tortured Poets Department, which was released on April 19 in a surprise double-length drop, there are a myriad of references to places, relationships, and feelings, both past and present. They range from the near-miss home purchase with ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn in Hampstead Heath in "So Long, London" to loving a mysterious timeshare in Destin, Florida, in "Florida!!! Ft. Florence and the Machines." One of the most prominent real-world references on the album comes in the form of the iconic Chelsea Hotel in the titular track two, "The Tortured Poets Department."


And who's gonna hold you like me?

And who's gonna know you, if not me?

I laughed in your face and said

"You're not Dylan Thomas, I'm not Patti Smith

This ain't the Chelsea Hotel, we'rе modern idiots"

And who's gonna hold you like me?

Lyrics courtesy of Genius.com.

Written about a torrid, now-ended fling, Swift tries to bring the other person back to reality by stating that they are not Thomas and Smith but rather "modern idiots." While there's a lot of speculation around who the song is about (cough, Matty Healy of the 1975 fame, cough), one thing is for sure: The hotel has long been a sanctuary for artists, musicians, and yes, poets, since its inception. Across this album, Swift is grounding herself and her feelings to something real, and this time it's the Chelsea Hotel. The property may not have a personal significance to the singer, but Swift can tie together strings from across time periods to relate to what she's going through.

Why Taylor Swift Mentions the Chelsea Hotel in "The Tortured Poets Department"

While we'd argue that it's of no use to try and understand the inner workings or "whys" in Swift's songwriting and lyric choices, the Chelsea Hotel has long been a sanctuary for "tortured" artists. On this album, Swift dives into the emotionally fraught people and places in her life over the past two years. Had she been of a previous generation, she might have avoided the rough scene the hotel is known, but she's of the same artistic caliber as its famous residents. However, she insists that she and her lover aren't on that level, touting poet Dylan Thomas and musician Patti Smith instead.

the chelsea hotel in new york
UCG - Getty Images

Thomas is a famous Welsh poet most known for the poem "Do not go gentle into that good night," and, as any Swift fan knows, British writers of Thomas's generation have long been a source of inspiration for the pop star. On folklore (2020), Swift refers to the UK's Lake District, where many a poet, including Thomas, spent time: "Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die." He also rambled around the Chelsea Hotel and Greenwich Village. Patti Smith, the poet and musician, is another fixture of the New York bohemian scene and long-term resident of the Chelsea Hotel.

However, the two never overlapped on the property. Thomas died in 1953 at the relatively young age of 39 from alcohol poisoning while living at the Chelsea Hotel, but Smith didn't move in until over a decade later, in 1969 or 1970.

History of the Chelsea Hotel

Originally constructed in the 1830s, the Hotel Chelsea is an impeccable example of Victorian Gothic architecture on the west side of Manhattan in New York City. Designed by architect Philip Hubert, the 12-story hotel on West 23rd Street quickly became a long-term housing co-op for artists, musicians, poets, and other transient types. Originally only consisting of 100 apartments, it now has 400 rooms following a major renovation that took place from 2011 to 2022. Once a refuge for starving artists, it's now primarily a luxury hotel.

Who Else Has Stayed at the Chelsea Hotel?

From icons like Andy Warhol and Leonard Cohen to Janis Joplin, and, of course, poets like Patti Smith and Dylan Thomas, the Chelsea Hotel has provided both short- and long-term lodgings for artists of all kinds. A Patti Smith quote on the hotel website sums up its appeal perfectly: "I loved this place, its shabby elegance, and the history it held so possessively… So many had written, conversed, and convulsed in these Victorian dollhouse rooms," she says. "So many skirts had swished these worn marble stairs. So many transient souls had espoused, made a mark, and succumbed here." The famous guest list continues with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and more.

Other Mentions of the Chelsea Hotel in Music

From modern muses like Lana del Rey and Phoebe Bridgers to classic singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, the Hotel Chelsea has inspired a number of well-known songs outside of Swift's discography. "Chelsea Morning" is Joni Mitchell's take, with the lyrics, "Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning / And the first thing that I heard / Was a song outside my window / And the traffic wrote the words." Bridgers's sentiments are much more melancholy: "And you can call the service bell / When we stay at the Chelsea Hotel / And I'll stay out of my own hell." Lana del Rey nods to it by covering Lenard Cohen's famous ode to his time there with Janis Joplin, "Chelsea Hotel No. 2." The song opens with, "I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel / You were talking so brave and so sweet." Cohen's song is arguably the most well-known reference to the hotel.

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