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All The References In Taylor's 'Tortured Poets Department' Explained For Non-Swifties

I hope you have your dictionary, Greek mythology knowledge, celeb feud notes, and thinking caps ready to go because we have very serious work to do. While some of you are mindlessly scrolling on SwiftTok trying to get some answers, I’m scrolling on SwiftTok and taking lots of notes. The Smart Swifties have already cracked lots of Tortured Poets Department codes for us, and there are probably countless more to figure out, too. If there’s one thing Ms. Taylor Swift is gonna do, it’s reference historical figures and random books/films/art pieces. If there’s a second thing she’s gonna do, it’s confuse us with advanced vocab words.

Don’t get too stressed out. We can do this, people! I’ll admit that the release of this wildly brilliant and devastating heartbreak album has me almost completely emotionally incapacitated — almost being the key word. The few brain cells I have left after “So Long, London” and the five million Matty Healy songs are on a mission to understand all of the references in TTPD. They’re all over the place in the song titles and in the lyrics, so let’s not waste time: Here is the TTPD reference guide you need to study.

The Clara Bow Comparison

Clara Bow
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In track 16, “Clara Bow,” Taylor compares herself to the real-life figure, who was a Hollywood outsider of sorts. Clara was a silent-film star with a legacy stained by gossip and lies in magazines. (We would never gossip about Taylor.) She became an It girl and a sex symbol against her will, and ultimately stopped making movies at the age of 28. The actress said at the time: “I want to be known as a serious actress, and not as an It girl.” Taylor also notably took a break from the public eye around that age following the intense Kanye West and Kim Kardashian drama. She’s also obviously not a fan of all the rumors about her dating life.

The Little Mermaid Reference


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If “But Daddy I Love Him” sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The title is a line from The Little Mermaid, a movie which, of course, came out in the year of Taylor, 1989. After Ariel’s father, King Triton, finds out about her relationship with Prince Eric, he forbids her from seeing him. She begs, “But Daddy, I love him!” Taylor has long made it known that she’s a fan of the film and even dressed up as Ariel for her 2019 New Year’s Eve costume party.

“The Alchemy” Callback To “Daylight”


yes I did not survive #taylorswift #swifttok #tstheerastour #minneapoliststheerastour #daylight #surprisesong

♬ original sound – Depresseddom

This is why the dictionary is an essential piece of the New Taylor Album Starter Pack. If you didn’t know, alchemy refers to “attempts to convert base metals into gold.” Hardcore Swifties know that Taylor used to believe love is red (hence the 2012 Red album), but then she decided it was golden on 2019’s Lover. In the Lover track, “Daylight,” Taylor sings: “I once believed love would be burning red / But it’s golden like daylight.” Evidently, she and Travis (the subject of this song) just couldn’t deny their golden love.

The Diana Of Ephesus Statue Reference

In “The Prophecy,” Taylor sings one of the most gut-wrenching lyrics on this album, which is saying a fucking lot: “Even statues crumble / If they’re made to wait.” Taylor actually revealed what statue she’s talking about via the TTPD pop-up library. The statue in the exhibit is Diana of Ephesus, the goddess of childbirth and fertility. The OG version of Diana was meant to be shipped to London but crumbled due to neglect. You crumbled her, Joe.

Dylan Thomas And Patti Smith

Patti Smith
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In the title track, Taylor emphasizes that she and Matty are not Dylan Thomas and Patti Smith. If you didn’t know, Dylan was a famous Welsh poet who wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night.” He definitely had a “tortured” vibe, which is probably why he was mentioned. Patti Smith is, of course, one of the best songwriters ever, but Taylor’s saying she’s not Patti. In addition to her discography, Patti’s also published lots of successful poetry collections and books. She’s historically been a friend to Taylor.

The Black Dog Bar

The first tune of the anthology section seems to be inspired by a real London bar called The Black Dog. Taylor sings about tracking her ex’s location (relatable) and seeing that he wound up at this bar. The Black Dog pub is located at 112 Vauxhall Walk in London if you every wanna hit up a Taylor pub. It’s always all about the details for Blondie. 

thanK you aIMee Is Code For Kim

Kim Kardashian
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Notice the random capitalized letters? Yeah, not a coincidence. They spell Kim as in Kim K, who Taylor’s feuded with for years. Taylor basically says this song is about Kim without directly saying it’s about Kim: “And so I changed your name, and any real defining clues / And one day, your kid comes home singin’ / A song that only us two is gonna know is about you.” You gotta admire how bold and funny this is. 


A Greek mythology reference! And… probably another Kim K shoutout. Cassandra of Troy had the gift of prophecy, but no one believed what she predicted. She knew that Paris would start the Battle of Troy if he went to Sparta and brought back Helen, but she was ignored. In “Cassandra,” Taylor sings: When the first stone’s thrown, they’re screaming / In the streets, there’s a raging riot / When it’s “Burn the bitch,” they’re shrieking / When the truth comes out, it’s quiet.” It’s very much giving her 2016 Kim and Kanye trauma.

Peter Pan

In this Anthology track, Taylor references the classic fairy tale, singing about a man who never grows up. I think it’s a Joe tune, but you really can’t be sure with this album. “And you said you’d come and get me, but you were twenty-five / And the shelf life of those fantasies has expired / Lost to the ‘Lost Boys’ chapter of your life,” she says. Joe was about 25 when they met…

Ilana Frost
Ilana Frost
Ilana Frost is an entertainment writer at Betches. As a teenage girl in her twenties, she spends her time stanning Olivia Rodrigo, baking cakes for award shows, and refusing to ever leave her Reputation era.