How are Taylor Swift’s ‘tortured poets’ handling the heat?

The superstar refers to three men on her latest album: her current partner, Travis Kelce, and two of her exes, actor Joe Alwyn and musician Matty Healy. The former avoided talking about the singer in Cannes, while the latter is ‘uncomfortable’ with the renewed attention as he has a new girlfriend

From left to right, Matty Healy, Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn.
From left to right, Matty Healy, Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn. Matty Healy: CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 04: Matt Healy of The 1975 performs during Lollapalooza at Grant Park on August 04, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Josh Brasted/FilmMagic) Taylor: MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 29: EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO BOOK COVERS Taylor Swift performs on stage during "Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour" at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium on May 29, 2024 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Xavi Torrent/TAS24/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management ) Joe Alwyn: SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 18: English actor Joe Alwyn attends the opening ceremony of the 68th San Sebastian International Film Festival at the Kursaal Palace on September 18, 2020 in San Sebastian, Spain. (Photo by Juan Naharro Gimenez/WireImage)Getty Images

It was in February 2024, on stage while collecting her Grammy for best pop vocal album for Midnights, when Taylor Swift decided to make a surprise announcement: she was going to release her 11th studio albumThe Tortured Poets Department —on April 19. Immediately, the Swiftie universe began to speculate about the name of the records, its meaning and who the singer may refer to in the new songs.

Swift —who in addition to being a great lyricist is a marketing genius tends to sprinkle details about her love life in most of her tracks. In April 2023, the singer and British actor Joe Alwyn broke up after a discreet six-year relationship. At first, it was said to be an “amicable” breakup, although later this seemed not to be the case. That summer, Swift had a brief romance with Matty Healy, lead singer of the band the 1975. But the relationship was over before winter arrived. And in October, the singer confirmed her relationship with Travis Kelce, the tight end of the Kansas City Chiefs, a famous American football team, with the two snapped holding hands in New York.

Just a few minutes after the artist left the Grammy stage in February, a tweet explaining the meaning of Swift’s new album had gone viral. According to the message, the name was in reference to a private WhatsApp group between Joe Alwyn and two other popular actors, Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal. It turns out this was true: the actors have a group chat called The Tortured Man Club. The album was not set to be released for another two months, but the Swifties were already jumping into action.

On April 19, Swift fans and journalists fluent in Taylorism were quick to analyze and over-analyze the 31 new songs on The Tortured Poets Department. They were not disappointed: the album is a gold mine of meta lyrics, where the more you dig, the more you find.

There are the not so subtle references to Kim Kardashian in thanK you aIMee (the capital letters spell out KIM). Swift has been at odds with the reality TV star since 2009, when Kanye West — Kardashian’s then-husband — stole the singer’s microphone on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards. There are nods to Travis Kelce in songs like The Alchemy (“Where’s the trophy?” Taylor sings, referring to the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory in the 2024 Super Bowl. “He just comes runnin’ over to me”) and So High School, where the artist sings about a romance that seems straight out of a high school movie and in which, to the delight of fans, she lets it slip that Kelce isn’t the sharpest tool in the box (“You know how to ball, I know Aristotle”). But, without a doubt, the real pearls of the album concern her exes.

Regarding Joe Alwyn, Swiftie detectives have found references to the actor in at least six songs — perhaps because they were together for six years. So Long, London is, perhaps, the most obvious, since the singer went to live in the British capital with Alwyn after her reputation crisis in the United States. In the song, she talks about how alone and insecure she felt in the relationship, how she waited in vain for him to ask her to marry him, and even hints at the actor’s possible infidelity. In Fresh Out the Slammer, Swift sings about feeling free after spending years in prison (“But it’s gonna be alright, I did my time”). In loml, she plays on the acronym for “love of my life,” which is changed to “loss of my life.”

Matt Healy performing with his band the 1975 at the Lollapalooza festival in 2023.
Matt Healy performing with his band the 1975 at the Lollapalooza festival in 2023. Josh Brasted (FilmMagic/Getty Images)

Healy is also referenced in a series of songs on the album. In the song The Tortured Poets Department, Swift seems to laugh at how they made a strange couple (“You’re not Dylan Thomas, I’m not Patti Smith. This ain’t the Chelsea Hotel, we’re modern idiots”). Other songs refer to Healy’s aura of a tortured poet, with constant references to his typewriter, suits that make him look like a Jehovah’s Witness believer, and even his addiction problems. Perhaps the most striking of all the songs that refer to Healy is The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived, where Swift says that he was not at her level “in any measure of a man” (leaving it up to the listeners to decide what exactly that means).

The paparazzi couldn’t track down Alwyn or Healy on April 19, when the album was released. The press speculated that the actor and singer were hiding, very wisely, from the media storm. A few days later, a photographer caught Matty Healy in Los Angeles, dressed in a tracksuit and wearing a hoodie. “Hey Matt! How would you rate your Taylor diss track compared to the 30 others [on the record]?” the photographer asked. With a small smile, Healy elegantly responded: “My diss track? Oh, I haven’t really listened to that much of it [the album], but I’m sure it’s good.”

The singer has not responded to questions about the album again. Nor about Swift. He was on tour with the 1977 in Europe until March and, according to Rolling Stone, the band is preparing a new album. Recently, a source close to the singer revealed to US Weekly that Healy was “completely blindsided” by the “lyrical content” of The Tortured Poets Department. “He also thinks it’s hilarious because at no time [were they] ever serious,” the friend told the outlet. Despite appearing unfazed by the album, the source also revealed that he was “uncomfortable with the renewed attention on his relationship [with Taylor] — especially because he’s [with someone] new.” Healy has been dating model Gabbriette Bechtel since September 2023.

Joe Alwyn at the Cannes Film Festival.
Joe Alwyn at the Cannes Film Festival.Pascal Le Segretain (Getty Images)

Alwyn has also tried to keep a low profile. The lead actor of the TV series Conversations with Friends, based on the successful novel by Sally Rooney, has preferred to weather the storm in silence, as he did during the time he was with Swift. A source close to the actor told People magazine that “he’s not comfortable in the spotlight,” adding that the actor had been “focused on work,” and that like his high-profile ex, he was also in a new relationship.

The English actor appeared at the Cannes Film Festival, where he presented his latest movie, Kinds of Kindness, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, which also stars Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons and Willem Dafoe. “He will be doing press — but will not be entertaining any Taylor questions,” stated a source close to the actor in the Daily Mail. And, of course, he didn’t. There was some expectation around how Alwyn and Stone, Swift’s close friend, would act on the red carpet (there was little interaction but no obvious tension) and at the festival parties (Stone attended a cocktail party with the film’s crew and production company Searchlight at the Carlton Hotel, while Alwyn attended one organized by Columbia Pictures). The Swiftie universe will speculate, but Alwyn is staying silent.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS