LA Times: Taylor Swift’s new album is rife with breakup songs. Psychologists explain why we love them

April 22, 2024

Taylor Swift performs in Buenos Aires in November. (Natacha Pisarenko / Associated Press)

Article from the LA Times, written by staff writer Karen Kaplan.

Perhaps never before have so many been so eager for something so steeped in heartbreak.

Taylor Swift’s legions of devotees have eagerly anticipated her new album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” in hopes of gaining insight into her notoriously private six-year relationship with actor Joe Alwyn — particularly her perspective on its demise.

Swift delivers. In a track titled “Fresh Out the Slammer,” the 14-time Grammy Award winner sings of spending “Years of labor, locks and ceilings / In the shade of how he was feeling.” Another song called “So Long, London” has her recounting that “I stopped CPR, after all it’s no use / Thе spirit was gone, we would never come to.” (She also devotes several songs to her short-lived situationship with fellow singer Matty Healy of the English band the 1975.)

“Songwriting is something that, like, actually gets me through my life, and I’ve never had an album where I needed songwriting more than I needed it on ‘Tortured Poets,’” Swift confessed to an audience in Melbourne, Australia, when her Eras tour played there in February.

Embracing a breakup album may seem like a macabre thing to do. But psychologists and cognitive scientists say songs about relationships gone bad actually can do listeners a lot of good.

“When people have a romantic breakup, they feel very alone in their experience,” said David Sbarra, a professor of psychology at the University of Arizona who studies how marital separation and divorce affect health. “They feel very isolated and think that the unique individual circumstances that characterized their breakup are particularly terrible.”

A breakup song can change that, said Sbarra, who conducted a deep dive into the emotional authenticity of Olivia Rodrigo‘s lyrics about a doomed relationship on her debut album “Sour.”

“Songs play a powerful role in normalizing our experience, in making us feel that we are not this weird, unusual, distorted kind of person,” Sbarra said.

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