Harvard’s Taylor Swift Scholars Have Thoughts on ‘Tortured Poets’

Fans of Taylor Swift often study up for a new album, revisiting the singer’s older works to prepare to analyze lyrics and song titles for secret messages and meanings.

“The Tortured Poets Department” is getting much the same treatment, and perhaps no group of listeners was better prepared than the students at Harvard University currently studying Ms. Swift’s works in an English class devoted entirely to the artist. The undergraduate course, “Taylor Swift and Her World,” is taught by Stephanie Burt, who has her students comparing Ms. Swift’s songs to works by poets and writers including Willa Cather, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth.

On Thursday night, about 50 students from the class gathered in a lecture hall on campus to listen to Ms. Swift’s new album. Mary Pankowski, a 22-year-old senior studying history of art and architecture, wore a cream sweatshirt she bought at Ms. Swift’s Eras tour last year. The group made beaded friendship bracelets to celebrate the new album, she said.

When the clock struck midnight, the classroom erupted into applause, and the analysis began. First, the group listened through the album once without discussing, just taking it all in.

Certain lines, however, immediately caused a stir, said Samantha Wilhoit, a junior studying government — like a reference to the singer Charlie Puth and the scathing lyrics to the song “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived,” Ms. Wilhoit, 21, said.

A line from the song “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” in which Ms. Swift sings, “I cry a lot but I am so productive,” also seemed to resonate, Ms. Wilhoit said, laughing.

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