We’re Wrong About “Female Rage” and This One ‘TTPD’ Line Proves It

taylor wearing a blue dress and holding a microphone
BRB, Setting Fire to All My Clothes With TaylorKhadija Horton/Getty Images

Last week, when Taylor Swift dubbed the new Tortured Poets Department set of her Eras Tour “Female Rage: The Musical”—a name she apparently plans to trademark—the general response among many fans was something to the effect of, “Why, God? Why must the greatest creative mind of our generation also at times be the cringiest of millennials?”

Personally, I don’t really mind the cringe itself all that much—I am nothing if not a baby millennial who would’ve absolutely retweeted something like “Female Rage: The Musical!” back in 2016. What does bother me, however, is that the millennial pink, #girlboss-ified version of “female rage” we know and cringe at today so glaringly belies the very real, very dark, very insidious force Taylor so artfully captures throughout TTPD. The heartbreak-fueled fury Taylor channels here is not of the “crazy ex-girlfriend” variety she has been accused of weaponizing throughout her career, but something much more sinister, primal, and—crucially—self-destructive.

The scorned woman trope that has followed Taylor—and pretty much any woman who writes, sings, or otherwise speaks publicly about heartbreak—from day one paints these unhinged exes as chaotic, vengeful, and out to destroy. They key your car, smash your phone, throw a drink in your face. In the 2014 “Blank Space” music video, Taylor glamorously parodies this female-rage-filled caricature of herself the media so relentlessly clings to, cutting up her former lover’s shirts, setting them on fire, and hurling them out the window.

A decade later, in TTPD’sThe Black Dog,” however, it’s not her ex’s clothes she wants to burn, but her own. Of all the lyrics on Taylor’s arguably verbose eleventh album, “Now I want to sell my house and set fire to all my clothes” is the number one line that stopped me dead in my tracks. Not only because I find it extremely relatable on a personal level—I do, in fact, have a pre-TTPD note from last October in my phone that reads, “I want to burn my entire wardrobe because it’s been on your floor”—but also because it evokes a very specific, very eviscerating fusion of grief and anger that breeds not bloodlust, but self-destruction.

This ninth circle of female rage where wrath meets anguish is not home to man-eating shrews out for revenge. This rage is directed inward, and it echoes through TTPD like a broken heartbeat. Throughout the album, Taylor’s anger is so intimately intertwined with her grief it can be easy to mistake one for the other, to miss that they are equal parts of the same poison cocktail she wants to drown in. She “might just die, it would make no difference.” She would’ve “died for your sins,” instead she “just died inside.” She wants to hire a priest to come and exorcize her demons, even if she dies screaming. And she hopes you hear it.

This is female rage at its deepest, saddest, most self-annihilating. “I want to burn my clothes” also translates to, “I want to crawl out of my fucking skin because you’ve touched it,” and, “I want to change my name because I can still hear it in your voice and it sounds like a slur,” and, “I want to fake my own death and start a new life somewhere else because you’ve ruined mine,” and “I want to Eternal Sunshine you out of my brain.”

Female rage doesn’t take a golf club to your car or throw your flaming clothes on the lawn. It eats itself alive. Sets itself ablaze. Screams itself sick. The only vengeance it seeks is in hoping you witness us self-destruct in your name. Female rage wants to grab the knife you dangled over our heads for weeks while you slithered your coward’s slink out of our lives and hoped we wouldn’t notice—hoped we wouldn’t text you after 19 days of silence and say, “Can we talk?” But it doesn’t want to turn the knife on you. It just wants to finish the job itself. It doesn’t want blood, it wants to bleed out. And it wants you to fucking watch.

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