This New Taylor Swift Song Hits On A Relatable Breakup Urge

Therapists weigh in on the surprisingly familiar meaning in one particular track on “The Tortured Poets Department."

Taylor Swift is once again making headlines following the release of her 11th studio album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” at 12 a.m. Friday. Two hours later, the singer surprised fans with the revelation that “TTPD” is actually a double album, and dropped 15 additional songs, for a total of 122 minutes of new music.

With 31 brand new tracks, fans have plenty of lyrics — about relationship trauma, mental health and other themes that fit into the album’s “tortured” theme — to dissect. But while many of the songs also sound melancholy, Swift sneaks some of her saddest sentiments into the upbeat electro-pop bop “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart”:

I’m so depressed I act like it’s my birthday every day / I’m so obsessed with him, but he avoids me like a plague / I cry a lot, but I am so productive; it’s an art / You know you’re good when you even can do it with a broken heart.

They said, ‘Babe you gotta fake it til you make it,’ and I did / Lights, camera, bitch, smile, even when you want to die / He said he’d love me all his life, but that life was too short / Breaking down, I hit the floor / All the pieces of me shattered as the crowd was chanting, ‘MORE!’

The singer seems to describe performing on her record-breaking “Eras” tour ― which is all but confirmed by the concert footage that accompanies the track on Spotify ― and recalls glittering on the stage and hitting her marks while feeling miserable in her personal life. (Swift and her longtime boyfriend Joe Alwyn ended their six-year relationship around the start of the tour.)

As my colleague Jillian Capewell wrote in her “TTPD” review, “She manically pep-talks herself through the devastation of heartbreak ... assuring herself she’s a ‘real tough kid’ who can ‘handle her shit,’ but hinting at a harder fallout from her breakup with Alwyn that she didn’t let the public see.”

Swift concludes the song, practically laughing, ”’Cause I’m miserable, and nobody even knows!” before sighing and declaring, “Try and come for my job.”

Although most of us don’t know what it’s like to spend night after night performing for football stadium-sized crowds while grieving the end of a long-term relationship, many people can relate to the notion of throwing yourself into your work as you go through a difficult breakup.

“For better or worse, distraction is one of the most tried and true coping strategies people turn to when dealing with difficult and overwhelming things,” Brit Barkholtz, a Minnesota-based clinical therapist, told HuffPost. “Productive distractions like throwing yourself into work or other projects can be particularly compelling to us because unlike a more passive distraction ― like maybe watching TV or reading a book ― productive distractions provide some tangible ‘output’ that can give you a sense of control and agency and competency, which can feel like a much-needed balm.”

Just as Swift boasts about how “good” she is at doing her job amid severe emotional turmoil, anyone can derive a sense of satisfaction from accomplishing something at work, especially in times when they feel like they’re failing in other areas of their lives.

“You might feel better about yourself getting things done, and feel like it helps your self-esteem in some capacity,” said Jessi Gold, an associate professor of psychiatry and the chief wellness officer at the University of Tennessee System. “So many of us base our identity on our work and our relationships, so having one going OK can sometimes help balance our feelings of loss and confusion about the other.”

Taylor Swift attends the 66th GRAMMY Awards on February 4, 2024 in Los Angeles.
Neilson Barnard via Getty Images
Taylor Swift attends the 66th GRAMMY Awards on February 4, 2024 in Los Angeles.

It’s understandable, then — but is it healthy?

Trying to stay productive “can give your mind a needed break from the painful things you’re dealing with, and on a practical level it gets stuff done,” Barkholtz said. “Maybe you make some extra headway at work or complete some projects at home you’ve been meaning to get around to. It feels good to get stuff done!”

And Swift’s job already requires her to process her emotions.

Writing lyrics can be “really close to journaling, which is helpful for processing,” Gold said. “[Swift] has said her lyrics can mean different things at different points, and I think just like music can be comforting for us to hear, it is comforting for her to write and perform.”

She pointed to the artist’s 2020 albums, “Folklore” and “Evermore,” which she wrote and recorded amid the challenges and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Her productivity skyrockets over the times when it seems harder for others to get things done, emotionally, so clearly it helps her in some way,” Gold said.

Swift also thrives on getting positive responses and support from fans at her live concerts. Gold noted that Lady Gaga’s song “Applause,” which features the chorus “I live for the applause,” plays out in every stadium before the singer takes the stage at her “Eras” shows.

“So we know she not only loves her fans, but it helps her to be with them, loved by them and around them,” she said. “That can also help when she might feel less loved in her personal life, or even in her own head towards herself, which can both happen as a result of feelings around a break up. It is a bit of, ‘It is OK that he doesn’t love me, look at how many people do.’”

But although there is no right or wrong way to grieve and cope with heartbreak, there are some potential downsides to diving so fully into your job during a breakup.

“Throwing yourself into work during times like this can put you at risk of burnout,” Barkholtz warned. “If you’re trying to do too much and [run] more on adrenaline and emotion than actual energy, it’s not going to be sustainable. You’re already using a great deal of your mental and emotional capacity just existing through this hard time, so adding a lot of extra work ― particularly high-intensity work that requires a high level of mental or physical energy and focus ― can deplete even your deepest reserves and leave you exhausted.”

Working too much is certainly healthier than more obvious self-harm, but that doesn’t mean this tactic can’t become problematic in excess. Emotionally, there’s also a fine line between using work as a little bit of a distraction and full-on avoidance.

“If you are working, and busy, you don’t have time to sit and feel,” Gold noted. “Sometimes we do this unconsciously, like we have no idea that we even are working more, but sometimes we are choosing to be busy because it feels better than not being busy. Still, you do want to make sure you are not doing it for too long with no awareness that is what you are doing,”

You can’t work your way out of having to acknowledge and accept you breakup and difficult emotions, however. Repressing those feelings will only intensify them.

“You will need to feel eventually, and pushing it down and pushing it down will likely only make it pop right up with more force, like a beach ball in water,” Gold said.

Gold also urged people going through a personal challenge to be kind to themselves, rather than compound the negative feelings by judging the way they cope. “Thoughts like ‘I am handling this badly’ or ‘coping wrong’ make it worse,” she said. “I think it is important to do what works and is helpful to you, and for many of us we do need to work through it and don’t have an option not to.”

Easing up on your job if you’re going through a rough time isn’t a privilege everyone has. So even if you have no choice but to focus on work, try to make space in your life for self-care and reflection as well.

“It’s important to also have places and people in your life where you don’t have to appear fine or be productive,” Barkholtz said. “Try to make sure to not cut yourself off from supportive people you can be genuine and honest with or from hobbies or practices that bring you joy and keep you centered.”

She hopes the song “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” makes others who must work through heartbreak feel less alone as they struggle to get from one day to the next and even do it with a smile.

″[I] want Taylor and everyone else to know: It’s OK to just be messy, it’s OK to not be ‘tough’ or ‘resilient,’” Barkholtz said. “You are not weak or any lesser on the days that the pain keeps you in bed all day than you are on the days you play a sold-out show with a broken heart.”

She believes the song contains a second message ― one that is more implicit but offers an always-relevant reminder to everyone.

“There is often so much more than meets the eye,” Barkholtz noted. “Many people have experienced or are currently going through things you have no idea about.”

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