Swifties Have Plenty of Theories About "The Black Dog" From "Tortured Poets Department"

The black dog metaphor has roots in folklore that may impact the meaning behind Taylor Swift's upcoming song.

Sara Belcher - Author

Mar. 4 2024, Published 6:49 p.m. ET

Taylor Swift
Source: Getty Images

Global icon Taylor Swift announced that her 11th studio album "Tortured Poets Department" when accepting her 13th Grammy award, derailing all of the theories that another re-record was coming. Consistent with her previous releases, "Tortured Poets Department" will have multiple editions for purchase, each with a different bonus track (that likely won't be available to stream when the album releases).

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The last special edition album features the bonus track "The Black Dog," teasing the lyrics "Old habits die screaming…” on the album's tracklist. But what's the meaning behind this upcoming song? Swifties have plenty of theories — and yes, many of them trace back to her ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn.

Taylor Swift wearing the yellow dress while performing surprise songs
Source: Getty Images

Taylor Swift was wearing the yellow surprise song dress when she announced "The Black Dog" variant

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"The Black Dog" is likely a metaphor for depression.

With all of the teasers we've received for the upcoming album, it's clear that in between the dark academia-laden metaphors and old Hollywood references, this is going to be a breakup album about Joe. Taylor has explored mental health in some of her previous works, like "Clean" and "The Archer," and Swifties think this will be a similar track.

“The ‘black dog’ metaphor can represent the gradual overtaking of enjoyable activities you once loved, the person you once recognized in the mirror, or the life you once lived," one Swiftie fan account theorized.

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Others point to the surprise songs she sung in Singapore, where she announced the final special edition of "Tortured Poets Department."

"She announced the black dog which represents depression and then she sung 'Clean' and 'evermore,' two songs about finally getting over your pain and reaching acceptance. She is insanely genius," one Twitter user wrote.

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"This metaphor describes a state of depression characterized by sadness or lack of will, including the loss of desire to partake in activities you once loved," BetterHelp defines the "black dog" metaphor. "This metaphor can be helpful for adults and children living with depression and those with loved ones experiencing symptoms. The image of a large, intrusive black dog may more clearly identify the often difficult-to-see aspects of depression."

The black dog is also often used in English folklore as a death omen (think The Grim from the Harry Potter franchise). Because of this, many are theorizing that this will mean the song is about the death of a relationship, mourning the loss of what was and learning to move forward despite the looming depression.

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Unfortunately, until the album releases on April 19, we won't know what the song is actually referencing. At this moment, all we have is a variety of theories to speculate on the upcoming album.

Not everyone will be able to listen to "The Black Dog" on release day, either. Since this is a bonus track on one of the editions of "Tortured Poets Department," only those who preordered that edition of the album will be able to hear it for themselves on release day, while the rest of us will have to wait until the theories are confirmed.

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