With her Fortnight music video, Taylor Swift reunites the Dead Poets Society – and shows off a new side

Taylor Swift with Dead Poets Society stars Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles
Taylor Swift with Dead Poets Society stars Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles - RUBA

There is so much going on in Taylor Swift’s new album, The Tortured Poets Department, that diligent listeners might feel they should be taking notes or scrolling Reddit as they bop along. Which lyrics reference her split from long-term partner Joe Alwyn? Which are about her dalliance with Matty Healy of the 1975? Could vituperative banger Smallest Man Who Ever Lived be a baleful nod towards the 5’10” singer?

Swifties had barely recovered their collective breath from the release of the LP, which – surprise! – turned out to be a double album, when the singer revealed she was releasing the first official video for the lead single Fortnight. Directed by Swift herself and “dropped” at 1 a.m. UK time, the promo is rigorously on-brand – crammed, as is Swift’s style, with more Easter eggs than a supermarket in April.

Yet, if stuffed with winks, nods and hidden treasures, it also has a unmistakable haunting quality. In that it feels of a piece with the vibes of The Tortured Poets Department – a break-up album steeped in the “dark academia” aesthetic of Donna Tartt’s Secret History and Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society.

Swift can be glamorous or quirky. But in this black and white video, she has a disturbing mannequin-like quality. It suggests she has been watching Yorgos Lanthimos’s Oscar-winning Poor Things, in which Emma Stone portrayed a quirky she-Frankenstein’s Monster negotiating a cruel and uncaring world full of men who wanted to take advantage of her. There are also lots of vintage typewriters – a recurring motif on the LP.

Fortnight is a duet with rapper Post-Malone. His breathy singing voice dovetails surprisingly with Swift’s angsty coo. They have real chemistry in the video, too. When they’re hugging, smiling, and mucking about, the bearded rhymer looks like a dead ringer for Swift’s American football-playing boyfriend, Travis Kelce.

But this isn’t so much a pop video as a puzzle box sprinkled with references to The Tortured Poets Department. The biggest visual bombshell is perhaps at the end when Franken-Taylor is in a laboratory having voltage applied to her head. Busying about her are two scientists played by Dead Poets Society stars Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles. Their overcoats even have the names of their Dead Poets characters: Anderson and Overstreet.

Swift herself is a walking montage of clues. She starts chained to a bed wearing a replica of the dress she sported at the Grammys, where she announced The Tortured Poets Department. Later, she switches to a black Victorian mourning gown. She is presumably grieving her split from English boyfriend Alywn by changing from a “white” wedding frock to something cosseting and grief-stricken.

With Swift’s latest incarnation, there are rabbit holes within rabbit holes. But it crucially also functions as a great pop promo, framed in a hyper-styled black and white that accentuates the shadows and makes Swift’s lipstick as she pretends to kiss Malone look darker than midnight.

Swift has never had more cultural ubiquity. And, with her Eras Tour hitting Europe this summer, the “Taylor Takeover” has only just begun. But for now, the Fortnight video brings a welcome spookiness to the Taylor-verse. It’s filled with secrets and is ever so slightly unsettling. Taylor may be the queen of pop fans’ hearts – here, she gets under our skin like never before.