What Does Taylor Swift’s ‘The Black Dog’ Mean? Breaking Down Fan Theories

What Does Taylor Swifts The Black Dog Mean Breaking Down All of the Fan Theories
Taylor Swift Ashok Kumar/TAS24/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

Taylor Swift wrote a song called “The Black Dog” for The Tortured Poets Department, which fans think has a deep-seated meaning.

“I just had a plan for Night 2. I kinda felt you’d be [excited and loud], so I kinda wanted to show you something that no one else has seen before,” Swift, 34, said during her Sunday, March 2, concert in Singapore. “If you want to look at the main screen, I want to show you something. This is the final edition of The Tortured Poets Department.”

She continued, “It’s the final cover … [and] there’s a song called ‘The Black Dog.’ I can’t wait for you to hear it, and I just appreciate the enthusiasm.”

The Tortured Poets Department will be Swift’s 11th studio album, dropping on April 19. In addition to “The Black Dog,” there are three other bonus versions: “The Manuscript,” “The Bolter” and “The Albatross.” Each version has been heavily speculated to chronicle Swift’s breakup from Joe Alwyn. (The pop star and Alwyn, 32, dated for six years until news broke in April 2023 that they split.)

A Guide to Taylor Swift’s ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ Bonus Versions

According to the Swifties, “The Black Dog” also could refer to Swift’s heartbreak after the split. Keep scrolling for an explanation of all the theories:

What Does ‘The Black Dog’ Mean?

The term “black dog” was initially coined in the 1700s to describe “a brief period in a person’s life” but has since expanded to cover the spectrum of depression and its symptoms.

“For many people, 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,” a definition from BetterHelp, a mental health service, reads. “This metaphor can be helpful for adults and children living with depression and those with loved ones experiencing symptoms.”

Per BetterHelp, seeing an image of a “large, intrusive black dog” can help patients easily identify their depressive behaviors. The feeling of a large canine tracking someone’s every move can mimic the ominous feeling of a depressive episode.

What Does Taylor Swifts The Black Dog Mean Breaking Down All of the Fan Theories
Ashok Kumar/TAS24/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

It’s a Metaphor

In a department full of tortured poets, it seems like some metaphors should be expected. One Swiftie even pointed out a secondary metaphor of why a black dog would show up inside one’s head.

“This 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,” a BetterHelp definition says, which the fan shared on X. “The metaphor represents how depression does not take breaks but may feel like a following shadow — a large, lumbering shadow as loyal as a canine. At its inception, though, the black dog was not as profound or scary of a metaphor.”

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The Surprise Song Connection

After announcing “The Black Dog,” Swift launched into a surprise song mash-up of “Clean” and “Evermore.”

“[They are] two songs about healing from a sky that ‘turned black like a perfect storm’ and a ‘gray November,’” an X user pointed out. “This album is about heartbreak, but also about healing.”

She Saw So Many Signs

In ancient English folklore, a black dog has represented an omen of death. Given that Alwyn hails from England and she has a TTPD song titled “So Long, London,” it is speculated that this metaphor further points to the demise of her relationship with Alwyn. (Swift also has an album named Folklore, which Alwyn helped write songs for in 2020.)

“In this case, she saw the signs that this relationship was going to end and she put up a screaming resistance,” a social media user wrote on X.

A ‘Tortured Poets’ Connection

One of Swift’s other TTPD songs is called “Clara Bow,” after the late Hollywood icon. Bow, for her part, owned a black dog.

What Does Taylor Swifts The Black Dog Mean Breaking Down All of the Fan Theories
Clara Bow John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

“Not only did Clara Bow have a black dog she wrote a three-page eulogy for him when he died and that’s the most Taylor-coded thing ever,” an X user quipped.