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Taylor Swift: Worst to Best

Prefacing this article is probably futile, as most readers will have already made up their minds about the merits of American country and pop mega-star Taylor Alison Swift. Her profile as a celebrity and as a media savvy business woman can overshadow her musical abilities. On the two different music forums that I like to visit, opinions on Swift are wildly different – on one she’s dismissed as disposable music for teenage girls and on the other she’s highly regarded and respected.

In my view, Swift is an adept songwriter, particularly as a lyricist, utilising her storytelling abilities to pepper her songs with interesting details and memorable phrases.  She’s equally adept at upbeat, poppy material and slower, more brooding tracks. At the same time, her songs are straightforward musically, and she operates in the mainstream contexts of pop and country pop. It’s an interesting exercise to try to find comparisons for her in pop music’s past – Swift is equal parts a carefully manicured image-maker like Madonna and an uncluttered, robust songwriter like Carole King or Tom Petty.

Starting her career young, she’s already built a very respectable back catalogue where each of her six albums to date has a different flavour. She has beloved deep cuts – lots of her dedicated fans gravitate to lengthy, soul-baring tracks like ‘All Too Well’ and ‘Dear John’. And her songs are robust enough to stand up to acoustic solo performances – respected alt-country star Ryan Adams covered 1989 in its entirety, while I enjoy this solo piano performance of ‘Out Of The Woods’ from 2015:

Taylor Swift Albums Ranked

6th – Taylor Swift

2006
Taylor Swift was 16 years old when she recorded her debut album, launching her career. I don’t enjoy the smooth country sound, but there’s already a very talented writer here. My favourite song is the one she wrote in twenty minutes for her school talent show in her freshman year at high school, which benefits from the twangy arrangement and the southern affectation in Swift’s vocals (she’s actually from Pennsylvania)
Favourite Song: ‘Our Song’

Our song is a slamming screen door
Sneaking out late tapping on your window

#5 – Reputation

2017
After a tough time with the media, it feels like Swift’s tucked away in her bunker for Reputation, firing shots at the world with songs like ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ and ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. It’s as though Swift is putting as much effort into self-expression as into making catchy songs and Reputation ends up as a disorienting mix of pop songs and darker, more personal material. I listen to Reputation more than her early country albums, but it’s a little disappointing after two near perfect pop albums.

Favourite Song: ‘Getaway Car’

I knew it from the first Old Fashioned, we were cursed
We never had a shotgun shot in the dark

#4 – Speak Now

2010
2010’s Speak Now is notable as the album that Swift wrote alone, without any collaborators, and it’s a fan favourite on account of personal songs like ‘Dear John’ and ‘Back to December’. There’s a lot of good material, but it’s in need of an editor, as fourteen songs stretch out to nearly 70 minutes. Even though Swift’s transition from country to pop was gradual, Speak Now is the last of her albums that I’d classify as country.

Favourite Song: ‘Mine’

You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter

#3 – Fearless

2008

Fearless is my favourite record from Swift’s early country pop phase, a tightly constructed record of Swift songs. Stylistically it’s broader than her debut, from upbeat material like the Olympic anthem ‘Change’ and the joyous ‘Love Story’, to gentle acoustic ruminations like ‘Fifteen’ and ‘Best Day’. My favourite is the tuneful melodrama of ‘Breathe’, a string laden ballad with Swift farewelling a band-mate.

Favourite Song: ‘Breathe’

Never wanted this, never wanna see you hurt
Every little bump in the road I tried to swerve

#2 – Red

2012
Before Red dropped, I was only aware of Swift as the teenage starlet who was interrupted by Kanye West at the VMAs. After Red she was inescapable, with hits like ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ and ’22’. But there was a very strong and wide ranging set of tracks to back up the hits – from the gentle country of ‘Begin Again’, the epic balladry of ‘All Too Well’, to the reverb-laden, driving ‘State of Grace’ and the country stadium rock of the title track. The two duets are a mild blemish on an otherwise terrific album.

Favourite Song: ‘Red’

Losing him was blue like I’d never known
Missing him was dark gray all alone
Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you never met
But loving him was red

#1 – 1989

2014
Red was a pop album, but featured plenty of guitars to provide continuity from Swift’s country oriented records. 1989 takes its inspiration from the pop sounds of the year of Swift’s birth, all glossy synths and drum machines. But it’s a great set of pop songs with most of the tracks sounding like potential radio hits – even bonus tracks like ‘New Romantics’ are indispensable.

Favourite Song: ‘Style’

You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye
And I got that red lip, classic thing that you like

Are you a fan of Swift’s work? Do you have a favourite song or album?

24 thoughts on “Taylor Swift: Worst to Best Leave a comment

  1. I have both Red and 1989 and I’m of the opinion that 1989 is an exceptional album. Even though I’m not drawn at all to any of the other stuff, it’s clear she’s a fine songwriter. I honestly reckon she’s gonna hit the world with a great country album at some point – a Dolly or Loretta Lynn type.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’m a sucker for some of the old stuff. Not all of it, right enough – some of it really does sound a bit slick, but Dolly has some great stuff, as does Loretta Lynn. Of course, mostly I dig Merle, George, and the outlaws (Willie, Cash, Kris, and Waylon). But yeah, some early country is exceptional before it became a Nashville pop machine.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Gram and Emmylou are great – no doubt about it. There so much great stuff there, but there’s a lot of the older stuff that gets overlooked (I know cause I used to discard it) – Patsy Cline, Dolly and Kenny Rogers have a lot of great songs.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I guess the 70’s shaped them. Kenny’s best stuff is from the late 60’s (The First Edition stuff is somewhat more adventurous than his solo stuff – though his The Gambler is a good one). Patsy was a fair bit before that, yeah.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never been much of a fan wondering how much of her popularity was (in part) based on her Barbie-doll looks. (But I suppose all entertainers trade on that.) But I’m always bugged when someone comes to my site with a closed mind. So I decided to give these a listen. And I must say while I’m not much of a country fan, I somewhat like the country stuff you’ve laid out here. I’m less enamored of the pop stuff. Too candy for me. That said, I know about the Ryan Adams cover and one night I’ll give ‘1989’ a spin.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You do need a decent share of attractiveness to play the pop game – probably been that way ever since MTV. I was thinking about this recently as I’ve been working on a 2010s page – all the pop oriented acts I’ve covered – Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, Charli XCX, HAIM – are very attractive women. none of them are industry puppet type figures (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that if the end product is good) – just makes you think about less attractive people who can’t play the pop game. I guess it’s less important in other genres so that’s where they end up.

      Like

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