Taylor Swift is a mega-star, and her profile as a celebrity and as a media savvy business woman can overshadow her musical abilities. Opinions on Swift are wildly diverse – she’s sometimes dismissed as disposable music for teenage girls, and sometimes 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, Swift has 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’. Swift’s 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’s Albums Ranked
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
After a tough time with the media, 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’. Swift is putting as much effort into self-expression as into crafting good 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
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
Fearless is my favourite record from Swift’s early country-pop phase. Stylistically it’s wider reaching 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 bidding farewell to a band-mate.
Favourite Song: ‘Breathe’
Never wanted this, never wanna see you hurt
Every little bump in the road I tried to swerve
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’ and the epic balladry of ‘All Too Well’, to the reverb-laden, driving ‘State of Grace’ and the countrified 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
Red was a pop album, but featured plenty of guitars to provide continuity from Swift’s country records. 1989 takes its inspiration from the pop sounds of the year of Swift’s birth, all glossy synths and drum machines. 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?