Throughout the 12 years of her career, Taylor Swift has evolved from a country singer-songwriter into a global pop phenomenon. I love her music because of how she blends imagery with catchy melodies and how she carries her theatrical, artistic perspective throughout every project she creates. It was nearly impossible to rank all of her albums, because they are all so unique and special in their own rights, but so it goes…
#6: Taylor Swift (2006)
Taylor Swift is a great album, especially for a debut. There are few skippable tracks, and it all flows together very well. Each song shows her raw potential and showcases her already great songwriting skills. One of my favorite lyrics of her entire career is “tied together with a smile but you’re coming undone,” as she manages to convey such a heavy emotional response in such a simple way. This is an early example of how she manages to take what could become a cliche, and refresh it in a new way. The only thing that makes it less strong than her newer works is the lack of range and just how new she is as an artist. There are great songs, but the songs stay not only in the same territory of production, but lyrical themes. It’s less interesting overall than some of her newer albums, but it’s so cool to see how her career began with such a humble, simple country album. I remember when my aunt gave me a copy of this album to listen to right when it was released, and it’s amazing to think of how much has changed in my life since it came out again 12 years (?!?!) ago.
Best Track: Tied Together With A Smile
Worst Track: (super tough choice) I’m Only Me When I’m With You
#5: Fearless (2008)
This album captures a moment in not only Taylor Swift’s life, but the life of every American teenager and the wild ride that it can be. Fearless is where she began to find her signature blend of country-pop that launched her career to superstardom. Fearless also feels deeply autobiographical and shows that she is a songwriter that is talented and wise beyond her years. This album had 2 songs that caused true cultural moments “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story.” Both of those songs were totally ubiquitous at their peak and will forever be 2 of her greatest hits. While her debut helped her break onto the music scene, Fearless cemented her as a unique artist blending genres and telling her stories in her own ways. The only thing that makes this album lower in my ranking is just how much she has grown since, but I still will always love this album for truly making me a Taylor Swift fan.
Best Track: You Belong With Me
Worst Track: Hey Stephen
#4: Red (2012)
After Speak Now, Taylor took a step away from working solo and branched out to combine different sounds and production styles all onto one album. Though this album is an extremely impressive foray into experimentation and collaboration for Swift, it can be a slightly mixed bag at times. It is by far her least cohesive album, which shows her versatility, but can make the album a strange listening experience. But, nonetheless, I love so many songs on this album so much. The diversity of sounds captured here, on one album, by one artist is hard to even fathom creating. “All Too Well,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,”and “22” are some of the highlights of her career. Some other tracks on Red feel a bit like filler, such as “The Lucky One” and “Stay Stay Stay”. Looking back it’s interesting to see how a few of the songs on the album, which started as trial-runs into new sounds, have now become sounds of entire albums—like “Starlight” evolving into the pop sound of 1989 and “I Knew You Were Trouble” sounding a lot like the synths of reputation. Ranking this album is particularly hard, because it has some of the best songs of her entire career, while also having a few songs that I skip. The best part about Red is how bold of steps outside her comfort zone Taylor took to learn while making this album and began to carve out an entirely new sound for herself. The chances she took paid off, and her career has never been the same since this album.
Best Track: All Too Well
Worst Track: The Lucky One
#3: Speak Now (2010)
Speak Now is the most unfortunately overlooked album in Taylor’s discography. Fans frequently advocate for 1989 and Red, but Speak Now is seriously so good and deserves even more recognition than it gets. Though it did not receive the same fanfare and praise many of her other albums have, it contains some of her best songs. Plus, she wrote ever. single. song. herself. That alone makes this album a huge achievement for Taylor in her career. Every song on this album feels like it captures a mood that depicts a time in her life—in a perfectly personal yet universal way. While all the songs convey different scenes, the sound of the entire album makes it feel like one beautiful rollercoaster. Speak Now is Taylor’s last album to date without any kind of heavily pop production throughout—mainly because Speak Now proves she mastered and outgrew her own signature sound within the country-pop sphere and was ready to move on to more experimental sounds. This album means so much to me, because I listened to this album countless times throughout middle school and it’s when I truly became a diehard Swiftie.
Best Track: Long Live
Worst Track: Haunted
#2: reputation (2017)
I love this album because of how unexpected it was. When Taylor wiped her social accounts and released the snake teaser video, I was expecting reputation to be filled with anger and angst. And when it arrived, that isn’t what this album is at all. While it does have it’s share of bad girl anthems like “I Did Something Bad,” “Don’t Blame Me,” and “Look What You Made Me Do,” the overwhelming tone of the album is that Taylor has grown up and fallen in love. The songs take an edgier stance 1989 without losing her strong lyrics. She takes more risks, and they pay off to create an album that still feels distinctly her. Particularly after seeing her live in Kansas City, I realized just how great the second half of reputation really is—containing some of the best tracks of her career. “Dress,” “Call It What You Want,” and “New Year’s Day” take her signature poetic style, but put it into a more mature context, and make me incredibly excited for what she does next in her career. While I could do without a few of the songs, reputation has so many high points that show she’s still on the cutting edge of pop even after scrutiny she’s been through.
Best Track: Getaway Car
Worst Track: Look What You Made Me Do
#1: 1989 (2014)
This album is the pinnacle of Taylor Swift’s career. Nearly perfect from start to finish, she balances self-awareness, joy, and wit to create my favorite album of all time. She found herself, her collaborators, and her sound. I have always been a fan of Taylor Swift and pop music separate from each other, but seeing them come together without Taylor losing her strong musical voice still astounds me. Literally, how does she make sons that are so well-crafted? 1989 expertly balances catchy pop production while still staying true to Taylor’s descriptive, imagery-filled songwriting style and manages to show how to elevate pop to be enjoyable yet super substantial lyrically. Even though the album is called 1989, it could not have been a more perfect step forward for the 2014 pop music scene, and the impacts of 1989 are still felt in music today. The electricity of this album never gets old to me. While there was controversy when she won Album of the Year over Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly, I will defend this GRAMMY forever, because she achieved pop perfection and created an album more cohesive and self-assured than any of her modern pop comrades have ever come close to. I remember hearing “Blank Space” for the first time at midnight when the album came out, and being amazed at the craft the lyrics, the story behind them, and the overall production, and the more I have listened to 1989 the more I have grown to see each and every song in this same way.
Best Track: Blank Space
Worst Track: Bad Blood (even though it grows on me with every listen)