Taylor Swift is an artist that we as a generation have grown up with. One of my fondest childhood memories revolves around a karaoke night where I belted the song 'Love Story' out on a stage in a ski lodge. I truly felt like Taylor herself. While I was young, I often regarded her music as catchy, light-hearted and fun.
This list analyses not only the most provocative, poetic and challenging lyrics from all nine of Taylor Swift's albums but also her brilliant mind and thought behind each line.
"Don't know what's down this road / I'm just walking / Trying to see through the rain coming down / Even though I'm not the only one who feels / The way I do"
Encapsulating the precise feeling experienced globally by teenagers, 'A Place In This World' plainly communicates that we just need to keep moving forward, despite being directionless. Further, she simply reminds us that we are not alone. We aren't all sure of where we are going, but that's alright. We just need to keep walking.
"I'm only up when you're not down / Don't wanna fly if you're still on the ground"
The song 'I'm Only Me When I'm With You' was released when Taylor was merely 17. This is why she talks about consciously limiting herself by tying herself to a boy who simply was not anything special. I know if Taylor Swift was in a situation like this now, she'd be long gone. She would have spread her wings and flown away before what's-his-name even had a chance to look up.
Fearless (Taylor's Version)
"Count to ten / Take it in / This is life before you know who you're gonna be / At fifteen"
A song that I admittedly cried to on the night before my sixteenth birthday, 'Fifteen', makes you realize that you are only young and naive once. The song illustrates a typical high-school scene for every teenager to resonate with; it reminds us all of our first kisses, our first time in a car without our parents and, of course, our first real friendships and teenage drama. Due to the song's sheer simplicity, it becomes a truly nostalgic listening experience.
"Breakin' down and coming undone / It's a roller coaster kinda rush / And I never knew I could feel that much / And that's the way I loved you"
'The Way I Loved You' is a chaotic song about being in a new relationship that is ideally perfect but missing the drama of your past relationship. Although it was messy, in retrospect, she may have realized that it was more perfect than she realised.
"I lived, and I learned / Had you, got burned / Held out, and held on / God knows, too long / And wasted time, lost tears / Swore that I'd get out of here / But no amount of freedom gets you clean / I've still got you all over me"
One of the six incredible vault tracks from Taylor's first rerecorded album, 'You All Over Me' looks at an inescapable relationship in the form of memories, flashbacks and reminders. It almost prefaces the bonus track 'Clean', on the 1989 album. In that song, we hear Taylor allow herself to actually experience her feelings; and as a result of that, she rids herself of her past. However, in this song, we hear Taylor reminiscing in a way that limits her from moving forward. These lyrics are short, sharp and relatable to everyone at some point in their life.
"It turns out freedom ain't nothin' but missin' you"
'Back To December': A song about wanting to run from what you have and know to feel limitless, but only realizing you wish you had stayed. These lyrics can apply to a lot of things; relationships, friendships, even your hometown. They are reflective and run deeper than the surface.
"All the girls that you've run dry / Have tired, lifeless eyes / 'Cause you burned them out / But I took your matches before fire could catch me / So don't look now, I'm shining like fireworks over your sad, empty town"
One of my favorites from the Speak Now album, within the song 'Dear John', Taylor absolutely slanders an ex-boyfriend. This bridge is powerful, evocative and simply pleasant. I love the way in which she talks about the damage of such a reckless thing (fire) and then continues to sing about taking control of the destructive substance and creating something beautiful: a colorful and bold firework show.
"So I'll watch your life in pictures like I used to watch you sleep / And I feel you forget me like I used to feel you breathe"
One of the most heartbreaking Taylor Swift songs, in my opinion: 'Last Kiss', is undeniably brutal. It represents the way in which life moves forward and does not stop. Relationships begin blazing but the flame burns out, people grow close and then they grow apart; nothing stays the same throughout the passage of time. 'Last Kiss' reminds us of the harsh reality that one day, you and your person will inevitably share your last kiss and as a result of that, you will feel as though you have been left behind by life itself.
"And you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest"
I despise this song so much that I adore it. 'All Too Well' is almost an international heartbreak anthem; I know I am not the only one who has scream-cried to this in my car and that is somewhat beautiful. 'All Too Well' is a song that takes absolutely everything out of you: these lyrics specifically have layers, highlighting broken promises, a stark power imbalance between Taylor and her ex and of course, admitted hopefulness on Taylor's end. Despite all of the pain this man has put her through, she is still answering the phone just to get shattered all over again.
"Time won't fly, it's like I'm paralyzed by it / I'd like to be my old self again / But I'm still trying to find it"
I couldn't help myself, I had to include another lyric from 'All Too Well'. These lyrics draw upon the idea of being left behind after a relationship ends. You feel as though you're stuck in a web of empty promises and self-worthlessness, your feet won't touch the ground and you are all tangled up. You can't move forward; you are paralyzed by time. When in a destructive relationship, it is more than common to lose touch with your morals, core traits and ethics. This song really helped me understand that it was normal to feel the way I did coming out of a ruinous relationship and it is true, I'd like to be my old self again, but I'm still trying to find it.
"I've been spending the last eight months / Thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end / But on a Wednesday in a café, I watched it begin again"
A song that always made my eyes sting when I was beginning to let go of a painful relationship, 'Begin Again', is about moving on in the simplest of ways. After all of the agony and judgement she had experienced in her last love, she plainly sits in a cafe on a Wednesday and she watches a romance bloom again.
"I wish we could go back / And remember what we were fighting for / Wish you knew that / I miss you too much to be mad anymore"
A prime example of Taylor doing what she does best and expressing regret whilst reminiscing about a relationship that had come and gone. In the song 'I Wish You Would', we are each invited to reflect upon the relationships we may have had where the edges were left rough.
"Say you'll remember me standing in a nice dress / Staring at the sunset, babe / Red lips and rosy cheeks / Say you'll see me again / Even if it's just in your wildest dreams"
An extremely versatile to the moment kind of song, 'Wildest Dreams' has soundtracked all sorts of different nights for me. In one way, this song has played at countless numbers of parties where I jump around singing carelessly with my friends. However, this song has played while driving in my car by myself where I inevitably absorb the lyrics, then they cause an ache. This is a song about becoming a fond and loving memory rather than being a tangible thing this person can hold.
"Rain came pouring down / When I was drowning, that's when I could finally breathe / And by morning / Gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean"
In my favorite track from 1989 (Deluxe), 'Clean', Swift uses such vivid imagery, symbolism and an unbelievable metaphor to convey finally cleansing yourself of a past relationship.
"For you, I would cross the line / I would waste my time / I would lose my mind / They say she's gone too far this time"
In the song, 'Don't Blame Me', we see one of Taylor's first expressions of the way in which women are often labeled crazy for simply reacting or exhibiting the same behavior as men in situations. I love the intensity of these lyrics, it communicates the feeling of being drunk on love beautifully.
"If I could dance with you again / I'd kiss you as the lights went out / Swaying as the room burned down / I'd hold you as the water rushes in"
'Dancing With Our Hands Tied' perfectly draws a picture of a doomed relationship that was never meant to work, but both would have gone to hell and back together as long as they were holding hands. I like this idea.
"Please don't ever become a stranger / Whose laugh I could recognize anywhere"
'New Years Day', a brilliant song. These lyrics cut deep, they play with the feeling of deep-seated attachment, which is both a beautiful and dangerous thing.
"And I hope I never lose you, hope it never ends / I'd never walk Cornelia Street again"
Taylor depicts true heartbreak in this song, 'Cornelia Street', when it is simply so deep that she can't walk the street in which she walked with her partner ever again. It causes me to imagine being flooded with memories. It is a bittersweet feeling, but mostly heart-shattering to be where you once were in love yet again alone.
"I look through the windows of this love / Even though we boarded them up / Chandelier still flickering here / 'Cause I can't pretend it's okay when it's not / It's death by a thousand cuts"
This lyric from 'Death By A Thousand Cuts' causes the listener to imagine that they're revisiting an old love, but in a physical way which is really cool. Also, the title itself used in this line refers to being wounded so many times that you end up dying. It isn't one blow, but many seemingly insignificant ones, and I think that the enforcement of that concept is important.
"Tell me that you're still mine / Tell me that we'll be just fine / Even when I lose my mind / I need to say / Tell me that it's not my fault / Tell me that I'm all you want / Even when I break your heart"
One of my favorite bridges from Taylor, in 'Afterglow', she communicates the way in which she needs love even when she is being destructive and reckless. She opens up to her audience and allows them to know that she is far from perfect despite the superstar facade and that she may hurt people, but she pleads them to listen and stay regardless. Vulnerable and powerful.
"And you're tossing out blame, drunk on this pain / Crossing out the good years / And you're cursing my name, wishing I stayed / Look at how my tears ricochet"
A song that could mean so many different things is unbelievably sad no matter which way you listen to it. 'my tears ricochet', in my opinion, revolves around a pair of best friends or ex-lovers who hate each other now. The lyrics throughout the entire song are powerful and tear-jerking because they clearly communicate so much passion and hurt.
"And I'm still a believer, but I don't know why / I've never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try / I'm still on that trapeze / I'm still trying everything to keep you looking at me"
One of the most powerful Taylor Swift songs, 'mirrorball', talks directly to her fans, she expresses how she thrives off of our attention. Throughout the song, she makes references to her song's relatability and her ability to play with each of our emotions. Truly a magical song that can be interpreted in many ways. I really love this one.
"Look at this idiotic fool that you made me / You taught me a secret language I can't speak with anyone else / And you know damn well / For you I would ruin myself / A million little times"
'illicit affairs', is one of my absolute favorite songs of all time. It revolves around two people, presumably one (the man) who is guilty of infidelity. As the song progresses, we see the mistress fall in love with the man, which builds to a climax, which are the lyrics above. Powerful and depicting secrecy and a regular woman who has simply broken herself down over a man who won't give her what she deserves. An absolutely incredible song that is full of incredibly written lyrics.
"They told me all of my cages were mental / So I got wasted like all my potential"
'this is me trying' is one of Taylor's most vulnerable songs that I believe is easily related to the lives of everyday people like us. It is a song about trying your absolute best to become better but feeling like you're burdened by your past experiences, actions and your present mental-health struggles.
"Your faithless love's the only hoax / I believe in / Don't want no other shade of blue / But you /No other sadness in the world would do"
'hoax' is a painful song seemingly about self-destruction. Staying with someone who makes you miserable due to the attachment, which is sadly common, especially within our generation. The lyrics are confronting and settle down upon your chest, weighing heavily. It is a deeply upsetting song that really ties the album together.
"I want auroras and sad prose / I want to watch wisteria grow right over my bare feet / ... / A red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground / With no one around to tweet it / While I bathe in cliffside pools / With my calamitous love and insurmountable grief"
'the lakes' is a lyrically brilliant song, filled with flowery language and unbelievably poetic lines. The song is about wanting to move away and escape her fame by living simply. These lyrics are visually gorgeous and somewhat convincing me to move to the lakes myself.
"I don't like that falling feels like flying 'til the bone crush"
A lyric from 'gold rush' that I deem to be extremely provocative. The harsh juxtaposition of such a wondrous and idealized feeling mixed with literal eternal doom, peppered with an entirety of truth, forms an incredibly powerful lyric.
"I made you my temple, my mural, my sky / Now I'm begging for footnotes in the story of your life"
'tolerate it' in my own opinion, is Taylor's saddest ballad. Her lyricism is beyond poetic throughout the entire track. She tells a story of a woman madly in love with a man who simply does not care for her. He tolerates her love rather than celebrating it, which is depressing in itself. This lyric is especially heartbreaking because she manages to perfectly portray the very concept; in simple terms, he was her everything and to him, she was there, she was needed but often ignored. Unbelievable song-writing and story-telling.
"Tell me, when did your winning smile / Begin to look like a smirk? / When did all our lessons start to look like weapons pointed at my deepest hurt? / I hope she'll be a beautiful fool / Who takes my spot next to you / No, I didn't mean that / Sorry, I can't see facts through all of my fury / You haven't met the new me yet"
I personally love these lyrics extracted from the song, 'happiness'. Here, we see her recognize the destruction her lover is capable of. She realizes he has changed and she does not like what he has become. From these lyrics, we can sense a touch of anger which is completely normal. However, we also see her depict a person beginning to reinvent themself. It is a difficult process but sometimes simply has to happen in order to grow past heartbreak. As she herself says, "There'll be happiness after you, but there was happiness because of you".
"Did I paint your bluest skies the darkest gray?"
This simple question asked within the song 'coney island' poses a world of hurt for most listeners. It invites us to reflect on the way in which we have treated people and the way people have treated us. Was the effect we had on them positive or negative? Did we paint their bluest skies the darkest gray? Or is it us who walks beneath stormy skies due to another's influence?
"Stop you putting roots in my dreamland / My house of stone, your ivy grows / And now I'm covered in you"
For an album that develops around a theme of infidelity, 'ivy' certainly carries this on. The song is about a woman who is falling for another man, despite her marriage. She uses the metaphor of the poisonous plant (being an ivy) rapidly creeping up and around her home, inflicting the inevitability of avoidance upon her.
"I could feel the mascara run / You told me that you met someone / Glass shattered on the white cloth / Everybody moved on / Help, I'm still at the restaurant"
This song, 'right where you left me', is a giant metaphor for the way in which you can be left behind while time keeps flowing onward after experiencing a form of trauma. She has creatively woven the story of a girl who has been trapped in a restaurant where her heart was shattered. Although somewhat playful, the song is extremely real and is a concept that we have seen earlier in this list. However, this is the most inventive expression of it.
"Sometimes giving up is the strong thing / Sometimes to run is the brave thing / Sometimes walking out is the one thing / That will find you the right thing"
The final noteworthy lyric is plucked from the song 'it's time to go'. This line, in all of its simplicity, is comforting and genuine. It takes actions that society may deem weak or scared and transforms them into signs of courage. It is a comforting line to nestle up in when feeling unsure or worried.
I hope that this list has helped you reevaluate the depth of Taylor's lyricism. If you would like to re-listen, or listen for the first time, to any of these songs, I have created a playlist that you can access below with not only the songs from this list, but toward the bottom, songs that are either really fun to drive or dance to and others that you need to listen to in full to thoroughly appreciate the lyrics. Happy listening!