Taylor Swift's music has been criticised for consisting of only breakup songs. Especially when it comes to her older music, people believe that heartbreak is a recurring theme in her music. While this is true, and her discography is indeed populated with breakup songs, diving deeper into her music uncovers that she writes about more than that.
Her writing expands across themes like love, loss, happiness, mental health issues, the LGBTQIA+ community, literary references, odes to important people, and more. Her songwriting and the messages in her music are well supported by the production and music videos she releases.
High school and college students often feel lost, demotivated and burned out. There's a range of songs that encapsulate this feeling beautifully. Some of her songs address loneliness, anxiety, abandonment issues, and other mental health topics, which are also something that people of all ages go through in different capacities.
Below I will help you find a deeper appreciation of her work, regardless of your music preferences! I will also rank all ten studio albums based on my personal preferences.
Taylor Swift Eras
Taylor Swift is currently on The Eras Tour and performing music from almost every album she has released. 17 years into her career, her music has undergone massive shifts. She is also re-recording her first six albums to own her music since her previous record label sold her music to Scooter Braun, her old manager. Her first re-recording was Fearless (Taylor's Version), followed by Red (Taylor's Version). Fans desperately expect to Speak Now (Taylor's Version) soon!
Based on genre shifts and songwriting, this is what her studio albums have progressed like:
Taylor Swift (2006)
What's the only skip from Debut (Taylor Swift)? pic.twitter.com/fR1oip5lTn— 𝐋𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐩𝐨𝐱𝐢𝐢💗| 𝖎 𝖜𝖆𝖓𝖙 𝖆 bf/gf 𝖊𝖗𝖆 (@Lilipoxii) April 18, 2023
Taylor entered the music industry at the tender age of 16 as a country artist. Her debut album, titled Taylor Swift, came out in 2006. As a young artist from Nashville, Tennessee, this album purely reflects her country roots, with some of the most popular songs on this album being Picture To Burn, Teardrops On My Guitar and Our Song.
As the debut album of a local artist, the album did incredibly well and was at number 19 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling over 40,000 copies in the first week of its release. If you're a country enthusiast, this album is a good place to start exploring her music!
Regarding lyricism, several songs on this album are largely about romantic relationships. While not necessarily about her experiences, she also wrote about what she observed. For example, Teardrops On My Guitar is said to be inspired by a classmate called Drew, whom she had feelings for.
This is something almost every teenager can relate to. With simple lyrics like "Drew talks to me / I laugh 'cause it's just so funny" and "I wonder if he knows / he's all I think about at night", she encapsulates every hopeless high school romantic experience.
The song also touches upon jealousy when he talks to some other girl who seems to be perfect. On the other hand, Should've Said No is allegedly about Taylor's boyfriend cheating on her, and Our Song is said to be about her first boyfriend, Drew, who was also mentioned in Teardrops On My Guitar.
TAYLOR SWIFT in 2008 released the most awarded country album in history Fearless pic.twitter.com/f54CDc6sUg— Benjamin (bad Boy era) (@13repstan) April 21, 2023
Two years after her debut, Taylor came out with Fearless, which consists of global hits like Love Story, You Belong With Me, The Way I Loved You, and Mr.
Perfectly Fine. This album gave her career the boost it needed to go worldwide, and with its success, she announced her first tour.
With a country tone, this album definitely crossed over into pop music. It appears to be a more confident form of her debut album, with the topics of the songs being similar to her debut but bolder, and you could tell she was having fun with it! This album was on the Billboard 200 chart for 11 weeks and won her first Grammy at 20 in 2009.
This year was also when her infamous encounter with Kanye West took place on a global platform, inspiring her future songwriting, especially on Reputation. She released Fearless (Taylor's Version) in April 2021.
My personal favourites on this album are Love Story and Mr. Perfectly Fine. Love Story, inspired by a boy she never dated, references Romeo and Juliet.
She weaves a story around how they met with the light, party and ballgowns, with the music video being absolutely ethereal and royal. As one of the most cinematic and romantic stories she ever wrote, the lyrics build up to Romeo leaving because of Juliet's father's disapproval. Still, this story has a happy ending where he comes back for her, and they get married.
Mr. Perfectly Fine, on the other hand, is about a self-centred man who thinks he's the smartest one in the room and never really saw her misery in the relationship. Peppered with break-ups and love songs, this album can appeal to a range of audiences, from those thinking of high school love to those getting out of toxic relationships.
Speak Now (2010)
Taylor Swift before "Speak Now Act”“I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my albums. Recently one of my albums has been on my mind a lot. Lots going on in my brain about it.” 💜 pic.twitter.com/jQcKbiHAgz— Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (@TSTheErasTour) April 14, 2023
Her third studio album called for another world tour that lasted 15 months. Some of the most popular songs on this album are Dear John, Enchanted, Long Live, Back To December and Mean. Her single, Mean, won two Grammy Awards, and the album won Favorite Country Album at the 2011 American Music Awards. Listed as a country-pop album, Taylor was inching towards other genres of music during this time while maintaining her country background.
The album was number 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart and sold over one million copies in its first week. Many say this album best represents Taylor's evolution into a global pop star in the music industry.
She has teased Speak Now (Taylor's Version) extensively, from Easter Eggs in her Bejeweled music video to saying, “I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my albums. Recently, one of my albums has been on my mind a lot. Lots going on in my brain about it" right before performing a song from the album at an Eras Tour concert.
Most fans agree that one of the most beautiful tracks on this album is Enchanted, with a gut wrenching breakdown that says "please don't be in love with someone else / please don't have somebody waiting on you". Another popular track is Speak Now, which weaves a wonderfully visual story of a girl who interrupts her lover's wedding, with the climax of the story at the bridge of the song: "I hear the preacher say / "Speak now or forever hold your peace", after which she proceeds to speak.
Red is what many call Taylor's almost complete transition to pop music. With hints of country, the album is what majorly marks her move to becoming a pop artist. The album was released in 2012, winning the Billboard Music Award for Top Billboard 200 Album.
It is thought to have been inspired by her relationship and break up with actor Jake Gyllenhall, especially tracks like All Too Well, and overall has themes of an angry, raging relationship and breakup. Taylor released Red (Taylor's Version) in November 2021 with six previously unreleased tracks. The most notable track on Taylor's Version is the 10 minute version of All Two Well, which also got its very own short film starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O'Brien, directed by Taylor herself.
My favourite tracks on the album are those that I think are the most underrated. Ronan was written about a little boy who passed away from cancer. This news caught Taylor's eye and she co-wrote the song with Ronan's mother.
The Last Time, featuring Gary Lightbody, is the other song that I think isn't talked about enough. The back and forth between the male and female voices is almost a rock version of the back and forth we see in exile and evermore, both featuring Bon Iver.
1989 was released in 2014 and is said to be Taylor's complete immersion into pop music. As opposed to most of her previous music, the theme of this album is self-discovery, Taylor's life with people around her in New York City, and her growing up. Some parts of the album are rumoured to be about Harry Styles, such as Style, but tracks like Shake It Off and Welcome To New York have a completely different tone. The album won three Grammys. She also did a world tour for this album.
My favorite tracks on this album are This Love and Wildest Dreams, which she also re-recorded as Taylor's Version, but we don't have 1989 (Taylor's Version) yet. The music video of Wildest Dreams is one of my favorites. It tells a beautiful yet heartbreaking story.
The music video of Style has incredible visuals. Blank Space is one of the most iconic tracks on this album with an equally popular music video. In an interview, Taylor explained that the song was inspired by how the media villainised her regarding her love life, and she decided to weave a story around this perception of her and release it as a song.
Reputation is widely known as Taylor's comeback album after her drama with Kanye West and complete disappearance from public view. The first single from this album was Look What You Made Me Do, with a music video and an incredibly iconic scene from Taylor's past eras. The album won the American Music Award for Favorite Pop Album and the Billboard Music Award for Top Selling Album in 2018. She also announced a tour for this album, which most tabloids believed would be unsuccessful, but went on to be one of the most successful tours of the decade.
Some of the best songs on this album are Don't Blame Me, Gorgeous, Delicate and Dress. The album is a mix of songs representing powerful feminist moments, such as I Did Something Bad, and love songs like Delicate and Gorgeous, said to be inspired by her then-boyfriend, Joe Alwyn.
Taylor used this album not only to make a great comeback, but also to reclaim her power as a female music artist from institutions like the media that spread rumors about her life and those who criticised her for "only writing break-up songs" and reduced her worth to her boyfriends.
Released in 2019, Lover is Taylor's seventh studio album. As the title and cover convey, it covers different types and phases of love. From You Need To Calm Down, which simply says love and let love with lyrics like "why are you mad when you can be GLAAD", to The Archer, which is about the anxiety she experiences when it comes to falling in love, the album beautifully conveys several shades of what love can look like.
The album won six awards at the American Music Awards of 2019. It is rumoured that she was supposed to go on tour for Lover but this was cancelled due to the pandemic.
One of the most underrated songs on this album is Miss Americana And The Heartbreak Prince. Other favorites of mine include Daylight and Soon You'll Get Better featuring The Chicks, which is about Taylor's mom, Andrea Swift, getting diagnosed with cancer. The album makes quite a few political references, and as talked about in her documentary on Netflix, Miss Americana, the making of the album is when she decided to express a political stance, which is cleverly embedded in the album without being too apparent.
Folklore is Taylor's surprise album that she worked on during the quarantine and released in 2020. As the title suggests, it's a set of well-crafted stories. With incredibly imaginative and emotive lyrics and production, it's no surprise that the album got several nominations for awards and ended up winning Album of the Year at the 2021 Grammys. I believe that the storytelling on this album is the best she's done, which includes the lyrics, production, as well as music videos and how she performs songs from this album on stage.
She co-wrote some songs on this album with Joe Alwyn under the pseudonym of William Bowery, who also won a Grammy for his work on the album. Taylor also re-recorded these songs at the Long Pond Studios while talking about each of the songs; this is available on Disney+. One of my favorite parts of this album is the fictional love triangle between James, Betty and Augustine, reflected through the songs betty, august and cardigan.
It's a well-written tale of two lovers, James and Betty, and James cheating on Betty with Augustine. Each song is from the three characters' points of view. Other than that, I enjoyed my tears ricochet, mirrorball, illicit affairs and the bonus track, the lakes.
Five months after folklore, Taylor released evermore, known as the sister of folkore. With similar themes and tones, evermore is more of an autumn/winter album. One of the best songs on the album is champagne problems, written in collaboration with Joe, about a couple where one intends to propose and the other intends to break up.
Other songs on the album include marjorie, which is said to have Taylor's late grandmother's vocals in the background and evermore ft. Bon Iver, which mirrors exile.
The storytelling on this album is also as beautiful as folklore, with lyrics like "your Midas touch on the Chevy door / November flush and your flannel cure". I also like gold rush, happiness, tolerate it and no body, no crime ft. HAIM, which tells a fictional story of Taylor's friend, Este (who is a member of the Haim sisters in real life), who went missing after being cheated on her husband. When we say folklore is the older sister of evermore, we see both parallels and contrasts in both albums to support this.
Midnights is Taylor's most recent album, released in October 2022. While not the most popular among fans, it's a blend of almost all the music Taylor has made in the past. The songs on the album are about things that kept Taylor up at midnight and seem to be one of the most personal albums she has released, with tracks like Anti-Hero and You're On Your Own Kid.
She also released seven surprise songs on Midnights (3am Version) as an extension of the original album. The album won the People's Choice Award for Favorite Album and the iHeartRadio Music Award for Pop Album of the Year.
Maroon, the second track of the album, seems to be a more mature version of her breakup song Red. From the 3am tracks, I really enjoyed Glitch, Paris and The Great War. The bridge of Would've, Could've, Should've, another 3am track, went viral as it displays both intense emotions and vocal ability by Taylor.
Fans were particularly excited to see Karma on the album, as it was speculated that Taylor would release an album called Karma before Lover which never ended up happening. A track that surprised everyone was Vigilante Shit, which took us back to Reputation! It looks like almost every song on this album could fit into some or the other Taylor Swift era.
Final Thoughts and Ranking
Overall, I think Taylor has come a long way and her music style has changed along with happenings in her own life as well as the music industry. Her music style in the last five albums resonated with me more than her older music, and while I love all her albums, here is my ranking of all ten albums:
- Speak Now
- Taylor Swift
With the versatility that Taylor brings to the music industry in everything from lyrics and production to visuals and aesthetics, I believe that everyone can find something to enjoy in her discography!