Taylor Swift was just 16-years-old when she released her first album, self-titled Taylor Swift (2006). Her ability to create at such an elevated level from such a young age shocked many and has continued to inspire millions all over the world. Since her debut, Swift has released eight more albums, making for a total of nine, all of which have earned a global prowess that few artists have reached.
There have been two distinct shifts in her career-- first, her shift from country to pop music, most distinctly between Red (2012) and 1989 (2014). The second shift from pop to alternative accompanies her most recent sister-albums, folklore (2020) and evermore (2020). Swift’s ability to gracefully jump from genre to genre is remarkable, and coupled with her unrivaled storytelling, she has masterfully created one of the most prized discographies of modern music.
Swift’s tendency to reinvent herself with each new album has cultivated all of her different “eras.” Taylor Swift’s art means a lot to me personally, but there are certain “eras” of hers that I tend to gravitate towards, so here are her albums ranked, from a personal lens.
9) Taylor Swift (2006)
For people who grew up listening to Taylor Swift, this album is absolutely a classic. It captures the youthful innocence of a 16 year-old girl trying to find “A Place in this World.” While her debut album revealed her natural talent for songwriting, she was young and inexperienced, and Swift’s work has evolved entirely since 2006. “Picture to Burn” and “Our Song” will always be iconic, but their production and lyrics aren’t anywhere near where Swift is now.
Favorite Song: “Our Song”
Taylor Swift. (Wikipedia)
8) Red (2012)
“Old Taylor or new Taylor?” is a question I’m always asking. When I don’t feel like choosing, Red is a perfect blend of both. Swift begins to wade further into the world of pop with this record, even though her country roots are still very prominent. Some of Swift’s best songs live on this album; “All Too Well,” “Holy Ground,” and “Begin Again” are some of my personal favorites. But, it’s messy. The way that the tracks are put together, jumping from upbeat pop tracks like “Stay Stay Stay” to quintessential sad-girl numbers like “All Too Well,” makes for an unusual listening experience. Red is a heartbreak album, and the juxtaposition of melancholy and anger is appealing in theory, but the incohesive production makes the project as a whole a miss --by Swift standards.
Favorite Song: “All Too Well”
7) Fearless (2008)
The tracks on this record are likely the ones that relate most to my life right now, but, ironically, I feel like I have grown out of them. Songs like “Love Story” and “Fifteen” were what I listened to in elementary school; one of my earliest memories is of me and my childhood friends trying to sing the right lyrics to “You Belong With Me” on the playground, mixing up high-heels, t-shirts, cheer captains, and bleachers. I was so young when it was first released, so I never found myself really connecting with the stories Swift told in Fearless until now. But because of its heavy country influences, I don’t enjoy it as much as her other albums, stylistically.
Even though it ranks low on my list, it would be unfair not to recognize Fearless’s success. In 2008, the idea of a country-pop crossover was new, and proved to be incredibly successful in giving Swift a name, especially on the radio. Fearless is largely responsible for launching her career, but it's elementary compared to her newer projects that show off her growth not only as an artist, but as a person.
Favorite Song: “The Way I Loved You”
Fearless (Taylor’s Version). (Clash Magazine)
6) Lover (2019)
Lover came with a very different feel following Swift’s dark Reputation era. The album’s lead single was “ME!,” which is arguably one of Swift’s worst songs. Many people hate the entire record because of it, which is understandable because first impressions do make a difference; but with a closer look, Lover holds a lot more than people give it credit for. As a whole, the album is upbeat, with playful synth-pop production that adds more dimension to its overall theme of romance. Because the album is heavily pop, the lyrics make for a more understated maturity that makes the record really fun to listen to, and creates a bridge between Reputation and folklore/evermore. The stories told in Lover are much more evolved than those told in her previous albums, foreshadowing her newest work. Its style best accompanies 1989-- there are several parallels between it and 1989, like the hunting metaphors in “I Know Places” and “The Archer,” and the whimsical pop style.
Favorite Song: “False God”
5) evermore (2020)
Taylor’s newest project is one of her best, showing off her power as a storyteller. The surprise album is an extended stay in folklore’s woods. An exciting marriage of fact and fiction, it ranges from stories of Swift’s grandmother in “marjorie” to a dramatic tale of spiteful murders in “no body, no crime.” Even though the album is amazing, it felt like more of an afterthought compared to folklore. The overall sound of the album is very even, which makes for a sophisticated, but relatively less memorable project. With that said, I love how experimental the album is— it features Swift’s first country song in years, and the other tracks playfully venture further into the fantasy world that folklore introduced.
Favorite Song: “cowboy like me”
4) Speak Now (2010)
Not only does this record feature some of Swift’s most classic songs, but she also wrote every song by herself, a feat that few artists can claim. The album is consistent with the majority of her older work-- a country-pop blend, but Speak Now was the peak of her country career. “Dear John” is the biggest standout on the album; almost seven minutes of pure heartbreak, which is what Taylor does best (whether she’s on the giving or receiving end). She sings about fellow artist John Mayer, who took advantage of her at a young age. Like “Dear John,” the other songs on Speak Now are very personal, and cover major events in Swift’s life, many of which were witnessed by the public. This, combined with the lack of co-writers, makes this album her least relatable one, but it also further established her strength as a songwriter.
Favorite Song: “Dear John”
3) reputation (2017)
Throughout her career, Swift has been suffocated by the industry: Kanye West, Scooter Braun, “She needs to eat a sandwich,” and countless misogynistic comments about how many exes she has have all come together to create the singer’s iconic lust for revenge, which really shines in reputation. The album was released following her disappearance from the public eye between 2016 and 2017. During this year, the “Old Taylor'' died, and the “New Taylor” was born with vengeance. Reputation is full of disses against those who have done her wrong, and I love it.
While it is not her strongest musically, I have a strong personal connection to it. To me, reputation is completely fictitious— I’ve never been caught in major drama or thrown big, “Gatsby-like” parties, but listening to this album is like stepping into a different person. It brings me back to the ecstacy I felt when I saw the 2018 Reputation Stadium Tour. The crowd’s energy was palpable, and I’ll never forget what it was like to realize that Taylor was actually a real person on that stage.
2) 1989 (2014)
Since its release, 1989 has been the album I keep coming back to. It’s a very free-spirited pop album, but not like most “radio-pop” music. Taylor Swift’s music isn’t designed to gain radio attention, which is what makes it so timeless. 1989 is classy, clean, simple, expensive; its “era” embodies a nonchalance that contrasts Red, its predecessor. Red is sad, angry, and searching for pity. Uninterested, 1989 walks past those who did her wrong with crazy eyes, foreshadowing Taylor’s reputation era, even though no one saw it coming. This record was a huge turning point for Swift, as it became known as her first pure pop album. Not only did 1989 widen her listening audience, but it also showed the music world that Swift was more than just a young country superstar.
Favorite song: “Clean”
1) folklore (2020)
Folklore was born almost entirely in quarantine, with most of its collaborators working remotely. It’s safe to say that some of the best albums are created in isolation, which is something we learned with Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
The album may only be a year old, but I feel as though I’ve known it my whole life. The songs revolve around themes of love, youth, and growing up, and many are sung in past tense, which makes the album feel very nostalgic. Although many of the album’s stories are fictional, Swift has a way of making them so universal, which is what any good artist should be able to do. The lyrics all invoke vivid imagery, so it’s almost like reading a book where I get to imagine all of the characters myself. What makes me so drawn to the album is not it’s musical strength, but its aesthetic. Everything just fits so perfectly-- the lyrics, production, Swift’s voice, and all of the visuals that have gone with the album. It is undoubtedly her most cohesive project, but not enough that it’s boring.
Favorite Song: “seven”