Taylor Swift has released 176 songs throughout her career. From her barely-teenager country twang, to her chart-dominating pop songs, to her most recent folk-alternative tunes, Swift has done it all. She has effortlessly transitioned through genres and has received countless awards for her art- including eleven Grammys.
Throughout Swift’s discography, she sings of love and heartbreak, writing about her mother and friends. No matter the topic, she has mastered writing songs that tell stories and encompass vast emotions. Swift has a writing credit on every song released on her nine studio albums, a feat not many artists can say they have accomplished.
But what is her best work? What is the most gut-wrenching, most vivid or most imaginative? In true Taylor-fashion, here are my top 13 songs- in my opinion.
13. “You Are in Love” - 1989 (Deluxe)
This song is calm and clean- describing simple moments throughout a relationship. Swift writes about hearing love in the silence and being able to see love with the lights out. The albums prior to 1989 saw a much younger, naive Swift singing about love as a burning red and a fight in the rain. But here, it’s freeing and peaceful. Simple instrumentals and melodies feed the feeling of this song- two people simply meant for each other.
“One night he wakes, strange look on his face / Pauses, then says, ‘you’re my best friend.’”
The cover of 1989- the same year Swift was born.
12. “Gold Rush” - evermore
From Swift’s newest album, “Gold Rush” depicts someone’s unrequited feelings. The narrator has become infatuated with someone that everyone else loves too. She almost jumps into their sea, but has to keep self control. She describes moments that feel like slow motion and questions what it would be like to be perfect. Swift sings about the feelings of falling and, subsequently, having your bones crush.
“I don’t like anticipating my face in a red flush / I don’t like that anyone would die to feel your touch”
11. “Dear John” - Speak Now
Self written, like all of the songs on Speak Now, “Dear John” is nearly seven minutes long. It is the story of nineteen year-old Swift realizing that she has been used by a thirty-two year-old music industry giant. Even more gut-wrenching than the song itself is discovering that Swift is still not even as old as “John” was when this song was released in 2010. She writes about regret and sings with all her might- in the same style as “John” sings his own songs.
“Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with? / The girl in the dress cried the whole way home”
10. “August” - folklore
“August” is one of three songs a part of- as Swift calls it- the teenage love triangle. The track follows an unnamed character who fell in love with a boy named James, but James only saw her as a fling and he is still in love with his ex-girlfriend Betty. The upbeat tune and gloomy lyrics make this song relatable to many. The girl, intentionally left unnamed by Swift, is slowly losing hope that her love will eventually choose her. And it is painful to listen to.
“And then canceled my plans / Just in case you’d call / Back when I was living for the hope of it all”
9. “All Too Well” - Red
The infamous “All Too Well” has often been ranked as one of the best songs of the 2010’s; it is the standout of messy Red. Swift reminences scenes from her doomed relationship with vivid imagery and follows her saddest lines with the strongest. No longer wide-eyed and having lost her innocence, she is mad. Paralyzed by time and searching for her new self, she speaks directly to her former love without remorse.
“Hey, you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest”
Swift performing “All Too Well” at the 2014 Grammy awards (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
8. “The Way I Loved You” - Fearless
There is a reason I put “The Way I Loved You” above “You Are In Love.” It is just more fun. This is teenage Taylor Swift at her finest. She starts this song singing about how perfect her relationship is, yet she is bored. Young Swift misses her old love’s immaturity and imperfections. Maybe she needed something more exciting or maybe she just missed the drama- but either way, Swift made something beautiful out of it.
“He can’t see the smile I’m faking / And my heart’s not breaking / ‘Cause I’m not feeling anything at all / And you were wild and crazy / Just so frustrating, intoxicating”
7. “Out of the Woods” - 1989
The fourth track from Swift’s 2014 release is often overlooked because of it’s very repetitive chorus. It follows Swift and her then-lover looking for a way out of the press or, as the lyrics describe, a way out of the woods. She repeats the title over and over in a genius matter to create a mood of confusion and fear for her listeners.
“When we decided / To move the furniture so we could dance / Baby, like we stood a chance / Two paper airplanes flying / And I remember thinking / Are we out of the woods yet?”
6. “Getaway Car” - reputation
Picture this: getting stuck in a relationship with no clear way out. Then, someone else, someone better but not quite perfect, comes along and gives you that way out. Yet you cannot quite seem to find yourself falling in love, so you leave them too. Swift describes this scenario in “Getaway Car” through a Bonnie and Clyde metaphor.
“The ties were black, the lies were white / In shades of grey in candlelight / I wanted to leave him / I needed a reason”
Taylor Swift on the cover of her 2017 release, reputation.
5. “Afterglow” - Lover
This is one of the few times Swift has apologized through her music. In a similar manner as “Back to December,” “Afterglow” sees Swift pleading to a lover for forgiveness and questioning her own undisclosed actions. But this time around, she wants to try again. Wanting, or what could be described as begging, for her lover to meet her in the afterglow of the fight, she is vulnerable in a way the world does not often see Swift.
“Tell me that I’m all you want / Even when I break your heart / I need to say / Hey, it’s all me, in me head / I’m the one who burned us down”
4. “Champagne Problems” - evermore
“Champagne Problems” is the story of a failed proposal conjured by Swift and her long time partner, Joe Alwyn. A woman fell out of love with her college sweetheart just as he got down on one knee. Swift and Alwyn describe her dropping his glass heart while his mom’s ring is in his pocket. With only a simple piano playing in the background, Swift’s voice delivers one of the best performances of her career. Full of conflicting emotion, this song delivers a mesmerizing blow to the gut.
“One for the money two for the show / I never was ready / So I watch you go / Sometimes you just don’t know the answer / Til someone’s on their knees and asks you”
3. “Enchanted” - Speak Now
Enchanted was the original title for Swift’s third album- a better one, in my opinion. This track encompasses the feeling of the whole work, she was enchanted by life after the highs of Fearless. “Enchanted” follows her meeting someone who was not important in the grand scheme of life, but it was an experience she will never forget. Staying up all night wondering “what if?” As the song has aged, this lingering thought has evolved into many questions about Swift’s rise to fame and success.
“I’ll spend forever wondering if you knew / I was enchanted to meet you / This is me praying that / This was the very first page / Not where the storyline ends”
2. “New Romantics” - 1989 (Deluxe)
Although not about love as the title suggests, “New Romantics” is an anthem about being young in the spotlight. Swift effortlessly avoids the cliches and avoids whining about being famous. Instead, she writes about being free even when everyone is watching. She compares her life to a poker game and admits that she switches sides like a record changer. Going beyond lyrics, the production of this song is often hailed as pop perfection.
“‘Heart break is the national anthem / We sing it proudly / We are too busy dancing / To get knocked off our feet / Baby, we’re the new romantics / The best people in life are free”
1. “Cowboy Like Me” - evermore
“Cowboy Like Me” is what Taylor Swift does best- a grand metaphor. Off of her latest release, this song falls in the heart of evermore. Hidden between bigger and louder tracks, Swift sings softly and in code. It is tough to crack exactly what she is trying to say; as the story unravels, you realize it was worth the wait.
In just four and a half minutes, Swift creates a persona where she used to be a bandit searching for people who trusted her love. This persona then meets another deceitful person who tries to earn her love through the same tricks she uses. It is not revealed whether they fall in love or if it is just another failed heist- and it is not important.
“Now you hang from my lips / Like the Gardens of Babylon / With your boots beneath my bed / Forever is the sweetest con”