Two Swifties Rank Taylor Swift Albums
BY EMILY XU '23 & EMMA XIANG '23
For the past decade, Taylor Swift has remained at the center of the entertainment industry. Named one of Time’s Most Influential People of 2019, there’s no denying that she has shaped the music industry as well as our own lives. Her overall sound, lyricism, and personality remain timeless, and it’s always interesting to reflect on her growth as an artist. To condense her extensive repertoire into a more comprehensible review, we will rank her albums based on popular hits, songs that we believe deserve more recognition, and the ~vibe~ of the era as a whole.
1st: folklore emerges victorious as number one. folklore, Taylor’s first pop-indie album, was written entirely in quarantine. It includes some of Taylor’s most authentic songwriting and combines lyricism, and musicality in characterizing young love, ambition, and loss. Not to mention, her sophisticated vocabulary also comes in clutch for English essays. Taylor’s musical storytelling shines through as well; “cardigan,” “betty,” and “august” tell the story of a teenage love triangle through three different perspectives. This album covers diverse topics in comparison to typical indie-pop albums. Her allusion to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in “epiphany” as well as the discussion of suicide and mental health in “this is me trying” reflects Taylor’s maturation from her earlier albums, which focus more on young romance. Simply put, there’s a reason why folklore won Album of the Year.
2nd: In second place is 1989. Though 1989 and reputation are tied in quality, 1989’s influence on the music industry as a whole edges out reputation. Regarded as the album that completely transformed the pop industry, 1989 received a Grammy award for Album of the Year in 2016, making it Taylor’s second album to earn the accolade—and rightfully so. Both 1989’s popular radio singles and underground tracks garnered praise from critics, so it’s safe to assume that every song on the album is strong. We would go so far as to call it skip-free. What makes 1989 great isn’t the sophisticated lyricism of “baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.” Rather, it’s Taylor’s willingness to dive into the uncharted waters of the pop industry despite her initial country-based fame. Her extensive use of electronic beats blends seamlessly with her diverse range of tone and lyrics, making 1989 the blueprint for many of today’s most listened-to albums (ex: thank u, next). Taylor’s successful transition from a country music gal to a pop industry queen showed that conformity to a single genre wasn’t necessary for success.
3rd: Arguably the most slept-on album, reputation is the epitome of “queen energy.” After Kanye and Kim turned the entire internet against Taylor, she embraced her “snake persona” and set to work, eventually creating reputation. Here, she embodies a strong and driven woman who does what she wants, when she wants. It takes time to realize the excellence of this album (you need to watch her stadium tour on Netflix), but Taylor’s reputation era remains iconic to this day. Also, the music video for “Look What You Made Me Do” has over a billion views for a reason. Taylor embraces her old personas and reinterprets the “snake” name-calling to reinforce themes of independence and comebacks in the reputation era.
4th: Speak Now comes in fourth place. In Speak Now, Taylor explores the act of growing up and straddling the transition between adolescence and adulthood. The songs are catchy, with fragments of pop sprinkled here and there, foreshadowing Taylor’s future transition from country to pop. She centers the album around her own stories and experiences, from love, to heartbreak, to revenge (with a hint of misogyny—“Better Than Revenge,” we’re looking at you). Moreover, the album seamlessly incorporates heartfelt pieces like “Back to December” with more energetic pieces like “Haunted.” Taylor’s versatility as an artist shines through the varied moods of each song, yet they all tie back to the same themes, exemplifying her artistry. Speak Now includes multiple hit songs and acts as the facilitator for Taylor’s rise to superstar status.
5th: Following the release of folklore, Taylor announced evermore in December 2020. We both anticipated another life-changing indie album after having folklore top both of our Spotify Wrapped charts, but evermore turned out to be, respectfully, a watered-down version of folklore. The stronger songs on evermore are equal in quality to folklore’s, but as a whole, evermore contains skips while folklore is skip-free. Most of evermore's tracks sound similar to the tracks preceding it, which make for a one-dimensional album. Admittedly, evermore does have strong tracks, but some of the more sour notes, such as “coney island” and “willow” outweigh its strengths.
6th: Red is a decent album. Nothing special, nothing wrong with it. Taylor solidified her transition to pop music after the release of Speak Now two years prior, and Red includes some of her most popular songs. Overall, the album was pretty successful. Taylor single-handedly turned the world against Jake Gyllenhaal, made an amazing music video with mini Ed Sheeren, and gifted the world with one of the best songs ever made: “All Too Well.” That being said, many Taylor fans fail to recognize that one song (“All Too Well”) does not make Red the best album. A lot of the songs on Red are rather ordinary, with some even sounding the same. Sorry to the Red stans.
7th: Taylor Swift received her first Album of the Year Award for Fearless. Its standing as a country album is strong, and it includes many hit songs, nostalgic songs, and old Taylor songs. To be succinct, Fearless is a collection of Taylor songs that are oldies but goodies. Her musical talent shines through, with Fearless being the year's best-selling album and Taylor being the youngest artist to have a best-selling album. Her feats were impressive, but Fearless was only the beginning. Taylor has grown so much as an artist since, which is why her new albums rank higher.
8th: Within the Swiftie fandom, the majority of the fanbase tends to lean away from Lover. Though we agree that Lover’s singles aren’t the strongest of the bunch, we also disagree with the hate directed towards Lover. Lover has some of Taylor’s best, such as “Cruel Summer” and “Death By A Thousand Cuts.” We do share the anti-Brendon Urie sentiment shared by Taylor fans (more on that here), which is part of what contributed to Lover’s low ranking. However, “ME!” shouldn’t be weighed the same way that Taylor’s other songs are; it’s clear that “ME!” was Taylor’s celebratory song of her departure from her previous record label, Big Machine. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to deny “ME!”’s questionable lyrics (“You can’t spell awesome without ME?”—seriously?).
9th: We’re going to be honest, we don’t really listen to Taylor Swift, hence its placement in last. We hate Drew and we love the album cover.
As diehard Swifties, we realize that taste is subjective. It’s difficult to rank all of Taylor’s albums because, as cliché as this sounds, they’re all special in their own way. Taylor’s transition from genre to genre further differentiates each album; one cannot objectively compare any music, much less juxtapose a country album with a pop album. However, we can all agree that Taylor profoundly influenced pop music through her hit songs, poetic lyricism, and three Album of the Year awards. Nevertheless, we believe in folklore supremacy ;).