Taylor Swift has sonically — and for many, literally — carried people my age from childhood to young adulthood.
Her first album, “Taylor Swift,” came out when I was three years old. Still, I have specific recollections of screaming along to “Our Song” and “Should’ve Said No” as they played on the radio of my dad’s pickup.
Fifteen years later, I’m still singing along, but her discography has become much more expansive. From her radio-safe pop tunes to her collapse-worthy, eloquently-written, heart-wrenching ballads, she has written the soundtrack of my life.
Swift has a song for everything: romance, breakups, angst, nostalgia and practically all other human experiences. Because her work is so diverse, some songs are instinctively better than others.
As anticipation builds for “Red (Taylor’s Version),” due on Nov. 19, I ranked all of Taylor’s songs. Yes, all 158 of them (only including original tracks from her solo studio albums).
I must preface this list by saying that almost all of her songs are far ahead of her contemporaries and a middle or low-level placement does not necessarily qualify a song as bad. But when you put “Girl at Home” beside “Love Story,” it’s inherent that there’s a massive comparative gap between the two.
For time’s sake, I’ll examine her five best and her five worst.
Swift has an admittedly horrible habit of picking bad lead singles. I remember waking up the morning of its release and thinking in a worried panic that her career was over. It’s an audibly grating three-minute radio ploy that sounds like it was made for a children’s television program. It is the only song that I have blocked on Spotify, and I do not plan to unblock it anytime soon.
157. “Bad Blood”
The concept of “Bad Blood” is excellent. Swift has survived feuds with Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Demi Lovato and John Mayer (among others). What could have been a female empowerment anthem was cut at the knees by lyrics that sound like they were written by a 7-year-old. The song was saved by its excellent music video, but some Swift sins are unforgivable.
156. “Stay Stay Stay”
It is shocking to me that “Stay Stay Stay” made the cut for the standard edition of “Red.” To put this song on the same album as “Treacherous,” “State of Grace,” “All Too Well” and “Begin Again” was borderline criminal. I understand the reasons behind the general cacophony of “Red": Swift was battling with her record label to completely escape the grips of country music, and she did not succeed entirely until the release of the pop classic “1989.” “Stay Stay Stay” feels like a victim of this cacophony, a desperate filler song that slashed the musical integrity of the album.
155. “Paper Rings”
The low placement of “Paper Rings” on this list will undoubtedly be a cause of controversy. To some of my friends, “Paper Rings” is one of Swift’s best, but these friends are delusional. The song is underproduced and relies on a singular, weak metaphor. It’s too bubblegum pop for Swift and, when I listen to it, it sounds as if she doesn’t believe the words she’s singing. As soon as I hear the introductory drum kicks of the song, I immediately double-tap my AirPods, and I refuse to apologize about it.
The toddler voice in the introduction of “Gorgeous” is indicative of the entire song. While it’s a listenable song, it almost sounds like one of those Family Guy parodies of standard pop. With a chorus guided by “You're so gorgeous / I can't say anything to your face / 'Cause look at your face,” the song is lyrically lacking and a stain on Swift’s pen.
5. “Love Story”
“Love Story” was one of Swift’s first indicators of mature songwriting. It reemerged in popularity with her February rerelease as the lead single to “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” proving its timeless appeal. The song is a modern reflection of one of the most archetypal love stories of all time: Romeo and Juliet (though this love story has a happy ending). “Love Story” formed my perception of true love when I was 5, and it continues to hold a special place in my heart.
Swift has a distinct, rare ability to be able to make a five-minute song out of a fleeting, momentary experience. “Enchanted” is a story of love at first sight. It’s carried by a strong pop-rock instrumental and Swift’s flawless songwriting. It's one of those songs you can scream at the top of your lungs and not care about how bad you sound.
3. “champagne problems”
“champagne problems” is crippling to the psyche. It carries a sense of hopelessness, effortless despair that could only be accomplished by someone of Swift’s talents. With a 16-line tear-jerking bridge, “champagne problems” is one of Taylor’s most complexly composed crestfallen soliloquies.
2. “All Too Well”
For a long time, “All Too Well” topped this list in my brain. It’s the story of a relationship from beginning to end, describing sensory details from a first meeting to the call that ended it all. The song is a six-minute crescendo to a cathartic, belted bridge that releases a tsunami of endorphins. “All Too Well” is heralded by Swifties as her magnum opus, but there is one other song in her catalog that can stand up to the crafted perfection of “All Too Well.”
1. “Dear John”
Deciding between “Dear John” and “All Too Well” for Swift’s flagship song was one of the most arduous efforts I have ever undertaken. “Dear John” is her most excellently written song, written directly, publicly and unapologetically to former boyfriend John Mayer, who is 12 years older than her.
The opening guitar strum of “Dear John” is enough to mentally transport me to my bedroom floor. It’s a song that sounds like nighttime – the audible notions of dark, deliberate emptiness combined with an ever-building explosive of emotion. It's enough to bring anyone to tears.
With lyrics like “Long were the nights when my days once revolved around you,” “But I took your matches before fire could catch me” and “Wondering which version of you I might get on the phone tonight,” “Dear John” is a walk through the end of a relationship. It’s a scream into dark silence to a lover you no longer know. It’s a musical masterpiece.
“Dear John” is also her longest song until the release of the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” in November. I speak for all Swifties when I say that Red (Taylor’s Version) cannot get here fast enough.
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