A Completely Subjective Ranking of Taylor Swift’s Albums
Now including reputation!
Since 2006, without fail, Taylor Swift has released an album every two years in the fall. This year she seems poised to break her decade-long streak, and there is a Taylor-less hole in my heart. Not that she’s had any trouble staying relevant.
Instead of waiting for the inevitable disappointment that is no October album release, I’m obsessing over the albums that are actually released, with special mention to the bonus tracks/deluxe edition extras/promotional singles.
This is my (completely subjective, but still definitive) ranking of Taylor Swift’s albums, from worst to best.
6. Taylor Swift (2006)
This is the training bra of Taylor Swift albums in that it hints at the greatness to come, but isn’t quite there yet (unless you’re me because my boobs never came).
This is the most country of Taylor’s country albums (which I will later argue lasted from 2006 to 2010). And I’m not the biggest country fan, but I like these just fine. However, I also like them the least out of her songs.
One thing that irks me a little is Taylor’s propensity to put on a phony-American Southern twang in these songs. She also bends to some of the unfortunate country stereotypes here, with trucks and gay panic and oh, those Georgia stars.
Okay, I have some praise for this. Her songwriting already shows her knack for smart, confessional lyrics. And even though it’s country, it still had more crossover appeal than other country albums of its day (remember the pop version of “Teardrops on my Guitar?” Remember?).
Best songs: Cold as You, Tied Together With a Smile, The Outside
5. Speak Now (2010)
Taylor Swift might be the weakest, but Speak Now is probably the messiest. At the time this was heralded as Taylor’s first “adult” album, but really it’s a teen album that wants to be an adult album.
The video for “Mine” showed Taylor getting married and having kids. The subject matter of the title track is her crashing a wedding (basically a slightly more grown-up “You Belong With Me”). But then there’s “Long Live,” which is about… homecoming? And “Better Than Revenge,” which is so painfully immature and slut-shamey that I can barely listen to it.
So why is this ranked higher than Taylor Swift? Because the good songs are really, really good. The songwriting and production is more polished than Taylor Swift. The country mainstays are there, but they’re less obvious than before — except for “Mean,” which goes full, unashamedly country but it’s so catchy that I don’t even care.
Speaking of unashamed, this was Taylor coming into the full theatrics we’d later see in Red. Two songs clock in at over six minutes, but they’re also two of the best songs. “Dear John” is a soaring break-up ballad that keeps building and building to an angry and satisfying climax. “Last Kiss” is the sad break-up song with a perfect acoustic guitar and piano backing.
Speak Now is all over the place, but there are moments of brilliance between all the unevenness.
Best songs: Dear John, Last Kiss, Haunted
4. reputation (2017)
Let’s be fair — 1989 is a hell of an act to follow. Factor in that and the fact that literally everyone was waiting to hear this album, things were bound to come up short in one way or another.
It’s hard not to compare reputation with something — be it 1989, the real-life scandals that undoubtedly inspired the album’s theme (more on that later), or that other Jack Antonoff-produced album by a young female artist released in 2017. But when you separate the music from its surroundings, it’s still pretty damn great.
Like Speak Now, this album is a bit of a mess. Unlike Speak Now, the mess seems intentional (leave it to Taylor Swift to make messiness sound so engineered). Taylor’s own narrative — namely, her desire and failure to control it — is messy. She’s at once good all-American girl and a cold, calculating fembot. reputation feels like she’s finally making an attempt to reconcile the two.
There are songs that address her, ahem, reputation as a maneater, getting into a relationship out of spite in “Getaway Car” and taking pleasure in leaving him in “I Did Something Bad.” The foot-stomping “Don’t Blame Me,” sounds like it could be sung by Rebecca Bunch on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which I mean in the best possible way.
Unlike Red, which benefitted from its extended runtime, reputation feels a tad suffocated by its excess. The song with Ed Sheeran and Future (yes) could have been left off; same goes for “Gorgeous” and even “Look What You Made Me Do.” But as usual, the good songs make up for the occasional dud. “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” plays like a 1989 deep cut, while the album-ending “New Year’s Day” is a stripped-down, throwback of a ballad (paging Old Taylor).
My (again, totally subjective) verdict is that reputation is a mostly-fun, if sometimes excessive, ride. It’s messy, it’s dramatic, but that’s all part of the narrative, sweetie.
Best songs: Dancing With Our Hands Tied, New Year’s Day, Getaway Car
3. Fearless (2008)
This album was big when I was fourteen-almost-fifteen, and my god I don’t think another album has had such an influence on me. To be honest, I hadn’t listened to it for a good few years because the album just so encapsulated that time. But I recently went back, hearing it through a more adult filter.
It still holds up, guys.
It holds up scarily well.
This won Album of the Year at the Grammys (yeah, they’re rigged and don’t represent the music industry as a whole, blah blah blah) and honestly, it’s kind of deserving. Hear me out.
This wasn’t just good for a country album. This was good for a goddamn pop album. So what if it had some violins and banjos? This is a deftly made, coherent pop album.
If Speak Now was a teen album disguised as an adult album, then Fearless is the teen album you’re not ashamed to admit you still listen to as an adult. “Love Story” is cheesy and revisionist, but it’s a freaking masterclass on how to write a crossover hit. “Fifteen” was controversial (no, really) but it captures the feeling of high school better than any other song I’ve heard.
The perfect moment in Fearless comes right in the middle with its three best songs. “Breathe,” a break-up song featuring Colbie Caillat, “Tell Me Why,” an angry, frustrated song about an angry, frustrated lover, and “You’re Not Sorry,” that’s more arena-friendly rock than country.
Basically, give this album another listen if you haven’t in a while.
Best songs: Breathe, Tell Me Why, You’re Not Sorry
2. 1989 (2014)
Taylor’s first “official” pop album (yeah, more on that later) that gave rise to the every-performance-goes-viral 1989 Tour and an endless barrage of squad goals. So much of the aftermath focused on everything but the music, that we actually forget that this album is close to perfect.
This proved that Taylor was just as good at pure, unadulterated pop as she was at country, folk-pop, arena-rock whatever while still keeping her knack for confessional lyrics intact. It’s a testament to how artists can evolve gracefully over time, not unlike Mariah Carey’s own transition from adult contemporary to hip-hop.
It also showed a degree of self-awareness. I’m of course talking about “Blank Space,” and to a lesser degree “Shake It Off” (though it’s worth noting “Shake It Off” is the weakest song on the album).
1989 combines all the things Taylor does so well — the songwriting and hook crafting — and makes it her most radio-friendly album yet. There’s dancey songs (“Welcome to New York,” “How You Get the Girl”) and Lana Del Rey-esque dream-pop (“Wildest Dreams,” “This Love”).
“Style” might just be the culmination of all of her work up to this point: the twangy guitars, the pulsating beat, and the immensely singable hook all add up to the perfect pop song.
1989 is what an ideal pop album should be. Fun and breezy on its surface, but layered with complexity underneath.
Best songs: Clean, Style, Out of the Woods, This Love
1. Red (2012)
Red is many things. Country it is not. Sure, it was nominated in the “Country” category at the Grammys. But, it’s really not country.
Red is a perfect mish-mash of genres, from indie to folk to dub-pop. And sure, there’s some country thrown in there for good measure. Red transcends any one genre. As Rolling Stone put it, this was Taylor’s Purple Rain.
Unlike the previous album Speak Now, which was entirely self-written, Red is almost entirely a collaborative album and it’s stronger for it. Her collabs with pop heavyweight Max Martin produced her most radio-friendly singles at the time — “22,” “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
However, the strongest pieces on the album veer more into indie-folk territory (Taylor was spending a lot of time with The Civil Wars around this time, and The Black Keys were the indie darlings of the moment, so you do the math).
The opening song, “State of Grace” is a perfect storm of soaring electric guitars and vocals. The title track is an intense, passionate lament to a relationship gone bad (and includes the lyric “loving him is like driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street” that is brilliant and I will hear nothing to the contrary.)
And then there’s “All Too Well,” which even Taylor notes might be her best songwriting ever. It’s stark imagery and emotional delivery, with nary a violin in sight.
This is also notable for being Taylor’s first — and so far only — album with duets; “The Last Time” with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol and “Everything Has Changed” with future tour-mate and British Best Friend™ Ed Sheeran — both, as I should point out, not country artists.
The best songs here are, as usual, the break-up songs. They have an authenticity and power that was so missing from Speak Now. Other songs, like “Starlight” and “Stay Stay Stay” veer a little backwards into teen Taylor-dom, but the album as a whole is so great that honestly, I can forgive a couple duds.
Red was, as expected, a big hit at the time. And yet, it’s faded from memory in the wake of 1989. My advice is listen to it again. You’ll find everything that made 1989 great, and then some.
Best songs: Begin Again, The Last Time, State of Grace, All Too Well
Honorable Mentions: The Bonus Tracks and Promotional Singles
For the purposes of this article, I stuck to the standard-edition releases. But, the deluxe edition tracks (and more) deserve a mention. Some are great and some are…not. Here’s the best and worst of them.
Taylor Swift/Beautiful Eyes: In between Taylor Swift and Fearless, there was an EP with the somewhat creepy title Beautiful Eyes. Of the three new tracks on the EP everything is pretty pedestrian — basically what you’d expect to hear on country radio in 2006/2007. If you like that kind of thing, great. If not, you’re not missing anything.
The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection (aka Sounds of the Season): As nearly every debut artist does, from NSYNC to Hilary Duff, Taylor released a Christmas album in 2007. Well, more of a Christmas EP.
There are two original songs here, and they’re both not great. “Christmases When You Were Mine” is what I guess was meant to be Taylor’s “Blue Christmas,” except without the creativity or longevity. But still, it’s at least passable.
But then there’s “Christmas Must Be Something More,” in which we find out Taylor is actually a soldier in the War on Christmas. No, really. It’s a bouncy “Keep Christ in Christmas” song, with the cringeworthy lyric “here’s to the birthday boy who saved our lives.” It’s Taylor at her gosh-darned countriest. Something tells me this isn’t one she’ll be performing at Jingle Ball anytime soon.
(Full disclosure: her cover of “Last Christmas” is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.)
Fearless (Platinum Edition): The re-release of Fearless came with six new tracks. Three are okay, one is god-awful, and two are absolutely incredible.
I’m just going to stick to the absolutely incredible ones. One is a piano version of “Forever and Always.” It’s less angry and more sad than the original, and it turns out as a better song for it.
Then there’s “Untouchable,” which isn’t really a Taylor Swift song. It’s actually a cover of a song by some random country act called Luna Halo. But apparently Taylor modified the song so much that Luna Halo gave her a writing credit. So… it’s a Taylor Swift song by technicality.
It really doesn’t matter, because it’s just great. There’s really nothing else I can say about it except it is one of the best, most underappreciated deep cuts in the Taylor canon. Listen to it. Like, now.
Speak Now (Target Deluxe Edition): The bonus tracks on the Target-exclusive edition of Speak Now are pretty standard (what I mean is, they’re no “Untouchable.”)
There’s an acoustic version of “Haunted” which, like “Forever and Always” is better than the original. “If This Was a Movie” is a big, epic “I want you back” song that doesn’t get as cliched as you’d think it would be.
Then there’s the absolutely baffling “Superman.” It’s fun to listen to, if only to try and find out if she’s singing about her dad or her boyfriend. I still can’t tell.
Red (Deluxe Edition): For such a great album, it’s a shame that the deluxe bonus tracks are so… meh. They’re fun little diversions (“The Moment I Knew” might just be the most overly-dramatic song she’s ever written), but nothing on the level of the standard edition tracks.
The best thing on here is the acoustic version of “State of Grace,” which manages to sound like a completely different (but still awesome) song. Taylor acoustic covers are the greatest gift.
1989 (Deluxe Edition): No acoustic covers here (sniffle), and only two bonus tracks (three if you count “You Are in Love”). First, “New Romantics” which is great and delightful and I have nothing bad to say about it.
“You Are in Love,” a separate iTunes single but included on the hard copies of 1989, is some nice, silly fun. It fits right in with the rest of the album is what I’m saying.
Then, “Wonderland.” I cannot say I like this song. Maybe it has something to do with seeing a terrible Alice in Wonderland-themed art installation the day I heard this. Or because I hate Tim Burton’s Alice so much that I have an aversion to anything remotely similar. I’m sorry. I just can’t.
Agree? Disagree? Tell me your Taylor album rankings in the comments.