Opinion: Ranking Taylor Swift’s Albums
Editor’s note: Opinion articles are the thoughts and opinions of solely the writer. Come for him, not the rest of us.
A friend of mine once described me as a walking hot take. Taylor Swift is the second greatest musical artist of all time. This is a definitive ranking of her ten studio albums. If you have issues with my ranking or comments, meet me on the Quad at dawn—I do not fear you.
This is the only Taylor Swift album I dislike. More than dislike: I hate it. “Reputation” flirts with the sound of EDM and modern rap without much success in either one. Obnoxious beats (and other singers) overshadow Swift’s vocals and lyrics. I understand the kind of bait-and-switch the album is going for—projecting a mean, uncaring reputation only to reveal the real, vulnerable Swift finding love—but I also understand what the creators of “The Human Centipede” were going for. Nonetheless, finishing both left me with a vague, queasy feeling and a general sense of disappointment.
Ninth: “Taylor Swift”
I was born and raised in Idaho—horses and cows, tractors and plows. I know that a lot of this album is country trash, but it’s my trash. Swift’s vocals in her first album don’t aspire to the heights of any albums that follow, nor does her songwriting. There is, however, a twangy guitar that opens the album with the song “Tim McGraw,” asking me to picture a Chevy truck and back-country stars. For me, that’s not so hard to do. Home sticks with you, and I think it stuck with the earliest Swifties, too.
Eighth: “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)”
Taylor Swift’s re-recordings of “Red” and “Fearless” [give her more control over her own work], so those are the versions I listen to. Listening to this album gives me the same vibes as “Taylor Swift” but with an improved country sound. Except for “Hey Stephen,” which almost brings the album up to the top five, every song is simply good. That’s actually saying a lot. From this point—in eight out of ten albums spanning almost two decades—Taylor Swift does not make anything less than good.
The fall and winter vibes of “Evermore” are not just good, but impeccable. “Evermore” is the rain pattering against the library windows or pumpkin-spice coffee from the Bistro. The album applies Swift’s storytelling from country music to a sound that’s like something from Lord Huron. Taylor Swift in her Folklore-Evermore Era is like if the lo-fi girl became an indie musician and I am here for it.
“Wait, what?” you ask. “This is so weird. What even is this beat? Oh, wait. That’s a cool shift. Why am I dancing? Why can’t I stop?” This is how “Lover” takes you. It’s pop hypnotism, each song a little sermon. “The Archer” is a case study in this: a bunch of discordant sounds probably ring strange in most listeners’ ears until they coalesce in the chorus, making you sway in something like small worship. The songs in this album generally sound the same without many standouts, but the sound they share is really good.
Fifth: “Speak Now”
I know that there are a lot of things to think about right now, but at least a little bit more attention should be devoted to how well Taylor Swift’s voice pairs with a fiddle. “Speak Now” is the height of her country era. Swift’s vocals and the band are in perfect harmony, and her songwriting in “Dear John” is testing the waters of brilliance on the level of “All Too Well.” The album is also pure Gen Z nostalgia—it was released within a few months of the show “Good Luck Charlie” in 2010. That just seems right, doesn’t it?
Fourth: “Red (Taylor’s Version)”
From this point on, we tread on holy ground. “Holy Ground” is just one of countless bops in this album, however. “Red” has a little bit of everything. There’s a touch of sentimentality from her country era but also a bit of the sad Taylor we see in newer albums. There’s a saxophone in many songs and dubstep elements in “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” There’s occultist messaging in how Swift clearly channeled the ghosts of Jane Austen and William Shakespeare when writing the ten minute version of “All Too Well.” This album is trial and error for making future albums, but Swift forgot to include an error.
This one’s the hardest to pin down. Maybe it’s simply a matter of vibes? Storytelling is my only definitive reason for why I like “Folklore” so much. “The Lakes” is like the intersection of Faulkner and Bo Burnham’s “Inside.” There’s more power in “This is Me Trying” than most people’s actual life stories. “The Last Great American Dynasty” is a thesis on the culture of the American small town, the perception of women in society, the history of Swift’s own house and a biography of the real life socialite [Rebekah Harkness]. “Folklore” is like a library full of novels.
If “Lover” is pop hypnotism, “1989” is pop perfection. “1989” rolls its eyes at the idea that pop is any kind of lesser genre and proves it, too. This album contains so many iconic classics that most people just review it with a list to justify their opinion. As for me, I’ll refer to the list you’re probably thinking of right now. It starts with “Shake it Off” doesn’t it?
College gets busy. Midnights become my afternoons, if you will. Except for when I’m sleeping, I’m only in my dorm for thirty-second increments. One day, I was stopping by to exchange books for other books, halfway out the door when I heard a song coming from my neighbor’s window. The wind carried it along with a couple of autumn leaves, holding both suspended in the air for a moment as Taylor Swift sang “Sweet Nothing.” I set down my things and listened to the rest of the song. When it was done, I listened to the birds chirping, to people talking and laughing outside. There are times when time itself grabs you and says “Hey, this is beautiful and—for better or for worse—it will never be like this again. So settle down a minute, and listen and smile.” The storytelling, the vocals and the 80s synth of “Midnights” are all fantastic, but I know that my thoughts on this album will always turn to my time at Willamette, the future stretching out before me and the present insisting that I enjoy the sweet nothings of falling leaves and good music before I make my own name. Give “Midnights” a listen. I think it’ll make you smile.