For me, ranking Taylor Swift albums is like trying to pick a favourite child: I love them all too much to even consider pitting them against each other. However, I have one firm belief on this topic: Taylor Swift (the album) does not deserve to keep being put in last place.
My earliest Swiftie memory is from 2009. I had Fearless (International Version) on CD, and I would play it in my pink and purple CD player daily. My favorite song from the album (then, and to this day) was “Forever and Always”.
The emotional impact that Fearless (Taylor’s Version) had on first year of university me is an article all of its own, but International Version had three songs on it which I didn’t realise until (embarrassingly) recently weren’t on the standard edition, but were actually more pop focussed remixes of three of the most popular songs from her debut album: “Our Song – International Version”, “Teardrops On My Guitar – International Version” and “Should’ve Said No – International Version”.
A few Christmases past 2009, I heard Taylor Swift in full for the first time, and I was hooked: I don’t think being a teenager has ever been described so well in just fourteen songs. Taylor Swift is an album for the ones who never quite fit in with their peers, who have fairytales and grand love stories in their sights but never quite in their reach, and who know they want to leave but aren’t quite sure where to go.
One era is, famously, missing from the 44-song Eras Tour setlist and I cannot and will not stand for her erasure anymore. This week (October 24th) marks her 17th birthday (one year away from being old enough to vote) – so take some time out from listening to 1989 (Taylor’s Version) over the next few weeks and make sure you can be one of the lucky few to say that you were a fan before Taylor Swift’s rerecording. Here’s my song-by-song explanation to why you won’t regret it.
1. TIM MCGRAW
If you’ve ever had someone walk out of your life, but known they’ll never be able to hear the name “Taylor Swift” without them thinking of you… “Tim McGraw” is your song. A quintessential country ballad, in her debut single Taylor fondly reminisces about a love from a summer past, and perfectly sets the tone for the album (and the entire discography) yet to come.
2. PICTURE TO BURN
A Swiftie classic, and one you’re almost certain to know if you’ve spent any amount of time on Swiftie social media. This song is probably my number one Taylor karaoke song, with one of the most iconic music videos to date.
3. TEARDROPS ON MY GUITAR
Were you really a baby Swiftie if this make you beg your family for guitar lessons? Out of the three debut tracks featured on Fearless (International Version), this one is probably my least favorite (sorry!) which I think speaks to the high calibre of songs on this album.
4. A PLACE IN THIS WORLD
“I don’t know what I want, so don’t ask me” is one of my most frequently quoted Taylor lyrics. We’re introduced very early on to one of the major themes of the album: wouldn’t it be nice to belong? If you’re on your own, kid (and you always have been), take heart from this song: you’ll find your place someday.
5. COLD AS YOU
The mother of all track 5 sad songs. We’ve all had times in- our lives where we have been ignored or ghosted by the person we most want to hear from; we’ve all been a mess of a dreamer with the nerve to adore [them]. If you’ve ever been left sitting in the cold, a shell of who you were before, this song is for you. “All Too Well” before “All Too Well” was “All Too Well”.
6. THE OUTSIDE
This song is as relatable to university students trying to find their circle as it was to young teenagers trying to figure out who to sit with at lunchtime. This song speaks to being somewhere where you feel you really should fit in – people you’ve known all your life, or people who’re all in the same boat as you – but knowing, in your core, that you just don’t, and feeling just a bit resentful over it.
7. TIED TOGETHER WITH A SMILE
Now, we arrive at my favorite song from the album. If you’re a “this is me trying” girl, a “Nothing New” girl or a “Castles Crumbling” girl: this song is for you. Sometimes, it’s hard to shake the idea that you have to be perfect and put together to be likable or desirable, and it’s even harder to figure out that that’s not necessary when you’re young. If you resonate with this, and you need to give yourself some time to fall apart, find it in this song.
8. STAY BEAUTIFUL
Queen of similes and metaphors! This song is comfort in a 4 minute country bop. Taylor encapsulates both how it felt to have your very first crush and how it feels to see your childhood friends shine, even if you aren’t in close contact anymore.
9. SHOULD’VE SAID NO
This song makes me want to break a guitar on stage in front of a screaming crowd. It had teenage me angry over a breakup that hadn’t even happened yet. I only have one question: when’s the rock album coming, Taylor? The proof of concept has been there from the very first day.
10. MARY’S SONG (OH MY MY MY)
An early prototype of Taylor’s dreamer, storyteller songs (e.g., “Love Story”, “It’s Nice to Have a Friend”, “Cardigan”), “Mary’s Song” is a myth in itself. Known mostly to today’s Swifties as a pre-concert inside joke (‘I’m outside the stadium and I heard her sound checking “Mary’s Song”!’), this song is the epitome of childhood friends to lovers. Taylor takes the thesis of the album – wouldn’t it be so great to be wanted and to want someone in return – and orchestrates a story where from the beginning, it was clear that it was always going to end up the way it did. Sometimes, it’s just destiny.
11. OUR SONG
Country pop excellence in its purest form. A song everybody (even non-Swifties) are familiar with. A go-to for sports players being cornered into naming their favourite TS song by their team’s well-meaning PR or social media manager. The story behind the song is that it was written for a high school talent show, and in my opinion this song comes across the most country (and the most Nashville, TN) on the album.
12. I’M ONLY ME WHEN I’M WITH YOU
This album, for the most part, contains many songs about feeling out of place and how Taylor struggled with that. This song is the exception that proves the rule: she’s found the person who sees her and lets her be her truest self, and who she sees and adores in return.
“Invisible” is the anthem of your first painful high school crush; the one you were too scared to ever do anything about, so you sat and watched and waited… to no avail.
14. A PERFECTLY GOOD HEART
“A Perfectly Good Heart” does exactly what she needs to do. This lament of teenage heartbreak encapsulates what it’s like to wonder why. As we all have to learn, sometimes in life things just don’t make sense or don’t happen as you expect them to – but it doesn’t end there. The final track on Taylor Swift is a noticeably lower note than the first, but this isn’t the final page of the story. You pick yourself back up, and try it all over again.
Maybe Taylor Swift (the album) is less mature and not at the same level technically as Taylor’s later albums, but does it have to be? At its core, this album is about feeling like a lost teenager, waiting for someone to notice you and for everything to change. If you’re just a girl trying to find a place in this world, hold tight: you’re really gonna be someone, and Taylor Swift will be holding your hand when you do.