As someone who has recently been indoctrinated into The Swiftverse due to the crying-in-the-car lyrical masterpiece that is evermore (“tis the damn season” stans please stand up), I’ve only just been exposed to the meaning behind “track five”. For those who are unaware, the fifth track on every Taylor Swift album is known to be the most emotional and vulnerable song on said album. As someone who loves a sad banger and has really become obsessed with Taylor Swift since 2021 began, I feel compelled to give my own track five rankings (from worst to best) that no one asked for. Here it goes!
- “Cold As You”, Taylor Swift (2006)
The track five that started it all. “Cold As You” is about a happy relationship that has seemingly gone sour against Taylor’s best efforts and wishes. This is by far the most country of all the track fives. There’s twang to the vocals, a solid country instrumental and Swiftian rain imagery to boot. All of these factors create a melodramatic storm of teenage regret and sadness (see lyrics “And I know you wouldn’t have told nobody if I died, died for you” as evidence). This track ranks last on the list not because of its own flaws, but because of the other tracks’ strengths. It is, after all, the first track five, and it shows in both the songwriting and vocals when compared to the other tracks. It’s a perfectly fine track five but it doesn’t necessarily wreak the same emotional havoc as some of her more recent releases. To Taylor’s credit, she was seventeen when the song was released and that teenage theatricalism is amped up to eleven here. I’m sure if I was thirteen and hearing this for the first time after my crush didn’t look at me at lunchtime I’d be feeling like this too, though.
Favourite lyric: “And you come away with a great little story / Of a mess of a dreamer with the nerve to adore you”
- “The Archer”, Lover (2019)
“The Archer” in my mind, is a poor choice for a track five. This is partially because there are so many other options on Lover that could have better fit the spot. “Death By a Thousand Cuts”, “Cornelia Street” and “Afterglow” are all better candidates in my opinion. I know not everyone will agree with me on this but “Cornelia Street” not being the track five is as poor of a choice as “Cruel Summer” not being the lead single off of Lover. Besides my own personal issues with the tracklist, “The Archer” is kind of… boring? The lyrics are standard Taylor Swift, covering the insecurities she has in a relationship due to her own self-esteem issues and previous battles. The lyrics are fantastic and her songwriting has clearly grown since “Cold As You”, which is why it ranks higher. She uses the metaphor of combat to indicate that loving her is difficult and strenuous, which is definitely a relatable concept. I give her props for managing to make a Humpty Dumpty reference work but the instrumental is where I lose interest; it sounds like a washed-out remix of an 80s song. Also, Taylor is usually able to craft excellent, dare I say iconic bridges, but this one falls flat. I give it a solid 9/10 for vulnerability, but a 3/10 for execution.
Favourite lyric: “‘Cause all of my enemies started out friends / Help me hold on to you”
- “White Horse”, Fearless (2008)
Another country entry on this list, “White Horse” tells the tale of the sad aftermath of Romeo’s grand gesture on “Love Story”. This track is peak Taylor Swift in her country era. We’ve got fairytale metaphors, mentions of a small town and, of course, good ol’ teenage angst. It’s a pure realization and mature reflection on when you’ve been harbouring a false ideal in your head and you can’t reckon whether that’s your fault or the fault of your partner. Although Taylor seemingly places the blame on her love interest, she’s also self-berating in her assessment of their romance. “I was a dreamer before you went and let me down” is as much about the disappointment she has in her own naivete as in her love interest’s lack of heroism. It’s one of her more direct and identifiable track fives, and feels like a quintessential Taylor Swift song. It’s ranked low on the list for similar reasons to “Cold As You” but “White Horse” plants the seeds for a nuanced understanding of wrong versus right that we will eventually see on future track fives. it’s good, but she’s got better tricks up her sleeve.
Favourite lyric: “This is a big world, that was a small town / There in my rearview mirror disappearing now”
- “All You Had To Do Was Stay”, 1989 (2014)
Now, I know what you’re thinking. If I ranked “The Archer” so low because it’s a poor track five choice, then why am I ranking “All You Had To Do Was Stay” higher up on the list? This isn’t even that sad of a song! The difference, my friend, is context. “All You Had To Do Was Stay” is placed perfectly in the context of this joyous album, offering a track five for those of us who like to cry and dance at the same time. This is Taylor’s most upbeat album to date and this track five choice perfectly reflects that energy. “All You Had To Do Was Stay” sits in the sad bangers hall-of-fame, encapsulating the concept of crying while dancing exceptionally well. It’s also just a better song than “The Archer”, okay? The instrumental is better, the bridge is better and it uses its 80s inspiration in a more effective and modern way. I also enjoy that the lyrics in this one reflect Taylor’s confidence in her place in the relationship. “Let me remind you / This is what you wanted / You ended it” is so cutting and I love that for her. She hasn’t moved on completely, but she’s getting there and she’s not sorry about it. I’m glad a track five reflects this type of “I’m over it (but am I really?)” vulnerability for once.
Favourite lyric: “People like you always want back / The love they pushed aside / But people like me are gone forever / When you say goodbye”
- “my tears ricochet”, folklore (2020)
Alright, this is where the rankings start to get difficult. I know I will get flack for ranking this so low and I completely understand why. As far as track fives go, this song is one of Taylor’s most personal and dual-sided in meaning. Interpretations of “my tears ricochet” will completely depend on how entrenched you are in Taylor Swift lore. If you’re a casual listener, you may interpret this to be nothing more than a well-written and bleak breakup song about someone wishing they hadn’t ended the relationship the way they did. For those who have been keeping up with Taylor’s business affairs, you may interpret this as a reverse-elegy sung by the ghost of someone who’s been buried alive by the person they trust the most. It’s a brutal reflection of her tumultuous relationship with her former label. Taylor is able to write about a very personal situation, something that very few people will go through in life and make it universal. Now for me personally, I recognize that it’s a masterclass in songwriting but I don’t feel the same connection to it the way that I do with the next four songs. Blame it on the fact that I’m a relatively new addition to the TS fandom but this song doesn’t hit for me the way it probably does for fans that have been with Taylor through it all. There are simply track fives that I like and relate to more — and that’s valid!
Favourite lyric: “And so the battleships will sink beneath the waves / You had to kill me, but it killed you just the same”
- “Delicate”, reputation (2017)
Before I started really delving into her lyrical genius, “Delicate” was my absolute favourite Taylor Swift song. I was a fan of reputation right from its release (although I’m still not crazy about the singles) and this song stuck with me the most out of the many stellar songs on that album. Like so many favourites, the timing of when you first consume something is always going to reflect how it impacts you, which was the case with me and this song. It has a special place in my heart for how deeply it initially resonated with me and thus my love for it is reflected in its relatively high position on this list. “Delicate” is a quiet love song about wanting to jump into the depths of new love while being unsure about what lingers beneath the surface. This is the only track five about the beginning of a relationship, so it holds hope where the others don’t. It’s her happiest track five despite its sparse instrumental and soft vocals. It’s not her most advanced song lyrically or sonically but there’s something so sweet about it. I just love the hesitant hopefulness of it all. I’m particularly obsessed with the “isn’t it?” that’s repeated a whopping thirty-six times throughout the track. She’s begging to know whether or not her partner wants this as much as she does, and yet she can’t stop herself from feeling the way she does regardless of the answer. That abandonment of logic to one’s feelings is kind of beautiful, isn’t it?
Favourite lyric: “Do the girls back home touch you like I do? / Long night, with your hands up in my hair / Echoes of your footsteps on the stairs / Stay here, honey, I don’t wanna share”
- “All Too Well”, Red (2012)
I feel like this is where I will lose most of you and I’ve accepted that. If you want to click away out of anger or disappointment in me, so be it. “All Too Well” is probably Taylor’s most beloved track five and is widely considered one of her best songs. A melancholic reflection on a seemingly good love lost, it’s a heart-wrenching ballad with iconic lyrics like “But maybe this thing was a masterpiece / ‘Til you tore it all up” and “you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest.” I mean, who wouldn’t be moved by lyrics like that? The emotional devastation of it all! Sonically it’s gorgeous too. The guitar and drum beat swell at the bridge as she screams out the lyrics in a fantastic vocal performance (a definite step up from her debut and Fearless days). It’s emotionally raw, angry and sad without centring anyone as wrong or right. I know that it resonates deeply with many people and it does for me as well. There’s something about this song that doesn’t hit me the way it used to and I think that has to do with Taylor’s growth as a songwriter on albums like folklore and evermore. Even with how emotionally tender “All Too Well” is, I feel like she could have dug even deeper. I know I’m in the minority on that feeling but hey, it’s my ranking. Maybe this song would be listed higher if Taylor released the 10-minute long version with the F-Word in it instead. Fingers crossed for that re-record.
Favourite lyric: “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again / But I’m still trying to find it”
- “tolerate it”, evermore (2020)
If you’d asked me before evermore whether or not a track five could top “All Too Well” based on how much it made me want to go to therapy, I would say no. “tolerate it” is an excellent example of how Taylor Swift uses her songwriting to create a universal outlet for listeners to unload their own experiences onto, even if the situation is so far from her initial inspiration. Unlike “All Too Well” or “Delicate” which supposedly reflect her real-life relationships, Taylor said that she wrote “tolerate it” after reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Although based on a fictional situation, it paints a very realistic picture. “tolerate it” cuts deep for anyone who has put one hundred and fifty percent of themselves into a relationship only for the other person to barely mutter a thank you. It doesn’t matter what kind of relationship either — friendship, romance, parents, it’s open to all interpretations. What I love about this song and what I think sets it apart from other track fives, is that it ends on that note of empowerment. The lyrics in the final chorus harken back to Taylor looking in the rearview mirror at the end of “White Horse”, except this time it’s about her bravery in walking away rather than her defeat at having been broken down to the point of leaving. Her songwriting has truly come full circle, and that’s exemplified on this track five. It’s a sparse, piano-based song sonically and I get that it may not be as impressive as the swelling bridge on “All Too Well”. There’s just so much that can be taken from these lyrics, so many open-ended understandings of parts like “use my best colours for your portrait” or “Tell me I’ve got it wrong somehow / I know my love should be celebrated”.
Favourite lyrics: “but what would you do if I / Break free and leave us in ruins / Took this dagger in me and removed it / Gain the weight of you, then lose it / Believe me, I could do it”
- “Dear John”, Speak Now (2010)
“Dear John” is Taylor Swift’s best track five. Why? Because it is one of her bravest songs to date and I’m so glad she made it. For someone who has been publicly scrutinized for the entirety of her career for her dating choices, putting out a song that calls out an older man for taking advantage of you by name (in the title!!!!) is pretty hardcore. For context, Taylor Swift dated fellow singer-songwriter and famous guitarist John Mayer when she was 19 and he was 32. Although Taylor has never confirmed that the song is about him, she has accused Mayer of taking advantage of her during her formative years, leading many fans to think that this song is about him. This song should have been an indication that Taylor Swift is not someone to screw around with because she will retaliate with force. “Dear John” has the longest run time of any track five and Taylor utilizes every second to drag him and her listeners through everything he ever did to her. It’s empowering to say the least. She’s the queen of easter-eggs and I love that she actually lays this guy out as clearly as possible, calling him out for everything with no remorse. Lyrics like “Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?” and “All the girls that you’ve run dry have tired lifeless eyes / ‘Cause you burned them out” are jaw-dropping. Imagine being John Mayer hearing that for the first time? Rough. My favourite thing about this song is the guitar used in the instrumental to directly mimic Mayer’s famous style. Besides the celebrity gossip of it all (which I love), it’s also just a fantastic expression of pain from when you’ve been put through hell and back by someone that you thought you could trust. It’s brave, it’s bold, it’s brilliant.
Favourite lyric: “But I took your matches / Before fire could catch me / So don’t look now / I’m shining like fireworks / Over your sad empty town”