Being asked to choose a favorite Taylor Swift album is like being asked to pick a favorite among eight children: impossible. Not only is every album a musical masterpiece, but each one represents a unique and pivotal time in Taylor’s life—and, by extension, my own. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my life has been shaped by music, and Taylor Swift’s more than anyone else’s. Her songs have been with me throughout the awkwardness of middle school, the highs and lows of high school and the new beginnings of college. Every Taylor Swift era coincides with a different era of my own life, and I can’t separate those memories from the music itself. For this reason, I’m here to tell you that every Taylor Swift album is the best Taylor Swift album when the music is an integral part of who you are.
- Taylor Swift
Taylor’s self-titled debut album has all the best mid-2000s country vibes. It’s curly-haired, cowboy-booted, twangy Taylor singing powerful breakup ballads like “Picture to Burn” and “Should’ve Said No” one minute and sweet, wholesome songs like “Tim McGraw” and “Teardrops on My Guitar” the next. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t love the classic “Our Song,” which is the perfect song to belt out driving around with the windows down. While the album may not be most people’s top choice lyrically, it’s still a lot of fun and it was important to establish Taylor as a young singer and songwriter in the country scene. The fact that she wrote the songs while in high school, moved with her family to Nashville and released the album at 16 after finally getting picked up by a record label makes me question what I’ve been doing for the first 19 years of my life. It’s a debut filled with first love, first heartbreak and the classic woes of being a teenager.
Fearless is truly a no-skips album. I somehow feel nostalgic for being a small-town teenager in the 2000s, despite the fact that I was a big-city elementary schooler when it was released. There are timeless radio favorites like “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me,” but there are also songs that make you want to dance in the rain, like “Fearless,” and tear-jerkers like “White Horse” and “You’re Not Sorry.” These songs have been with me through some significant moments, like “Fifteen,” which I had on repeat both on my first day of high school and my 15th birthday, and “The Best Day,” which reminds me of fall days spent driving around with my mom, listening to music and chasing falling leaves. The album isn’t about having no fears, but it’s about feeling scared and jumping anyways, which is a lesson I’ve reminded myself of time and time again.
- Speak Now
If you’re looking for an emotional rollercoaster, Speak Now is the album for you. Songs like “The Story of Us,” “Better Than Revenge,” and “Haunted” get me hyped, “Enchanted” and “Mine” make me yearn for a meet-cute romance, and “Last Kiss” and “Back to December” make me want to curl up on the floor and cry (in the best way possible, of course). “Speak Now” is one of those songs that, whenever I hear it, takes me right back to the first time my cousin introduced it to me, playing make-believe at my grandpa’s house. When I’m in need of a reminder to live in the present and not take moments for granted, I listen to “Long Live,” just to take it all in. And this year, on the first night in my apartment, my roommates and I sang “Never Grow Up,” because the line, “Here I am in my new apartment in a big city, they just dropped me off” had never felt more relatable. As I grow older, I can relate to events in songs more directly, and I love that my relationships with individual songs and albums is never fixed in place, but is always changing.
One of my all-time favorite memories, one of those times that you look back on and wonder if you were dreaming, is seeing my first-ever concert: Taylor Swift, in Nashville, Tennessee, on the last night of the U.S. leg of the Red tour, with my family and two of my best friends. Seeing Taylor do her signature hair flip, sitting at her piano and belting “All Too Well” despite having a cold was a moment I’ll never forget. And since it’s now fall, it’s officially Red season, which means that this album will be on repeat for the next three months as I watch the autumn leaves fall, light pumpkin-scented candles and bundle up in cozy sweaters. Red as an album is pretty much the epitome of perfection, with storytelling that walked so that folklore could run.
I distinctly remember racing home to watch Taylor’s live stream announcing 1989 in the summer of 2014 and being (happily) shocked hearing “Shake It Off” for the first time. It was Taylor’s first big rebranding and no one really knew how to feel about it. Taylor Swift had always been synonymous with country and long, curly hair, and here she was with a straight blond bob and a song that was basically the embodiment of the pop genre. Regardless of how you feel about the whole “old Taylor” versus “new Taylor” debate (which I personally think is ridiculous; there’s only one Taylor and it would be unrealistic to expect someone’s style to stay exactly the same for nearly 15 years. . . but that’s a whole other story), her transition into the pop realm was iconic and opened up many doors for her as an artist. After I got over my initial shock, I fell in love with her new sound. It was different, yes, but it was also still so her. 1989 has so many classic bops, like “Blank Space,” “Style,” and “Out of the Woods,” that are impossible to not jam out to, and my dreams finally came true this past winter when I listened to “Welcome to New York” as I was flying into New York City for the first time.
A year-long hiatus, a social media wipe and the emergence of mysterious snake videos began the reputation era, Taylor’s second big rebranding. Her sound was edgier and grittier, but mostly it was straight-up unapologetic. The whole concept of the album was her taking control of her narrative, embracing the labels she has been called and making them her own. Women in general, but in the music industry in particular, are told that they need to act a certain way, play a certain part in order to gain fame and then retain it. If they keep the same style, they become boring. If they change their style, they’re trying too hard (see my previous note on “old versus new” Taylor). Taylor took all those ludicrous claims and threw them out the window, and that’s one of the main reasons that this album means the world to me. I was lucky enough to see the reputation tour twice, and once was in London with one of my best friends who I hadn’t seen in five years. (That was another pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moment that I still can’t believe happened.) For all these reasons and more, reputation will forever and always be one of the most impactful albums in my life.
After the black-and-white era of reputation, the pastel vibes of Lover felt like a dream. It was incredible to see Taylor so happy, writing songs about being in love and living her best life. From the very first song, “I Forgot That You Existed,” she’s leaving behind her grievances from reputation and putting herself first and foremost. Songs like “Cornelia Street” and “Cruel Summer” are next-level bops, and “Death By A Thousand Cuts” is a rhythmic breakup song thrown into the mix with a bridge that rivals the gold standard of “All Too Well.” Lover was released a week before I came to campus, so the album will always be the soundtrack to my freshman year of college. It was more likely than not that my roommate and I would be blasting Lover in our dorm room on repeat on any given day, and I never got tired of listening to the songs while walking to my early morning classes. Lover represents new beginnings, both for Taylor and for me.
Barely two months ago, I wouldn’t have even thought there would be an eighth album to add to this list. Nevertheless, folklore is the album that we never knew we needed, possibly one of the only good things to come out of 2020 thus far. The album isn’t a happy one; if you’re in need of a good cry, this is the one for you. This era is back to a gray-scale, but it’s nothing like reputation or anything Taylor has done before for that matter. It’s Taylor Swift stripped down to simply her lyrics, her voice and acoustic instruments; in a sense, back to debut-era Taylor with her guitar and the reemergence of her natural curls. But underneath the somber songs, Taylor weaves together stories, presumably both real and imagined, that truly will be passed down like folklore. In this time of uncertainties, we’ve had more time than usual to reflect, and that’s what I think this album is: a reflection on the past, the present and simply life itself. I’m grateful that these songs exist, and I feel like I could write a five-page paper analyzing each one, given how much lyrical depth there is. Just like how it’s impossible for me to choose a favorite album, my favorite song on folklore changes every day, as every listen gives me a new interpretation. folklore isn’t country or pop, but it’s everything in between: the album is its own genre and that is a feat that only Taylor Swift can pull off successfully.
I don’t understand how anyone could not like Taylor Swift’s music. She’s gone through so many style changes that there’s something for everyone to like. But what I love the most is that through all the genre-jumping and hairstyle changes, one thing has stayed constant throughout: Taylor herself. She never ceases to speak up for what she believes in, but instead has become even more vocal as time has progressed. She represents what it’s like to be a genuine, kind-hearted human being, someone who loves love and wants to lift people up instead of tearing people down. If her musical journey over the past 14 years has taught me anything, it’s this: even when everything else in the world is uncertain, music and kindness will always be constant.