Why have a Top 10 when you can have one more? Here are our 11 favourite Taylor Swift songs, ranked
As musical acts go, Taylor Swift is a juggernaut. Sixteen years on from her self-titled debut album, she’s had one of the most fascinating careers in the industry, rising from humble beginnings in country music to global pop domination. She’s released textbook chart-toppers, played the villain, dropped not one but two surprise albums of indie, folksy magic, and is now changing the game by rereleasing her first six records in order to make them hers entirely.
Midnights, her sparkly synth-pop nostalgia-filled tenth record, arrived on October 21 of last year. And it wasn’t long after this that Swift kicked off her Eras tour in the US. A concert like no other that pays tribute to every stage of her career, Eras is the most sought-after ticket of the year. As we prepare to welcome Ms Swift to the UK, we’ve done the impossible task of selecting our favourite eleven tracks from her staggeringly large discography. (Apologies to fans of Taylor Swift, Fearless and Speak Now. Much as we love Swift’s early albums, she’s aged like wine.)
11. Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve
A bonus track from the 3am version of Midnights, ‘Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve’ has quickly become a fan favourite. A devastating track, it proves Swift’s ability to package huge and complicated emotions into excellent pop. It sees her looking back on a relationship she had at nineteen with an older man and wishing she could warn herself away. “Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first,” she sings, brutally.
10. Wildest Dreams
Around a sugary-sweet chorus about ‘standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset’ creeps a tension, and a suggestion that the relationship in question isn’t built to last. Swift describes a tumultuous love – not new territory for her, but in ‘Wildest Dreams’ she forgoes your typical break-up song in favour of something darker and electrically charged. On the surface everything is fairytale perfect, but Swift’s breathy vocals and that frantic bridge take us behind closed doors. Even at her most pop on 1989, Swift proves she is storyteller first.
9. Champagne Problems
One of Swift’s simplest tracks, ‘Champagne Problems’ sees her sat at a piano singing over a simple four chord accompaniment. She weaves a story about a proposal rejected, beautifully told, with the simple indie-folk production that can be heard across Evermore. Assuming the voice of a young woman struggling with her mental health, she explains why she is unable to accept her boyfriend’s offer of marriage, but finds peace in the fact that he’ll one day meet someone deserving of him.
8. Love Story
A Swiftian classic. Teenage emotion is swept up in a swirling, fairytale epic that sees the unfortunate Romeo and Juliet united in a new, much happier version of the story. Written by a seventeen-year-old Swift after her parents expressed their disapproval of her new boyfriend, the track has become something much bigger than its “But Mum, I love him” origins, earning Swift recognition far outside of her country-pop sphere. Is it a little cheesy? Absolutely. That’s part of what makes it so excellently seventeen.
Finding love as one of the most famous women in the world is a treacherous business, as Swift reminds us with ‘Delicate’. A rare moment of vulnerability on Reputation, it’s a cautious, slowly building, sweetly seductive attempt by Swift to play it cool. Afraid to scare her new lover away, she resorts to uncertain bids for reassurance and incessant questioning. “Is it cool that I said all that? Is it too soon to do this yet?” she asks. But as the song continues she finds it more difficult to hold back how she’s feeling, until the whole thing culminates in an explosively confessional bridge. As in the rest of Reputation, the production is excellent. We challenge you not to be dancing by the second verse.
6. New Year’s Day
In some ways we could call ‘New Year’s Day’ the sister song to ‘Delicate’. The quietest moment on Reputation – as well as the closing track – it sees Swift settling with disbelief into a comfy, healthy kind of love unlike any she’s seen before. Cleaning up with her partner after a New Year’s party at the place they share, she realises that she wants to go on like this with him for the rest of her life. “I want your midnights, but I’ll be picking up bottles with you on New Year’s Day,” she sings. Breathtaking.
5. Blank Space
You could call it the precursor to her Reputation era. ‘Blank Space’ sees Swift embrace everything that the media has to say about her and add even more fuel to the fire. Playing the role of unhinged, overly emotional maneater, she details to her next victim how their love affair is going to go, and makes it very clear that it isn’t going to end well for him. Lyrically, this is Swift at her slickest and smartest, and the pure pop production by Max Martin and Shellback takes the whole thing from great to greater – just listen out for that pen click before Swift sings “I’ll write your name”.
4. Getaway Car
“I wanted to leave him, I needed a reason,” sings Swift in the opening verse of Getaway Car, just before the whole thing explodes into a soaring, euphoric pop song that sees her and producer Jack Antonoff at the top of their game. Sultry, femme-fatale Taylor enters, wrapping one man around her little finger as an escape from another, only to double cross him at the final minute and speed off on her own into the night. Candlelight, Old Fashioneds and motel bars all put in appearances. It’s gloriously cinematic.
3. Cruel Summer
A summer pop song with a twist. Swift creates her best arena-filling anthem yet in ‘Cruel Summer’. She and the object of her desire dance around each other, neither quite throwing themselves in even though it’s evident they both want to. Finally, a drunk confession from Swift in the back of a car turns the tables and – “he looks up grinning like a devil”. There’s something intensely cathartic about Swift’s shouted, percussive vocals at the end of this bridge. She’s been brilliant in every genre she’s dipped into, but ‘Cruel Summer’ alone proves that when Swift does pop, she knocks it out of the park.
Folklore saw Swift writing about teenagers rather than for them, and the world-weariness that lingers at the edges of this doomed summer love song is heartbreaking. “Back when we were still changing for the better,” she reminisces, “and wanting was enough”. ‘August’ is the second song of a trilogy in Folklore that follows a teenage love triangle, and it’s worth listening to ‘Betty’ and ‘Cardigan’ alongside it to get the full picture. But even on its own, this wistful, folksy tune is a feat, somehow equally appropriate for a summer road trip with all the windows rolled down and a solitary sob in your bedroom at 2am. Swift is meticulous in her writing, weaving parallels between previous tracks and inviting us to see the warning signs that the protagonist ignores. Her vocals, soft and high over Antonoff’s dreamy instrumental, are mesmerising.
1. All Too Well
Will Swift ever top ‘All Too Well’, the break-up ballad to end all break-up ballads? With Midnights on the way, it remains to be seen. She hasn’t yet. There are countless remarkable songs among the 200 plus in her discography, but ‘All Too Well’ rises above them – pure emotion and impeccable songwriting with the power to grip even the most unbroken of hearts. Remarkable both in the tight storytelling of the original five and half minutes and the sprawling, piercing confessions of the 10 minute vault version, it remains a favourite with both fans and critics alike. “You call me up again just to break me like a promise/So casually cruel in the name of being honest,” sings Swift over crashing drums and racing guitars. Glorious.