Arts & Entertainment, Music, Reviews

An impossible task: ranking Taylor Swift’s albums

taylor swift performing on her speak now tour
Taylor Swift. While Swift has released many iconic albums, “1989” is her best record. COURTESY OF EVA RINALDI VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

With the release of “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” April 9, I have been rethinking everything.

By everything, I mean my ranking of Taylor Swift’s albums.

When I was younger, I listened to some of Swift’s mega-hits, but I was never a massive fan.

All that changed when “1989” was released. I was obsessed. That obsession continued with her next release, “reputation.” Since then, I’ve been a huge Swift fan, loving each project more and more.

After too much thought, I present my updated ranking of Swift’s studio albums:

9. “Taylor Swift” (2006)

Swift’s first album is heavily influenced by her country roots, with banjos making appearances on multiple tracks. While it is an impressive debut, her age shows. Swift’s lyrics and vocals are understandably not on par with her later work. It has some incredible songs, such as “Our Song” and “Picture to Burn,” but compared to the albums I’ll discuss later, her self-titled debut is at the bottom of my ranking.

8. “Red (Deluxe Edition)” (2012)

This opinion may get me in some hot water. “Red” is heralded as Swift’s best work, even ranking fourth on Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Albums of the 2010s list. This is an incredible feat and makes me question ranking it second to last. However, while “Red” has phenomenal moments, such as “State of Grace” and “Holy Ground,” it is chaotic and messy.

The album feels stuck in the genre limbo Swift felt trapped in — torn between country roots and the pressure to shift into pop. There are heavy pop songs, like “I Knew You Were Trouble.,” but they stick out among more folksy songs, like “Everything Has Changed.” Swift recognized the sonic chaos, calling it her “splatter-paint album” in a Rolling Stone interview.

7. “Lover” (2019)

An audio representation of love in all its pastel glory, “Lover” moves toward a bubblegum tone. Songs like “ME!” and “You Need to Calm Down” have an infectious pop sound but weak lyrics. Swift excels at creating cohesive soundscapes, but “Lover” struggles with excess. While the album’s 18 songs work thematically within the body, the album would’ve been much better if a few fillers were cut.

6. “reputation” (2017)

Likely Swift’s most controversial album, “reputation” followed a period of turmoil for Swift. She retreated from the public eye for a little more than a year due to the backlash she was facing from her feud with Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West. She created “reputation” in that isolation, detailing her experience in the spotlight and finding love amid hate. It is a departure from the pop sounds of “1989,” using darker bass and drums instead. The songs are a bit all-over-the-place, but the album tells a good story about Swift’s struggles with perception.

5. “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” (2021)

Swift’s latest is a re-recording of her 2008 album “Fearless Platinum Edition.” Rather than just re-release the original songs with new vocals and production, Swift added six tracks that were scrapped from the original album, which she called “From The Vault.” It’s a much more polished and mature version of “Fearless,” keeping the charm of the original with better vocals and cleaner sounds. I always felt slightly disconnected from the 2008 version, because her voice was different from the Swift I am used to, but this re-recording made me appreciate her older work in a new light. The lyrics are still a bit immature, which is understandable — she wrote most of this at 18.

4. “folklore (deluxe version)” (2020)

While lockdown was a mental block for many people, it was a creative goldmine for Swift. Written during quarantine, “folklore” was a product of imagination. Rather than her usual long-releases, Swift surprised everyone with an album announcement just 16 hours before it was released. “folklore” is a collection of intimate songs about fictional storylines, contrasting her previous release “Lover.” The album’s wildly different sound was a success, considering it won Album of the Year at the 2021 Grammy Awards.

3. “Speak Now (Deluxe Edition)” (2010)

One of the most impressive aspects of “Speak Now” is that it is entirely self-written, as a response to critics who claimed she couldn’t write her own songs. “Speak Now” came out when Swift was 20, and the songs have wisdom beyond those years. “Speak Now” is one of the most authentic albums Swift has ever made due to its authentic nature. It’s a glimpse into her brain and the experiences of her late teens. The album is country-pop, but songs like “Mine” and “The Story of Us” hint at her later switch to pop. “Speak Now” is incredibly well-written and genuine, keeping me coming back 11 years later.

2. “evermore (deluxe version)” (2021)

Swift calls “evermore” and “folklore” “sister albums” because of their similar sound and content. To me, the songs on “evermore” are an extension of what “folklore” did best: deliver hard-hitting lyrics with a stripped-back sound. My favorite is “champagne problems,” which has one of Swift’s best bridges, telling the fictional story of a failed marriage proposal and its emotional repercussions. “evermore” delivers punch after punch, leaving me engrossed in the music and the stories. It is solid and cohesive, giving me such a vivid image of winter every time I hear it. I pick up on new things every time I revisit “evermore.”

1. “1989 (Deluxe Edition)” (2014)

“1989 (Deluxe Edition)” is a perfect pop album. The synthy daydream Swift creates tells the story of love found and lost. “Blank Space” and “Out of the Woods” are some of my favorite songs by Swift. Relistening to this album never gets old. Cohesive without being boring with amazing lyrics to boot, “1989 (Deluxe Edition)” is my favorite Swift album. If there is one album of hers to check out, it’s this one. You won’t be disappointed.

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