Note: This article was updated to include Evermore, Taylor Swift’s latest record, on 13th December 2020.
There have been several moments that have solidified Taylor Swift’s mark on the entertainment industry. Be it thanks to Kanye West making a snafu out of her first Grammy moment, or her infamous ‘#squad’ of supermodels, Taylor Swift somehow went from guitar-playing Southern girl to world stage headliner in what seemed like only a few moments.
Outside of her latest political endeavours, or her longstanding feud with Kanye West, her six studio albums have given her a seat at the pop-star table. These albums, like most other artists, represent phases in her life and career. While some are impactful, upbeat extended plays, others fall in line just as time fillers.
Here, in an editorial list of preferred albums, they’re ranked best to worst.
Taylor Swift’s second studio album is her shining star. With the timeless song “Love Story” reminiscent of the Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me,” the song sets the tone for the album. It became known as a cross-over hit and reached number one on Billboard Pop chart — the first country song to do so since Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One.”
Fearless also sets the tone of how her career would unwind. As she enters the Hollywood machine, she did so as a country artist. She would later go on to turn her style to match radio pop, but her ascent was one that is truly marked by her early truth and ferocity to herself.
All of her songs were co-written by her, a true testament to her talent to make waves with her own music and lyrics.
On the track “Fifteen,” we get a glimpse of just how vulnerable Taylor is as a musician. But it’s the Fearless title-track that turned her into a teen titan. Fearless is a Grammy Award-Winning work that truly lit the fuse that would become the unstoppable Taylor Swift.
Swift’s second best album came in 2014 with 1989. The fifth studio album earned her another pair of Grammys (Best Pop Vocal Album and Album of the Year) and some of her most appealing music videos yet.
The album was less about her country roots and more a testament to the era during which she was born. She cites influences like Madonna for making this dance-pop album.
She doesn’t have any pop-music features, but the album did not lack celebrity endorsements. The remix to her hit “Bad Blood,” which was released as the official single, featured Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper, Kendrick Lamar. The video also gathered her “Squad” for an action-packed production fighting off foes.
The album boasted several very successful singles. “Blank Space” topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts for a full 7 weeks. “Shake It Off” was a debut number-one single on Billboard Top 100 and stayed in the top spot for 4 weeks. “Out of the Woods” got 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Overall, 1989 was a moment of musical magic for Taylor Swift.
Much like Folklore, the record that came before it, Evermore dropped into the world almost completely out of the blue.
Along with its unexpected arrival, the record also breaks new musical territory for Swift, with a country revenge song about the murder of a cheating husband (featuring the Haim sisters), and a smoky blues tune with Mumford & Sons‘ Marcus Mumford.
While the album is very much linked to the themes of the previous record Folklore (the music video for single “Willow” starts off as a continuation to the music video of “Cardigan”), Swift finds her way back to her pop roots on several tracks, which makes for a fantastic blend of sounds across the record.
All in all, this is a solid record, and one of the singer’s strongest yet.
Folklore, Swift’s eight album release, was released with less than 24 hours warning, taking fans and critics by surprise. After Lover saw the singer return to familiar territory, this album introduced yet another side of her; Folklore’s sound very much matches the label.
On Folklore, Swift explores indie-folk tones that carry far more emotional weight than most of her previous records. ‘Cardigan’ and ‘Exile’ are stand out hits, with the latter featuring a powerful vocal performance from indie-folk band Bon Iver.
Rolling Stone called the album “the debut album of a whole new Swift”, and most critics cite the record as one of the singers best; an impressive feat for her eight studio album.
Just the cover art for Taylor’s fourth studio album displays a marked change of age. She took out her flowing free-as-a-butterfly images and replaced it with a red-lipped, face-shaded brood. This album was heavily laced with relationship drama, which she notes as the inspiration for the title and the entire vibe.
Red gave us “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which was Swift’s first-ever #1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100.
The album also brought forth “I Knew You Were Trouble,” another somewhat boyfriend-bashing ballad with a good beat.
“22” became the zeitgeist for young women reaching this previously unremarkable birthday. It gave her fans a reason to celebrate the followup birthday to exciting 21st birthday.
An achieved pop album, Taylor Swift was still prominent in the country-sphere. Red won the American Music Awards’ Favorite Country Album.
‘Lover’, the hotly anticipated seventh album from Swift, carries with it a hidden message of yearning, for another life, outside of a carefully protected and curated fame that the singer has lived in for over a decade.
“Me!” the first single from the album, featuring Panic! at the Disco lead singer Brendon Urie, was met with mixed reviews, but is no doubt a song which is quintessentially Taylor Swift.
This song was followed shortly by “You need to calm down”, a strong not-subtle song hitting out at internet trolls, the kind that have plagued the singer since she became famous. Lyrics like “You are somebody that I don’t know But you’re takin’ shots at me like it’s Patrón”, carry weight, as do the synth-pop beats throughout.
Overall, the album is an essential part of the Taylor Swift story, but lacks the consistent quality to make it one of the top 3 albums in her catalogue.
7. Taylor Swift
Taking a page from songstresses of yore like Britney and Mariah, Taylor Swift’s debut album was self-titled. Even without a famously recognized name (yet), her album went 7x platinum and reached international audiences in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
She began her career from her country heart and soul. She released her self-titled debut album in 2006 with all self-written songs stemming from her youthful experiences.
What’s wonderful about Taylor Swift’s Taylor Swift is its very human element. Mary’s Song (Oh My My My) memorializes the beauty of love she witnessed in a neighbor’s longstanding marriage. The Outside was written about feeling outcasted. Tied Together With A Smile was written for a friend struggling with an eating disorder.
Tim McGraw also hit close to home for a wide audience, as Taylor grappled with her HS boyfriend leaving for college and leaving her as well.
Though he surely lamented the decision as the song was sung in opening acts for Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill, Taylor cruised on through her career. Playing her own music to live audiences, “Teardrops On My Guitar” became a country sensation appearing on Billboard Hot 100.
This 7x platinum record proved that being true to yourself can help you achieve your dreams and that the south had some exceptionally diverse talent waiting to be uncovered. She got recognized by many country stars, but it falls somewhat flat of outright entertaining.
8. Speak Now
Swift’s third studio album marked the beginning of her evolution. This album moves her away from high school melodrama and into the world of fame. Though still behind the lyrics, and still very young, Taylor’s Speak Now held true to her country roots
It also introduced the next wave of ex-boyfriend bashing that would become a staple of her persona. Her climb to stardom had linked her with some high-profile beaus, and they were then at the mercy of speculation when she began to jot her lyrics.
Still, all six singles that were released from the album went platinum, some even achieving multi-platinum status. Speak Now was also featured on Rolling Stone’s “50 Best Female Albums of All Time.”
Overall, the album proved an achievement, but no real lasting impression on a song-to-song basis. The high ranks can possibly be attributed to anticipation from her previous albums which were high ranking smash hits.
Much of Taylor’s music is reflective on what she’s experienced, and it’s only fitting that as she grew in fame that her lyrics would become less and less relatable to most. Still, at this point, she had developed her fanbase and the album boasts of features from famous friends.
Ed Sheeran and Future make their mark on the song “End Game,” making for a surprisingly eclectic moment on the album. Even Swift tries her hand at a little bit of wordplay aimed at her famous foe: yes, Kanye West.
Overall, the song is somewhat boring and the rest of the album doesn’t pick up much of the pace. As her latest album, it’s not so much a sign of running out of steam as it is of getting comfortable.
Perhaps revisiting her roots would give her music the boost her fans secretly long for.