Every Taylor Swift Album Ranked


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Jul 28, 2023

Every Taylor Swift Album Ranked

This is the summer of reclaiming girlhood. Just last month, the streets were a sea of pink as people of all ages streamed into movie theaters to behold Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie—a film that’s

This is the summer of reclaiming girlhood. Just last month, the streets were a sea of pink as people of all ages streamed into movie theaters to behold Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie—a film that’s ultimately about the complexities and beauty of womanhood—which busted the record for the biggest opening weekend by a female director ever. Meanwhile, Taylor Swift fans are filling the country’s biggest arenas weekend after weekend to swap friendship bracelets, get dressed up to the nines in whatever their hearts desire, and celebrate the music of their lives.

Of course, the music of Taylor Swift is for everyone of all genders, but what better time to revisit her discography than the summer of big female feelings? Taylor Swift’s music, much like Barbie dolls, rom-coms, and about a million other things beloved by women and girls, have been ridiculed and casted as trivial. But something has shifted recently. There’s been plenty of (though still not enough) appreciation for female friendship and feminism in the past, but regular ol’ female joy is finally having its moment in the spotlight. And chances are you or someone you know gets a lot of joy from Taylor Swift.

Only now, 17 years into her career, are some people starting to take Taylor Swift seriously. But for those of us who have been there since the first teardrop on her guitar, we’ve never doubted Swift’s capabilities. As she graduated from a teenager to freewheeling twentysomething to adulthood, so did we. We’ve lived each era with her.

But ranking her records is admittedly an inherently crazy exercise. Each record contains stellar songwriting, style and stories that stick with you for a lifetime, and very few have noticeable misses. Swift has hooks for days. And she has seemingly been at the peak of powers more than a few times throughout her career. So what kind of framework does one even use to rank her albums?

In this case, we tried to cut out the external press noise and lore around whatever was happening in Swift’s life and career during each album cycle and just focus purely on the listening experience. Which albums pack the biggest punch? Where is Swift the most vulnerable, comfortable with herself, and artistically confident? And ultimately, which albums will stand the test of time?

Swift released her 10th original studio album, Midnights, last October, and followed it up with her career-spanning “Eras” mega-tour that’s breaking all kinds of records. So, in honor of the flourishing of female feelings and all Swift’s eras—particularly the dazzling one we’re experiencing right now—let’s rank all her albums, just for fun.

(Note: For ranking purposes, we’re considering “Taylor’s Version” when applicable.)

10. Taylor Swift (2006)There is truly nothing like Taylor Swift’s self-titled debut. It’s a once-in-a-generation miracle. Swift was just 16 when the album was released, and she wrote some songs as early as age 12. Pulling from her own experiences of heartbreak and high-school romance and modeling her fiddle-laced sound after her heroes like The Chicks, Shania Twain and Faith Hill, Swift somehow both converted millions of young people into country fans and found major mainstream success. It’s difficult to believe the lyrical perfection of “Tim Migraw,” pop-country prowess of “Picture to Burn” and wisdom of “Mary’s Song”—not to mention the album’s radio juggernauts, “Our Song” and “Teardrops On My Guitar”—came from the mind of a middle schooler. The album that launched Swift as a girl wonder is a masterpiece in its own way. Taylor Swift affirmed, celebrated and often grieved the enormous feelings of adolescence in a way few albums had before or have since. It has only found its way into the number 10 spot on this list because of the force of every Taylor Swift album that came after it. —Ellen Johnson

9. Lover (2019)Taylor Swift’s seventh album is a mixed bag. Her last LP before the pandemic and her unexpected, delightful turn to folk, Lover trills with energetic, sometimes-cloying pop and whispered hints at the mature, pensive turn ahead of her. “False God” and “Cruel Summer” remain some of Swift’s catchiest numbers to date and nod back to Reputation’s celebration of womanhood, sensuality and intelligence. “The Archer” and “Death By a Thousand Cuts” are striking and cinematic, replete with synths and symbolism. “Lover” is one of the most daring and sincere love songs of the past decade, and much of the album reads as a sweetly transparent ode to Swift’s ex Joe Alwyn. Other poppy numbers, like the relentlessly sing-song “ME!” and the underwhelming “I Forgot That You Existed” fall flat of the lyrical and sonic abilities Swift’s proven herself capable of. Lover is a transitional work, and it reads as such: Full of nostalgia and confusion, it’s the perfect inflection point for a star who, at the end of the 2010s, found herself caught between her defensive Kanye-beef era and the shimmering resurrection she’d construct throughout the pandemic. —Miranda Wollen

8. Reputation (2017)The dark horse of Taylor Swift’s career was met with a mixed-bag of confusion and delight upon its release in 2017, but the last six years have shown that Reputation wasn’t a flop—it’s just misunderstood. Arguably the biggest stylistic leap of Swift’s career, the jump from the glossy pop of 1989 to shadowy synthwork and thumping bass of Reputation is an impressive feat. The best parts of the album don’t come from Swift’s fixation on image or her projection of revenge, but rather from the less flashy songs. The disjointed trap of “Look What You Made Me Do” is still a lowlight, but look to tracks five, nine and 12 for some of the highest highs of not only Reputation, but also Swift’s discography as a whole. Reputation represents a shift in Swift’s subject matter—real grownup love, sex, and complicated feelings around fame and relationships both romantic and otherwise drive the narrative. Not to mention, it’s just 55 minutes of high-energy pop, with Swift in control of every moment. —EJ

7. Speak Now (2010/2023)On Speak Now, her third full-length, Taylor Swift whispers her secrets into the eager ears of millions. Like Fearless she’s still telling you about the boy who broke her heart and what she would have said if only she’d had the chance. This time, though, the boys are superstars and those imaginary conversations aren’t taking place in high school hallways. Here, Swift is growing up, and her lyrics are too. You see hints of it on songs like “Mean,” where she boldly quips to her critics, “All you are is mean/ And a liar/ And pathetic/ And alone in life.” And on “Dear John,” where she laments her John Mayer tryst with a wizened “I should have known.” Perhaps she should have.

But it’s that earnestness, simplicity and willingness to over-share that has, in part, earned Swift a legion of best friends—not to mention the many platinum albums, Grammys and Number One songs. Of course, it’d be foolish to ignore Swift’s spot-on pop sensibilities. At its best, her songwriting stands as a shining example of Top 40 music—full of cinematic build-ups and addictive repeatability. On Speak Now, Swift is strongest when she lets her country roots shine through. Both “Mine” and “Mean,” are examples of her ability to craft instantly catchy hits. Speak Now solidifies Swift as a pop star in her own right. She may not have the edge of Lady Gaga or the sex appeal of a young Britney, but, much like Beyonce, she does want someone to put a ring on it—even if that does mean meeting her dad and promising you’ll love her forever. —Liz Stinson

6. Midnights (2022)Taylor Swift is never not thinking about the big picture, and she returned to the business of image-making on her cryptic and catchy 10th album, Midnights. Where Reputation was an entire record devoted to image and even revenge on those who had defaced her, Swift speaks a more subtle language on Midnights. While it was pitched as something of a concept album—“the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life”—it probably could have been framed like any of her other releases. But Swift knows her all-too-attentive fans (and haters) will assign the album an aesthetic anyways, so why not control the narrative herself? So she shaped these 13 songs into an on-brand all-nighter.

That’s what Midnights is. It’s Swift waving the wand. It’s like if your sleep paralysis demon took up with your therapist and went to a club. “When my depression works the graveyard shift / All of the people I’ve ghosted stand there in the room,” Swift sings on the techno-y “Anti-Hero.” She goes on to target both insomnia and karma on the track, where she swims around in her own nightmares as “midnights become my afternoons” and blasts her enemies as having too much time on their hands (“It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero”).

She wrote this album free from the pressure to craft a bombastic single and pitch it to the masses. Sometimes making a great pop song isn’t about bells and whistles—it’s about restraint. Like her metaphors, Swift’s music has always matured with her. Midnights is the sound of twentysomethings becoming thirtysomethings. It’s 1989 without the radio hits, Reputation without the hyperbole. It’s her take on glassy and splashy poptronica. But as ever, Swift’s lyrics can still cut like glass or cast a spell. No matter what era she’s in, it’s the stories—more than anything else—that will always work the hardest. That’s why Taylor Swift is pop royalty. When she tells you she’s a mastermind, believe her. —EJ

5. Fearless (2008/2021)While Fearless is just as country as Taylor Swift it marks Swift’s transition from starlet to international pop sensation. Much like the debut, Fearless traverses all the best and worst feelings of adolescence, but where Taylor Swift occasionally falters beneath the weight of first-time pressure, Fearless takes flight. In Swift’s own words: “It’s the first kiss / It’s flawless / really something / it’s fearless.” And for every swoon on the title track or “The Best Day,” there’s the “roller coaster” of “The Way I Loved You” and underside of first love on “Fifteen”—which genuinely encapsulates that age better than any coming-of-age book starring an angsty, pimply teenage boy in a school uniform ever will. And what’s more Taylor Swift than the line “We were both young when I first saw you / I close my eyes and the flashback starts”? “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me” deserve all the praise they’ve received since they were released and more. The big stories and setpieces and rush of serotonin that define those tracks represent everything good about Taylor Swift and Fearless, the golden boy of her catalog. —EJ

4. evermore (2020)Taylor Swift is a gracious pop star. For those who worship her music, disappointment is rare. evermore finds her stretching her legs and following in folklore’s dainty footsteps. Gone again are the big hooks and radio-ready singles of her past. The focus here is on the stories, many of which spotlight people other than Swift herself, both real and imagined. Her all-star collaborators on both folklore—released just five months prior—and evermore prominently include The National’s Aaron Dessner, as well as his brother Bryce, and Swift’s Lover producer Jack Antonoff.

There’s little doubt that Swift, who is always brimming with new stories but found herself particularly eager to work amid the isolation of the pandemic, could’ve written both albums alone. But this gloriously unlikely combination of people led to the candlelit, “indie”-inspired anthology that defines these two records. Add in Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, HAIM, “William Bowery” (whom Swift revealed to be her boyfriend Joe Alwyn in Disney’s Long Pond Sessions “concert” film) and The National frontman Matt Berninger, and the stories jump right off the page. In these songs, we get to know, or maybe just reacquaint ourselves with, Taylor Swift the folk singer (after all, her beginnings in country music were all banjos and breakups). Soft piano, lacy guitar and Aaron Dessner’s distinctive electronic pitter-patter permeate these tracks while Swift steers the carefully crafted tales. The stakes are high on the alluring “coney island,” featuring co-lead vocals from Berninger, in which the prevailing emotion is yearning (and the lyric “‘Cause we were like the mall before the internet / It was the one place to be” marks one of Swift’s most Swiftian similes to date).

Like the turtleneck-clad cast of your favorite Nancy Meyers movie, evermore is filled with magnetic characters, compelling storylines and cozy atmospheres. While the cheaters, hijinks, scorned women and resulting fan theories make for entertaining pop music, Swift always excels most when she looks inward, like on the so-sweet-it-hurts “marjorie.” It’s one of Swift’s best-ever tracks, in which she relays life advice from her late grandmother Marjorie Finlay, that actually features recordings of the former opera singer as backing vocals. Songs like “marjorie,” “happiness,” “closure” and “tolerate it,” all full of Swift’s hard-won wisdom, are the most representative of what evermore really is: a peacefully intimate record. —EJ

3. folklore (2020)In 2020, Taylor Swift leveled the hell up. There isn’t a better way to phrase it. The bright-eyed-country-musician-turned-serious-pop-titan didn’t need to—she could’ve quit music in 2019 and still left behind a lasting pop discography. But on folklore, which arrived less than 24 hours after she announced it with a woodsy social media rollout, she steps up her game. Free of the usual album cycle fanfare—the splashy lead single, months of social media theatrics and a massive world tour—Swift had a rare opportunity with folklore to ignore timing and expectations.

If 2017’s Reputation was a look at her darkest, most vengeful core and the bubbly Lover was her brightly-colored piñata of daydreams and a fresh outlook on love, folklore is a slow walk alongside her realest, most authentic self. As she disclosed on the dream pop album standout “mirrorball,” “I’m a mirrorball / I can change everything about me to fit in.” But she’s not hiding on folklore. She’s relaxed in her own feelings. To help her get there from a musical standpoint, Swift called in The National’s Aaron Dessner, who co-wrote 11 of the album’s 16 tracks and provided instrumentation along with his brother Bryce, plus Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and her Lover partner Jack Antonoff. We now know this is a dream team. The Dessner brothers’ influence shows up in a most glorious way. You can catch glitchy shimmers of their electronic project Big Red Machine on the gorgeous “peace,” signature calculated percussion on album opener “the 1” and attractive ambience on “epiphany.” Vernon’s appearance on “exile” also creates a soft, somber mood that would otherwise be missing. Later in the album, on tracks “illicit affairs,” “invisible string” and “betty,” Swift leans wholly into Vernon’s home genre of indie folk, relying on chirpy acoustic guitar, folksy storytelling and even harmonica. Elsewhere, the production swells on “august” and “seven” are some of the most understatedly beautiful moments of her discography.

This “leveling up” is indicated not only by sonic left turns, but also by a new omniscient kind of songwriting Swift hasn’t explored much previously. On folklore, Swift’s character studies include that of the woman who once owned Swift’s Rhode Island beach house, an emotionally abusive ex who calls women “crazy” (“mad woman”) and, believe it or not, a 17-year-old skater boy (“betty”). The lyrical details are bright, vivid and occasionally funny. folklore should be canonized in pop music history, particularly as a reminder of the beauty that could be found amid its strange era of separation. —EJ

2. 1989 (2014)Taylor Swift has tried her hand at all kinds of genre variations throughout her career, but only once has she achieved an entire album of pop perfection. Cut to 2014. Swift is flying high after releasing her masterpiece Red, and the world is unfolding before her. Rather than linger in the pop-country middleground where she found great success, Swift went full pop mastermind on 1989, named for her birth year. Pulling from the sweeping pop of the era in which she was born and working with hit master Max Martin, Swift was able to weave 1980s new wave with gargantuan hooks and ultimately surpass the tired EDM-infused pop of the early 2010s—and outlast most of the blah radio pop of that time. From start to finish, 1989 might be the most cohesive listening experience of Swift’s entire discography. From the high stakes of “Out of The Woods” and lust of “Wildest Dreams” to the verve of “Style” and self-discovery of “Clean,” 1989 is maybe the most important album of Swift’s career. All these years later, it still sounds good as new. It deserves to be remembered as one of the best American pop albums of all time. —EJ

1. Red (2012/2021)Red is Taylor Swift’s best album because it’s the epitome of everything she does best. It’s built on all the “Taylor-isms” that have come to define her identity as a pop artist: songs about falling in and out of love too fast and too hard, bizarre but somehow relatable metaphors, writing that quashes any wall between the personal and the universal, impeccable hindsight, middle-of-the-night revelries. A breakup album at its core, Red traverses the peaks and valleys of being in love and then abruptly single while charting Swift’s sonic leap from country sweetheart to pop juggernaut.

While Red cast a long shadow across early-2010s culture, the album—and one song in particular—have transcended that era to become timeless pop marvels. The songs are as complex now as they were in 2012. After Swift re-released Red as part of her plan to recapture the masters to her first six albums, the record enjoyed both a critical reappraisal and adoration from a whole new generation. Millennials were thrilled to relive “sad girl autumn,” while Swift’s ever-burgeoning teen base had their own chance to become obsessed with the songs and the lore surrounding them. Long-rumored to be about Swift’s fling with Jake Gyllenhaal, “All Too Well” is said by many to be her best song, but that wasn’t always readily apparent. It wasn’t a single, nor did it receive any special treatment in 2012, but fans have latched onto it over the years, only causing the speculation around the Swift-Gyllenhaal relationship, their near 10-year age gap and that damn “scarf” to grow more feverish. It all culminated with the 10-minute version, which is somehow still not long enough. Swift’s remarkable talent for setting the scene is evident in every line, from the “autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place” to “your mother’s telling stories ‘bout you on the tee-ball team,” to every note that sounds like the sharp pangs of a troubled romance. And that there are 11-year-olds walking around right now who can sing every word is miraculous.

Red transformed both country music and pop music. Culture isn’t always kind to artists—especially country artists—who break out of their genre boxes, but Swift pulled it off brilliantly, all things considered. While some songs on Red, like the mostly country “Begin Again” or any of the flashy pop anthems, lean in one sonic direction or focus on a particular feeling, the most interesting parts of Red happen in the gray area. The stunning “Treacherous” can’t decide if it’s country or pop or something else altogether. “Sad Beautiful Tragic” is all of those things and more. The spare “I Almost Do” brings a whole new meaning to the word “yearning.” “The Lucky One” is a layered confrontation of fame. The title track features both banjo and a pop refrain. And two of the most interesting and manic tracks in Swift’s whole catalog, sisters “State of Grace” and “Holy Ground,” are punky pop spreads studded with stadium-rock appeal (and who could forget the lyrics “Just twin fire signs / Four blue eyes”?).

Red is everything Swift was before and everything she became after. It’s elaborate, occasionally hyperbolic, steeped in its own mythology and intimate all the same. It’s everything we love about her and everything her haters hate about her. And now we have even more Red to love, after Swift tacked on an extra dozen-plus songs to the re-record. But the 16 core tracks stand the strongest. Like the stories Swift loves to fashion into songs, Red looks different in the rearview. While 1989 may have been Swift at the peak of her powers and folklore and evermore may be her most artistically sophisticated output, Red is the most important Taylor Swift album, not because she went pop, but because Red marked the launch of Taylor Swift’s career as a musical shapeshifter and what ultimately led to her world domination. More than a decade later, it’s undoubtedly one of the most important pop albums of the century so far. Thankfully, the fashion and fads of 2012 are mostly long gone, but Red is one shade that’s seemingly always in season. —EJ


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