Now that we’ve all had the time to let Taylor Swift’s seventh album Lover sink in, I thought I would take a journey and listen back through all her catalogue to rank all of her albums.
What I found was that she has one of the strongest track records of any major artist working today; the top four albums in the ranking are a consecutive run that is largely unparalleled in mainstream contemporary pop. She very quickly mastered an ability to reveal herself through small details, building portraits of memories and emotions in her songs that make the listener feel as though they have experienced it themselves.
See my ranking of Taylor Swift’s albums below, and let us know what your favorites are!
Ranking Taylor Swift’s albums’
I won’t mince words with this one: Reputation is not good. It’s the only one of Swift’s albums I can say that about. The entire vibe of the piece feels like something thrust upon her and not something part of her natural development as an artist. And there’s a lot to suggest that this is exactly what happened: the debut single “Look What You Made Me Do” was clearly directed at critics of her newly reignited feud with Kanye West; a certain segment of the population had abandoned her for not being outspokenly political enough during the 2016 presidential election. She was responding to a backlash she had never received before.
Taylor’s signature lyrical dexterity remains present on songs like “Delicate” and “New Year’s Day” but the synth production has an edgier quality to it than in anything she’s ever done and she isn’t able to carry off the attitude.
6. ‘Taylor Swift’
Taylor Swift’s preternaturally strong ability to write moving and catchy music from her early teens has been well documented, but to listen to them now, after she has come so far, it’s still surprising to hear how much of her style was set in stone from the her eponymous debut.
On “Teardrops on My Guitar,” she paints a portrait of unrequited love with such specificity that she reaches a universal audience: you don’t know the Drew she sings about, but you have your own Drews in your life that you can relate to. That was always the power of Swift, and it’s no surprise that was her first single that broke through.
Lover is a smooth return to form for Swift after Reputation. The opening moments of “I Forgot That You Existed” are simple piano chords overlaid with a beat (and snapping fingers) and then her voice comes in: simple and unadorned. What a refreshing tonic that sound is to the distorted synth of Reputation.
The whole album has this lilting ephemeral quality that fits with the overall theme of the album—she is in love and wants you to know it. There are a few clunkers—why were “Me!” and “You Need to Calm Down” the lead singles to begin with when they aren’t representative of the mood of the album at all?—but when she sticks to the sound established in the first few tracks, the album grooves.
4. ‘Speak Now’
Speak Now gets a special commendation for being the only Swift album on which she had no cowriters, and the material is as lyrically beautiful and melodically memorable as anything she has written alongside anyone else. It is Swift’s first album where she feels fully confident in her voice and it is the first time she luxuriates in lengthy ballads, a signature of hers that would come to be perfected on Red.
On the nearly seven-minute “Dear John” she pens a Dear John letter to an old boyfriend (allegedly John Mayer); the paired down production features only an acoustic and slide guitar as the song begins. Taylor begins to sing the blistering details of her relationship gone wrong, and builds to a stunning crescendo with a wall of sound at “But I took your matches before fire could catch me / So don’t look now, I’m shining like fireworks over your sad, empty town.” At the time, it was her most symphonic, expansive production quality to date, but it was only beginning.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that Red was the pivot point between Swift’s country stardom and her pop stardom. The production is sleek, expanding on the boundaries between pop and country established in Speak Now, and the songs have this diverse generic breadth but still feel uniquely Taylor. This album might reach higher heights than any other album—“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is still her best lead single—but the back half is a bit padded with filler.
Perhaps nothing could hold up after hearing the titular “Red,” a soaring breakup song that sounds exactly like a rollercoaster relationship feels, or “All Too Well,” the ballad that is easily the best song she has ever written/recorded. As she always does, she pulls in details of a past relationship to tell a story, although “All Too Well” is more nostalgic compared to the scorched earth lyrics of “Dear John.” She makes you miss the things you’ve lost in your own relationships, whether it’s the quality time spent dancing in the refrigerator light, or a scarf left behind at your boyfriend’s sister’s house.
Swift’s “first documented, official pop album,” as she called it upon the release of the debut single “Shake It Off,” was a cultural explosion. She had always had a country sensibility that was made for mainstream radio but shedding her roots allowed her to reach a whole new audience, and she did so without sacrificing her instincts for storytelling and melody.
“Blank Space” is undeniably Taylor, even with the pop production, because it plays with her self-awareness of her own image as she’s done many times before—this time winking at her reputation as a heartbreaker. It’s as catchy and clever as she’s ever been, and “Wildest Dreams” and “Out of the Woods” are among the finest ballads she has written. 1989 was all about taking what she excelled at as a country star and pushing the production as far as it could go into mainstream pop, to boundless results.
Fearless is the album that launched Taylor to mainstream success, and for good reason. It is still her biggest seller and winner of the Grammy for Album of the Year. Track for track it remains her strongest work, with classics like “Fifteen,” “You Belong with Me,” “White Horse,” and my forever choice for karaoke, “Love Story.” Every one of Swift’s albums has at least a few great songs—which are usually the singles—but what keeps Fearless head and shoulders above her other albums are the strength of the deep cuts like “Tell Me Why” and “Breathe.”
She does not have the confidence of her later albums, it does not have the polished production of her later albums, but it has an overall honesty that remains unsurpassed—that very insecurity of “Fifteen” and the vulnerability of “You Belong with Me” are the things that launched Swift to superstardom.
Her confidence and growth have been exciting to watch but this is what people relate to and love about her. From the very beginning, she was never afraid to tell her story, and that is what has made her one of the indelible stars of this generation.