At only fourteen years of age, Taylor Swift signed her first record deal with Big Machine Records, Taylor Swift released her debut album “Taylor Swift” only a year later. Today, she has nine studio albums to her name and at the 2019 American Music Awards, she became the first woman ever to be awarded Artist of the Decade. Aside from topping the charts and selling out on tour, her impact as an artist exceeds numeric statistics and awards. I grew up listening to Taylor on my portable CD player with big, chunky headphones, her first four albums as familiar to me as breathing. And while I’m fully aware of her boy-crazy freak show cliche, cultivated by people who listen only to 22 and call it a day, when exploring the depth of her song writing ability and both her personal and professional growth, it is impossible to discount her as an artist. But thats an article for another day…
Today we’re going to talk about each of her studio albums in particular regards to their distinctions in style and content, a little something I like to refer to as the “phases of Taylor”. I’m not the only one aware of it, as the “Look What You Made Me Do” music video featured several of her unique aesthetics alongside each other
Anyways, let’s get on with it:
1) 2006- Taylor Swift
Taylors first album gives a narrative to teenage girls growing up and experiencing love, heartbreak, and serious insecurity for the first time in their lives. It focuses on the turmoil of teenage romance, giving a detailed overview of the chronological stages of happiness, hurt, and anger that fluctuates within relationships. “Should’ve Said No” contests as a tempting runner up in my top songs, as it not only pinpoints the sensation of being cheated on, but it can be applied to other contexts when one endures a betrayal. “Mary’s Song” makes me feel nostalgic for some of the simpler but still exciting and emotional days in middle and even early high school.
my top three songs: “I’m Only Me When I’m With You,” “Mary’s Song (Oh My My My),” “Our Song”.
aesthetic: heart lockets on a chain, small towns, long sundresses, love notes, sunsets, curfews, rivers, greenery, naiveness, day dreaming, journaling
2) 2008- Fearless
Fearless encapsulates the gut-wrenching awakening that comes with adolescence. As Taylor experienced it, she wrote about it- as with all of her albums. A fairly universal song, “Change” reflects upon her years past and describes her growth in terms of both confidence and independence. Most people can relate to the emotions she conveys through these songs, as they’re signature of growing up in a world thats never fully satisfied with you.
my top three songs: “Hey Stephen,” “The Way I Loved You,” “Forever & Always”.
*note that”You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” are honorable mentions because duh they are two of the best songs in existence, but they’re also staple songs so they don’t really count on a scale of favorites.
aesthetic: flower crowns, empty parking lots, pouring rain, infatuation, slamming lockers, crumpled notes, golden lanterns, dream catchers
3) 2010- Speak Now
Speak Now is all about passion and preservation. “Mine,” “Sparks Fly,”Last Kiss,” “Long Live,” “Haunted,” “Enchanted,” “Back to December,” “Dear John,” and “The Story of Us” share the central theme of heartbreak accompanying love that’s worthwhile . Between these songs, Taylor conveys the feeling of falling in love, reminiscing on that love, and coming to terms with the heartache. With a different focus, “Never Grow Up,” “Mean,” “Innocent,” and “Better Than Revenge” respond to the different trails and tribulations everyday life throws at you. Peer pressure, change, mean people, and even fake friends can be the source of your anger if you chose to live vicariously through her songs, as I often d0.
my top three songs: “Better than Revenge,” “The Story of Us,” “Sparks Fly”.
aesthetic: butterflies, ball gowns, mirrors, pebble paths, ferns, porch lights, picnic blankets, fireflies, daisies,
4) 2012- Red
THIS album marks the first significant shift in both her music and her image, as not only does this album sound more pop than country, but she appears as an artist overall more polished and confident. Appearing more empowered than ever, Taylor continues the theme of reflecting on her past, but with it she brings newly developed acceptance and gratitude. In its entirety, Red presents mostly ballad-like songs that foreshadow the future of her music career.
my top three: “State of Grace,” “Holy Ground,” “All Too Well”.
aesthetic: highways, vines, photo albums, thunder, collared shirts, scarves, roses, stripes, karaoke, long drives, boxes of chocolate
5) 2014- 1989
Deep diving into the pool of pop music, 1989 solidifies her newer, more polished sound. More powerful than ever, these songs originate from a variety of her personal wounds. “Clean” describes her reaction to having the court rule in her favor in her sexual assault case, partially absolving a serious tension in her life. Fairly self-explanatory, “Welcome to New York” is all about new beginnings and opening yourself up to the world, no matter how crazy or scary. Her birth year as the album title instead of one of the headlining songs, attests to her coming-of-age content and is a testament to how far she has come.
my top three: “Clean,” “Wildest Dreams,” “I Wish You Would”.
aesthetic: city lights, pumps, winged eyeliner, hair ribbons, power, convertibles, wind, rose petals, blue skies,
6) 2017- Reputation
I have a complicated but evolved relationship with this album. I can still see myself listening to it for the first time, I was in North Carolina and I cried. As polar opposite as possible to her early albums, I took this personal development of hers as a betrayal. I wanted “old Taylor” back. Today, this is one of my favorite albums. Straying away from her nice girl mantra, “…Ready For It,” “I Did Something Bad,” “Don’t Blame Me,” and “Look What You Made Me Do” all share the same baddie energy and paint her in a more edgy light. These are the kind of songs I would strut to, walking down a red carpet in a black blazer and sparkly pumps. The other songs share this energy, but talk about heartbreak and love some more and have the same impeccable lyricism, providing that Taylor didn’t lose herself making thus album, rather she adapted her music to the changes she was experiencing.
my top three: “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” “Don’t Blame Me,” “Dress”.
aesthetic: black boots, snakes, fire, diamonds, dragons, blazers, lightening, pens on paper, hardwood,
7) 2019- Lover
Taking another polar opposite turn, Lover starkly contrast its preceding album in both aesthetics and content. This album boats a similar confidence, but rather than be daring and bold like Reputation, its a newfound self-confidence protruding that allows her style and music to step in yet another direction. More consistently upbeat than some of her other albums, Lover celebrates the challenges of maintaining relationships and expresses particular gratitude to both the act of falling in love, and her mom. Even as an adult, she writes metaphors about prom dresses and homecoming queens to describe her feelings and relate to her audience.
my top three: “I Forgot That You Existed,” “I Think He Knows,” “Paper Rings”.
aesthetic: cotton candy, unicorns, confetti, smiles, sugar, light, rainbows, ribbons, long walks, green grass
8) 2020- folklore
folklore will go down in history as Taylor Swift’s “indie” album, fit for sweater-weather and isolating times, such as when she wrote this record. Comprised mostly of cinematic love songs, this album presents an entirely different style that fans did not know Taylor had in her. While receiving significant critsim for this, it just goes back to what I said about Repuattion; I’m resistant to all of Taylors changes until I let them sink in and realize I love them. While it’s true that folklore pushes the limits of Swift’s sound in a rather unexpected direction, she creates a sense of nostalgia that adds a layer of comfort to all the songs.
my top three: “cardigan,” “peace,” “my tears ricochet”
aesthetic: fog, tall trees, riverbeds, bulky sweaters, hot tea, light rain, honey
9) 2020- evermore
Less than five months after releasing folklore, Taylor shook both the music industry and her army of fans by dropping her ninth studio album: evermore. Produced within her COVID-19 isolation, this sister album to folklore elaborates upon many of the same lyrical themes and musical arrangements of the prior album, while still exploring new and exciting directions. She honors her tradition of delivering heartfelt testimonies about love and loss, but accompanies it with more psychological complexity and maturity than ever before. Even experimenting with third-person storytelling and interwoven narratives, she maintains her prominent themes including: devastating heartbreak, begrudging forgiveness, romantic neglect, forbidden love, human evil, nostalgia, and of course grief.
my top three: “long story short,” “tolerate it,” “champagne problems”
aesthetic: cold air, parkas, plaid, mittens, fireplaces, pine, lace, letters & envelopes, train rides
Do yourself a favor and listen to some Taylor today, new or old- your future self will thank you.