Taylor Swift Discography Marathon

It has been a while since I started my discography marathon on Taylor Swift's catalogue. So, now as I get around to finally write down my thoughts, I can't quite memorize some of the more detailed opinions, I had upon first listen on earlier albums. Despite that, I hope I can give you an understanding of how I view Taylor Swift and her albums.

Disclaimer: This article is not meant nor pleasing for Swifties (for anyone not in the know: that's how Swift's fans call themselves) since I will be very critical of her work. But, let me make one thing crystal clear, I went into this with some (positive) expectations and an open-mind and overall, I wasn't really disappointed by the discography. On the other hand, I also still can't understand why Swift is as critically acclaimed and musically relevant as she is, because she isn't really innovative from a musical standpoint and her songwriting, while improving with time, is at no point in her career on par with pop's greatest songwriters. I guess she is good at telling love stories for teenagers, conceiving quotable lines and TikTok-ready lyric passages, which is quite impressive, but artistically, there's only few instances where her writing's really great. But let me save the rest of what I have to say for the main body of this article. Let's get into it!

"Taylor Swift" (2006), "Fearless" (2009) and "Speak Now" (2010)

Quick and to the point: Taylor Swift's career started with generic country-pop. All the lyrics are the same and the instrumentals feel lifeless, which is why I honestly don't remember all that much about these first three albums. Here is what I remember: There's this really annoying male backing vocalist on nearly every song (thank god Swift started performing backing vocals herself later on). A second thing: The lyrics are not good. Here's one prime example: I hate that stupid old pickup truck, you never let me drive. You're a redneck heartbreaker. Wow, that's deep. And thirdly, the albums gradually get better, but all of them are still the epitome of mediocre. Especially the self-titled album is boring and flat. Then, Fearless and Speak Now both have some highlights, but also some real lowlights. If you're not in the target group for this music (teenage girls), you won't find anything here. There's no sign of Swift's super stardom or good songwriting. Still, Taylor Swift, Fearless and Speak Now were very successful albums and they're somehow critically acclaimed. Personally, I'm not willing to ever hear these again. But, despite the slog it was to get through these first three, I still had hope for the future. 

"Taylor Swift": 3 / 10

"Fearless" and "Speak Now": 4 / 10

Best songs: "You Belong With Me"; "Speak Now"; "Long Live"; "Mine (POP Mix)"; "Fearless"; "Never Grow Up"; "Better Than Revenge"

"Red" (2012)

My hopes were at least partially fulfilled. Red is a huge step-up from Swift's first three albums and sees her incorporate more pop influences into her country-style. As a result, the songs get shorter, have more memorable melodies and some interesting production. Also, there are some good ones here, namely State of Grace, Red, I Knew You Were Trouble, All Too Well, 22, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together and Begin Again. These are her best songs from a songwriting standpoint. All Too Well and Begin Again are her best country stylised cuts ever and the rest of the named highlights benefit from the new sound and approach of the album. Now, one could think that these seven songs should make up more than half of the record. Sadly, they don't. Red has a solid 16 tracks – more than any Taylor Swift album before – and it suffers from it. Not only is the album too long, but some of these tracks could've and should've been cut. It doesn't help that the worst ones are stacked in the second half of the record. So, if Red had been cut down a little, it would be one of the two best albums by Taylor Swift overall. In this form though, it closely misses the status of a good album.

6 / 10

  1. State of Grace | 85
  2. Red | 75
  3. Treacherous | 65
  4. I Knew You Were Trouble | 80
  5. All Too Well | 70
  6. 22 | 70
  7. I Almost Do | 60
  8. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together | 80
  9. Stay Stay Stay | 65
  10. The Last Time | 45
  11. Holy Ground | 60
  12. Sad Beautiful Tragic | 55
  13. The Lucky One | 60
  14. Everything Has Changed | 55
  15. Starlight | 60
  16. Begin Again | 70

"1989" (2014)

On 1989, Taylor Swift continues her journey to a poppier, more electronic style. Unsurprisingly, this is the album where Jack Antonoff joined as producer. He would become a stable of Swift's team, his trademark being the poptronica beats that are taking over Swift's music on 1989. I think these instrumentals and the more focused song structures suit her a lot better. 1989 was not only my favorite Taylor Swift record stylistically though, it's also her most consistent at this point. There are not quite as much highlights as could be found on Red previously, but in return the record is shorter with less and better lows. Except for the big hits Shake It Off and Bad Blood – which I controversially still enjoy at least a decent amount – and the opener Welcome to New York, 1989 also sees Swift at her most mature so far. The biggest highlights undoubtedly are Blank Space, a rock solid pop tune, and Style with its funky guitars. Overall, 1989 is a good modern mainstream pop album and quite the big step for Taylor Swift.

7 / 10

  1. Welcome to New York70
  2. Blank Space80
  3. Style85
  4. Out of the Woods | 75
  5. All You Had To Do Was Stay | 65
  6. Shake It Off 70
  7. I Wish I Could | 65
  8. Bad Blood | 65
  9. Wildest Dreams | 80
  10. How You Get the Girl | 65
  11. This Love | 65
  12. I Know Places70
  13. Clean70

"reputation" (2017)

Just as we were making progress, Taylor really dropped the ball.

Yeah, reputation didn't have a good reputation from the start and so all my fears turned out to be true. This album is mostly terrible. The production is awfully overblown and aged very poorly, the lyrics cannot be taken seriously. reputation is the album that features songs like ...Ready For It, I Did Something Bad and Look What You Made Me Do, where Swift tries to come off as a sassy, ruthless and self-confident woman, but it just feels awkward. And there's more bad songs to be found, e.g. End Game featuring Ed Sheeran (again) & Future or Gorgeous (You're so gorgeous / I can't say anything to your face / 'Cause look at that face). This is probably the worst Taylor Swift album.

3 / 10

  1. …Ready For It | 35
  2. End Game | 25
  3. I Did Something Bad | 20
  4. Don’t Blame Me | 45
  5. Delicate | 50
  6. Look What You Made Me Do | 30
  7. So It Goes… | 40
  8. Gorgeous | 35
  9. Getaway Car | 45
  10. King of My Heart | 35
  11. Dancing With Our Hands Tied | 40
  12. Dress55
  13. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things | 50
  14. Call It What You Want | 50
  15. New Year‘s Day70

"Lover" (2019)

This is the first Taylor Swift album I've consciously experienced releasing. Of course, I remember when Shake It Off came out, but for this album I even saw the TheNeedleDrop review back in the day. I looked it up again recently and it is way less negative than I thought it was – which sums up my reaction to this album: 
Lover is a lot better than I expected it to be. Hell, it's the most enjoyable listen of all Taylor Swift albums so far except for 1989. I love the production here excluding the god-awful radio hits ME! featuring Brandon Urie of Panic at the Disco! and You Need to Calm Down. The best tune on the album is definitely Cruel Summer and I would highlight the song as one of my favorite Taylor Swift songs if it wasn't for that weird backing vocal delivery of the last line of the bridge (He looks up, grinning like a devil). Instead, the honor goes to the title track – man, what a great piano ballad and bassline – and the loungey False God with that beautiful saxophone. Both are impressively strong calmer tracks seeing Swift and Antonoff trying new things. The same goes for the subtle build-up in The Archer. It also helps that the more expressive, playful tracks like I Think He Knows and Paper Rings work out perfectly on Lover. They don't come off as corny or overdone, but as cute and that suits Swift very well – a lot better than the inauthentic and thus laughable swagger of reputation.
Despite all the good things I have to say about Lover, there is one thing making this album very frustrating: The potential it has. I mean, if you'd cut 4 tracks from the album, it would be Swift's best album and the follow-up I wanted to see for 1989! Still, looking at the acclaim of other Taylor Swift records, this album is kind of underrated. 

6 / 10

  1. I Forgot That You Existed | 70
  2. Cruel Summer | 80
  3. Lover | 80
  4. The Man | 70
  5. The Archer | 65
  6. I Think He Knows | 75
  7. Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince | 70
  8. Paper Rings | 75
  9. Cornelia Street | 60
  10. Death By A Thousand Cuts | 70
  11. London Boy | 55
  12. Soon You'll Get Better | 55
  13. False God | 80
  14. You Need To Calm Down | 45
  15. Afterglow | 70
  16. ME! | 30
  17. It's Nice To Have A Friend | 75
  18. Daylight | 65

"folklore" (2020)

Now we get to the album that made Taylor Swift what she is today: folklore. While she was a pop star with good reviews beforehand due to Red and 1989, folklore made her an almost universally appreciated artist – even amongst indie listeners and music nerds. folklore is also responsible for her reputation as one of the greatest pop songwriters of our time. It showed that she can make stripped back and thoughtful folk tunes and write intriguing stories about other people than herself with different themes than love. From front to back there's no weak track on folklore. Still, one album of this quality isn't quite enough to elevate her to a female singer/songwriter to be mentioned in the same breath as Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell or Nina Simone. There is rarely a truly great song on folklore, her voice as a singer isn't unique enough and one album just can't keep up with the discography of masterpieces a Kate Bush or a Joni Mitchell have conceived. To sum this up: Yes, folklore is a good album and Swift's greatest accomplishment, but it's not of the significance, reflectivity, extravagance, consistency, creativity, thoughtfulness, intelligence or innovation to be called a masterpiece.

8 / 10

  1. the 1 | 80
  2. cardigan | 75
  3. the last great american dynasty | 80
  4. exile | 80
  5. my tears ricochet | 70
  6. mirrorball | 70
  7. seven | 80
  8. august | 85
  9. this is me trying | 80
  10. illicit affairs | 70
  11. invisible string | 75
  12. mad woman | 75
  13. epiphany | 70
  14. betty | 70
  15. peace | 85
  16. hoax | 70

"evermore" (2020)

After folklore, I had high hopes for evermore to be on a similar level with a slightly different style. Sadly, evermore is pretty much "folklore: the leftovers". By song 5, the album becomes more and more boring – not because the quality drops, but because it's just more of the same stylistically with the drawback that the instrumentations are less detailed and the melodies less memorable than on folklore. after all, evermore is a solid record, but it pales in comparison to its predecessor.

6 / 10

  1. willow | 80
  2. champagne problems | 70
  3. gold rush | 75
  4. 'tis the damn season | 70
  5. tolerate it | 65
  6. no body, no crime | 60
  7. happiness | 65
  8. dorothea | 60
  9. coney island | 65
  10. ivy | 65
  11. cowboy like me | 65
  12. long story short | 65
  13. marjorie | 65
  14. closure | 65
  15. evermore | 75

"Midnights" (2022)

Read the review here