Best Taylor Swift songs ranked

“I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit,” Taylor Swift softly declared at the outset of “Folklore,” and truer sentiments for Taylor Swift songs are never constantly spoken than in the case of the woman who somehow manages to the best and most prolific songwriter in pop. Courtesy (Variety)




Taylor Swift songs

So sometimes it takes a special occasion to tear yourself away from the chronic relistenability of a “Midnights” to ask yourself: What do “Speak Now,” “1989,” “Reputation,” et al. have to say to me today? Fortunately, we have such an occasion — Swift’s birthday, as the star turns 33 on Dec. 13. It’s a good, celebratory time to try to pull out a best songs list. Sure, it would have been appropriate and maybe even lucky to come up with a 13-song list, or even 33 songs, in honor of her spot on the mortal odometer. But given her catalog of 225-plus songs, even cutting a best list down to 50 is a tough task, so that ended up being where we drew the line.

50 best Taylor Swift ranked songs

Taylor Swift’s 50 Best Songs, Ranked

If your favorite Swift song is missing from this highly subjective, critical 50-best list, rest assured that it’s probably in our unspoken 51st or 52nd slot. And know that on any given day, the winds might have blown differently and we might even have put “Shake It Off” or “Love Story” on the list. For now, there were just too many brilliant deep cuts to consider to let all the bigger hits hog the top ranks of the canon.



1- You Belong With Me

It’s as eternally teenaged as anything Swift ever wrote, but that’s no reason to have to grow out of it. Adult life is full of nothing if not many equivalents to high-school friend-zoning. Who among us eer stops wishing we’d be seen for our true selves by the guy who can’t take his eyes off the cheer captain, whether for us that’s the boss, peers, a distracted spouse or a seemingly indifferent deity? To the end, we beat on — boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the bleachers!

you belong with me

2- All Too Well

In its original, truncated form on the “Red” album, “All Too Well” already felt a fluid narrative, but stretched out to more than twice its length for a “Taylor’s Version” remake, its details and remembrances transcend any sense of linear narrative. The song’s story feels almost like a “Groundhog Day” of meditative pain in which the story will never end because the couple will just never stop breaking up, in her mind. (Well, it might end if the sister ever returned the damn scarf, but by this point she don’t need their closure.) It becomes almost like a chant, even more soothing than it is bitter.

all too well

3- Gateway Car

Swift was playing with a lot of fresh tricks on her “Reputation” album, and well, from some hip-hop styled phrasing on her part to some harsher electronic sounds being brought in by Max Martin and Shellback, making their final appearance to date on a Swift album. But with her other go-to collaborator of the time, Jack Antonoff, Swift crafted the song that is the most conventional-sounding track on the album, and also ultimately the best: “Getaway Car.”

While much of the rest of the album flits back and forth between a defensive posture against public perceptions and an embrace of secret love, “Getaway Car” is something else altogether: an open letter of intent to move on, sung by a Bonnie who’s about to ditch her Clyde, with no particular shame or guilt attached to her leavin’ feelings.

gateway car



4- Style

Swift’s partner in this deeply sexy track is cosplaying as James Dean, at least in her mind, and she’s cosplaying as… Taylor Swift? Thee’s no duet part to let his hear point of view, but she does attest that he likes her “good girl faith and a tight little skirt,” and there’s no reason to believe she’s misreporting what turns the guy on. Honestly, Swift has never written a less deep song, and depth has never mattered so little, either.

Max Martin and Shellback put some of their computer programming instincts aside to start this off with an R&B electric guitar riff that immediately sucks you in. And once the kind of light-disco-martial beat kicks in, the track feels like taking an open-top drive around Miami with Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, only they’re a horny hetero cis couple.

style

5- Mirrorball

“I’ll be your mirror,” the Velvet Underground once sang; this is Swift following up with: “Let me count the ways.” The Antonoff-cowritten “Folklore” track really does qualify as “shimmering,” for lack of a less obvious word.

But deceptively so — Swift obviously doesn’t mean to suggest that serving as a pure reflector to the world’s varying wants and needs is a healthy thing, even though she sounds awfully darn pliant about the prospect within the confines of the magical music.

This one has been compared to the Sundays and other prettily guitar-based indie-pop groups of yore, with a lulling electric guitar and a missing drumbeat you keep expecting to kick the song further into gear at any moment, in vain.

It’s all so lovely — the funny thing is, in coming up with a song about being a people-pleaser, she came up with one of her most legitimately ear-pleasing tunes.

mirrorball

6- Clean

A sense of recovery from trauma figures into a number of Swift’s songs, most of all this “1989” closer that represented a one-time co-write with indie artist Imogene Heap. The word “clean” is used with two different meanings here, although pretty much toward a common end.

It’s clean as in the feeling of taking a prolonged shower after the accumulated grime of a sucky relationship… or as in getting clean, kicking an addition to toxic love. Either way, there’s been some bad juju at play, and somebody — Nurse Heap, maybe? — is helping take the curse off.

What prompted Swift to co-write this calming, cathartic ballad is probably nobody’s business, but a lot of listeners have brought their own ugly experiences or addictive experiences to bear in appreciating this bath-salt ballad.

clean



7- We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

Swift has plenty of superior instances across her many records of breakups that sound like the end of the world. But she doesn’t have many of them that sound like a party. “We Are Never…” is the best bacchanal in her catalog.

I’m not sure I want to join the exact celebration that is happening in her music video for the song, because furries are scary. But the way Max Martin and Shellback stacked her vocals on this fizzy delight of a song clearly aurally indicate that Swift is capable of having a freedom soiree all by herself.

we are never ever getting back together

8- Right Where You Left Me

This is not the first time Swift relegated one of an album’s better numbers to bonus-track status, although she usually makes the right editing decisions. But “Right Where You Left Me” is another case entirely from, say, even “New Romantics”: The “Evermore” deluxe-edition also-ran is flatly one of her best and most dramatic songs, period.

As a song about not being able to let go of an obsession with a deceased relationship, it’s pretty close to being up there with “All Too Well,” even if the fact that it’s written mostly in metaphor lands it in slightly more intellectualized territory than that other favorite.

right where you left me

9- Anti Hero

When “Midnights” first came out, with none of the songs pre-issued to the public, if you weren’t paying attention to video premieres or that sort of splash, you might have taken “Anti Hero” as one of the odder songs on the album, not a sure out-of-the-box hit. But in Swift land, slightly weird works.

Even the initial minor controversy over the “sexy baby” line — is it cribbed from “50 Rock,” or is it infantilization — abated, as almost everyone took it for as funny as it was, in the course of a verse where Swift is imagining herself as a feared and hated monster who’s going to be taken down.

It’s a song about self-loathing, as she described it, and imposter syndrome, and clinical or unclinical depression… and wouldn’t you know, it’s also a deeply funny bop. That we can have such a bizarre amalgam at the top of the Hot 100 for weeks on end proves that, thanks to Swift being able to sell something this idiosyncratic, these are strange and wonderful times.

anti hero



10- Gold Rush

When “Midnights” first came out, with none of the songs pre-issued to the public, if you weren’t paying attention to video premieres or that sort of splash, you might have taken “Anti Hero” as one of the odder songs on the album, not a sure out-of-the-box hit. But in Swift land, slightly weird works.

Even the initial minor controversy over the “sexy baby” line — is it cribbed from “50 Rock,” or is it infantilization — abated, as almost everyone took it for as funny as it was, in the course of a verse where Swift is imagining herself as a feared and hated monster who’s going to be taken down.

It’s a song about self-loathing, as she described it, and imposter syndrome, and clinical or unclinical depression… and wouldn’t you know, it’s also a deeply funny bop. That we can have such a bizarre amalgam at the top of the Hot 100 for weeks on end proves that, thanks to Swift being able to sell something this idiosyncratic, these are strange and wonderful times.

gold rush

11- Mean

Surely you know the story behind this, among the greatest of all “answer” songs. Girl meets industry blogger boy; industry blogger professes admiration until her somewhat off-key performance at the Grammys causes him to spontaneously declare girl’s career completely over; girl writes song pushing back on that, landing a triple-platinum single with her response.

And she does it with a pointed return to country music, something she had already effectively moved past in everything but name by the “Speak Now” album, singing in a childlike tone that made her sound like a little hillbilly David, taking on an influencer Goliath. Probably not many of those millions of fans paid close attention to the exact background to the lyrics.

But apart from the “I can’t sing” bridge, this song was applicable to anyone who’s ever felt bullied in life, by a classmate, boss, family member, etc. It’s too bad it predated the social media explosion, by a little: “Mean” is really the Twitter National Anthem.

mean

12- Blank Space

This is not necessarily the song you want to go back to constantly for pleasure now, but what a pleasure it was in 2016 when Swift used it to explode her own mythos, in one of the great power moves of modern pop. Her goal, she said, was to take every terrible trope that was being spread about her (hey, didja hear she was a serial dater?) and own it in a prideful anthem of ill will.

And she did it magnificently, playing her public like a violin, including the ones who mostly got it and even the smaller portion that was left puzzled by her pop variant on country music’s classic “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad.” The satire was broad, but effective.

Unfortunately, looking at the generation of influencers that’s arisen since, it’s not clear that some of them didn’t just take this spoof as a how-to manual.

blank space



13- Lover

One thing that Swift didn’t have a lot of in her catalog: 6/8 waltzes. Situation rectified! It’s a wedding song for people who don’t intend, right away at least, to get married — there’s even a fakeout wedding scene in the middle of the song that ends with them vowing in front of God and onlookers to be, well, lovers — but anyone who wants to use it for actual nuptials probably gets a pass.

It’s just universal enough to get that kind of usage in American customs and rituals, but you have to savor the bits that are pure Swift, whether it’s the guitar-string scars on her fingers or her custom-made vow: “Swear to be overdramatic and true.” Wait, is it her entire public she’s pretend-marrying, as well as this guy?

lover

14- Fearless

So much of the “Fearless” album came to be about the bracingly candid breakup songs, or embracing the fairy tale, in “Love Story,” and rejecting it, in “White Horse” (and “Fifteen,” for that matter). That was more than enough grist to get Swift the first of her three album of the year Grammy wins, while she was still a teenager.

But amid all that high romance and higher drama, there’s something at least as enduring about the simpler ambitions of the title song, which just speaks — via a typically great melodic line — to being unafraid. It was followed by a career that’s embraced what the song promised at pretty much every moment.

fearless

15- The Way I Loved You

Back in the “Fearless” days, we occasionally got Taylor Swift, the rock singer. (Arguably, we still have her, just without the rock arrangements.) The prime example was this track that pitted the polite guy who does everything right, who inspires no passion at all, versus the apparent scoundrel she was forced to leave behind, who made her want to stand in monsoons.

Rock ‘n’ roll was played as a character trait for Mr. Passion, versus the string quartet on the verses that represented Mr. Right. Hearing those slamming guitars kind of fade in, the way they occasionally do on hits like “I Touch Myself,” was a nice way to alert the listener there’s a storm coming.

However exaggerated the differences in this triangle might have been, it was only album 2 and Swift was already wanting to signal she wasn’t completely the Nice Girl portrayed on album 1.

the way i loved you




 

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