- Insider ranked Taylor Swift’s seven albums 13 years after she released her debut album.
- We determined our rankings by looking at the albums a whole, considering standout songs, cohesiveness, listening experience, and critic reviews.
- “Speak Now” comes in at number one as it best represents the evolution of Swift and her music.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Over 13 years ago, Taylor Swift released her debut album and since then the country-turned-pop singer hasn’t slowed down.
As Swift fans wait to see what’s next, Insider looked back at the singer’s discography to create a ranking of her previous work.
For the ranking, we considered a few factors including cohesiveness, listening experience, the number and quality of standout songs, and if the album is musically interesting or lyrically special. We also factored in critic reviews of the albums when deciding on the final ranking.
Here’s a ranking of all of Taylor Swift‘s albums thus far from least to most iconic.
7. At the bottom of the ranking is Swift’s self-titled debut album.
Released in 2006, Swift’s first studio album is so country that newer fans may barely recognise the songstress’ sound considering she has experimented with a number of other genres since then.
Standouts like “Teardrops On My Guitar,” “Picture to Burn,” and “Cold As You” capture the essence of this album, which is “explicitly country-oriented,” as Billboard music critic Jonathan Bradley wrote in 2017.
He also noted that this album began to show just how developed Swift’s “potential for fury” was and he’s right – “Picture To Burn” is sassy and confidently filled with anger: “So watch me strike a match on all my wasted time / As far as I’m concerned you’re just another picture to burn.”
Whether it’s a song about an ex or someone else who wronged her, Swift’s clever, catchy “revenge tracks” have only continued to improve from here.
What’s likely the most famous track on this album, “Teardrops On My Guitar” is a textbook example of a popular Swift trope: a relatable song about a boy punctuated with clever lyrics. This winning combination warrants countless replays and, even now, listening to this song more than 10 years later reminds many of us so strongly of a crush we had when we were younger.
“Cold As You” highlights Swift’s talent in writing beautiful lyrics about heartbreak, a key Swift signature: “You put up walls and paint them all a shade of grey / And I stood there loving you, and wished them all away / And you come away with a great little story / Of a mess of a dreamer with the nerve to adore you.”
Although there are standout individual songs on the album, “Taylor Swift” isn’t particularly cohesive and now that her discography has been built up, it’s hard to rank this high when listeners now know exactly what she’s capable of.
Plus, her later albums feature songs that are more interesting and creative lyrically and stylistically.
6. Swift’s second album “Fearless” has a more cohesive sound.
Released in 2008, “Fearless” steps away from country and edges into pop in an impressive balance of the two as Swift continues to develop a style that is uniquely hers.
“Her music mixes an almost impersonal professionalism – it’s so rigorously crafted it sounds like it has been scientifically engineered in a hit factory – with confessions that are squirmingly intimate and true,” wrote critic Jody Rosen for Rolling Stone in 2008.
Rosen is right – this album combines intimate lyrics and incredibly catchy tunes and it is showcased in Swift’s hit single “You Belong With Me,” an upbeat anthem for those dealing with unrequited love.
Standouts tracks on this album also include “Fearless,” an easy listen that captures the sweet feelings surrounding new romances;“Fifteen,” a young love story that unfolds over several verses; “White Horse,” a slow tune featuring lyrics about heartbreak that cut deep; “Love Story,” a romantic tale with a fairytale edge; and “The Best Day,” an emotional song that is filled with sweet childhood memories.
“Fearless” outranks “Taylor Swift” as it has more standout songs and has a cohesive sound that distinctly country-pop. That said, this album ranked below the others as it plays it a bit safer than some of the music released later in her career.
5. “Lover” showed a personal side of Taylor Swift, but it felt a bit uneven.
Released in 2019 and named after one of the album’s singles, “Lover” introduced a new era for Swift – one that seemingly had elements of many of her past works, like “1989” and “Speak Now.”
As Rob Sheffield wrote for Rolling Stone, this album combined a lot of previous versions of Swift, seemingly capping off her career.
The tracks combined her typical impressive storytelling abilities while tying together strong emotions of frustration that feel at home in “Reputation” (seen in the track “The Man”) as well as stories of falling in love and almost losing it that feel at home in “Speak Now” or “Red” (as seen in “Cornelia Street”).
The album feels incredibly personal to Swift, as the songs are odes to important parts of her life, from her current boyfriend to New York City.
But, as Pitchfork critic Anna Gaca pointed out, the album may be honest and genuine, but it feels uneven with how much it sways from garish pop singles like “ME!” that have almost childish lyrics to soft, heart-wrenching ballads about love and loss like “Soon You’ll Get Better.”
Sure, this album has its highs and lows and is filled with impressive tracks, but it ranks below others because although it feels like many things she does here (like haunting lyrics and pop beats) are things she’s done before and done a bit better in her previous releases.
4. Swift’s fourth album “Red” plays around with several musical styles.
Released in 2012, “Red” is a clear departure from Swift’s country days, though she holds onto her signatures, like tragic tales told with beautiful lyrics and upbeat, catchy hits, pivoting easily between the two.
As J. English penned for NPR in 2017, this album really helped solidify Swift’s identity in the music world. “‘Fearless’ may have established her as a capable teenage singer-songwriter, but ‘Red’ is the album that solidified her confidence, sexuality, and identity as a bonafide force to be reckoned with,” English wrote.
Songs that sum up this album include “State Of Grace,” a different sound with gorgeous lyrics that are undoubtedly Swiftian; “I Knew You Were Trouble,” a reflective song full of dramatic production effects and a driving beat; “All Too Well,” a slow ballad reminiscing a past love with emotional lyrics and execution; and “22,” an effortless pop hit.
“Red” is a sophisticated album that demonstrates that Swift cannot be put into a box of one category or another: her sound is not all emotional songs about past lovers or radio-ready pop tracks – it’s so much more.
3. “1989” is Swift’s first “official” pop album.
Released in 2014 and named after the year she was born, “1989” was inspired by the pop music of the mid-1980s.
As critic Jon Caramanica wrote for The New York Times in 2014, this album is filled with catchy pop tracks but it sets itself apart from mainstream music of that genre. From the first track, you know this album isn’t like what you’ve been hearing on the radio – it opens with the synthetic beats and sounds of “Welcome to New York.”
“1989” is packed with standout songs that hold their own, like “Blank Space,” featuring masterful lyrics in a pop context; “Wildest Dreams,” showcasing a heartbeat driving the song and breathy singing that creates a dreamlike quality; and “How You Get The Girl,” serving as a lighthearted, pop-infused love song.
Swift closes the non-deluxe edition of “1989” with “Clean,” which adheres to the pop theme but is more low-key and showcases the heartfelt, haunting songwriting she’s known for: “The drought was the very worst / When the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst / It was months and months of back and forth / You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore.”
2. In her album “Reputation,” Swift showed off a new style of music while keeping parts of her songs that listeners love.
Swift released “Reputation” in 2017, three years after “1989,” a noticeable gap as she’d previously been debuting albums every two years.
If the black-and-white cover art didn’t let you know this one would be different, the first song she released off the album, “Look What You Made Me Do,” says it all. Dark, biting, sassy, and straight-up badass, in this track, Swift makes it known that she’s here to play and no one can take her down: “But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time / Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time.”
As Craig Jenkins for Vulture put it, “Although the album fixates on big enemies and bad reputations, the buried lede is a quiet romance budding in spite of them. Swift shines brightest on these songs, building and developing her story out of economic but evocative turns of phrase.”
Songs range from edgy and confident with “I Did Something Bad” to breathy and beautiful with “Dress,” all the while playing with different musical styles and production effects.
Although she claims the old Taylor is dead in the lyrics of “Look What You Made Me Do,” we see touches of her “old self” in the softer chorus of otherwise intense “…Ready For It?” the album’s opening track, and in the closing track,“New Year’s Day,” when we hear a stripped-down piano-heavy ballad in which Swift sings emotion-filled lyrics.
In the 2017 article, Jenkins also noted that this album features hip-hop influences, something Swift hasn’t really done before. This only further proves that “Reputation” is a prime example that Swift can experiment with a variety of genres and still create magic.
1. “Speak Now” comes in at number one as it best represents the evolution of Swift and her music.
All of Swift’s signature elements are present on Swift’s third studio album that was released in 2010 – beautifully honest lyrics about heartbreak (“Dear John,” “Last Kiss”), biting diss tracks (“Mean,” “Better Than Revenge”), and a story that unfolds (“Mine”).
And as critic Chris Willman wrote for The Hollywood Reporter in 2010, “Speak Now” saw Swift’s music style mature while still keeping elements of her youth that her fans so adored in her previous two albums.
“Entirely self-penned, sans the collaborations of the previous albums, it’s an enormous breakthrough in songwriting maturity, while hardly forsaking the childlike lack of pretense that made earlier efforts such guilt-free ear candy,” wrote Willman.
Some songs lean more country (“Mean”) whereas others hint at the musical experimentation that would follow in subsequent albums (“Enchanted,” “Haunted”) and, yet, the album is a mix of styles that seamlessly blend together.
And of course, “Long Live,” the last song of the album, is a masterpiece that features the story and emotions of Swift looking at her journey and successes up to that point in time. In the song, she celebrates a level of stardom that she’d continue to exponentially build upon in the years to come: “And bring on all the pretenders / One day, we will be remembered.”
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