While I am known by friends (& enemies) to be a HUGE Swiftie, some of my T-Swizzle tastes vary quite a lot from the rest of the fan population. So I’m here to argue why my favorites are my favorites… and my reasoning doesn’t come down to chord progressions or production, but to the depth of her lyrics.
So, from old favorites to Lover ballads, here is a breakdown of Tay’s best works and biggest lyrical sucker-punches of emotion.
12. “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it…”
The pre-chorus toward the end of “All Too Well” is breathy and quiet, but packs a mean punch to the heart. While this whole song is totally quotable and has become a cult favorite, this is the part that haunts me and stays with me long after listening:
“Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it…”
This song is perfectly poetic, full of nuances that are picked up without even listening that hard. It’s effortlessly nostalgic, and not much more needs to be said about it. It’s a universal Taylor favorite for good reason.
11. “I scream, for whatever it’s worth…”
“Cruel Summer”, Track 2 on the new album, has quickly jumped up to the top of my T Swift favorites. The synth beat that drives the surprisingly haunting major-key chord pattern is the perfect match for the lyrics of the song. Sure, summer is fun and warm and romantic days spent outdoors, but when it is filled with hesitation and fear from falling hard for your summer fling, the feelings of “cold,” “blue,” and “crying like a baby” are closer to reality.
“I scream, for whatever it’s worth, / ‘I love you! Ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?’”
But what really gave me goosebumps during my first listen was the part that comes after that:
“He looks up, grinning like a devil.”
10. “Oh, darling, don’t you ever grow up…”
This song has always been too much of a tearjerker for me to listen to more than once in a blue moon. But in the midst of her advice to listeners to hold on to their youth, the bridge makes me the most weepy:
“Take pictures in your mind of your childhood room / Memorize what it sounded like when your dad gets home / Remember the footsteps, remember the words said / And all your little brother’s favorite songs / I just realized everything I have is someday gonna be gone…”
This is an extremely insightful ballad, especially against the broad backdrop of romance-gone-wrong lyrics. “Never Grow Up” ties up all the high emotions that come with growing up and truly venturing into adulthood, in a pretty package with an aesthetically pleasing bow.
9. “Are we out of the woods yet?”
I truly believe Taylor Swift grew up when she released 1989. There was still the same shiny, catchy youthfulness to her music, but her lyrics move from dealing with the past and the present as separate entities to approaching things as a whole. “Out of the Woods” was never my favorite musically, but paired with a careful study of the music video, I have come to see so much depth in this song.
“Remember when we couldn’t take the heat / I walked out and said, ‘I’m settin’ you free’ / But the monsters turned out to be just trees / And when the sun came up, you were lookin’ at me .”
This song is the reflection of a young poet who is merging her creativity and youthful optimism with her new understanding of adult relationships. Teen romance seems so dramatic and serious at the time, but I think this was the stage in which Miss Swift grew out of that stage. Things are no longer black and white… like the world she mentions having lived in at the beginning of “Out of the Woods.” There is a tension between love and pain, regret and fond memories, fear and hope. This is a clear instance in which she is not just creating art for public consumption. She is processing and dealing with what she’s going through by turning it into music.
8. “I’d never walk Cornelia Street again…”
Much like “Out of the Woods,” I think Taylor Swift is working through another new phase in her life. The album Lover leaves listeners without a doubt that Taylor is done messing around with immaturity and lack of commitment. She is all-in, and I think “Cornelia Street” displays this the most clearly out of all the songs in the album.
“I hope I never lose you, hope it never ends / I’d never walk Cornelia Street again / That’s the kinda heartbreak time could never mend / I’d never walk Cornelia Street again…”
There have been rumors that this song somehow “proves” that Taylor has married her boyfriend Joe Alwyn, but all I hear in this pop-driven ballad is that she is experiencing a new kind of love. This is not the roller-coaster romance that she wrote about in her previous albums. She has grown up, and she is more in love than she ever has been before.
Many people are lucky enough to have that kind of love be their “one.” But many of us fall for the wrong person because, at the time, it seems no one but them could possibly be right. Because Taylor Swift is someone who has had relationships in the past, it sounds like she is now able to draw a clear distinction between those past feelings and what she feels now. To be able to acknowledge the depth of your feelings and the fear that something will happen to hurt you in the midst of that vulnerability is an incredibly scary feeling… and think something we all experience when we have this kind of love she sings about finding on Cornelia Street in New York.
7. “If this was a movie…”
The chorus (and title) of this song says it all. It is refreshing and bittersweet to listen to Taylor Swift acknowledge that, in the middle of this fairytale life of pop-country that she had created thus far, things are not like a movie. She spends the song pleading with her estranged love to act like he should if he were a movie character, inherently acknowledging that he’s not and never will be. That’s just not how things are in real life, as painful as that is to admit.
“Come back, come back, come back to me like / You would, you would if this was a movie / Stand in the rain outside ’til I came out … But if this was a movie, you’d be here by now.”
6. “This is the last time I’m asking you this…”
I may be partial because I love Snow Patrol, but I think “The Last Time” ft. Gary Lightbody is highly underrated in the midst of the rest of the emotionally-rich ballads off “Red.”
“This is the last time I’m asking you this / Put my name at the top of your list / This is the last time I’m asking you why / You break my heart in the blink of an eye, eye, eye…”
I also happen to be partial to the one-sided romance when it comes to types of heartbreak. My first novel is pretty much entirely about what that feels like. But “The Last Time” paints a beautifully tragic picture of what it feels like to be second, to be forgotten, to be strung along. This is heavy stuff, even in the field of breakup songs which Taylor is the ruling queen of. The repetition of certain lines throughout the song creates this feeling of something that sounds like an ultimatum, but is really just begging the person to change their mind and for things to be different.
5. “We were flying, but we’d never get far…”
Arguably the catchiest song on Reputation, “Getaway Car” deals a serious hand of depth.
“X marks the spot, where we fell apart / He poisoned the well, every man for himself / I knew it from the first old fashioned, we were cursed / It hit you like a shotgun shot to the heart / You were driving the getaway car / We were flying, but we’d never get far… No, nothing good starts in a getaway car.”
This song is like a lyrical cringe hidden under a smooth pop beat. Taylor is acknowledging the fragility of this relationship as well as admiting her knowledge of its short life-span from the beginning. It’s almost like she didn’t even want it to go anywhere, even to the point of her just using this guy to get away from her ex. I think people get too wrapped up in the tabloid draw of this song, many believing this song is about running away from a jealous Calvin Harris into the arms of Tom Hiddleston, which is unfortunate because this song is rich with reflection. She knew the relationship was “cursed” and that “nothing good starts in a getaway car,” but “every man [was] for himself” in this one. Or maybe she should’ve said every man and woman, because clearly she realizes that she was not the victim in this narrative.
4. “I’m too tired tonight for all these games..”
“Come in with the Rain” was one of the first songs of Taylor Swift’s that I really loved. I love Fearless, but most of the songs are pretty on-the-nose. Yet this one stands out to me.
“I’ll leave my window open / ‘Cause I’m too tired tonight for all these games / Just know I’m right here hopin’ / That you’ll come in with the rain.”
Taylor is ready to admit that these “games” they’ve been playing have become too much for her. It is easy to go along with the lightheartedness and insecurity of a budding romance… it’s often part of the draw and the excitement. But I love that she acknowledges that she is ready to actually get down to the nitty gritty and get her true feelings out in the open. This is a brave admission for her at this age, and I love seeing this thread of maturity and deep emotion grow through her albums.
3. “The drought was the very worst…”
It’s not often that you hear a breakup song that is truly about healing. Letting go. Moving on and actually being okay with that. I think the song “Clean” represents a point which we all desire to reach after having our hearts broken.
“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 white stained dress I can’t wear anymore.”
Learning to live every day without someone you’ve spent so long loving is the hardest part of losing them. This song is insightful and raw, and is a beautiful, delicate balance of loss and hope. The fact that the song begins with these lines sets the tone for the perfectly-synthesized introspection that follows. I believe this is one of her most quietly strong songs.
2. “I’ve been the archer, I’ve been the prey…”
The famous Taylor Swift Track 5. I don’t know if just one lyric can be picked out of this heavy song, but if there had to be one, I believe the themes of the song culminate in the bridge:
“All the king’s horses / All the king’s men / Couldn’t put me together again / ‘Cause all of my enemies / Started out friends / Help me hold on to you.”
We see right into the heart of the trust issues that Taylor Swift has developed from past relationships. And anyone who’s been betrayed, dumped, cheated on, disappointed, or had their heart broken in any way, I think can understand this. “Who could ever leave me, darling, but who could stay?” Being misunderstood or taken for granted, especially if it happens multiple times, severely wounds self-image. This often leads to this feeling that Taylor is clearly battling: maybe I’m not worthy of being loved. “We accept the love we think we deserve” is the motto that comes to mind.
This is kind of emotional vulnerability we don’t often see from Miss Swift. We see all the details and ups and downs of her romances through her lyrical catalog, but this honest portrayal of her trying to work through her self-image and interpretation of the things that have happened to her in the past is surprisingly raw and relatable, even for someone who has experienced this image crisis primarily because of her fame. But there are numerous events and experiences that rattle our views of ourselves and of life, which is why I feel “The Archer” to be one of her most relatable songs.
1. “This slope is treacherous, and I like it…”
Even though Reputation quickly became my favorite Taylor Swift album, the song “Treacherous” from Red always has (and always will be) my favorite Swift song of all time. The driving guitar in the chorus combined with the lyrics of “driving” through the night to take a risky romantic leap will never get old for me. But the chorus doesn’t hold as much as the second verse does:
“I can’t decide if it’s a choice / Getting swept away / I hear the sound of my own voice / Asking you to stay / And all we are is skin and bone / Trained to get along / Forever going with the flow / But you’re friction.”
Taylor is not only dealing with the ugly truth that following the mainstream or taking the “easy road” is so much simpler and done with such frequency, but also with the dark idea that maybe she is not in control of her own actions – or her own thoughts. Do we let ourselves get swept into love too easily? Could we really stand our ground against budding feelings, or are we totally helpless? Not being in control is scary, especially with something as high-risk as matters of the heart. This is a serious, mature question that has much more depth and consequence than many of the questions she raises in the rest of her portfolio.
I think being unable to fully trust yourself is much scarier than being unable to fully trust someone else ever could be, which is why “Treacherous” ranks at the top of my list. Even if it’s not driving at midnight, I think we all have our “two headlights shine through the sleepless night” moments. And those are the moments that can make or break us, that can change the course of our lives. Which makes them scary and very real. And Taylor puts this fear and mistrust and vulnerability into exactly 4 minutes of soft acoustic guitar, emotion, and choral harmonies.
If you agreed with any of these rankings, or have some favorite deep lyrics of your own, comment below! Art is subjective, especially music, but I hope Taylor Swift’s lyrics have impacted other fans as much as they have impacted me.