Let’s be real here – even if you’re not a certified Swiftie, it’s almost impossible to admit in 2022 that Taylor hasn’t heavily impacted the music industry. With 58 Guinness world records broken, a BRIT Global Icon award in 2021 and more wins and nominations than you can easily count, Taylor has proven countless times that as far as the music industry goes, she’s a continued force to be reckoned with and a songwriting powerhouse.
From giving sweet country girl to shatteringly devastating genre-crossing albums and multiple re-recordings, Taylor has given her fans everything over the years and always kept them guessing. It’s never quite certain what direction she’s going to choose next, and for many, they have grown up with Taylor and evolved with her over the last decade.
In light of this, we’re seizing the moment before the release of TS10, otherwise known as Midnights, to go on a nostalgic walk through Taylor’s music so far – from the folk to country, the collaborations to the acoustic. Come, we welcome you into the woods with us..
It’s 2006, Nashville, Tennessee. A 17-year-old named Taylor has just released a country studio album, self-titled. It quickly garnered recognition, from the Country Music Award Association’s Horizon for Best New Artist, to the American Music Awards’ Favourite Female Country Artist. Taylor promotes the album through opening for bands on tour including Rascal Flatts in that same year to make a wider impression and get her voice more well known. It’s that time when country is still a slightly fringe genre, but the awards result in significant attention.
The sweet, primarily debut ranges in subject matter across the track list. With a simple yet romantic lead single in ‘Tim McGraw’ and the wistfully memorable ‘Our Song.’ The themes aren’t anything particularly ground-breaking or extraordinary, but it’s a solid debut with some catchy vibes.
2008 brings us Fearless, a record that daintily toes the line between country and pop.
With some of her most recognisable works to date, including the iconic Shakespearean-inspired ‘Love Story’, to the almost crooning, slightly desperate ‘You Belong With Me’ – it’s Fearless that really lands Taylor squarely on the map and emphasizes her lyrical talent to a growing audience. We’re reminded that Taylor is still young, like her fanbase, with the all-too-familiar high school setting in the lyrics from ‘Fifteen’ – “count to 10, take it in, this is life before you know who you’re gonna be.” All too true, Tay.
While some critics consider the subjects to be too limited in this album – warm doe-eyed infatuation and first loves gone wrong – we do have to remember that this is an early piece, based primarily on typical teenage experiences. But it also establishes her – clearly – as someone who could (and does) have a long career ahead of her. The tracks almost all build to catchy hooks, and the playful essence of ‘Hey Stephen’ perfectly captures the essence of classic, ineffaceable teenage pop.
Speak Now (2010)
With the arrival of 2010 comes another album, Speak Now, and the era of Taylor’s first world tour – which I personally remember super distinctly. I got a ticket to the Auckland show for my 12th birthday, and won another through a radio competition my parents entered without my knowledge. Taylor sailed past, signature Speak Now-era curled blonde hair and shining, amethyst ball-style gown on a suspended balcony, and something changed in that moment. I can still visualize it, like it was yesterday.
The era brings the first concrete pop track list, and brings some of her first real demonstrations of creating musical narratives with opening track ‘Mine.’ A technical wonder and a level up from her past eras, Speak Now comes with more emotional weight behind the lyrics. The drop of the instruments in the final notes of ‘Last Kiss’ allow the listener a raw look into the painful nostalgia etched throughout the song, while the preceding ‘Long Live’ catapults into a semblance of romance whisked straight from the pages of young fairy tales. ‘Better Than Revenge’ dives away from the album’s prominent heartbreak theme, serving audiences with a stark, mean-girl-overthrown message. While the core is still cantered around romantic experiences, Taylor brings a particular wistfulness to ‘Never Grow Up’, an almost haunting childhood nostalgia track perfectly encapsulating the feeling of wanting to maintain young innocence despite time’s passage.
2012 brought us Red, one of Taylor’s best known albums to date. Marking a definitive slide into pop with a sprinkle of dance-pop, it’s an album that sent theories wild at the time. Between tracks like ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ providing a contemplative look into realizing the consequences of mistaken relationships, and ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ giving us a karaoke hit for the ages, some of Taylor’s most successful tracks until that point were derived from Red. The rerecording of the album appeared in November 2021 to available streaming platforms, consequently soaring to number 1 on the charts despite many tracks being previously known to audiences. The introduction of the original ‘All Too Well’ song length, the live performance and accompanying music video, starring Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink, garnered record reviews and a VMA win, particularly for its duality, length and lyrically comprehensive storytelling.
Filled with massive pop hits, 1989 is a firework in the Taylor inventory. A sense of losing her naivety accompanies the tracks, and she delves into the criticism of the underappreciation her lyrics have received by providing fans with a symbolic rebirth of her artistry. Capturing a movement away from traditional love stories, 1989 breathes light into the concept of growing entirely into your adult self with startling clarity. Evoking worlds of emotion in a sometimes messy world, we’re greeted with future-telling tracks including ‘Blank Space’ and ‘Wildest Dreams’, giving us Taylor at her prophetic best. While big pop bridges were going out of style, Taylor brings them back in full force. Being her third album straight to sell over a million copies in the first week of release, 1989 is a firm stamp into pop which truly solidifies the beginning of her blockbuster legacy. ‘Out Of The Woods’ and ‘Style’ give us loud catchy bridges, and the lyrical backdrop of the emotionally rejuvenating ‘Clean’ seals the emotions of fans. It’s a chart topping journey through finding yourself outside of your connections to others, wrapped in an anthology that feels both clearly familiar yet startlingly unexpected.
Look, Reputation served a purpose, and serve it did. With Taylor being described by mainstream media and many as bitter, vengeful and manipulative on the back of the drama with Kim Kardashian, the album was filled with snake allusions while not so subtly addressing their publicised falling out. Thrusting Taylor back into the spotlight with a reminder that she is not to be messed with. Through tracks like ‘End Game,’ ‘Ready for It’ and the now iconic ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, Taylor brought fire, ferocity and a very clear audiological statement that she was back in full force on the back of everything, stronger than ever despite her hiatus. Rep also brought us some of the first songs that we got that alluded to her then-fresh relationship with Conversations With Friends actor Joe Alwyn, providing a charming second half that was equally fierce and romantic.
Re-embracing the sleek pop style of 1989, Reputation was followed quickly with Lover, a very different tune, so to speak. The record can be described as nothing short of joyous, the songs providing a sweetened pop that whisk listeners into the warm embrace of first loves, idealisation and thinking someone is your forever.
The cheeky ‘I Forgot That You Existed’ adds a second of humour to the album. Between title track ‘Lover,’ ‘The Archer,’ and our personal favourite ‘Paper Rings’ – fans get a real sense that Taylor is in a great place in her personal life when compared to Reputation, and that happiness shines through the lyrics. Singing “I like shiny things but I’d marry you with paper rings” and other equally loved-up lyrics, the album is an ode to commitment and love in all its forms. ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’, a piece about Taylor’s mother’s battle with cancer, is heartbreakingly relatable for many and shines through as a moment of true vulnerability on the album, but it doesn’t make the rest any less sweet – rather just brings a different kind of love into the mix. Lover is for the most part, a bouncy, ecstatic record and positions Taylor well and truly out of the very stylistically experimental, but in some ways dark, preceding era and brings her back into the daylight.
Created in the height of the COVID19 pandemic as a surprise album after the Lover tour cancellation, folklore was described by Taylor upon release as a “collection of songs that flowed like a stream of consciousness.” Another piece with frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff of Bleachers, folklore transcends Swift’s previously explored genres to become a record full of mellow ballads, with a neoclassical instrument influence in the styles of indie folk and alternative rock, alongside some electroacoustics. Her first foray into the story arcs that continue on following album evermore, Taylor expertly crafts a fictional narrative around a set of characters to develop the themes of nostalgia, first love, empathy and escapism. Consisting of 16 tracks, the songs craft a brilliantly woven narrative.
Highlights include the duet with Bon Iver titled ‘exile’ serving as a sung conversation between two heated lovers. Swift also delves into her own history, producing ‘the last great american dynasty’ using the historical owner of her Rhode Island mansion for inspiration, Rebekah Harkness.
We also get the full glimpse of the opening storylines with ‘betty,’ ‘seven’ and ‘august,’ three tracks which encompass the viewpoints of a young love triangle, with each track a different character’s perspective. It draws us into Taylor’s folk world, leaving fans haunted by what might have happened in the workings of Taylor’s imagination in relation to these people. With all of them being left open potentially for interpretation, this makes them even more intriguing.
‘This Is Me Trying,’ and ‘Peace’ also show us another side to Taylor’s storytelling vulnerability, touching on the themes of alcoholism and romantic challenges. Flickering between multiple genres, the album once again proves the dexterity of her song writing ability while maintaining her common penchant for surprising her fans – and this drop was certainly a surprise. Breaking the Guinness World Record for the biggest opening day on Spotify by a female act, folklore has since become an instant classic.
The elaborately woven narratives and introspective feelings continue on 2021’s evermore, another surprise album that acts as a sister to folklore. With more character studies and a similarly relaxed pace, Taylor continued walking the indie folk and chamber pop highway to create another impressionist record exploring the complexity of emotion.
Opening with the tender ‘willow,’ a romantic lover tribute punctuated by percussionist strings, the album once again delves into infidelity and the idea of personal struggles intermixed with some tribute pieces. ‘Ivy’ and ‘long story short’ are both reminiscent songs around the themes of relationship decisions. Similarly the low, melodic ‘no body, no crime’, featuring close friends HAIM is a dive into the life-changing potential consequences of an extramarital affair. ‘Dorothea’, a track theorised by many to be about Selena Gomez, is a touching tribute about the importance of keeping your good friends close. It’s the male perspective of ‘tis the damn season’s character, but is easily translatable to more than just romance, particularly the chorus. ‘Marjorie’ is a sweet dedication to Taylor’s grandmother, an individual who she has previously quoted as being a strong influence on her values.
After much cottage core reflection and deep, soulful contemplation, the album closes with a reminder that all pain is temporary on the track ‘closure.’ It’s a timely reminder, considering when the album was released, and provides a sense of reassurance after the slightly turbulent storylines.
Being Swift’s eighth Billboard number 1 album, evermore is a warm send-off to the characters of both folklore and evermore, while proving that Taylor isn’t slowing down in future. Becoming the fastest ever accumulation of six number ones in the UK and Australia, while chart topping at over twenty countries, Taylor simultaneously held the Billboard 100 and 200 at once, more than once. One of Taylor’s most sophisticated albums to date, evermore is more than deserving of the critical acclaim it received.
On October 21, fans will be warmly greeted with her tenth album, Midnights. And if her past discography is anything to go off, we know this will be just as exciting – and we can’t wait to see what is next in the line.