All Taylor Swift songs, ranked by a 40-something male professor of communication

[Last updated July 5, 2021, with “Renegade”]

(Here’s a Spotify playlist with the top 50 songs)

After rating all of the songs on the main album releases, I wondered what would happen if I brought all of this together. What if I created a ranking of all of Taylor Swift’s songs?

This list is the result.

It currently contains 185 songs. Here were my ground rules for deciding which songs to include:

  1. It must be a song with vocals by Taylor Swift. This excludes songs where she is an author but doesn’t sing (e.g., “This is What You Came For”).
  2. No live versions. Sorry, Speak Now World Tour – Live (but I will say that I do like the “Back to December / Apologize / You’re Not Sorry” medley on that album).
  3. No remixes… unless they bring something significantly new to the song. The only two remixes included right now are “Bad Blood” and “Lover,” which brought new vocalists into the mix.
  4. I’m not re-rating the Taylor’s Version tracks. If the new Fearless is any indication, they’ll be similar enough to the originals that my rating and ranking probably won’t change (although I generally like the better mixing and vocals on Taylor’s Version). Of course, new songs from Taylor’s Versions are ranked and rated.

Rankings only tell part of the story, so the list below also indicates which songs got a score of 10 out of 10, 9 out of 10, etc. (And these supersede my earlier ratings on the individual album pages. I did change a few.) This means that, say, within the 8 out of 10 songs, it wouldn’t be hard to make a case for re-arranging the order.

Throughout, ratings of 1-4 = not very good, 5-6 = decent, 7-8 = good, 9-10 = great, with 10s are reserved for true Taylor masterpieces. Definitely keep that in mind. Songs with low rankings are often great songs, because Taylor’s catalog is just that strong. I also briefly comment on each song with a one-sentence review… well, OK, one song gets more than one sentence, but it deserves it.

If I had to guess one possible point of disagreement with others, it would be this: Slower, sappier country-ish ballads don’t do it for me, but happy, peppy, and semi-goofy pop songs do. And if you look closely at my ratings, you’ll find that the presence of Jack Antonoff is almost always a plus for me. I own these rankings as my own; feel free to (respectfully) disagree. Please do let me know if you spot any mistakes (e.g., if I’m missing a song).

The list order may change at any time, as my opinions of songs change over time. I plan to add new songs as Taylor releases them, but it often takes me some time to make up my mind about a song, so additions probably won’t be immediate. And I’m not going to be a slave to this; I’ll do it when I feel like it, and stop when I want to stop.

Finally, these are offered not in the spirit of a hater that hates hates hates, or someone just trying to be “Mean.” Instead, it’s offered in sincere appreciation and celebration of Taylor Swift’s artisty. Her music has brought me much enjoyment over the years, and it’s been fun to give it a closer look.

1 out of 10:

186. Safe & Sound (no album): I like Taylor Swift and I like the Hunger Games, but like ice cream and ketchup, I don’t like them together; this whiny track never finds pacing or tone, and it “wins” my award for my least favorite Swift song.

2 out of 10:

185. Sad Beautiful Tragic (Red): This is one lengthy, anemic, and exhaustingly repetitive song that feels like it lasts much longer than 4:44.

3 out of 10:

184. Macavity (no album): Taylor does a decent job with the material… but, I don’t like the material… yeah, the less said about her involvement with Cats, the better.

183. Hoax (Folklore): By this point at the end of Folklore, if the album is going to serve up another slow, somber song, I’m sorry, it better be amazing; this one isn’t.

182. Invisible (Taylor Swift): I confess that young Taylor can sound whiny to my ear, at times, and she does here; the song is also so dull that halfway through I found my mind wandering.

181. You’re Not Sorry (Fearless): My low rating here may say more about me than Taylor or the song, as this is the kind of folksy, slow country song that I don’t care for.

180. Epiphany (Folklore): It sounds as if Taylor wrote this one after listening to one too many sappy car commercials back in April 2020.

4 out of 10:

179. Santa Baby (The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection): I confess I’m knocking this because it just flat out isn’t my favorite Christmas song; like the rest of this EP, it’s all right as background holiday music, but probably grating if you listened to it too much or too closely.

178. Change (Fearless): When it looks like you’re straining to be epic, you’re not actually being epic; and so although Fearless is an excellent album, it doesn’t stick the landing the way most of the upcoming albums do.

177. Tell Me Why (Fearless): I promise, some Fearless songs will rank much much higher, but there’s some forgettable ones here too, and this track feels to me like a step backward rather than a step forward for Taylor.

176. Last Kiss (Speak Now): The only real clunker on this outstanding album, this 6+-minute song might have been decent if it had been about half as long; in other words, Taylor doesn’t pull off another “Dear John” with this one.

175. Closure (Evermore): Maybe the strangest song in her catalog, filled with discordant synthesizer noises in the background, it just doesn’t “work” and feels like it is just trying too hard to be novel and cool. 

174. Last Christmas (The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection): I feel like covering this song is a rite of passage for young female artists, and Taylor’s take is tolerable enough, although I’d pick Hilary Duff’s version if given the choice.

173. White Christmas (The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection): Yeah, this EP is a bit too country for me, almost stereotypically country; this song, like the others, is just OK, not music I’d avoid or music I’d seek out.

172. Christmas Must Be Something More (The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection): The message here, that Jesus should be the focus of Christmas, is one I wholeheartedly agree with myself, but I don’t think Taylor (who wrote the song) would do something like this today.

171. Babe (no album): This collaboration with Sugarland is a bit too repetitive and a bit too blah; it was written by Taylor but she ultimately rejected it from Red, and Taylor, I think that was the right call.

170. Happiness (Evermore): There’s just a sense that tracks on Evermore give me, one of “yeah, I guess this song is OK,” and I feel that here; the song feels ponderous and I wonder if it would benefit from an increase in tempo.

169. Only the Young (no album): Integrating political messaging with musical artistry is always dangerous business, because the former can so easily overwhelm the latter… Taylor masterfully avoids that on the brilliant “Miss Americana,” but here, not so much.

168. Cowboy Like Me (Evermore): If Folklore’s “Betty” sounds like it belonged on Fearless, this almost sounds like it belongs on Taylor Swift; your mileage may vary on whether you think that’s a good thing or not, but for me this slow country song just doesn’t quite do it.

167. Mad Woman (Folklore): If there’s a consistent weakness on Folklore, it might be the tendency for the lyrical ambitions to outpace the quality of the music, and that weakness is on display in this mediocre entry.

166. It’s Nice to Have a Friend (Lover): Here, on the 17th of 18 tracks on the album, most listeners are probably wanting the plane to come in for the landing; instead, Swift hits our eardrums with maybe the weirdest song she’s ever sung that side of Evermore’s “Closure,” some strange mash-up of Polynesian (?) instruments with a Gregorian-ish chant in high pitch.

165. False God (Lover): I get what Taylor was going for here with the sultry saxophone, but it just doesn’t quite work for me; as great as Lover is as an album, sometimes it feels like Taylor is throwing things at the wall to see what sticks.

164. Lover (Lover): I’m sorry, Swiftie sisters, I can see you picking up rocks to stone me; I’ve warmed a bit to this saccharine song over time, but something about the echo-y reverb just puts me off from this song (see also “This is Me Trying”).

5 out of 10:

163. Gasoline (no album): Taylor’s collaborations with female artists limit them to backup vocals, and she returns the favor to Haim here, but I find this much less interesting than “No Body No Crime.”

162. Half of My Heart (no album): This song is 96% Mayer and 4% Swift, and although it’s decent enough as a Mayer song I suppose, it could’ve been better if John had leveraged Taylor’s artistic strengths.

161. The Outside (Taylor Swift): A pleasant enough song that’s listenable, but also not particularly memorable.

160. This Is Me Trying (Folklore): “I was so ahead of the curve that the curve became a sphere” is a cool line, but again, the reverb/echoing just doesn’t do it for me (see also “Lover”), especially when combined with the slow pace of the song; the Long Pond Studios session is so much better, though.

159. Cold As You (Taylor Swift): Yes, I know it’s the first of the much-lauded “Track 5” songs, but still, I find this one rather grating and I would probably skip it if it came on Pandora.

158. I Almost Do (Red): After starting Red with a solid streak of songs, I feel a sense of disinterest when this one starts; really, it’s one of the most unremarkable and forgettable songs in about two albums, if you’re listening to them straight through.

157. Tied Together With a Smile (Taylor Swift): I never think about this old song but when I listen to it, it’s OK enough.

156. Soon You’ll Get Better (Lover): I feel badly giving such a low rating to such a heartfelt song that’s so personally meaningful to Taylor; although this has a place in the collage of songs that is Lover, the use of the Dixie Chicks seems a bit too restrained.

155. You Are In Love (1989): I hear foreshadowing of the themes of “It’s Nice to Have a Friend”; it’s a sweet song, but it doesn’t knock my proverbial socks off.

154. Don’t You (Fearless): This is the least essential of the Vault songs from Fearless (Taylor’s Version), although it’s still listenable enough.

153. ‘Tis the Damn Season (Evermore): Taylor Swift may not feel like she’s a natural (see “Mirrorball” over on Folklore), but she’s at her best when her music and lyrics feel effortless; here, it feels like she’s pushing too hard to craft a compelling story.

152. Welcome to New York (1989): It’s strange that such a strong album puts such a weak first track forward; the chorus works OK, but I don’t know what she was thinking with the music for the verses.

151. Christmases When You Were Mine (The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection): This heartfelt country tune is an original song, and although it’s far from a classic, Taylor effectively conveys the sense of intimacy that would fuel so much of her future musical identity.

150. A Perfectly Good Heart (Taylor Swift): It’s a decently OK early Swift song but not much more than that.

149. Peace (Folklore): There’s artistry in the spare use of instruments, and the lyrical sentiment is sweet, but I also just can’t get too excited about this one.

148. Silent Night (The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection): I give Taylor and her team some credit here for injecting some originality into one of the most familiar songs in the world; it also strikes me that this EP is, far and away, the most staunchly country sound she ever produced.

147. Stay Beautiful (Taylor Swift): The lyrics on this one are uncharacteristically indistinct, particularly in comparison to later Taylor (something about a guy named Cory, and a radio? I dunno…), but overall it’s a forgettable song that’s maybe a bit more fun than the other forgettable songs on the debut album.

146. Afterglow (Lover): This bleh song screams, “Hey, in another album era, I would’ve been a thoroughly forgotten bonus track on the deluxe edition.”

145. Bad Blood (1989): “Welcome to New York” suffers from a decent chorus with underbaked verses, and “Bad Blood” has the opposite problem.

6 out of 10:

144. That’s When (Fearless): I like the vocals here with Keith Urban, but I don’t think this song is one I would ever seek out.

143. We Were Happy (Fearless): There’s some real energy in the chorus and “talkin’ ’bout your daddy’s farm” sure brings the listener back to country-era Taylor, but this song from the Vault is far from essential.

142. Tolerate It (Evermore): It’s a poignant and heart-wrenching tale, but doesn’t quite achieve the level of pathos (or musical inspiration) as other Track 5s.

141. Hey Stephen (Fearless): A decent change-of-pace song that sits in between some better songs, but the “shine, shine, shine!” in the bridge is a bit cheesy for my taste (and I say that as someone who likes “ME!” …).

140. SuperStar (Speak Now): This one is listenable enough but also just a touch too saccharine for its own good.

139. Both of Us (no album): Taylor’s rap collab with B.O.B. is a decent song, foreshadowing her rap stylings on “End Game.”

138. I Heart ? (Beautiful Eyes): A fun “I’m over the breakup” song that fits so thematically in the Taylorverse, even if that’s workin time has forgotten it.

137. I’m Only Me When I’m With You (Taylor Swift): The beat, fast pace, and steel guitar make it a bit more memorable and energetic than much of the debut album’s other songs.

136. You All Over Me (Fearless): I appreciate the lyrical depth of this one and the support from Maren Morris’s backing vocals, but if you like this type of slow country ballad, you might like it more than I do.

135. Holy Ground (Red): On an album of classics, it’s a poster child for an OKish song that’s nobody’s favorite song.’

134. Ronan (no album): Such a sad song of loss and grief, about a four-year-old boy who lost his life to cancer, that accomplishes just the emotional response it seeks.

133. Dorothea (Evermore): The swinging style of the music complements sweet lyrics about friendship; I’d be curious to hear more songs about friendship from Taylor.

132. Dress (Reputation): This and the prior track are, in my opinion, the OKish songs on Reputation; they’re fine enough and fit thematically, but when I put on the album, “Dress” and “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” aren’t at the top of my mind.

131. Tim McGraw (Taylor Swift): Her first single ever is a sweet country ballad, establishing a solid foundation for even better ballads later on.

130. Untouchable (Fearless): This Fearless bonus track is decent enough, but also one I never really think about.

129. Lover (remix) (Lover): Maybe this makes some amends for those who don’t like how low I rank the original; I still don’t like how the song is mixed, but Mendes gives it a solid upgrade, and the whole vibe of the song comes off as less narcissistic when performed as a duet. 

128. Beautiful Eyes (Beautiful Eyes): I don’t think I’d ever heard this song before, and that’s too bad, because it’s a sweet, energetic “Country Taylor” tune, even if her loose vocal style makes some of the lyrics a bit indistinct. 

127. It’s Time to Go (Evermore): Whereas Folklore ended with tale of longing for peace and beauty, Evermore ends with a song about respecting boundaries and *sigh* Scooter Braun; I know Taylor’s frustrated with him, but he’s just a bit too present across these two albums, even if the song is a segue into the remastered albums.

126. Bye Bye Baby (Fearless): What impresses me most about this one is how well it fits as an ending song for Fearless–a better ending, I would argue, than “Change” on the OG version.

125. The Way I Loved You (Fearless): I find the lyrics in the stanzas to be a bit labored, but hey, water imagery at 2 AM is vintage Swift.

124. Christmas Tree Farm (no album): A dozen years after The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection, we get this tune, with part of the charm being Taylor’s youth on a Christmas tree farm; it’s a decent song (if not quite a classic) that bops along with the energy of the Lover era.

123. I Forgot That You Existed (Lover): My feelings about this opening track definitely aren’t hate, not quite love, and a bit more than indifference.

122. The 1 (Folklore): Taylor doesn’t tend to lead off an album with her strongest songs (see… well… the previous song on this list), and this is no exception, although it does effectively set the reflective mood of Folklore.

121. Bad Blood (remix) (1989): I rated the original lower mainly because of its underbaked chorus; it’s still lacking, but Kendrick Lamar upgrades this track with a much-needed injection of energy and gravitas.

120. Dancing With Our Hands Tied (Reputation): This song is listenable enough, but never seems to achieve full liftoff; I like the light/fire/water imagery in the bridge, though.

119. Wildest Dreams (1989): I know this is a favorite of many, but it doesn’t do much for me; I wonder if perhaps it’s a song that resonates more with female listeners.

118. Paper Rings (Lover): It’s a fun and energetic song, but I prefer the superior song that seems to have inspired it (Hilary Duff’s “Breathe In, Breathe Out”).

117. The Lucky One (Red): A poignant morality tale of the dangers of Hollywood, with themes she would revisit more personally and powerfully three albums later in “The Archer.”

7 out of 10:

116. Ivy (Evermore): One could contemplate what Evermore would’ve been like with a bit more Jack Antonoff, and this song brings a nice burst of his energy, although the focus on marital infidelity limits my enjoyment of the song.

115. Crazier (no album): The song during Taylor’s iconic appearance in Hannah Montana: The Movie is a solid country track, and the reference to it in “Miss Americana” ten years later elevates it to an archetype of Taylor’s early career, and deservedly so.

114. Superman (Speak Now): Yes it’s cheesy, but it sure does have that Speak Now perfect country-pop synthesis that’s such musical catnip to me.

113. If This Was a Movie (Speak Now): There’s some good emotional build-and-release toward the end of the song; maybe this is unfair, but the cinematic focus creates a comparison in my mind to Hannah Montana’s “If We Were a Movie,” and I think the latter is the better song.

112. Stay Stay Stay (Red): Taylor goes all in for playful and cute with this one, and it generally works.

111. Fifteen (Fearless): A bittersweet reminiscence of youth and its transience–a theme Taylor picks up again, and sometimes better than she does here.

110. Begin Again (Red): In contrast to the sweepingly epic songs that conclude Fearless and Speak Now, Taylor goes for reflectively thoughtful in the conclusion to Red; it mostly works, although it’s a track I might admire a bit more than I enjoy.

109. Teardrops on My Guitar (Pop Version) (Taylor Swift): Oh look, it’s a slightly different version of a song I’ve already heard on this album; but what “pop version” of a song still has steel guitar in the background?

108. Look What You Made Me Do (Reputation): Musically there’s about four different songs going on here, and they work well enough together in this vengeful tune, although it was probably a mistake to release this as the album’s lead single; that crazy music video, though, is easily a 10/10.

107. The Moment I Knew (Red): This one is better than I remembered, powered by a musically and lyrically solid chorus.

106. Champagne Problems (Evermore): This one has grown on me over time, although I don’t think it quite reaches the status of an emotional powerhouse (and I get the sense that it’s trying to be that kind of song).

105. The Other Side of the Door (Fearless): This forgotten treasure is so paradigmatically Swiftian it’s verges on parody: pouring rain, throwing rocks at a window, being carried up the stairs, a little black dress, all in the midst of an emotional storm where the girl just wants to feel like she’s wanted.

104. Come in With the Rain (Fearless): The hook at the beginning and echoed at the end elevates this vintage Taylor country song.  

103. The Best Day (Fearless): As a father of daughters, this sweet song hits me in the gut; your mileage may vary.

102. Starlight (Red): A thematically and musically upbeat song, and after Red, it’ll be awhile in the main album discography until Swift sounds quite this optimistic about romance again.

101. Renegade (no album): There’s very strong shades of “Long Story Short” here, and although this track doesn’t quite reach that level, it’s an effective continuation of the beautiful musical style of the Folklore/Evermore era (and another solid collaboration between Swift and Vernon).

100. Marjorie (Evermore): Throughout its music and lyrics, this song is a beautiful tribute to Taylor’s grandmother, exuding both passion and honesty.

99. Right Where You Left Me (Evermore): This has a rolling beat, a sense of fun, country sensibilities, and potent imagery of Taylor, frozen at the age of 23 at a restaurant.

98. I Think He Know (Lover): Lover sometimes feels not like an ode to love, but an ode to infatuation, and it’s that sense that prevents this quite listenable track from becoming a sleeper hit.

97. This Love (1989): It’s amazing how this song is both sedate and epic at the same time, and hello water imagery!

96. We Are Never Getting Back Together (Red): I thought I liked this one more than I do, but after listening again, I think it’s almost a prototypical example of a Taylor song that I like well enough but wouldn’t seek out when I’m looking for a song to play.

95. You Need to Calm Down (Lover): It’s one of the most quotable and memeable Swift songs ever, but it’s hard for me to get past the irony that the queen of expressing her opinion now thinks she gets to tell other people to be quiet.

94. Illicit Affairs (Folklore): This morality tale strives for greatness, particularly in the bridge-that-becomes-an-ending, but doesn’t quite get there; it’s acoustic sound has grown on me over time.

93. Today Was a Fairytale (Fearless): A good, solid, sweet, earnest Taylor track that fits well with the sound of Fearless.

92. Fearless (Fearless): Fearless leaps out of the gate with a dance in a rainstorm in a best dress, effectively setting the theme and tone of the album.

91. Willow (Evermore): The opening guitar is great here, and although it doesn’t reach the heights of Taylor’s best work, it effectively opens the album.

90. I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (no album): I enjoy this song when it comes on Pandora, and Taylor’s vocals here sound great, but I don’t think I’ve ever sought out this song just to listen to it.

89. Should’ve Said No (Taylor Swift): A worthy hit single that aurally and lyrically echoes “Picture to Burn,” but for my money, I think “Picture” is the slightly stronger song.

88. Teardrops on My Guitar (Taylor Swift): A classic Taylor song and a strong example of her country artistry, although I wish it built to a better climax.

87. Blank Space (1989): I know, I can hear some Taylor Swift fans picking up rocks to throw at me, and this track has grown on me over the years, but I’m still left with the feeling that it doesn’t do enough of the emotional build-and-release that characterizes Taylor’s best work.

8 out of 10:

86. Highway Don’t Care (no album): There’s something poetic about Taylor Swift, whose first single was “Tim McGraw,” teaming up with Tim McGraw to produce a solid, rocking modern country tune.

85. Girl at Home (Red): Yeah, I know some don’t like this one, but I do; I like the touch of comedy in the corny line “it would be a fine proposition–if I was a stupid girl.”  

84. I Knew You Were Trouble (Red): This song brings a harder edge musically than anything prior, signaling the country-Taylor era has reached deep twilight and the full transition to pop-Taylor is nigh.

83. Jump Then Fall (Fearless): This is a great Fearless-era platinum edition song that would’ve fit perfectly on the main album.

82. Two is Better Than One (no album): A solid collaboration between Taylor and Boys Like Girls that uses compelling vocal harmony, painting the epic emotional sweep that characterizes so much of Swift’s best work; it’s another forgotten tune, perhaps, and that’s too bad, because it’s well worth a listen.

81. How You Get the Girl (1989): This carefully-paced track might win the award for the most pure fun on the album.

80. London Boy (Lover): A novelty song, yes, and another “ode to infatuation,” yes, but this one is a nice dose of pure fun.

79. Beautiful Ghosts (no album): It’s astounding, the diversity of musical styles she’s tried, and hearing her tackle a musical show tune makes me want to see her in a musical movie that’s actually… um… good (and no I haven’t seen Cats; I am a Taylor fan, yes, but that’s a bridge I’m not gonna cross).

78. Never Grow Up (Speak Now): I intended to rate this one lower, but then I listened to it, and was struck by the simplicity of Taylor with a guitar for instrumentation; if Speak Now were a concert, this would be the song midway through where the singer sits down on a stool with a spotlight on her and chats with the audience for awhile.

77. Picture to Burn (Taylor Swift): This song has great energy and the banjo injects a good dose of fun.

76. Gold Rush (Evermore): One of the few Antonoff-powered tracks on the album, the music provides a jolt of energy even if the lyrics are mushy (but I do really like the line, “My mind turns your life into folklore…”).

75. Red (Red): I like the song as a whole and “driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street” classic middle-era Swift imagery, but for the first time in a couple of albums her vocal tone flirts with whininess.

74. Mr. Perfectly Fine (Fearless): Definitely the most essential and memorable song from the Vault on Fearless (Taylor’s Version), with a killer bridge and even a key change; one wonders why it was left off the original album.

73. Gorgeous (Reputation): One of my rules of music is that I don’t like to hear children speaking in a song; this fun time, which begins with Blake Lively’s kid saying “gorgeous!”, is the one exception I tolerate.

72. Daylight (Lover): I’m a sucker for the “here’s what we learned today!” songs at the end of Taylor’s albums, and this is a strong one, filled with the expansive sense of hope that’s part of a new day (or new era in life).

71. I Did Something Bad (Reputation): Taylor continues her Reputation-era descent into madness in an energetic track that, without a doubt, contains more than a bit of sarcasm.

70. Mary’s Song (Oh My My My) (Taylor Swift): In the debut album she hadn’t quite mastered the art of being epic, but in this forgotten treasure, she’s getting there.

69. No Body, No Crime (Evermore): It aspires to be the next “Goodbye Earl” or “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” and it can be forgiven for not quite attaining that status, because it’s still a rocking country tune that contains some of the best storytelling on the album.

68. 22 (Red): “Happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time” is such a perfect way to describe being 22, but one of my daughters diminished this song for me when she pointed out that Taylor often slurs the word “22” so badly that it sounds like “swimsuit” (… and she’s not wrong…).

67. Cardigan (Folklore): This song does so many things so well, filled with regret and pain and passion and also an easy sense of ‘chill,’ all at the same time. 

66. Sweeter Than Fiction (no album): I don’t think I’d heard this one before I gave it a listen for this ranking, which is too bad, because it’s a fun and energetic song; I’ve listened to it a fair amount since, and I’d say it’s a neglected treasure.

65. Ours (Speak Now): This track is reflective, thoughtful, and beautiful; I’d enjoy an entire album where she aims for this kind of mood.

64. Innocent (Speak Now): A bit of a sleeper on the album, Taylor’s olive branch to Kanye is sweet–too bad that didn’t last (even if it did spawn one or two good songs later).

63. This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (Reputation): And here’s the opposite of “Innocent”; Taylor strikes back at Kanye in a raucous number that was surely a crowd-pleaser as the closing song on the Reputation tour.

62. Clean (1989): More water imagery (that I think calls back to Fearless in at least a couple of ways) appears in this strong conclusion to a deep, creative album.

61. Long Story Short (Evermore): This delightfully self-referential song contains some of the clearest evidence of personal growth in any Swift song, and it’s good advice: “Past me, I want to tell yourself not to get lost in these petty things; your nemeses will defeat themselves before you get the chance to swing; and he’s passing by, rare as the glimmer of a comet in the sky…”

60. King of My Heart (Reputation): After a brief but reflective pause at the end of “Getaway Car,” this song opens with Taylor perfectly fine and alone; then a new character, the king of her heart, shows up, with the chorus and bridge so powerfully expressing Taylor’s affection for him.

59. …  Ready For It? (Reputation): Let the games begin indeed, as Taylor throws down one of the strongest opening tracks on any of her albums.

58. Forever & Always (Piano Version) (Fearless): I give a very very slight nod to the regular version in this ranking, but the piano version is remarkable for having a different emotional landscape (more reflective) with the same level of awesome.

57. Forever & Always (Fearless): The emotion is intense as Taylor recounts her feelings about Joe Jonas’ famous 27-second breakup call, although I could wish for a bit more inspiration from the bridge.

56. Mine (Speak Now): By Speak Now Swift had established her reputation as a storyteller, and this album’s opening song signals that she’s going to play to that strength.

55. Betty (Folklore): Revisiting her country style was a bold choice, and it works; this is an instant classic (but sorry, James, I don’t think showing up at a party unannounced and insulting the girl’s friends is likely to win you many points, and “Cardigan” suggests it probably didn’t).

54. State of Grace (Red): In this effective album opener with a great rolling beat, we’re far from the epic pageantry of the end of Speak Now, instead crashing into a world of busy streets, traffic lights, pain, and shades of wrong.

53. Everything Has Changed (Red): Another strong duet between Taylor and a male singer (this time Ed Sheeran), but I think “The Last Time” has just a bit more gravity to it.

52. Coney Island (Evermore): Again, I tend to be a fan of Taylor’s duets with men, and this no exception; the spare instrumentation, the hazy lyrics, and blending of Taylor and Matt’s voices creates a magical atmosphere that too often eludes this album.

51. ME! (Lover): I’m going to come down on the side of this much-criticized song; it’s energetic, peppy, bright, and cheerful, glowing with the summery brightness of the Lover era.

50. My Tears Ricochet (Folklore): This follows the track 5 tradition of highly personal, emotionally resonant songs that also serve as album standouts.

49. Our Song (Taylor Swift): The song that ended the original version of the album is sweet, fun, and catchy, and I confess I enjoy songs that are self-referential (the song concludes with Taylor sitting down to write the song).

48. Seven (Folklore): This is an achingly beautiful reminiscence of childhood, filled with equal parts sweetness and melancholy, and laced with beautiful imagery throughout.

47. White Horse (Fearless): The emotional punch at the end really elevates this classic track 5 ballad.

46. The Lakes (Folklore): In a rich synthesis of lyrics and music, this song so beautifully and hauntingly embodies a deep sense of longing for beauty and nature, shared with someone you love.

45. Don’t Blame Me (Reputation): The “crazy Taylor” of Reputation compares her lover to a narcotic, and the explosive chorus really lifts this track.

9 out of 10:

44. Shake it Off (1989): It’s quite deservedly her most iconic song after “Love Story” and therefore one destined for airplay in American culture for the next 40 years, but for me personally, it was so overplayed at its height that it’s the one Taylor track that gives me a “yeah, been there, done that” feeling.

43. Better Than Revenge (Speak Now): I confess this song is a bit of a guilty pleasure since I don’t think it’s a great idea to revel in revenge 🙂, but my appreciation of it is held back by how Taylor overplays her hand–impugning the sexual character of her target was a step too far.

42. A Place in This World (Taylor Swift): I have the sense that I’m in a tiny minority regarding this one, but what can I say, I like what I like, and I think this is an underrated gem (that always reminds me of its role in the 2010 Ramona and Beezus movie).

41. The Last Time (Red): And again, I might be in a minority by giving this one a high score, but I like Swift and Lightbody’s voices together and the strong bridge kicks it up a notch.

40. New Romantics (1989): As an interpersonal communication scholar, I really don’t like the flippant attitude some in our day have toward romantic relationships, but Swift effectively captures that reality in this energetic song that’s filled with the great sound of the main 1989 album.

39. Breathe (Fearless): A bit of a forgotten treasure; allowing the orchestral strings to carry the emotion of the song (rather than a steel guitar, as she might’ve done if this were on the debut album) might foreshadow her shift to pop.

38. Invisible String (Folklore): I’m a sucker for self-referential Taylor, and this is self-referential Taylor that spans her entire career to date; it’s also an unabashed love song, which is a welcome change from the breakup-heavy themes on much of the rest of Folklore.

37. All You Had to Do Was Stay (1989): Taylor’s fifth tracks have a reputation for vulnerable lyrics, and in an album crowded with vibrant songs, it would be a mistake to overlook this one.

36. Death by a Thousand Cuts (Lover): The music on the verses goes for epic and makes it there, and I enjoy the gently unnerving rhythm of the strings in the chorus.

35. So it Goes (Reputation): Maybe I’m in the minority (I’ve said that before, right??), but I think this is a hidden gem that lyrically and musically expresses the overall tone and atmosphere of the album.

34. August (Folklore): Like “Last Great American Dynasty,” it’s a song with a breezy/beachy vibe, and it’s one of the more memorable songs on Folklore.

33. Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince (Lover): I love epic Taylor, and this is epic Taylor, and I appreciate the artistry of the political commentary; it’s so much richer its symbolism and less heavy-handed than “Only the Young.”

32. Call it What You Want (Reputation): As Reputation draws to a close, Taylor lays down her weapons and her armor, seeming to turn away from relational drama and toward a quieter and stronger expression of romantic affection.

31. Delicate (Reputation): In contrast to her tendency for big, bombastic emotions, Taylor goes for understated and a bit coy, and it pays off in what seems like the most successful single from this album.

30. Speak Now (Speak Now): The title track of the album seems relatively forgotten these days, and that’s a shame, because it’s a great example of Taylor Swift storytelling (and the giggle in one of the final renditions of the chorus is a great touch).

29. The Man (Lover): Here Swift delivers not only an energetic track, but also punchy and incisive social commentary that I’ll probably mention every time I teach muted group theory.

28. New Year’s Day (Reputation): It’s mainly Taylor and a piano in this brilliant final track, a song that is both totally like and totally unlike “Long Live” that closed Speak Now; her synthesis of both songs in the Reputation tour serves as a powerful illustration of her musical genius.

27. Dear John (Speak Now): It’s quite a feat that Taylor sustains such powerful emotion over the course of a song that runs over six and a half minutes, and she does it with formidable confidence.

26. Come Back . . . Be Here (Red): This is “Superman” but more mature, dripping with the pathos that characterizes the best songs of the Red era; it’s a crime that this diamond of a song receives such little attention.

25. The Story of Us (Speak Now): I think this is one of the more underappreciated Swift singles, and although I can see how some might not like the “next chapter” transition in the middle of the song, for me it works and fits with the “love is a story” theme that stretches across her early albums.

24. Sparks Fly (Speak Now): With Taylor in the pouring rain, it’s like “Fearless” (the song) version 2.0, and it kicks off maybe the best streak of songs on any Taylor Swift album.

23. Evermore (Evermore): Exquisitely paced and deliciously emotional, it transcends song and expresses the cry of the pandemic era: “Can’t not think of all the cost, and the things that will be lost; oh, can we just get a pause, to be certain we’ll be tall again?”

22. Last Great American Dynasty (Folklore): Taylor’s storytelling emerges in full force here in a breezy, beachy tune that brings an important punch of positive energy to the album.

21. I Know Places (1989): This song exudes the sense of being on the run in the dead of night, and the click of the tape recorder at the beginning and end provides great auditory framing.

20. You Belong With Me (Fearless): A Swift classic that generated an outstanding and cute video, and then her VMA award… with Kanye grabbing the mike and starting their feud, eventually leading to more drama drama down the album road.

19. End Game (Reputation): I once derided this song, but I was wrong; somehow this epic combo of Future, Sheeran, Swift, rap, and pop really works (even though it arguably shouldn’t), foreshadowing the optimistic turn at the end of the album… but first, we’ll have a descent into madness…

18. Treacherous (Red): The song’s worldview is deeply at odds with my own beliefs about interpersonal relationships (no–we aren’t “just skin and bone trained to get along”; yes–it is a choice to “get swept away” into the arms of a lover), but that aside, the haunting chorus (which occurs late enough in the song that you could mistake it for a bridge) really elevates the power of this track.

17. Haunted (Speak Now): Remember back in “Sparks Fly” how Taylor wanted something that would haunt her when her lover wasn’t around?–well, now he’s gone, and that’s exactly how she feels.

16. Cruel Summer (Lover): The second song on Taylor Swift albums tend to be pretty great, and this one is no exception, even if the verses outshine the chorus just a tad; it is a true shame this never saw release as a single.

10 out of 10!!!

15. Back to December (Speak Now): In this perfectly-composed song, Taylor demonstrates her capacity for self-reflection, regret, and apology.

14. Mean (Speak Now): This super-fun bop foreshadows track #6 on a future album, when indeed she is living in a big ol’ city and shaking off the hate, hate, haters…

13. Style (1989): If I think “Blank Space” is overrated, “Style” is underrated, but perhaps I like this one because of its strong 80s sensibilities that are like musical catnip to me.

12. Getaway Car (Reputation): This masterpiece provides a climax and plot twist for the whole album (signaled by a rare key change no less) as crazy Taylor steals the money and the keys and drives away.

11. Wonderland (1989): For whatever reason, this Taylor/Alice in Wonderland crossover (what??? why, Taylor, why???), as bizarre as it sounds, not only works, but casts one of the most epic emotional vistas of any Swift song; one wonders how she ended up with so much great stuff on 1989 that she also had “New Romantics” and “Wonderland” as equally worthy leftovers.

10. Enchanted (Speak Now): Strong, passionate, sweeping, epic–it’s what I enjoy hearing from Taylor Swift, and on an album full of incredible songs, it’s a standout.

9. Exile (Folklore): This expansive, powerful song is (so far) the best duet she’s ever done.

8. Mirrorball (Folklore): There’s a moment in this song when the instrumentals fade to almost nothing and we’re left with Taylor, describing herself spinning on her tallest tiptoes, and it’s one of the most beautiful moments in any Swift song.

7. The Archer (Lover): Some fans seem “meh” about this one, but I’m ready for combat to defend this track, which contrasts a minimalist style that generates tension with some of the most introspective lyrics Taylor has ever sung.

6. I Wish You Would (1989): Again, maybe it’s my appreciation for 80s ballads, but I adore this hidden gem that I don’t ever hear anyone talk about; time for the Taylor fandom to rediscover this one!

5. Cornelia Street (Lover): This is one of the most brilliant songs of the album, with the effective build-and-release of tension that often characterizes Swift’s best work; the use of piano here is particularly effective.

4. Long Live (Speak Now): The closing track of Speak Now succeeds where the closing track of the OG Fearless failed, offering an expansive, epic song that sums up the theme of the album, sticks the landing, and yields one of the best Taylor Swift songs of all time.

3. Love Story (Fearless): It remains Taylor’s most iconic song even today, and deservedly so–it’s the moment when she vaults from pretty good to outright amazing, and seldom looks back.

2. Out of the Woods (1989): This muscular, robust song that would’ve been right at home in the year 1986, and if a time traveler slipped it into the radio rotation back then, it’d be right at home; also, the music video full of elemental imagery is pretty cool too.

1. All Too Well (Red): Unfortunately, I won’t give this one higher than a 10. But for this song, and this song only, I will break my one-sentence-per-song rule. So many Taylor Swift fans consider this to be her best song. They’re right.

“All Too Well” is a sonic and lyrical masterpiece. First, the sound–from the soft intro and the gentle chord that concludes it, to the subtle lack of resolution in the ending, and everything in between, every instrument and note works purposefully yet carefully to create emotion. And oh does the emotion build, and I love how it catches the listener by surprise. Suddenly you’re no longer in the gentle passion of young love, but instead caught in a maelstrom of betrayal. And in that maelstrom Taylor drops maybe her most powerful lines ever: “Then you call me up again just to break me like a promise! So casually cruel in the name of being honest; I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lyin’ here, because I remember it all too well…” (Yes, I have a sticker on the back of my laptop with this lyric…)

That lyric is great, but I fear we ignore so much other great wordplay and imagery here. That little town street; getting lost upstate; autumn leaves; the embarrassing childhood photo album on the counter; of course, the scarf in the drawer; and one of my favorites, dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light… the lyrics deliver punch after punch right in the feels.

I so much enjoy every 10/10 Taylor song, but hearing this one is like moving up to another level, like entering another dimension. It’s the perfect fusion of country Taylor and pop Taylor. Not every song can or should be this, but here in this track 5 by which all others are judged, Taylor produced her greatest work so far–and the thing was never even released as a single!! Perhaps someday she’ll top this, but for now, it is the absolute pinnacle and showcase of Taylor Swift’s art. Speak Now may be the better album on balance, but Red has the best song of them all.

As a final note, I am a professor who nerds out over statistics. So I couldn’t help but calculate the means and standard deviations for all of the albums:

  • Speak Now: M = 8.68 (SD = 1.54)
  • Reputation: M = 8.37 (SD = 1.13)
  • 1989: M = 8.16, (SD = 1.74)
  • Red: M = 7.53, (SD = 1.82)
  • Lover: M = 7.39, (SD = 1.94)
  • Folklore: M = 7.35, (SD = 2.26)
  • Fearless: M = 6.96, (SD = 1.64)
  • Evermore: M = 6.91, (SD = 1.50)
  • Taylor Swift: M = 6.47, (SD = 1.59)

Although an analysis of variance (ANOVA–a statistical technique that compares the mean rating of each album) found a significant difference in the means between albums, F(8, 151) = 3.04, p = .003, η2 = .16, a follow-up test revealed that Speak Now scores about Fearless and the debut album. So I take that to mean that, no matter which album you pick, you’re going to find lots of great stuff. And that conclusion sounds about right.

“Evermore”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #9

… but is this really Album #9, or Album #8b? In her social media post announcing Evermore, Taylor was quite clear that it’s a continuation of the Folklore era. And although that’s abundantly clear in the album’s songwriting and musical tone, Evermore nevertheless distinguishes itself though more mature themes and, somehow, an even deeper sense of sadness and loss. Listeners may disagree on whether that’s better or worse than the sister album, but which do I prefer? Well, I think that’s clear in the reviews below.

Evermore (released 2020)
“Oh, can we just get a pause? To be certain we’ll be tall again?

“Willow” (7.5/10): The opening guitar is great here, and although it doesn’t reach the heights of Taylor’s best work, it effectively opens the album.

“Champagne Problems” (7.5/10): This tale of a proposal gone wrong contains a confident and soft beauty, and although I’m not as enthusiastic about it as are some, I can see why some Swifties think it’s the breakout song on the album.

“Gold Rush” (8/10): One of the few Antonoff-powered tracks, the music provides a jolt of energy even if the lyrics are mushy (but I do really like the line, “My mind turns your life into Folklore…”).

“‘Tis the Damn Season” (5.5/10): Taylor Swift may not feel like she’s a natural (see “Mirrorball” over on Folklore), but she’s at her best when her music and lyrics feel effortless; here, it feels like she’s pushing too hard to craft a compelling story that, in the end, I don’t find very interesting lyrically or musically.

“Tolerate It” (6/10): It’s a poignant and heart-wrenching tale, but doesn’t quite achieve the level of pathos (or musical inspiration) as other Track 5s.

“No Body, No Crime” (8/10): It aspires to be the next “Goodbye Earl” or “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” and it can be forgiven for not quite attaining that status, because it’s still a rocking country tune that contains some of the best storytelling on the album.

“Happiness” (4.5/10): There’s just a sense with tracks on Evermore of “yeah, I guess this song is OK,” and I feel that here; the song feels ponderous and I wonder if it would benefit from an increase in tempo (and maybe a shorter running time).

“Dorothea” (6.5/10): The swinging style of the music complements sweet lyrics about friendship; I’d be curious to hear more songs about friendship from Taylor.

“Coney Island” (8.5/10): I know, I tend to be a fan of Taylor’s duets with men, and this no exception; the spare instrumentation, the hazy lyrics, and blending of Taylor and Matt’s voices creates a magical atmosphere that too often eludes this album.

“Ivy” (7/10): With no disrespect intended to Aaron Dessner, Evermore could’ve used a bit more Jack Antonoff, and this song brings a nice burst of energy, although the focus on marital infidelity (which is too much of a theme on this album, in my opinion) limits my enjoyment of the song.

“Cowboy Like Me” (4.5/10): If Folklore‘s “Betty” sounded like it belonged on Fearless, this almost sounds like it belongs on Taylor Swift; your mileage may vary on whether you think that’s a good thing or not, but for me this slow country song just doesn’t quite do it.

“Long Story Short” (8.5/10): This delightfully self-referential song contains some of the clearest evidence of personal growth in any Swift song, and it’s good advice: “Past me, I want to tell yourself not to get lost in these petty things; your nemeses will defeat themselves before you get the chance to swing; and he’s passing by, rare as the glimmer of a comet in the sky…”

“Marjorie” (7.5/10): Throughout its music and lyrics, this song is a beautiful tribute to Taylor’s grandmother that exudes both passion and honesty.

“Closure” (4.5/10): Maybe the strangest song in her catalog, filled with discordant synthesizer noises in the background, it just doesn’t “work” and feels like it is just trying too hard to be novel and cool.

“Evermore” (9.5/10): Exquisitely paced and deliciously emotional, it transcends song and expresses the raw cry of the pandemic era: “Can’t not think of all the cost, and the things that will be lost; oh, can we just get a pause, to be certain, we’ll be tall again?”

“Right Where You Left Me” (6.5/10): A bonus track that feels more like a leftover than a special surprise, it nevertheless brings a rolling beat and a sense of fun.

“It’s Time to Go” (6/10): Whereas Folklore ended with tale of longing for peace and beauty, Evermore ends with a song about respecting boundaries and sigh Scooter Braun; I know Taylor’s frustrated with him, but he’s just a bit too present across these two albums.

Evermore mean = 6.82 (standard deviation = 1.51)

So what’s next? Well, why not rank all of the songs, including those not on the main albums? Ratings are one thing, but rankings reveal the best (… and worst…) Swift songs of all time. OF ALL TIME!…

“Folklore”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #8

I commented that, during Lover, Taylor seemed to be throwing musical ideas to the wall to see what sticks. Not so on Folklore, which features perhaps the most cohesive tone of any of her albums (even more so than the sequel Evermore). Here Taylor launches her artistry in new, chill directions, while both capturing the sad weariness of the pandemic era yet crafting a work that seems destined to live far beyond that moment in time. Even if some tracks miss the mark, the lofty heights here merit the album’s wide acclaim–an acclaim that now includes the Grammy for Album of the Year. That’s an honor shared with Fearless and 1989, which puts Folklore in rarefied company.

Folklore (released 2020)
“Isn’t it romantic how all of my elegies eulogize me?

“The 1” (6.5/10): Taylor doesn’t tend to lead off an album with her strongest songs, and this is no exception, although it does effectively set the reflective mood of Folklore.

“Cardigan” (8/10): This song does so many things so well, filled with regret and pain and passion and also an easy sense of ‘chill,’ all at the same time.

“Last Great American Dynasty” (9.5/10): Taylor’s storytelling emerges in full force here in a breezy, beachy tune that brings an important punch of positive energy to the album.

“Exile” (10/10): Taylor’s duets with men tend to turn out somewhere between ‘great’ to ‘awesome,’ and for my part, I think this expansive, powerful song is (so far) the best duet she’s ever done.

“My Tears Ricochet” (8.5/10): This follows the Track 5 tradition of highly personal, emotionally resonant songs that also serve as album standouts.

“Mirrorball” (10/10): There’s a moment in this song when the instrumentals fade to almost nothing and we’re left with Taylor, describing herself spinning on her tallest tiptoes, and to me it’s one of the most powerfully beautiful moments in any Swift song.

“Seven” (8.5/10): This is an achingly beautiful reminiscence of childhood, filled with equal parts sweetness and melancholy, and laced with beautiful imagery throughout (yes, I was tempted to give it a 7/10, but that’s definitely too low!).

“August” (9/10): Like “Last Great American Dynasty,” it’s a song with a breezy/beachy vibe, and it’s one of the more memorable songs on the album; when Taylor really gets into the song on the Disney+ Long Pond Studio Sessions, you can tell it’s one of her favorite Folklore tracks.

“This is Me Trying” (5/10): “I was so ahead of the curve that the curve became a sphere” is a cool line, but I’m sorry, the reverb/echoing just doesn’t do it for me on this one, especially when combined with the slow pace of the song; the Disney+ Long Pond Studio Sessions is a much improved version.

“Illicit Affairs” (7.5/10): This morality tale strives for greatness, particularly in the bridge-that-becomes-an-ending, but doesn’t quite get there.

“Invisible String” (9/10): I’m a sucker for self-referential Taylor, and this is self-referential Taylor that spans her entire career to date; it’s also an unabashed love song, which is a welcome change from the breakup-heavy themes on much of the rest of Folklore.

“Mad Woman” (4.5/10): If there’s a consistent weakness on Folklore, it might be the tendency for the lyrical ambitions to outpace the quality of the music, and that weakness is on display in this mediocre entry.

“Epiphany” (3.5/10): It sounds as if Taylor wrote this one after listening to one too many sappy pandemic car commercials back in April 2020.

“Betty” (8.5/10): Revisiting her country style was a bold choice, and it works; this is an instant classic (but sorry, James, I don’t think showing up at a party unannounced and insulting Betty’s friends is likely to win you many points, and “Cardigan” suggests it probably didn’t).

“Peace” (5.5/10): There’s artistry in the spare use of instruments, and the lyrical sentiment is sweet, but I also just can’t get too excited about this one.

“Hoax” (3/10): And by this point, if you’re going to serve up another slow, somber song, I’m sorry, it better be amazing; this one isn’t.

“The Lakes” (8.5/10): In a rich synthesis of lyrics and music, this song so beautifully and hauntingly embodies a deep sense of longing for beauty and nature, shared with someone you love.

Folklore mean = 7.35 (standard deviation = 2.26)

“Lover”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #7

Lover feels like a forgotten album. Assuming we count the Folklore and Evermore as the same album era (as suggested by Taylor’s Instagram post announcing Evermore), the Lover era is the shortest one–Folklore appeared just 11 months after Lover‘s August 2019 release. And really, it feels like the bright, summery era of Lover ended much sooner than that, once the pandemic lockdowns cast their shadow in March 2020. But it would be a shame to overlook this album. Yes, the song quality varies, and sometimes it feels like Taylor is throwing musical ideas at the wall to see what sticks. Even though she misses the mark on occasion, the strongest tracks on the album are outstanding examples of Swift’s artistry.

Lover (released 2019)
“Combat, I’m ready for combat… I say I don’t want that… but what if I do?

“I Forgot That You Existed” (6.5/10): My feelings about this opening track definitely aren’t hate, not quite love, and a bit more than indifference.

“Cruel Summer” (9.5/10): The second song on Taylor Swift albums tend to be pretty great, and this one is no exception, even if the verses outshine the chorus just a little.

“Lover” (4.5/10): I’m sorry, Swiftie fans whom I can see picking up rocks to stone me, this slow and saccharine song makes me want to reach for the “skip” button.

“The Man” (9/10): Here Taylor delivers not only an energetic track, but also punchy and incisive social commentary that I’ll probably mention every time I teach muted group theory.

“The Archer” (10/10): I think I might be in the minority, but that’s OK; I’m ready for combat to defend this track, which contrasts a minimalist style that generates tension with some of the most introspective lyrics Swift has ever sung.

“I Think He Knows” (7.5/10): Sometimes Lover feels not like an ode to love, but an ode to infatuation, and it’s that sense that prevents this quite listenable track from becoming a sleeper hit.

“Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” (9/10): I love epic Taylor, and this is epic Taylor; it’s tough to write allegorical political commentary that also works as artistry, but this track strikes that balance.

“Paper Rings” (6.5/10): A fun and energetic tune, but I prefer the stronger song that obviously inspired it (Hilary Duff’s “Breathe In, Breathe Out”).

“Cornelia Street” (10/10): This is one of the most brilliant songs of the album, with the effective build-and-release of tension that often characterizes Swift’s best work; the use of piano here is particularly effective.

“Death by a Thousand Cuts” (9/10): The music on the verses goes for epic and makes it there, and I enjoy the gently unnerving rhythm of the strings in the chorus.

“London Boy” (8/10): A novelty song, yes, and another “ode to infatuation,” yes, but this one is a nice dose of pure (campy) fun.

“Soon You’ll Get Better” (5/10): I feel badly giving such a low rating to such a heartfelt song, but it just doesn’t do it for me; fans of The Chicks might get more mileage out of it.

“False God” (4.5/10): I get what Taylor was going for here with the sultry saxophone, but it just doesn’t quite work.

“You Need to Calm Down” (7.5/10): It’s one of the most quotable and memeable Swift songs ever, but there’s a bit of irony that the queen of declaring her opinion and expressing her emotions (see album #3, “Speak Now”) now takes the role of telling others to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves.

“Afterglow” (5.5/10): This bleh song screams, “Hey, in another album era, I would’ve been a thoroughly forgotten bonus track on the deluxe edition.”

“ME!” (8.5/10): I’m going to come down on the side of this much-criticized song; it’s playful, peppy, bright, and cheerful, glowing with some of the best attributes of the Lover era.

“It’s Nice to Have a Friend” (4.5/10): If this song didn’t have the high-pitched chanting thing going on, I think I’d like it a good deal better; the sentiment sure is cute and sweet (and it even mentions video games!).

“Daylight” (8/10): I’m a sucker for the “here’s what we learned today!” songs at the end of Taylor’s albums, and this is a strong one, filled with the expansive sense of hope that’s part of a new day (or new era in life).

Lover mean = 7.39 (standard deviation = 1.94)

“Reputation”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #6

Of all Taylor’s albums, I’ve had the most complex relationship with Reputation. At first, I didn’t much care for it, but over time, my opinion of it has greatly improved. It’s perhaps the most consistent and most cohesive of her albums (statistically demonstrated by the fact it has the lowest standard deviation! #statsnerd), even though throughout much of it her tongue seems firmly in her cheek. This isn’t so much “Taylor Swift” as it is “Taylor Swift’s reputation“; she plays the media caricature of herself here while “old Taylor” is dead. At at the end of this epic rock opera, the final track points unambiguously toward her ‘resurrection’ on a “New Year’s Day.”

Reputation (released 2017)
“Nothing good starts in a getaway car…

“… Ready For It?” (8.5/10): Let the games begin indeed, as Taylor throws down perhaps her strongest opening track on any of her albums.

“End Game” (9.5/10): I once derided this song, but I was wrong; somehow this epic combo of Future, Sheeran, Swift, rap, and pop really works (even though it seems it shouldn’t), foreshadowing the optimistic turn at the end of the album, but first…

“I Did Something Bad” (8/10): … Taylor begins her descent into madness in an energetic track that I suspect contains more than a bit of sarcasm.

“Don’t Blame Me” (8.5/10): The “crazy Taylor” of Reputation compares her lover to a narcotic, and the explosive chorus really lifts this track.

“Delicate” (9/10): In contrast to her (pre-Folklore) tendency for big, bombastic emotions, Taylor goes for understated and a bit coy, and it pays off in what seems like the most successful single from this album.

“Look What You Made Me Do” (7/10): Musically there’s about four different songs going on here, and they work well enough together in this vengeful tune, although it was probably a mistake to release this as the album’s lead single; that crazy music video, though, is easily a 10/10.

“So It Goes” (9/10): Maybe I’m in the minority, but I think this is a hidden gem that lyrically and musically expresses the overall tone and atmosphere of the album.

“Gorgeous” (8/10): One of my rules of music is that I don’t like to hear children speaking in a song; this fun song, which begins with Blake Lively’s kid saying “gorgeous!”, is the one exception I tolerate.

“Getaway Car” (10/10): This masterpiece provides a climax and plot twist for the whole album (signaled by a rare key change no less, I think the first main album one since “Love Story” all the way back on Fearless) as crazy Taylor steals the money and the keys and drives away.

“King of My Heart” (8.5/10): And after a brief but reflective pause, this song opens with Taylor perfectly fine and alone; then a new character, the king of her heart, shows up, with the chorus and bridge so powerfully expressing Taylor’s affection for him.

“Dancing With Our Hands Tied” (6.5/10): This song is listenable enough, but never seems to achieve full liftoff; I like the light/fire/water imagery in the bridge, though.

“Dress” (6/10): This and the prior track are, in my opinion, the OKish songs on the album; they’re fine enough and fit thematically, but when I put in Reputation, it isn’t because I want to listen to these songs.

“This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” (8.5/10): Taylor strikes back at Kanye in a raucous number that was surely a crowd-pleaser as the closing song on the Reputation tour.

“Call It What You Want” (9/10): As Reputation draws to a close, Taylor lays down her weapons and her armor, seeming to turn away from relational drama and toward a quieter and stronger expression of romantic affection.

“New Year’s Day” (9.5/10): It’s mostly Taylor and a piano in this brilliant final track, a song that is both totally like and totally unlike “Long Live” that closed Speak Now; her synthesis of both songs in the Reputation tour serves as a powerful illustration of her musical genius.

Reputation mean = 8.37 (standard deviation = 1.13)

“1989”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #5

Ah, 1989… a much-loved and groundbreaking album that, to my ear at least, has stood the test of time thus far. But I confess I have a strong weakness for this album… I love 80s pop, and I love Taylor Swift music, so put them together… yeah. Shut up and take my money.

1989 (released 2014)
“Remember when you hit the brakes too soon? Twenty stitches in the hospital room…

“Welcome to New York” (5.5/10): It’s strange that such a strong album puts such a weak first track forward; the chorus works OK, but I don’t know what she was thinking with the music for the verses.

“Blank Space” (7.5/10): I know, I can feel Taylor Swift fans picking up rocks to throw at me, and this track has grown on me over the years, but I’m still left with the feeling that it doesn’t do enough of the emotional build-and-release that characterizes Taylor’s best work.

“Style” (10/10): If I think “Blank Space” is overrated, “Style” is underrated, but perhaps I like this one because of its strong 80s sensibilities that are like musical catnip to me, kind of like…

“Out of the Woods” (10/10): … which is a powerful, encompassing song that would’ve been right at home in the year 1986, and the video full of elemental imagery is pretty cool too; to my ear, one of her best songs ever.

“All You Had to Do Was Stay” (9/10): Taylor’s fifth tracks have a reputation for vulnerable lyrics, and no, this isn’t another “All Too Well,” but in an album crowded with popular songs, it would be a mistake to overlook this one.

“Shake It Off” (9/10): It’s quite deservedly her most iconic song after “Love Story” and therefore one destined for airplay in American culture for the next 40 years, but for me personally, it was so overplayed at its height that it’s the one Taylor track that gives me a “yeah, been there, done that” feeling.

“I Wish You Would” (10/10): Again, maybe it’s my appreciation for 80s ballads, but I adore this hidden gem that I don’t ever hear anyone talk about.

“Bad Blood” (5.5/10): “Welcome to New York” suffers from a decent chorus with underbaked verses, and “Bad Blood” has the opposite problem.

“Wildest Dreams” (6.5/10): I know this is a favorite of many, but it doesn’t do much for me; I wonder if perhaps it’s just a song that resonates more powerfully with female listeners.

“How You Get the Girl” (8.5/10): This carefully-paced track might win the award for the most pure fun on the album.

“This Love” (7.5/10): It’s amazing how this song is both sedate and epic at the same time, and hello water imagery!

“I Know Places” (9.5/10): This song exudes the sense of being on the run in the dead of night, and the click of the tape recorder at the beginning and end provides great auditory framing.

“Clean” (8.5/10): More water imagery (that I think calls back to the Fearless album in at least a couple of ways) appears in this strong conclusion to a deep, creative album.

1989 mean = 8.23 (standard deviation = 1.62)


I’m going to try to post the remaining album reviews in the coming days… because I’m also planning to post a ranked list of all her songs. The list is nearly done, and it includes songs beyond the main albums (e.g., since we’re in 1989 here, let me just say that “Wonderland” from the deluxe album is one of my favorites). So, I guess both of you reading this can look forward to that soon!

Delaying the Tenure Clock May Be an Inequitable Response to COVID-19

When I did a Google image search for “equity,” this was the first hit. I’ve seen this sort of picture before, and you probably have too. Given the Interaction Institute for Social Change has made the image freely available for use, it probably has appeared on every university campus in America during some presentation on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

(Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire. interactioninstitute.org; madewithangus.com)

The message of the cartoon is clear: Rigidly identical standards may perpetuate inequity if we don’t account for differences across personal circumstances.

With this in mind, I’d like to consider how universities are approaching the tenure and promotion process during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most common response seems to be allowing assistant professors to extend their tenure clock by a year. However, this may create inequity for those on the tenure track, particularly for those in groups already underrepresented in the professoriate.

Recently, members of the University of Massachusettes ADVANCE team, a group “focusing on offering equitable campus support for faculty members and fostering inclusion amid major shifts to higher education and deep uncertainty about the future,” proposed a series of recommendations for helping faculty navigate COVID. Regarding tenure, they recommended:

Automatically delay tenure, promotion and reviews. Institutions should immediately slow the timing of decisions on tenure and reappointment to account for the new and unexpected tasks faculty members have had to shoulder. COVID-19 has affected research productivity in many ways, resulting in reduced access to labs, travel cancellations and suspension of human-subjects research, among other issues. Tenure delays can help mitigate such negative effects of COVID-19 on women faculty, who are already navigating gender biases in evaluation processes.

https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/09/04/advice-academic-administrators-how-best-support-faculty-during-pandemic-opinion

Let’s break this down. The first sentence observes that tenure-track faculty have encountered novel demands on their time and energy. In other words, assistant professors haven’t been vacationing during the pandemic. At my university, our Provost emphasized in an email to all faculty that the pandemic is “mandating our intense focus on teaching during all of 2020,” acknowledging “our planned progress on scholarship may be slowed.” In addition to whatever demands the pandemic has imposed on their personal lives, assistant professors have set aside research in order to train and transition to distance learning and hybrid classrooms.

Increased teaching workload isn’t the only challenge to research progress. The ADVANCE team notes that assistant professors often receive diminished research support from their universities, as well as more limited opportunities to collect data, present papers, and network with colleagues. For those whose scholarship requires longitudinal research, travel abroad, or field visits, the effect may be so devastating that assistant professors must reinvent their research programs.

Moreover, these burdens aren’t experienced equally across the professoriate. The pandemic appears to reduce the research productivity of women, perhaps because they are more likely to bear household and childcare responsibilities. The pandemic itself has hit ethnic/racial minority communities particularly hard, and faculty from underrepresented groups may face greater barriers to research productivity during the pandemic than their white peers.

Thus, in the classic equity image above, the tall person on the left may represent tenured faculty, who experienced plenty of financial support and opportunities for research without the calamity wrought by a global pandemic. Some fortunate assistant professors may be like the person in the middle, lacking that same support yet possessing research programs and personal privileges that enable them to weather the pandemic’s effects. And other assistant professors, perhaps especially women and members of racial/ethnic minorities, may be so burdened by the pandemic’s demands that they are like the person on the right who can’t see over the fence.

The solution offered by the ADVANCE team is to extend the tenure clock, and the University of Massachusetts isn’t alone in that recommendation. Several universities, including my own, are enacting similar policies (University of Washington, for example). The logic seems to run along these lines: Perhaps the tenure and promotion guidelines recommend ten publications in peer-reviewed journals, but due to the pandemic, an assistant professor will only have eight publications by the time the clock expires. An extra year could make up for the year lost to the pandemic, enabling them to reach that threshold of ten publications.

At first glance, this may appear like equity as depicted in the picture—faculty receive more time than usual, in the hope that after that bonus year they’ll rise to the standard. Although well intentioned, this solution may not work for all tenure-track faculty, and it may facilitate inequity rather than curbing it.

Tenure and promotion mean many things in the life of a professor. Promotion often brings a pay raise, perhaps a substantial one. Beyond finances, obtaining tenure affords status and prestige in one’s discipline. It brings greater freedom to express opinions on controversial matters, both academic and institutional. Of course, it affords job security, which is becoming ever rarer in academia and may be under particular threat during the pandemic.

Delaying tenure means delaying all of these things. Even a retroactive pay bump, which the ADVANCE team suggests, doesn’t fully ameliorate that. Moreover, an extra year on the clock may not be enough to revive research programs strongly affected by the pandemic.

An extra year fails to acknowledge the challenging work assistant professors have already given to their universities. The current cohort of tenure-track faculty, which is more racially diverse than cohorts in the past, has shifted their research to teaching and service, and done so quickly and unexpectedly. Many have done this while navigating increased demands in their personal lives. Resources and opportunities for scholarship are more limited than they were even a year ago. For some, the pandemic may make it difficult or impossible to restart their prior research programs.

And yet their tenured colleagues and administrators, a less diverse group who did not face these challenges, still wants to hold today’s assistant professors to the same standard of productivity. Perhaps that is like the person on the left wondering why the person on the right can’t see the game. Giving a year extension may be like handing that person a pair of binoculars rather than a box on which to stand.

Although a year delay in the tenure clock may serve the interests of some faculty, for others it is an incomplete solution that ‘rewards’ overworked faculty, who may feel the effects of burnout, with the ‘opportunity’ to do another year of work before they receive the fruit of their labor.

A more equitable solution might consider the faculty member’s individual circumstances, including the nature of their research program and the effect of the pandemic on it. Institutions could require faculty members to include a statement about this in their tenure and promotion application (and ask those evaluating the application to consider it). Likewise, external review letters might include that information, as well as guidance on how the pandemic has influenced the institution’s research support and work priorities.

An alternative approach has received little consideration, as far as I can tell: Rather than affording faculty an extra year to reach the standard, perhaps it is time to reconsider the standard in light of our unusual circumstances.

A recent article quoted Dominique Baker, assistant professor of education policy at Southern Methodist University: “What difference does it make if we say, ‘Instead of having 20 publications, you need to have 15’? We have total control over what this looks like, and if we don’t want people to be burned out, why don’t we adjust our expectations a bit in light of what’s happening around us?”

One objection involves the precedent this might create. To that point, for the sake of equity, perhaps we should reconsider standards again if we ever encounter another situation as pervasive, deleterious, and demanding as the pandemic. Another objection could be that relaxing tenure standards may weaken the perceived prestige of the school, but this line of thought conflates research output with faculty quality. When circumstances improve, so will productivity of all faculty.

Some might observe that delaying tenure could help university budgets in the short term during a time of fiscal crisis. Yet balancing institutional finances on the backs of junior faculty would serve as clear evidence of inequity across professional ranks and roles.

During the pandemic, assistant professors have shouldered much of the labor that is keeping universities afloat in these turbulent waters. Considering all possible ways to adjust the tenure process equitably signals to assistant professors that universities value that work. For many, and particularly those from traditionally underrepresented groups, such adjustments could be the stack of boxes that will let them see the game. Without such equity, we risk diminishing the future contributions of an entire generation of assistant professors.

“Red”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #4

Well, with the surprise announcement that her eighth album (Folklore) is dropping tomorrow, it seems like as good a time as any to drop my reviews for Red!

Overall, Red is a great album with great tracks, but I think sometimes fans focus on the standouts and forget some of the forgettable tracks. It is a great album, but it’s also an uneven album, resting in the long shadows of Speak Now and 1989 on either side. And yet, buried within rests the greatest song ever recorded by Taylor Swift.

“Red” (released 2012)
“Dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light…

“State of Grace” (8/10): In this effective album opener with a great rolling beat, we’re far from the epic pageantry of the end of Speak Now, instead crashing into a world of busy streets, traffic lights, pain, and shades of wrong.

“Red” (8/10): I like the song as a whole and “driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street” is classic middle-era Swift imagery, but for the first time in a couple of albums her vocal tone flirts with whininess.

“Treacherous” (9.5/10): The song’s worldview is deeply at odds with my own beliefs about interpersonal relationships (no–we aren’t “just skin and bone trained to get along”; yes–it is a choice to “get swept away” into the arms of a lover), but that aside, the haunting chorus (which occurs late enough in the song that you could mistake it for a bridge) really elevates the power of this track.

“I Knew You Were Trouble” (8/10): This song brings a harder edge musically than anything prior, signaling the country-Taylor era has reached deep twilight and the full transition to pop-Taylor is nigh.

“All Too Well” (10/10): Unfortunately, I won’t give this one higher than a 10. But for this song, and this song only, I will break my one-sentence-per-song rule. So many Taylor Swift fans consider this to be her best song. They’re right.

“All Too Well” is a sonic and lyrical masterpiece. First, the sound–from the soft intro and the gentle chord that concludes it, to the subtle lack of resolution in the ending, and everything in between, every instrument and note works purposefully yet carefully to create emotion. And oh does the emotion build, and I love how it catches the listener by surprise. Suddenly you’re no longer in the sweet passion of young love, but instead caught in a maelstrom of betrayal. And in that maelstrom Taylor drops maybe her most powerful lines ever: “Then you call me up again just to break me like a promise! So casually cruel in the name of being honest; I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lyin’ here, because I remember it all too well…”

That lyric is great, but I fear we ignore so much other great wordplay and imagery here. That little town street; getting lost upstate; autumn leaves; the embarrassing childhood photo album on the counter; the scarf in the drawer; and one of my favorites, dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light… the lyrics deliver punch after punch right in the feels.

I so much enjoy every 10/10 Taylor song, but hearing this one is like moving up to another level, like entering another dimension. It’s the perfect fusion of country Taylor and pop Taylor. Not every song can or should be this, but here in this song, Taylor produced her greatest work so far–and the thing was never even released as a single!! Perhaps someday she’ll top this, but for now, it is the absolute pinnacle and showcase of Taylor Swift’s art. Speak Now may be the better album on balance, but Red has the best song of them all.

“22” (8/10): “Happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time” is such a perfect way to describe being 22, but someone diminished this song for me when they pointed out that Taylor often slurs the word “22” so badly that it sounds like “swimsuit.”

“I Almost Do” (5/10): One of the most unremarkable and forgettable songs in about two albums.

“We Are Never Getting Back Together” (7.5/10): I thought I liked this one more than I do, but after listening again, I think it’s almost a prototypical example of a Taylor song that I like OK enough but wouldn’t seek out when I’m looking for a song to play.

“Stay Stay Stay” (7/10): Taylor goes all in for playful and cute with this one, and it generally works.

“The Last Time” (9/10): I might be in a minority by giving this one a high score, but I like Swift and Lightbody’s voices together and the strong bridge kicks it up a notch.

“Holy Ground” (6/10): It’s the poster child for an OKish song that’s nobody’s favorite song.

“Sad Beautiful Tragic” (2/10): This lengthy, anemic, and exhaustingly repetitive song makes even “Last Kiss” look energetic.

“The Lucky One” (6.5/10): A poignant morality tale of the dangers of Hollywood, with themes she would revisit more personally and powerfully three albums later in “The Archer.”

“Everything Has Changed” (8.5/10): Another strong duet between Taylor and a male singer (this time Ed Sheeran), but I think “The Last Time” has just a bit more gravity to it.

“Starlight” (7.5/10): A thematically and musically upbeat song, and it’ll be awhile in the discography until Swift sounds this optimistic about romance again.

“Begin Again” (7/10): In contrast to the sweepingly epic songs that conclude Fearless and Speak Now, Taylor goes for reflectively thoughtful in the conclusion to Red; it mostly works, although it’s a track I might admire a bit more than I enjoy.

Red mean = 7.34 (standard deviation = 1.90)

“Speak Now”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #3

So now we come to Speak Now. And let me warn you upfront: This is my favorite of the albums… maybe, just maybe, my favorite album of all time. So, the scores are going to be pretty high, and yet… my favorite Taylor song is not on this album; that’s still to come.

Speak Now (released 2010)
“I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you…

“Mine” (8.5/10): By Speak Now Swift had established her reputation as a storyteller, and this album’s opening song signals that she’s going to play to that strength.

“Sparks Fly” (9.5/10): With Taylor in the pouring rain, it’s like “Fearless” (the song) version 2.0, and it kicks off maybe the best streak of songs on any Taylor Swift album.

“Back to December” (10/10): In this perfectly-composed song, Taylor demonstrates her capacity for self-reflection, regret, and apology.

“Speak Now” (9/10): The title track of the album seems relatively forgotten these days, and that’s a shame, because it’s a great example of Taylor Swift storytelling (and the giggle in one of the final renditions of the chorus is a great touch).

“Dear John” (9.5/10): It’s quite a feat that Taylor sustains such powerful emotion over the course of a song that runs over six and a half minutes, and she does it with formidable confidence.

“Mean” (10/10): This super-fun song foreshadows track #6 on a future album, when indeed she is living in a big ol’ city and shaking off the hate, hate, haters…

“The Story of Us” (9.5/10): I think this is one of the more underappreciated Swift singles, and although I can see how some might not like the “next chapter” transition in the middle of the song, for me it works and fits with the “love is a story” theme that stretches across her early albums.

“Never Grow Up” (8/10): I intended to rate this one lower, but then I listened to it, and was struck by the simplicity of Taylor with only a guitar for instrumentation; if Speak Now were a concert, this would be the song midway through where the singer sits down on a stool with a spotlight on her and chats with the audience for awhile.

“Enchanted” (10/10): Strong, passionate, sweeping, epic–it’s what I enjoy hearing from Taylor Swift, and on an album full of incredible songs, it’s a standout.

“Better Than Revenge” (9/10): I confess this song is a bit of a guilty pleasure since I don’t think it’s a great idea to revel in revenge 🙂, but my appreciation of it is held back by how Taylor overplays her hand–impugning the sexual character of her targets was a step too far.

“Innocent” (8.5/10): A bit of a sleeper on the album, Taylor’s olive branch to Kanye is sweet–too bad that didn’t last (even if it did spawn one or two good songs later).

“Haunted” (9.5/10): Remember back in “Sparks Fly” how Taylor wanted something that would haunt her when her lover wasn’t around?–well, now he’s gone, and that’s exactly how she feels.

“Last Kiss” (4/10): The only real clunker on the album, this 6+-minute song might have been decent if it had been about half as long; in other words, Taylor doesn’t pull off another “Dear John” with this one.

“Long Live” (10/10): The closing track of Speak Now succeeds where the closing track of Fearless failed, offering an expansive, epic song that sums up the theme of the album, sticks the landing, and yields one of the best Taylor Swift songs of all time.

Speak Now mean = 8.93 (standard deviation = 1.55)

Further report on TCU compensation

During the 2019-20 academic year, TCU’s Faculty Senate endorsed a report finding that TCU’s full-time faculty compensation lags behind other nationally-ranked private universities.

The AAUP recently released new data on faculty compensation, so a subsequent analysis examined that data to see if that was still the case. This analysis also considered data from IRS Form 990 filings to get a fuller picture of compensation across the comparison schools.

The Board of Trustees’ decision to permanently reduce employee compensation (by reducing the retirement contribution rate by over 30%) also motivated the report. An Open Letter expresses faculty/staff concern about this decision, and as of this writing that Open Letter has been signed by almost 40% of full-time TCU faculty.

The full report (which serves as an addition to the 2019-20 Senate report) is available here. TCU 360 has also published an article that summarizes and visualizes some of the data presented in the report.

The report offers the following summary: “The reduction in the retirement contribution further diminishes TCU’s lackluster compensation packages in comparison to other nationally-ranked private universities. In contrast, recent history indicates that TCU has spent lavishly on the compensation of executive and athletic officers, at levels exceeding almost all other comparison schools.”