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

[Last updated May 10, 2021]

(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:

185. 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:

184. 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:

183. 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.

182. 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.

181. 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.

180. 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.

179. 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:

178. 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.

177. 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.

176. 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.

175. 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.

174. 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. 

173. 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.

172. 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.

171. 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.

170. 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.

169. 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.

168. 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.

167. 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.

166. 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.

165. 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.

164. 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.

163. 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:

162. 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.”

161. 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.

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

159. 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.

158. 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.

157. 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.

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

155. 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.

154. 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.

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

152. ‘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.

151. 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.

150. 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.

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

148. 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.

147. 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.

146. 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.

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

144. 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:

143. 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.

142. 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.

141. 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.

140. 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!” …).

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

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

137. 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.

136. 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.

135. 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.

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

133. 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.

132. 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.

131. 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.

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

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

128. 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. 

127. 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. 

126. 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.

125. 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.

124. 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.

123. 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.

122. 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.

121. 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.

120. 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.

119. 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.

118. 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.

117. 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”).

116. 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:

115. 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.

114. 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.

113. 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.

112. 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.

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

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

109. 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.

108. 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?

107. 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.

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

105. 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).

104. 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.

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

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

101. 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.

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!…

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.”

COVID Learning Options for the Fall: Just a Few, Simple, Possible Scenarios

After reading and hearing about possibilities for the fall semester, both in the higher ed and K-12 worlds, I think I finally have a grasp on the scenarios I and my students might face in the coming months. As I understand it, in order to be competent and caring instructors, all we need to do is develop syllabi for each of the following possible futures:

  1. Everyone is back on campus, likely wearing masks, but otherwise things are “back to normal,” with face-to-face classes.
  2. Similar to #1, but there is still a cap on large gatherings, so big courses may need special adjustments.
  3. Health guidance doesn’t allow students to return to campus, so everything is online again, as it was in Spring 2020.
  4. All classes are broadcast online, so that some students are in class on campus, but other students can watch online if they choose not to come to campus.
  5. There’s a COVID outbreak in the late fall, so we start a week early and end at Thanksgiving.
  6. There’s a COVID outbreak in the early fall, so we start late and end just before the New Year’s Day ball drops in Times Square.
  7. There’s a COVID outbreak in the middle of the fall, so we push back the fall semester into the spring, and the spring semester into the summer.
  8. We decrease residency on campus by bringing smaller numbers of students to campus in waves, while others learn at a distance.
  9. Same as #8, but an advanced machine learning algorithm uses contact tracing data to determine which students and faculty are most at risk and moves them back and forth between online and face-to-face sections across the course of the semester; pretty cool.
  10. Same as #9, but the machine learning algorithm achieves true artificial intelligence and tries to take over the world; learning must continue while trying to avoid its killer deathbots [not cool].
  11. Bring only first-year students on campus; everyone else learns from a distance.
  12. Bring only the seniors to campus so they can enjoy their final year; hope scientists invent a vaccine for senioritis, too.
  13. Online instruction for the first half of the semester, but around Fall Break a skateboarding teenager travels back in time and stops the COVID outbreak from ever happening in the first place (and, after a scare, ensures his parents still fall in love); instruction continues face-to-face after that.
  14. Same as #13, but the teenager carelessly leaves a sports almanac in the past, enabling an unscrupulous bully to attain vast financial power through gambling; ensure equity of instructional access despite severe economic disparities among students.
  15. A COVID outbreak occurs in the tech industry and the Internet shuts down; stock up on paper, papyrus, stamps, envelopes, and maybe homing pigeons so distance learning can continue.
  16. Naturally enforce social distancing by having all classes meet between 3 and 6 am; only the most dedicated students (and faculty) will show up.
  17. Daycares and K-12 remain shut down but higher ed can open; prepare face-to-face lectures so they are equally engaging for toddlers, teenagers, traditional-aged college students, and non-traditional learners.
  18. Same as #17, but higher ed remains online only too; let the kids use their Tik Tok prowess to spice up the Zoom lectures with group dances to music “from the 70s to now!”
  19. Same as #9 and #18, but the artificial intelligence takes over Zoom; conduct course lectures in a new language the instructor invents so the AI can’t decipher it and gain new knowledge.
  20. Consolidate some learning in large online lectures, but then have students meet one-on-one with faculty, like an honors tutorial; to compensate for their extreme fatigue, the university will install permanent caffeine IV drips in faculty members’ arms.
  21. Hold classes in virtual reality; is Second Life still around? Or can we adapt Minecraft or Fortnite for that?
  22. Same as #21, but include a fun optional sidequest where students can use their nerd knowledge to discover the location of three keys and three gates that lead to an Easter egg hidden deep in the virtual world.
  23. COVID triggers a total meltdown of the world sociopolitical order, leading to poverty, anarchy, riots, famine, and worldwide nuclear war. As humanity enters a Dark Age that might last for millennia, be sure students know how to contact the professor, how to use the course management software, and how they can demonstrate measurable achievement of learning outcomes, even if both instructors and students are hiding deep in underground bunkers.
  24. Same as #23, but an authoritarian regime arises and starts forcing young adults into arena battles to the death. Consider how students who are reaped for the games can nevertheless experience equal access to high-quality active learning experiences that meet accreditation standards.
  25. “HighAdapt” option that blends any of #1-#24; if the university had to switch fluidly between any of these options with little advance notice, what would we do? How would we enact flexibility while still achieving course learning outcomes? Of course, the important thing is to have a plan that covers all possible scenarios; we need to assume responsibility for student learning, because why would we ask them to be responsible for it? That would go against everything that college should be about.

Finally, I also note that this extra planning requires just a bit more work from faculty, and so those without tenure may have to put research and creative activity on hold for awhile. That’s OK; because if faculty can’t get to their scholarship, the university is more than happy to push back the tenure clock by a year or two. In exchange for the professor’s extra teaching labor, certainly the university can delay the opportunity for financial reward, professional growth, and career stability; that’s really the only fair thing to do.

TCU Faculty Compensation Analysis Across Nationally-Ranked Private Universities

I currently serve as the chair of the Faculty Relations Committee, which is a subcommittee of the TCU Faculty Senate. I also serve as a member of the University Compensation Advisory Committee (UCAC). Earlier this year, TCU’s Chancellor visited UCAC  and indicated that TCU’s current employee benefits package is “too rich to be sustainable,” and charged us with developing a benefits package for future employees that is both fiscally sustainable and competitive.

In response to this charge, I and the Faculty Relations Committee prepared this report, which examines TCU’s faculty compensation levels (both salary and benefits) across private universities nationally ranked by US News and World Report. If you want a one-page summary of the report, you can find that on the first page.

On November 7, 2019, the TCU Faculty Senate endorsed this report by vote with the following statement: “The TCU Faculty Senate endorses the Faculty Relations Committee’s Compensation Analysis Report as evidence that (a) TCU’s benefits are not too rich and that (b) to be competitive, compensation levels should not be reduced for current or future faculty.”

I offer this here because many have expressed interest in the report. I hope that we can all work together to be good stewards of TCU’s resources and to make TCU the best place it can be.

TCU Faculty Relations Committee Compensation Analysis Report

Call for Special Issue of Communication Monographs: “Theorizing Social Media”

Guest Editor: Dr. Andrew M. Ledbetter
Texas Christian University

Communication Monographs invites submissions for a special issue on theorizing social media. As a term, “social media” encompasses a broad range of technologies, but for the purposes of this special issue, we use Ellison and boyd’s (2013) definition of social network sites as a starting point: “a networked communication platform in which participants 1) have uniquely identifiable profiles that consist of user-supplied content, content provided by other users, and/or system-level data; 2) can publicly articulate connections that can be viewed and traversed by others; and 3) can consume, produce, and/or interact with streams of user-generated content provided by their connections on the site” (p. 158). Although social media encompasses a range of technologies beyond social network sites proper, the purpose of this special issue is to consider and theorize those technologies that constitute “social media” apps and websites in popular discourse. As social media enjoys widespread use yet receives significant public concern, the time is ripe for communication scholars to develop and refine theoretical approaches to social media.

Submitted manuscripts should accomplish at least one of three aims. First, submissions may develop new theoretical approaches to social media (or continue to advance nascent theoretical approaches). Second, submissions may refine existing theories of online communication in light of the nature of social media. Third, submissions may use social media to extend or alter theories developed in non-technological/offline contexts. All submissions should use empirical data to pursue one or more of these theoretical goals. So long as the work contributes meaningfully to the theorizing of social media, we welcome submissions across diverse contextual areas and methodological approaches in the communication discipline, including but not limited to interpersonal and relational communication, organizational and group communication, health communication, family communication, communication and technology, mass communication, political communication, language and social interaction, intercultural communication, cultural studies, and rhetorical field studies.

Submissions may begin on January 1, 2020 and should be submitted online at Communication Monograph’s Manuscript Central site http://www.mc.manuscriptcentral.com/rcmm. New users should first create an account. Once a user is logged onto the site, submissions should be made via the Author Center. Authors should take special care to format their documents in MS-word in a PC-compatible version. Questions about the special issue should be directed to the guest editor at a.ledbetter@tcu.edu. All other questions related to the journal, its editorial policies, or the submission process can be directed to the editor at cm@tcu.edu or at p.schrodt@tcu.edu

Deadline for submission: May 1, 2020

Ellison, N. B. & boyd, d. (2013). Sociality through social network sites. In W. H. Dutton’s (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies (pp. 151-172). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

PDF version of the call: Theorizing Social Media

A Wish for Ideological Diversity and Community Dialogue

(I originally wrote this as a post for CRTNET (my discipline’s e-mail listserv), but then reconsidered. CRTNET is a bit like kicking down your neighbors’ doors and leaving your message on their kitchen tables, and then waiting a day to see if any of your neighbors kick down your door to reply in kind. I’ve previously criticized CRTNET as less than helpful for discussing difficult issues, and indeed my discipline currently seems in an unwanted repetitive pattern in that forum. So, I decided instead to post this on my blog because, following my metaphor, I hope that’s more like inviting the reader over to my house so she or he can read what I wrote, or decline the invitation if they so prefer. To those who are here, welcome; although we may disagree on little or much, I hope you hear my heart that I value your humanity and want to understand your perspective too, and I hope you will extend that same attitude toward me.)

As our discipline engages in an overdue discussion regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion, I hope we do not lose sight of the value of ideological (or viewpoint) diversity.

In a recent Spectra, NCA’s leadership graciously gave me the opportunity to discuss viewpoint diversity in the communication discipline. In that piece, I cited empirical studies indicating that progressives/liberals greatly outnumber those of other ideological stances (in academia overall and our discipline specifically), and that active ideological bias may serve as a partial explanation for that. I also reported stories from those who have experienced ideological bias in our field that made them feel silenced, shamed, and unwelcome. I have experienced this at times in my career too. In some cases, such bias has led people to leave NCA, the discipline, or academia as a whole. 

Although perhaps unintentional, I am concerned that some aspects of the current discourse might be exacerbating this problem–first by omitting viewpoint diversity from the discussion, and second, in some cases, by communication choices (e.g., ad hominem attacks and intimidation) that discourage others’ expression of ideological diversity. In contrast, the principle of academic freedom suggests that, when in doubt, we should fall on the side of viewpoint inclusion. This principle is enshrined in NCA’s Credo for Free and Responsible Communication in a Democratic Society, which NCA’s Legislative Assembly reaffirmed in 2017:

  • “WE SUPPORT the proposition that a free society can absorb with equanimity speech which exceeds the boundaries of generally accepted beliefs and mores; that much good and little harm can ensue if we err on the side of freedom, whereas much harm and little good may follow if we err on the side of suppression.”

I understand the argument that calls for civility (which this Credo and NCA’s Ethical Credo certainly are) can serve to silence dissenting views. That is an unfortunate possibility that I know some have experienced. However, I do not believe that tells the whole story about civility (or, as we have termed it at TCU, “community dialogue”). When we approach each other with hope, humility, respect, and trust, those norms of community dialogue often enable voice and understanding. I believe that’s an aim worth striving for together.

I do not say any of this to exclude or diminish forms of diversity beyond ideological; advocates of ideological diversity in the marketplace of ideas must enable other forms of diversity in that marketplace as well. As our discipline moves forward, I hope we can continue to strive for effective ways to communicate across lines of difference of all kinds, including by ideology and viewpoint.

Yes, Ideological Bias in Academia is Real, and Communication Scholars Must Help Solve the Problem

The National Communication Association invited me to write an essay for the association magazine (Spectra) on ideological bias within academia and the communication discipline. Unfortunately, Spectra is not accessible to those without an NCA login; but fortunately, the agreement I signed with NCA permits me to post it here.

I am deeply grateful to those who took time to contribute their stories, to read the essay and offer feedback, and encourage me along the way. Let me especially mention my appreciation for George Yancey of University of North Texas, who is mentioned at some length here, who graciously took the time to offer his thoughts on the article.

I hope this piece motivates all of us to create ideologically welcoming communities, to understand each other better, and to find ways to work together across lines of ideological difference.


I am grateful that NCA invited me to write this essay on “what some have called the chilling effect of ‘liberal’ academia on freedom of expression among conservative professors and students.” As a social scientist, I think of this as two related empirical questions: What is the political tilt of academia? And, does that political tilt silence conservative voices? Fortunately, scholars have gathered data on these questions, and so I will briefly review a few findings. Then, I will share the lived experience of some of our colleagues and suggest how we might promote ideological diversity in our discipline.

Research Evidence

To the first question: Evidence indicates political skew in academia toward the left. Over a decade ago, Gross and Simmons’s study on the American professoriate found that 44 percent identified as liberal, 47 percent as moderate, and only 9 percent as conservative, with moderates leaning center-left rather than center-right. Particularly relevant to our discipline, the greatest imbalance emerged in the social sciences (58 percent liberal, 5 percent conservative) and the humanities (52 percent liberal, 4 percent conservative). Their monograph, although published only online, has received more than 100 citations since 2007. More recent peer-reviewed research on party affiliation suggests that the imbalance has widened. In a 2016 article published in Econ Journal Watch, Mitchell Langbert and his co-authors found that registered faculty Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 11.5 to 1 overall, and in Communication/Journalism, by 20 to 1. In many departments, members of minor liberal parties (such as the Green Party) are more common than Republicans. Academia leans to the left, and the Communication discipline is no exception.

And so, to the second question: What is the effect of this ideological tilt? The literature has focused on two competing hypotheses for why the imbalance exists: that conservatives self-select out of academia, or that conservatives experience bias that deters them. As sociologist George Yancey has contended, these explanations are not mutually exclusive. Both likely occur, yet the available evidence indicates that political bias against conservatives is no trivial concern. I only have space to summarize a few key findings here, but interested readers would benefit from exploring Heterodox Academy, which advocates for ideological diversity in university life.

  • In a study published in 2012 in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Inbar and Lammers asked psychological scholars about their perception of academia’s political climate. Liberals reported the least hostile climate (1.9 on a seven-point scale), moderates significantly more (3.7), and conservatives the most hostile (4.7). The more a scholar moves away from a liberal identity, the more ideological heat she or he perceives.
  • That study also found that some liberal professors admitted willingness to engage in bias that would harm the career of conservative academics: “Hostility toward and willingness to discriminate against conservatives is widespread. One in six respondents said that she or he would be somewhat (or more) inclined to discriminate against conservatives in inviting them for symposia or reviewing their work. One in four would discriminate in reviewing their grant applications. More than one in three would discriminate against them when making hiring decisions.”
  • Jussim, writing in the same journal in response to Inbar and Lammers, acknowledged the privilege he enjoys as a liberal academic, including: “If I apply for a job, I can be confident my political views are more likely to be an asset than liability”; “I can avoid spending time with colleagues who mistrust me because of my politics”; “I will feel welcomed and ‘normal’ in the usual walks of my academic life.”
  • Yancey, Reimer, and O’Connell, writing in 2015 in Sociology of Religion, found that academia can be particularly hostile to religious conservatives. Yancey testified to his own experience in an article published in The Stream: “Indeed when I read academic literature about my faith it is like I am reading about some alien I cannot recognize. Its description of conservative Christians is often some bizarre caricature of the worst of my faith.”
  • Yancey’s empirical work has further documented bias that conservatives (religious and otherwise) face in academia, particularly in the processes of hiring, promotion, and tenure. Like Inbar and Lammers, he conducted direct surveys of academics, finding that about half would be less likely to hire a conservative Protestant, about 40 percent someone who is part of the NRA, and about a third someone who is a Republican. In contrast, being a member of a liberal group such as the ACLU is seen as an asset.

I am not claiming that these are perfect studies (no study is), or that all progressive scholars hold bias against conservatives (clearly not). Nor am I claiming that anti-conservative bias explains 100 percent of the variance in the political affiliation of scholars in our discipline or elsewhere. That would be absurd. Yet, given the evidence, I am persuaded that it would be even more absurd to claim an effect size of 0 percent. As Yancey put it in a Patheos article, some progressive scholars tend to “focus on self-selection with a slight nod to the possibility of bias. This is exactly opposite from what our empirical evidence has told us.”

Also, the reality of anti-conservative bias does not discount the very real threats to academic freedom experienced by my progressive colleagues. Even as we disagree on ideology and public policy, we should stand together against all threats to ideological diversity, from whatever part of the political continuum they arise.

I encourage those interested to check out these and other sources. I especially encourage my liberal colleagues to do this because, as Yancey noted when I spoke with him recently in a public forum, some progressive scholars disregard claims of ideological bias, despite their abiding concern for other forms of discrimination.

Lived Experience

I am unaware of any study of political bias that focuses exclusively on our discipline. So, to document such bias and vivify the claims above, I invited members of our discipline to share their experiences anonymously. With their permission, here are a few stories I heard:

  • “During my first job interview for a tenure-track position, I sat through an uncomfortable meal where a senior faculty member, assuming I was liberal, openly mocked economic beliefs that I hold. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just kind of smiled and nodded.”
  • “I haven’t been to NCA in years. As a conservative woman, there is no space for me there.”
  • “When I was in graduate school, the Department Chair got up and started talking about how stupid Republicans are. I remember being shocked that the Chair was using a position of power to degrade others.”
  • “During a campus visit at a potential graduate school, I wore a cross necklace. A faculty member pointed it out and said, ‘Cross necklace? You aren’t welcome here.’ This interaction almost deterred me from pursuing any sort of graduate education.”
  • “I wrote an article on conservative artistic performances that the Editor responded to with high praise, followed by a request for a few revisions. After I made the requested revisions, the Editor rejected it. He told me that he wanted to publish the article, but that the conservative content of the performances had so offended the other members of his editorial staff that he ‘dared not run it’ lest he have to deal with a ‘full blown revolution.’”
  • “Political bias is one reason I left academia soon after receiving my doctorate.”
  • “When I write papers that suggest liberal bias in the media, they get rejected, and so I now write about other things. In a world where promotion is determined by publication/presentation rate, I have no desire to spend more time writing articles that will never see daylight.”
  • “As a graduate student, I remember being told at a conference that I couldn’t be a critical/cultural scholar because I had a Christian worldview.”
  • “Before I had tenure, a senior professor who knew my political leanings jokingly referred to me as ‘a Nazi.’ This occurred in front of students.”

I know we would be concerned (and rightly so) if we were to hear such lived experiences from other groups. Those concerns should be no less when the stories pertain to ideological diversity.

Promoting Ideological Diversity in the Discipline

So then, what should we do to foster ideological diversity in the Communication discipline? I’ve heard a variety of ideas from conservatives and concerned progressives. Here are a few actionable suggestions that, to me at least, seem to flow from the available evidence.

  1. As a small but important first step, admit the reality. If a conservative scholar shares an experience of bias with you, they’re probably taking a brave step. Don’t minimize that. They’re showing you a remarkable degree of trust. Also don’t assume that all conservatives are alike; like liberals, we’re a diverse bunch. So listen. Even if you can’t affirm their beliefs, affirm their humanity and academic freedom. More generally, our field would benefit from the kind of discussion about political bias that Jonathan Haidt has spearheaded in Social Psychology.
  1. Affirm ideological diversity when you have the opportunity to do so. I find the statement that Heterodox Academy asks its members to sign to be a helpful one that resonates with NCA’s Credo for Free and Responsible Communication in a Democratic Society: “I believe that university life requires that people with diverse viewpoints and perspectives encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other. I am concerned that many academic fields and universities currently lack sufficient viewpoint diversity—particularly political diversity. I will support viewpoint diversity in my academic field, my university, my department, and my classroom.” Scholars who agree may want to join — it’s easy, free, and a gateway to good conversation among scholars with diverse disciplinary and political orientations.
  1. Refrain from assumptions of political homogeneity in the discipline. This is perhaps nowhere so true in our discipline as partisan political statements passed in the form of NCA resolutions. Let us be candid: These have no discernible impact on public policy. As a Texan myself, I can assure you that the 2017 convention has come and gone and has made no difference in Texas politics. But some events there may speak volumes to conservatives in our field, particularly those who lack the academic privilege that comes with publication success and tenure. As one graduate student voiced after an e-mail from the NCA leadership ahead of the Dallas convention, “Can we maintain membership at NCA in light of this statement?” I look forward to a world where our students never have to ask that question, no matter their political stripe.
  1. Use online fora judiciously. For all their benefits, we know that online spaces can tempt us to engage in communication that dehumanizes others. Whatever strengths it may have, I am not convinced that the Communication listserv CRTNET has served as a healthy venue for political discussion. Perhaps more substantive online conversation could be facilitated by communication technologies newer than 1980s-style e-mail listservs.
  1. Purposefully build warm relationships with those whose beliefs differ from your own. To be utterly clear and emphatic: Over the course of my career, my relationships with progressive colleagues and friends have been overwhelmingly positive rather than negative. When we talk politics, the conversations may be animated, but most of the time they occur in a spirit of mutual respect. Often, we aren’t talking about politics at all, but about our personal lives or mutual professional interests regarding Communication research, theory, and pedagogy. And, indeed, such research tells us that intergroup contact reduces bias.

I believe NCA has the social capital and goodwill among its membership to address ideological bias. Some of my conservative colleagues do not share that optimism, but a panel at the 2017 convention gave me hope. Organized by then First Vice President Ronald L. Jackson II, co-sponsored by the Public Dialogue and Deliberation Division, and chaired by Laura Black (Ohio University) and Leah Sprain (University of Colorado, Boulder), the panel addressed public dialogue and polarization within NCA and featured scholars from diverse political orientations. People spoke candidly, but respectfully, and I think we all gained insight from the discussion. I see no reason why that spirit of goodwill amid disagreement cannot extend to the entire association, our departments, and the discipline.

Our discipline possesses a wealth of scholarship about effective communication across lines of difference. We can apply this knowledge to foster ideological diversity within our discipline—and then, if we are so inclined, we can turn and use that knowledge to help other disciplines solve this trans-disciplinary problem.


(This article is reprinted from an article that originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Spectra magazine, a publication of the National Communication Association. All rights reserved.)

“All That is Gold Does Not Glitter” for the social scientist

While teaching my final graduate-level quantitative research methods class yesterday, one of my students asked about how a person can know whether they should study quantitative or qualitative methods. A very good question.

In response, another of my students quoted Tolkien: “Not all those who wander are lost.” A good response to a good question!

And it got me thinking–especially since I’m re-reading Lord of the Rings right now–what might the famous “All That is Gold Does Not Glitter” poem look like, if written for a social scientific audience?

Here is my attempt at it, by way of footnotes to the original poem:

All this is gold does not glitter(1),
Not all those who wander are lost(2),
The old that is strong does not wither(3),
Deep roots are not reached by the frost(4).

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king(5).

(1) Please note that the data supporting this claim are cross-sectional in nature, and thus these results serve only as weak evidence of causation. Only future experimental and/or longitudinal research can determine whether goldenness causes lack of glittering, lack of glittering causes goldenness, or whether the apparent association is spurious due to a third factor unmeasured in this investigation.

(2) Stated more formally: H(0): Wandering is not significantly associated with being lost; H(A): Wandering is significantly associated with being lost.

(3) I.e., strength significantly moderates the extent to which age predicts withering. The moderating effect of other demographic variables could not be examined due to lack of statistical power.

(4) p < .08.

(5) We offer these practical applications only tentatively(6), and these possible applications should be evaluated further in clinical and/or applied contexts.

(6) “Thanks” to the anonymous reviewer who demanded we include such a practical application section before s/he would recommend accepting this for publication.

A First Look at Communication Theory 9th Edition – It’s here!

So I went to my office after returning from the Central States Communication Association conference (awesome time, BTW!), and found THIS on my desk!:

AFirstLook9thed

Seeing this book in print, with my name on the cover, was a meaningful moment in my career. When I was a junior at Wheaton College, I took Em Griffin’s interpersonal communication course. That class whetted my appetite for more, so in the spring semester I took his class on persuasion–which was intriguing, applicable, and engaging.

Then I enrolled in Em’s communication theory course. I was so excited that I bought the theory book before I left campus for the summer. I’d read half of it by the time I returned in the fall. The subject matter fascinated me–and around that time, I knew that I wanted to be a college professor. Specifically, a professor of communication.

Years later, when Em asked me to join him as a co-author on the A First Look textbook–the textbook that played a potent role in leading me to my career–I felt honored beyond words (and for us communication scholars, that’s saying something…) And let me just say that Em Griffin and Glenn Sparks are outstanding collaborators. They’re also very good writers–for example, if you want an insightful and entertaining read, check out “Rolling in Dough,” Glenn’s memoir on growing up in a doughnut shop. I’ve learned so much about the writing process from both of these outstanding colleagues and friends.

So that’s some of the story behind the book–what about the book itself?

Even though a couple of new names appear on the front, the spirit and style of the book remains the same. To continue the book’s legacy of engaging students with communication theory, we’ve made several additions and changes in response to instructor feedback and our own close reading of the book. Some of the changes that excite me most include:

  • Updated examples throughout the text. Although some historical examples remain (e.g., the “I Have a Dream” speech analysis in the Rhetoric chapter), we’ve freshened pop culture references throughout. See especially the chapters on Mead’s symbolic interactionism and Tannen’s genderlect styles.
  • A new chapter on Robert McPhee’s theory of the communicative constitution of organizations. Reader response to this chapter interests me not only because it’s a fresh and popular org comm theory–but also because I was primarily responsible for crafting it.
  • The uncertainty reduction theory chapter now includes a section on Leanne Knobloch’s relational turbulence model. Likewise, the muted group theory chapter addresses Mark Orbe’s co-cultural theory. I hope readers will appreciate these modern extensions of classic communication theories.

In the end, I hope these additions and changes help students not only learn communication theory, but become passionate about it. That’s one of the things I appreciate most about the text’s earlier editions–Em always presents communication as an inherently fascinating object of study. And not only fascinating, but useful in everyday life. I hope this new edition of the book inspires students to communicate excellently in both their personal and professional lives.