I’m Andrew, a professor of communication at Texas Christian University, who studies interpersonal relationships and enjoys statistics. I’m also a big Taylor Swift fan, and I’ve combined that with my appreciate of her music by ranking all of her songs.
At the end of those rankings, I reported some statistical comparisons between the albums. I figured, why not flesh that out here into an album ranking list as well? So, then, here’s that ranking—not so much my overall opinion of each album, but rather what my song rankings tell me should be my ranking of each album.
OK… that’s a bit of a confusing way to put it, so here’s a bit more detail on what I did:
- I ranked each song from 1 (low score) to 10 (high score). The n below reports the number of songs ranked.
- I calculated the average song ranking across albums by taking the mean (M) of all of those scores.
- I also calculated the standard deviation (SD), which is a measure of how dispersed the song rankings are. A high standard deviation means there’s a lot of dispersion (some highly ranked songs, some ranked low), whereas a smaller standard deviation indicates that the scores cluster around the mean.
Each album also lists my three top songs on my ranking (“my favorites”) and my three least favorites (“my skips”).
So then, here is perhaps the nerdiest ranking of Taylor’s albums on the Internet…
10. Taylor Swift (n = 15, M = 6.53, SD = 1.54)
My favorites: “Our Song” (#51), “A Place in This World” (#64), “Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)” (#81)
My skips: “Invisible” (#218), “The Outside” (#196), “Tied Together With a Smile” (#192)
Can I just say that this, the allegedly worst album, is a great album? There’s so much to love here, from the sweetness of “Our Song,” to the energy of “Picture to Burn,” to the narrative sensibility of album-opener “Tim McGraw.” True, some other tracks seem young and unrefined—but Taylor was young and her career was unrefined, yet clearly had so much potential. In the music industry, it’s common for an artist’s first album to be their best, a product of their finest work to date, and then they struggle to follow up. Not Taylor. The debut album isn’t at the bottom because it is low quality, but rather because this solid work served as a foundation for her climb to top of the music industry.
9. Fearless (n = 26, M = 6.96, SD = 1.67)
Released: 2008 (Taylor’s Version, 2021)
My favorites: “Love Story” (#2), “You Belong With Me” (#24), “Breathe” (#46)
My skips: “You’re Not Sorry” (#217), “Change” (#214), “Tell Me Why” (#213)
What?? How could this album, her first Grammy Album of the Year winner, be rated as her second worst? Well, it’s because Taylor is just that good. This album is great, even if she later ascends even higher. To my mind, “Love Story” is the supernova explosion that catapulted her career to a new level. In addition to big theatrical tracks like “You Belong With Me,” the album also features beautiful reflective moments like “White Horse,” “Breathe,” and (on Taylor’s Version) “You All Over Me.” But still, like I tell my statistics students… take a look at that standard deviation. It’s on the larger side on this list, which indicates that for all the highs, there are some lows—some forgettable tracks, and even on Taylor’s Version, I don’t find myself compelled to return to most vault tracks (but, “Mr. Perfectly Fine” is excellent). For most artists this album would be a crowning career achievement… but we aren’t talking about most artists, are we?
8. Evermore (n = 17, M = 7.26, SD = 1.38)
My favorites: “Evermore” (#27), “Coney Island” (#60), “Long Story Short” (#71)
My skips: “Happiness” (#206), “Cowboy Like Me” (#205), “Closure” (#185)
Evermore hit me at a weird time—not only because the pandemic was dragging on and on, but it also dropped during the season when I focus on Christmas music, and the album’s somber tone didn’t quite gel with that. It also stands in the shadow of Folklore on one side and the exciting album re-release era on the other. And so I find myself having less emotional attachment to Evermore than maybe any other Taylor Swift album, and yet, when looking at the individual track list, there’s lots of great stuff here. “Willow” is a solid album opener, “Gold Rush” is a pleasant burst of Antonoff energy, and “No Body, No Crime” is great fun in the tradition of “whodunit” country songs. More experimental than its album twin, Evermore showcases the rustic elegance of Taylor’s collaboration with Aaron Dessner in the Folklore/Evermore era.
7. Midnights (n = 20, M = 7.30, SD = 1.31)
My favorites: “You’re On Your Own, Kid” (#21), “Labyrinth” (#35), “Question…?” (#73)
My skips: “Glitch” (#203), “Sweet Nothing” (#194), “Vigilante Shit” (#170)
Looking at my rankings statistically, Midnights is one of Taylor’s most consistent albums, as shown by its rather small standard deviation. (That’s a really compelling way to start an album mini-review, isn’t it? Yeah I’m a nerd.) Over time, I suspect my evaluation of some of its tracks may increase. I know I’m in quite a minority seizing on “Labyrinth” as one of my favorites, and every time I listen to it I ask myself, “am I right about this?” And every time I answer myself, “yes I am”—it’s beautiful with a great subtle build. “Bejeweled” is a sparkly track, sonically and lyrically, and the music video is great. And might “Mastermind” hint that there are even more hidden Taylor messages than we’ve discovered, perhaps a grand plan that ties it all together, perhaps one she’s had in mind for a very long time? Tantalizing! The 3 AM tracks are a great “dessert” after the main course (I’m particularly fond of “The Great War” and “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve”). The highs of Midnights may not reach that of some other albums, but neither do the lows dip as low. It’s a remarkably cohesive and steady work.
6. Lover (n = 18, M = 7.42, SD = 1.90)
My favorites: “Cornelia Street” (#6), “The Archer” (#9), “Cruel Summer” (#18)
My skips: “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” (#201), “False God” (#200), “Lover” (#199)
And in contrast to Midnights is Lover, an album that feels all over the place—perhaps unsurprising given the number of producers at play. It feels like a forgotten album at times, given that the pandemic hit soon afterward, cancelling Loverfest, and generating the very different aesthetic of Folklore/Evermore. Thus it seems many Swifties don’t regard it highly, and that’s a shame, because even though the album makes some forgettable missteps (e.g., “Afterglow”), some tracks stand out among Taylor’s very best. Or least so I think; as I review the list, some of the tracks I like a lot (“The Archer”; “ME!”) are strongly disliked by other Swifties, while the acclaimed song “Lover” just doesn’t do it for me. One way to look at it: This perhaps is Taylor at her most divisive. But there’s a better way to look at it: You probably won’t like every track on the album, but amid its diversity, you’re sure to find something you really enjoy.
5. Folklore (n = 17, M = 7.47, SD = 2.21)
My favorites: “Exile” (#4), “Mirrorball” (#11), “Last Great American Dynasty” (#20)
My skips: “Hoax” (#219), “Epiphany” (#216), “Mad Woman” (#202)
In 2021, I listened to every album that had won the Grammy for album of the year. Then, the most recent winner was Folklore, and it was a beautiful way to end that wonderful sonic journey. Coming off of that experience, let me make a bold claim: Not since The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heats Club Band has an album so symbolized and defined an era in American history. Of course the tone of the two albums is much different, with Sgt. Pepper steeped in psychedelic-laced rebellion and Folklore instead dripping with an earthy sense of quiet reflection. But what unites both albums is that they spoke to people during a time of restless discomfort. Yet let me be clear: Even if Folklore is a product of the pandemic, it thoroughly transcends it. Whereas Sgt. Pepper sounds out of place today, I suspect Folklore‘s luxurious serenity will speak to audiences for decades to come. Yes, the back half drags a bit (“Hoax” being the worst offender); as suggested by the very high standard deviation, there’s some so-so tracks here. But the streak from “The 1” to “August” is especially spectacular, and “The Lakes” perfectly sticks the landing at the album’s conclusion. Filled with beautiful music and memorable lyrical storytelling, Folklore broadened Taylor’s style and the reach of her audience.
4. Red (n = 30, M = 7.68, SD = 1.74)
Released: 2012 (Taylor’s Version, 2021)
My favorites: “All Too Well” (#1) & the 10-minute version (#5), “Treacherous” (#12), “I Bet You Think About Me” (#25)
My skips: “Sad Beautiful Tragic” (#221), “I Almost Do” (#193), “Forever Winter” (#179)
Before Taylor’s Version, I would’ve called Red a mixed bag, and I think that’s because it was trying to serve two masters. In striving to be country enough for Taylor’s past while paving the way toward a then-uncertain pop future, it was easy to focus on the album’s big radio hits (“I Knew You Were Trouble”; “22”) while ignoring some other tracks that didn’t quite land. In hindsight, though, it’s easy to see why this album is so crucial in her discography, and with that hindsight, Taylor’s Version recrafts the package by filing off some of the country edge, repositioning this as a confident primarily-pop album. In contrast to Fearless (Taylor’s Version), the vault tracks here are essential, such as the philosophical and psychological rumination in her duet with Phoebe Bridgers (“Nothing New”). Of course it’s impossible to talk about Red without considering “All Too Well,” the Track 5 of all Track 5s, the song that had no single release or music video yet became a fan favorite. Taylor’s Version seizes this reality with the 10-minute version, with its placement as the re-release lead single and concluding song making it the heart of the album. The original Red is great too, but Red (Taylor’s Version) possesses a more coherent thematic core and deservedly stands among her very best work.
3. 1989 (n = 16, M = 8.16, SD = 1.74)
My favorites: “I Wish You Would” (#7), “Out of the Woods” (#8), “Style” (#15)
My skips: “You Are in Love” (#190), “Welcome to New York” (#188), “Bad Blood” (#178)
Sometimes Taylor’s albums take time to grow on me. Not 1989—it was a winner for me right out of the gate. By the time I got through “Out of the Woods” I was hooked. The combination of Taylor Swift with electronic pop production just works, and it set the template for most of her future albums. And yeah, I had expected the album would catch fire with me: I was a Taylor Swift fan and an 80s music fan, so what could go wrong in combining those things? Well, in retrospect, a lot could have gone wrong I suppose; history shows that the transition from country to pop isn’t easy, and callbacks to the 80s can come off as cheesy, overly nostalgic, or insincere. Here, Taylor avoids all those traps and makes her musical rebirth look effortless, even natural, producing a Grammy award winner that redefined her career and reshaped pop music along with it. But that impact inside, it’s just a great album to listen to when you’re going for a long ride in the car, and that’s often what matters most when firing up Spotify.
2. Reputation (n = 15, M = 8.37, SD = 1.13)
My favorites: “Getaway Car” (#13), “End Game” (#23), “New Year’s Day” (#36)
My less favorites: “Dress” (#164), “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” (#149), “Look What You Made Me Do” (#132)
Again let me, in my nerdery, call attention to the standard deviation: It’s really small! And that’s why for this album I’ve relabeled “my skips” as “my less favorites,” because Reputation is just that rock-solid: There’s nothing here to skip. In fact, I’d say you shouldn’t skip, because this is her most even album, an album that tells a story from start to finish; an album in two chapters, with the turning point after Taylor leaves in a “Getaway Car” midway through. I didn’t like Reputation at first because it struck me as too dark and cynical, but as I sat with it over time, the unity and consistent quality of the album grabbed me and hasn’t let go. Even more than the concept album Midnights, Reputation holds individual pieces that stand well on their own yet also gel into a complete whole. Beneath Taylor play-acting the paparazzi’s version of her identity, Reputation has a message about the value of calm and true acceptance in close relationships, and (nerd alert again) that resonates with me as someone who teaches and studies interpersonal communication.
1. Speak Now (n = 19, M = 8.76, SD = 1.48)
My favorites: “Long Live” (#3), “Enchanted” (#10), “Mean” (#16)
My skips: “Last Kiss” (#212), “SuperStar” (#175), “Superman” (#142)
Why doesn’t this album get more attention? This is a powerhouse, the culmination of Taylor’s country era, but also offering glimpses of the pop direction she intended for the future. As shown by the sky-high mean, song-for-song it’s packed with more musical goodness than any other of her albums. It’s hit after hit after hit—”Haunted,” “Back to December,” “Mine,” “Sparks Fly,” “Dear John,” “Enchanted”—again, why aren’t we Swifties talking more about this album as one of her best works, maybe her pinnacle? And like Reputation, it isn’t just a collection of hits; it also seems conscious of fitting into a greater picture. Notice how, in the second song (“Sparks Fly”), Taylor wants something that will haunt her when her romantic interest is gone—well, by the end of the album, “Haunted” she is. “Never Grow Up” seems to be the hinge point, where Taylor realizes she is moving from the innocence of youth toward her musical and literal adulthood. At the conclusion, I don’t think there’s a better album-ending song in her discography than “Long Live.” The word that comes to mind with this album is “epic.” Here’s hoping that Taylor’s Version brings this album into our consciousness as a work we didn’t fully appreciate at the time. Reputation may be the more refined total package (as might, arguably, 1989 and Midnights), but as a collection of songs that also has some uniting threads, this is the best among them all.
So, at this point, what is left to do for a stats-loving Swiftie prof than to (a) convert the means to z-scores and (b) the standard deviations to z-scores too and (c) plot them against each other? Sure, why not!
So there’s my rankings. Do I agree with what the numbers tell me? I think I do, although subjectively, I might flip Midnights and Lover. And let me say, all the albums are great—from top to bottom, all of these albums are worth your time and attention. And whether you agree or disagree with my rankings, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!