Ranking Every Taylor Swift Album, from Debut to 'The Tortured Poets Department'

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To rank Taylor Swift’s discography is the modern listener’s “sword in the stone.” To say, it's an impossible and daunting task. For an artist who has been on the receiving end of so much scrutiny, she’s genuinely never had a “flop era,” a fate which has befallen nearly every other pop artist. Even her weakest body of work is a tour de force. Swift gets sharper with time, but her earlier work remains draped in nostalgia.

As she spoke about in her 2020 documentary, Miss Americana, Taylor Swift is completely lucid when it comes to the inescapable need for reinvention in the music space, specifically for women. The impossible task, then, is finding reinvention in consistency. We want our artists consistently good, while consistently brand new. We want something we’ve never heard before, but we want it to exist in conversation with what came before.

Taylor Swift has transcended this fool’s errand by tapping into her existing fanbase. As The Tortured Poets Department made clear, she’s not looking for new fans. She’s not doing it for the Grammys (she already has 14). She’s not doing it for the ever-fickle industry. She knows what her billion-dollar fanbase wants, she’s giving it to them, and the rest can rot.

In researching for this story—polling every Swiftie in the phone book—we found that there is almost no consensus on a ranking of Taylor Swift’s albums. The Reputation girls will riot, the Fearless girls can’t move on, the Tortured Poets Department girls are going through something. Each of Swift’s 11 albums, which range from country to pop to singer-songwriter ditties, come with their own horde of fervent fans.

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Does the Tom Hiddleston era really count at this point??? Help.

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Alexa, play “...Ready for It?”

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Correction: screaming!

All that to say, it wasn’t easy ranking these albums, and in truth, we didn’t have to! Listener analytics have one purpose in this world, and it’s Spotify Wrapped. Until then, repeat whatever track you damn well choose, even if that track is “ME!”

Credibility note: This author spent upwards of $1,000 collectively spent on Eras Tour tickets, and sings “take her home” in “the 1”’s correct cadence.

11. Taylor Swift

Far be it from us to critique a child prodigy. Swift was just 16 years old when her debut album was released, gifting the culture such timeless hits as “Teardrops On My Guitar,” “Picture to Burn,” and “Tim McGraw.” The album is a classic and instantly shot Swift into the public eye, but naturally shrinks in the shadow of what she would go on to produce.

10. evermore

Folklore’s sister album is a bonus, a free prize for the cottage-core girlies. It doesn't totally stand on its own as a cohesive body of work, but came correct with a few lyrical gems. Food for thought for people who hate on The Tortured Poet’s Department's length: had folklore and evermore been combined as she likely originally intended, you bitches would’ve raised hell. Separate the two, and suddenly the streets are flooded with “evermore girls” in french braids. Grow up! We digress. Evermore gave us some of the best songs in Swift’s canon, “champagne problems” and “tolerate it,” but on the whole, the album is not breaking any records.

9. Reputation

taylor swift reputation stadium tour tokyo
Jun Sato/TAS18 - Getty Images

We’re bracing for impact, Reputation is ranked #9 on our list. Many a Swifitie will read this in revolt, demanding top five placement for Taylor’s "gone bad" era. In truth, the album is more of a culture moment than a strong body of work. In the Peoples’ History of Taylor Swift, Reputation is an integral chapter. The album and its coinciding era marked a game-changing shift for Swift, the public figure. The album’s release spurred a cultural moment that will reign as one of the most far reaching of her career, the soundtrack to our “villain era” (before that was a thing).

As for the tracklist, the songs are standard good. They are just fine. A few gems stand above the rest—we’re talking “Getaway Car,” “Call It What You Want,” and “Dress”—but ultimately, Reputation the era transcends Reputation the album.

8. 1989

taylor swift '1989' world tour melbourne
Graham Denholm - Getty Images

One of Swift’s three Grammy-certified Albums of the Year, 1989 is celebrated across the industry as the artist’s official entrance into the pop music space. It’s funny to think Swift was ever not considered a pop artist, but it's been a long and winding 18 years. 1989 is a sonically cohesive hit-generator, featuring such iconic tracks as “Blank Space,” “Style,” “Shake It Off,” “Bad Blood,” “Wildest Dreams,” and we could go on. The album, though perhaps her most recognizable, is ultimately not saying much and pales in comparison to her heavier songwriting of late. Produced for mass appeal, 1989 marks the start of Swift’s working relationship with Jack Antonoff; which continues today, whether you like it or not.

7. Fearless

taylor swift fearless tour at madison square garden opening act
Theo Wargo - Getty Images

Swift’s second album and first Grammy-winning Album Of The Year, Fearless is still among her best, with tunes and prose superior to some diddies she would pen more than 10 years later. Fearless, for all its beauty, does benefit a bit from nostalgia inflation. It’s impossible to hear “White Horse,” “Breathe,” and “That’s The Way I Loved You” without being filled with the gratitude of human existence—just me?

6. Lover

For an artist whose career hinges on heartbreak, Lover is Taylor in love. In so many ways, this is the day to The Tortured Poets Department’s night. The album delivered on “London Boy,” now forever marred by TTPD’s “So Long London.” “The Man” empowers, where “Clara Bow” reflects. Lover is a solid album, responsible for two of the greatest things to exist—“Death By A Thousand Cuts” and the Eras Tour Lover bodysuits.

5. The Tortured Poets Department

Whether you’re non-stop streaming or listened once through before falling back into old habits, The Tortured Poets Department is undeniably Swift’s most Swiftian album. The album gives us Taylor the person and the product, Swift at her most actualized, with songwriting at the forefront and traceable pop culture references weaved throughout. For an artist who has made millions on relatability, she has given us a fresh body of work that is dually relatable and unrelatable. We get the universal appeal of a “So High School,” with the hyper specificity of “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived,” “Who's Afraid of Little Old Me,” “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” and “The Manuscript.”

For “But Daddy I Love Him,” Swift deserves more than flowers. The ballad harkens back to an uprising among die-hard Swifties, brought on by her public relationship with The 1975’s Matty Healy. The conversation she is having with her billion-dollar fanbase is incredibly lucid and strikingly bold for an artist that critics see as the antithesis of that. When she said “I'll tell you something about my good name, It's mine alone to disgrace,” we fell in line. Yes ma’am. Yes mom.

As for the runtime, everyone with an internet enabled phone foamed at the mouth for 10 straight minutes of “All Too Well,” and you draw the line here? Stay mad, haters. The painful truth is, if you didn’t like TTPD, it simply was not for you.

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Photo credit: Twitter

The Tortured Poets Department drops April 19!

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Photo credit: Twitter

"I've never had an album where I needed songwriting more than I needed it on Tortured Poets."

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Okay, this kiiiiinda disputes breakup album theories.

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Interesting timing!!!!!

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Joe Alwyn found shaking.

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Photo credit: Twitter

Once you see these side-by-sides, you will not be the same.

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"From 'london boy' to 'so long london'..."

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Joe Alwyn has everything to do with April 19.

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It has to do with a group chat Joe has... 👀

4. Speak Now

taylor swift speak now tour philadelphia
Kevin Mazur - Getty Images

Swift solo-wrote Speak Now at the age of 19 while touring the Fearless record, and boy did she come out swinging. The artist’s penchant for storytelling was apparent even then, with the album’s title track presenting a far-flung situation in which a 19-year-old Swift interrupts a wedding in the name of love. The album also marks the beginning of what would become a major pillar in Swift’s artistry—sharp accountability. She writes about real people in her music, making almost no effort to hide their identity. For a teenager to put out a 6-minute John Mayer diss track literally titled “Dear John”—now that’s a loud cultural statement. Speak Now is a certified no-skip piece of work.

3. Midnights

Swift’s most recent Album Of The Year, Midnights, gave us Taylor Swift the grown up. It was alcohol-induced vomiting in the “Anti-Hero” music video. It was the “Vigilante Shit” ass pop on the Eras Tour. It was the self-awareness of “Mastermind,” which we will come to remember as one of the best tracks in her songbook. It was “You’re On Your Own Kid,” which is as close as adult Swifties have come to a hymnal. The Midnights era is largely responsible for the Taylor Swift we now live under. It was, simply put, the coolest she has ever been.

2. Red

taylor swift's red tour singapore
Nicky Loh/TAS - Getty Images

Released in 2012, Red is the single most accurate representation of Taylor Swift as an artist, featuring beautifully written ballads like “All Too Well,” “Begin Again,” and “The Last Time,” coupled with radio-coded pop hits like “22” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together.” A pillar of Swift’s sonic strategy is well-considered partnerships. The artists she has collaborated with throughout her career have been predictive. For “22” to sit on the same album as a track led by Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody–this girl knows what she’s doing. When the Taylor of today collaborates with the likes of Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon, we are taken back to this album.

1. folklore

In her own words, “nostalgia is a mind’s trick.” Taylor Swift’s early work is archived forever, but her absolute best work is happening right now. With the surprise release of folklore in July 2020, Swift redefined her own self-definition as an artist. Call it cottage-core cosplay or call it unabashed authenticity, folklore changed the game completely, forcing the industry to reckon with their own definition of her. This indie-coded, songwriterly, artistic body of work is responsible for the absolute monopoly Swift holds today. With co-signs from the likes of Bon Iver and The National, the album cemented Swift as a songwriter and a storyteller, with just enough shrouded public lore for Swifties to sink their teeth into.

Credibility note: This author spent upwards of $1,000 collectively spent on Eras Tour tickets, and sings “take her home” in “the 1”’s correct cadence. That mid-tour sonic revamp epitomized female rage, before Miss Girl lost her subtlety.

Swiftie note: The trademarking of “Female Rage: The Musical” was admittedly shudder-inducing, but what of loyalty?

To rank Taylor Swift’s discography is the modern listener’s “sword in the stone.” To say, it's an impossible and daunting task. For an artist who has been on the receiving end of so much scrutiny, she’s genuinely never had a “flop era,” a fate which has befallen nearly every other pop artist. A fickle and unrelenting audience we are.

Even the weakest body of work in this list is a tour de force. It’s worth mentioning that for a high-producing artist with nearly 20 years in the game, it’s remarkable that some of her best work is her most recent work. Swift gets sharper with time, but her earlier work remains draped in nostalgia.

In researching for this story – polling every Swiftie in the phone book – we found that there is almost no consensus on a ranking of Taylor Swift’s albums. The Reputation girls will riot, the Fearless girls can’t move on, the Tortured Poets Department girls are going through something. Each of Swift’s 11 albums, which range from country to pop to singer songwriter ditties, come with their own horde of fervent fans.

All that to say, it wasn’t easy ranking these albums, and in truth, we didn’t have to! Listener analytics have one purpose in this world, and it’s Spotify Wrapped. Until then, repeat whatever track you damn well choose, even if that track is “ME!”

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