Taylor Swift: All 8 albums ranked, including Folklore

Taylor Swift has a new album out, maybe you heard?

Announced with hours to go until its release on Thursday, Folklore is a lo-fi affair, and is soaking up some of the greatest acclaim Taylor’s ever achieved.

But how does it stack up to her other albums?

As a pop artist, Taylor Swift is most definitely an album artist – her singles may be great, but albums allow her to show off her intricate talents as a composer and a lyricists. Her LPs are more than just stories, they are time capsules to a certain point in her life.

So, with a bit of space between Folklore’s release, I thought it was high time we ranked all eight studio albums that Taylor Swift has released.

And let’s begin with…

8. Taylor Swift (2006)

Taylor Swift is imbued with the naivety and doe-eyed grace that only a teenage songwriter could conjure up, but its right to consider this a juvenile and at times flawed album.

That being said, what were you doing when you were 15? Could you write a song as good as Teardrops On My Guitar? I don’t think so either.

Even now, 14 years on, you can see how Taylor’s self-titled debut kind of sets out the map for the things she would go on to explore throughout her career.

Fearless would expand on the wide-eyed innocence of this album’s content, but some of the melodies constructed here are imbued with the pop stylings and ambition of later works like Red and 1989.

Best Song: Teardrops on my Guitar

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7. Lover (2019)

Lover was ruined for me with its opening single – Me! (“!”) is not only Taylor’s worst single, but one of the worst pop songs ever written. Like, ever. It’s cloying, uncouth and childish – everything Taylor, as a pop act, fought hard not to be.

But as bad as Me! is, Lover is billed as an artistic re-birth for Taylor, even though it’s not as intelligent as her previous work.

There are redeeming features here, however, Cruel Summer is one of her greatest post-Reputation statements, even though it bizarrely was never chosen to be released as a single.

Too long and overly simple in parts, Lover needed to be a necessary course correction for Taylor, but it only succeeds in muddying her place in the current pop landscape.

For an artist whole two previous pop albums made commercial top 40 music no-one else was making, Lover sounds like something any pop star within the last two years could have released, and that’s its biggest failing.

Best Song: Cruel Summer

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6. Fearless (2008)

I read Fearless as Taylor’s attempts to make a Shania Twain album.

The shadow of Shania looms large in Tay’s early career – she is the blueprint, really, that any country act looking to break into the mainstream wants to follow.

Though there’s not nearly anything as fun as That Don’t Impress Me Much or Man! I Feel Like A Woman here, this is the first time pop really starts to creep in in a big way.

You Belong With Me still bangs hard, but the best song here is obviously Love Story, a nice summarisation of Taylor’s obsession with both love as a concept and the power of storytelling.

She made bigger and better albums, but there’s something very easy to love about the plucky, scrappy idealism contained here that still shines through today.

Best Song: Love Story

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5. 1989 (2014)

Up until a year ago, 1989 was my favourite Taylor Swift album.

It contains my favourite Taylor Swift songs (it actually contains my favourite song of all time, ever but we’ll get to that), it helped her to become the biggest pop star by sheer force of will and it is, as I said last year, the perfect pop album for the perfect pop star.

1989 is based around the greatest infatuation Taylor has a songwriter, and that’s love. What love means, what it means to be in love, and more crucially for this album, what it means to be out of it.

Songs like Blank Space, Out Of The Wood and Clean manage to look at love from increasingly new and unique perspective’s whether that’s through an exaggerated fictional lense or extended metaphors.

But 1989 is not a perfect album, not by any means. Its high points, for sure, are high, even though its opening track is weak and as soon as you pass the half-way point, things trail off a bit.

It’s not her best body of work, but its definitely her most ambitious. And most importantly of all, it contains Style.

A masterpiece of shuddering beauty, it not only contains the perfect melding of Taylor’s outlook as a writer with the razor-sharp production flourishes of Swedish svengali Max Martin, it might just be her best song ever (that’s not a question, it really is, sorry).

Best Song: Style

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4. Speak Now (2010)

Speak Now has one writer throughout. Just one. That’s Taylor Swift.

There’s minimum interference and maximum immersion in her third album, a spectacular achievement for any artist, not just one who at the time of its release, was barely turning 20.

Speak Now is peak early-career Taylor Swift before she learned the art of subtlety or diversion. The stories told here are real and about real people and experiences, it’s so confessional, you might as well have stolen the diary from her hands.

If 1989 and Reputation would come to be defined by Taylor’s public persona as a self-confessed serial dater, then Speak Now is the inspiration for that myth – its the first time Taylor truly presented her own experience to the world and invited them in to dissect, discuss and gossip around her.

Whether this was wise is not for you or I to argue, but Speak Now’s genesis and construction remains all the more unique in the modern pop landscape. That deserves to be celebrated still.

Best Song: Mine

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3. Reputation (2017)

All great art is misunderstood in its time, and Reputation is no exception.

Braggadocios, bold and intensely focused, this is Taylor at her most uncompromising. I always think its best to view Reputation as a concept album of two halves – the first told through a villainous alter-ego and the second aiming to re-build her reputation anew, from the ground up.

It’s certainly, I would argue, her most accomplished work as a pop songwriter. Instead of focusing on the storytelling aspect of her lyricism that’s reflected in her earlier works, Reputations finds Taylor and frequent collaborator Max Martin instead focusing on intense flashes of emotion related to certain memories rather ripping out pages from her diary.

Look What You Made Me Do, especially, was derided at the time but I actually think it’s her most efficient lead single, certainly her most effective statement of intent, it’s a post-modern, Right Said Fred-sampling, gothic masterpiece of a pop track, constructed like a cathedral and soaked in a veneer of blood.

Reputation may, for some, be a lesson in hubris but for me its success (or lack, of depending which camp you sit in) hinges on Taylor’s singular commitment to her art. Sometimes, you half to burn it all down to start again.

Best Song: Look What You Made Me Do

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2. Red (2012)

Red is often marked as the point Taylor transitioned from a country ingenue to a pop darling, but the roots of her transformation were always there if you looked hard enough at her melodies and lyrics.

If Red felt like a bold move at the time, it now feels like something that was really inevitable – of course, Taylor would end up here, and of course the first chance she took to meld her very specific brand of artistry with pop hooks, something strange and wonderful would happen.

Sonically, Red is all over the place in the best way possible. There’s grand, stately country ballads (State of Grace), irreverent bubblegum pop (We Are Never Ever…) and even a splash of EDM before it became gauche (I Knew You Were Trouble).

At the time of Red’s release, Taylor describes it as her effort to try and bottle a feeling, as well as an album about how love and loss go hand in hand.

Obviously, its greatest legacy is All Too Well – Taylor’s greatest technical achievement, and the kind of devastatingly personal odyssey that rightly heralded the conversation that she should be included in the pantheon of great modern American songwriters like Dylan and Springsteen.

Best Song: All Too Well

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1. Folklore (2020)

It seems naive, foolish even to name an artists’ most recent release as their best, but I believe that Folklore is, and will continue to be for some time, Taylor Swift’s best album.

It’s most cohesive body of work, with the strongest interior narrative of all her LPs and a world that feels truly lived in.

Folklore seems like the album Taylor had to make at this moment in time, it reconnects her to her craft in the best way possible – it’s, more than anything else, a tribute to the art of storytelling and the power memories have over us.

Full of myth-making both in the personal and contextual sense, Folklore weaves in stories from Taylor’s own life, but also includes characters she’s created and figures of history whose steps she find herself walking in.

It’s already being hailed as her ‘indie’ album but I think this is a bit insincere – the melodies present here are as iron-clad as anything included in 1989 and the whole thing shakes with the kind of ambition only a true pop star has.

I can see the influences that act as tentpoles for Folklore’s construction – namely Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger In The Alps and Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love – and this only deepens the meaning for me. All three of these works seek to transform the world around them and create new points of view, new stories.

With Folklore, Taylor does just that. The mythology written here is one of love, lust and tragedy. Most songwriters spend their entire lives trying to find the perfect words or phrases to summise a feeling as powerful as love.

Here, Taylor argues that that really doesn’t matter at all – the only way for love to truly last is through stories themselves. Or else, much like life itself, the emotions and memories associated are inevitably lost, like fog dissipating through the trees in a forest.

Best Song: Invisible String

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Folklore is available now via Republic Records.

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