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At the end of the day, trying to narrow down Taylor Swift‘s discography to just ten songs is a fool’s errand. Swift is one of a kind — by tapping into her own emotions and stories navigating young love, coming of age, and chasing big dreams, she carved her own niche in the country music genre before evolving into a pop star for the history books.
Swift retooled the concept of fandom, too, using social media and her infamous “secret sessions” to connect with fans on a level rarely seen from artists her size. To maintain the level of success Swift has achieved for fifteen years is no small feat, either. At the end of the day, if you were to take away the tabloid stories and romantic drama, you’re left with an incredibly inventive, influential songwriter who has also been a vocal advocate for the rights of fellow artists.
So many listeners grew up with Swift, and it’s been a joy to watch her explore different genres, styles, and sides of her identity as an artist and songwriter. She lets herself experiment, whether it was in the revenge-soaked reputation or the more mature, woodland escape of folklore and evermore.
Ask ten Swifties to narrow her enormous discography down to ten songs to tell the story of her journey so far and you’d probably end up with a list of a hundred different songs. To that end, consider each track on this list a window into each era she’s offered us so far — there are so many gems in every album. (I tend to gravitate towards random b-sides, and could probably write an entire essay on “peace” if given the opportunity.)
With Taylor Swift’s tenth album on the horizon, we tried our very best to highlight ten of the tracks that speak to her discography. While we wait for Midnights, due out for release on October 21st, enjoy this tour through her catalogue, from her self-titled debut to 2020’s evermore.
Check out Taylor Swift in 10 Songs below, and scroll to the end for a playlist of every track.
I Hope You Think of Me: “Tim McGraw”
It’s the song that started it all: “Tim McGraw” was Taylor Swift’s debut single. Legend has it that Swift wrote this one while sitting in math class — daydreaming about a youthful romance while someone was trying to explain integrals? Relatable from Day 1!
“Tim McGraw” is a bit timeless, in the way that many great country songs are. While the track was a proper introduction to Swift, with her vision as a songwriter and artist already so polished beyond her years, one of the most remarkable things about this song is when Swift performed it in front of Tim McGraw himself at the 2007 ACM Awards. Swift, all of eighteen years old, looked one of the biggest artists of the genre in the eye and nailed it. The album of the same name was still a few years down the road, but Swift was already pretty fearless.
Count to Ten, Take It In: “Fifteen”
Part of the reason many listeners are so attached to Taylor Swift is the fact that so many of us feel like we grew up alongside her. Swift has always had a knack for balancing personal details with more universal experiences, making it feel like she ripped a page out of her diary and laid it over a page from the listener’s own journal to write a song.
“Fifteen” dialed into the experience of trying to navigate high school with that exact extremely personal energy. “Count to ten, take it in, this is life before you know who you’re going to be,” she says. When the time rolled around for Fearless (Taylor’s Version), an already emotional song took on extra poignancy — there’s something about hearing a woman, now in her 30s, reflect on a song she wrote in her twenties, about her teen years. The degree of removability, and the wisdom that comes with it, means that “Fifteen” continues to pack a punch to this day.
Sparks Start Flying: “Enchanted”
With such an extensive and rich catalogue, Speak Now sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. We all know Swift had a certain affinity for fairytale themes in her earlier work — something that hasn’t totally dissipated with time, only evolved — and “Enchanted” is one of the standouts from that time. Initially, Swift had imagined this song as the title track for the album, but she was advised to go in a more mature direction — there’s still plenty of youthful joy to be found in Speak Now, but “Enchanted” is one of the songs that starts to dip its toe in the waters of more mature territory.
“Please don’t be in love with someone else/ Please don’t have someone waiting on you,” she pleads on the (stellar, per usual) bridge.
We Remember It All: “All Too Well”
There’s a reason “All Too Well” has taken on an almost mythological status within the Taylor Swift canon, only elevated by the recent accompanying short film. It is some of her very best work, with one of her very best bridges — whether you prefer the original or tend to gravitate towards the 10-minute cut these days, the best line to yell is still “you call me up again just to break me like a promise/ So casually cruel in the name of being honest,” and that will just never change.
“All Too Well” remains a milestone in Swift’s discography and encapsulates so many parts of the Red era as concisely as possible. Red was a time of transition for the artist, and for many of her fans — it was the bridge between her country roots and her big pop dreams. It’s heartbreak, nostalgia, and hope for future. It’s the “miserable and magical” of growing up.
Swift may have been in a relative in-between, but “All Too Well,” like so many parts of the Red era, underscores Swift’s greatest strengths. Her pen is her sword, and she knows how to use it.
Nothing Lasts Forever: “Wildest Dreams”
The dreamscape Swift designed within 1989 is electric and addicting. It’s New York City on its very best day, written through the lens of one very happy transplant. The front half of the record is just hit after hit — “Welcome to New York” kicks off the party, “Blank Space” cascades right into the effervescent “Style,” and “Out of the Woods,” “Shake It Off,” and “Bad Blood” all appear before we’ve even hit the halfway mark of the album. There, dead center, is “Wildest Dreams,” which boasts the kind of airy melody that gets trapped in the listener’s head and refuses to shake loose. It’s a very Taylor Swift move, and one she utilized in so many moments in 1989.
Recently, TikTok prompted a resurgence of “Wildest Dreams,” which led to Swift re-recording the track as a standalone ahead of the full 1989 Taylor’s Version treatment. There are so many gems to choose from in this era of her work, but “Wildest Dreams” slides to the top of the pack.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” with ZAYN
Swift is no stranger to a great collaboration — in addition to “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” written for Fifty Shades Darker, Swift has linked up with Bon Iver, The National, HAIM, The Chicks, and her pal Ed Sheeran, among many others. It’s hard to decide which collab for film purposes is stronger when the folky, haunting “Safe & Sound,” her track with The Civil Wars for The Hunger Games, is considered.
“I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” was a definite smash, though. It became Zayn’s second top-five single, Swift’s 11th top-five single, and the highest-charting track from the Fifty Shades franchise. The dramatic, romantic song even went on to earn the pair a Grammy nomination for Best Song Written for Visual Media. Zayn’s smooth vocals, paired with Taylor’s airy offerings, were a match made in cinema OST heaven.
We Weren’t Ready For It: “Delicate”
As a reputation apologist, it’s baffling to think that there are people who consider this album some of her worst work. Just look at “Delicate” — the synths! The slow build of the beat! A tasteful use of a vocoder! “My reputation’s never been worse, so he must like me for me,” is such a sad, sweet set of lyrics. It’s the sentiment of “Delicate” — a new romance hinges on such a fragile precipice, and one wrong move — or one perfectly-timed rumor — can knock everything off course. Even if we aren’t mega-famous like Swift, where our every move is analyzed, the core of “Delicate” remains relatable and true.
Something Old, Something New: “Lover”
The title track of Swift’s seventh album is probably the strongest song on the record — justice for “Cruel Summer,” yes, but “Lover,” with its waltz tempo and echoing production choices, simply bleeds romance. “Can I go. Where? You? Go?” is the kind of line that makes love feel so uncomplicated.
Swift is known for a great bridge, and “Lover” doesn’t disappoint on that front. Naturally, this is one of the tracks produced by Swift’s dear collaborator Jack Antonoff, and the piano and drum kit are mixed in a way that makes it feel like the band is playing in the living room. Of the song, Antonoff said, “Taylor wrote every stitch of this song and came in and played it for me — just a perfect moment to hear what she had done alone the night before.”
Into the Woods: “august”
The eighth track on Swift’s eighth studio album is about the eighth month of the year, a fun fact that summarizes Taylor Swift’s attention to detail pretty well. It’s hard to pick a standout track from the jewel box of the folklore era — “cardigan” is so quintessentially swift, “mirrorball” is a treasure, and “the 1” is a breathtaking introduction to this chapter of her writing.
“august” has earned a very special place in the hearts of Swifties, though — it’s stunning in its simplicity, mourning something even before it’s ended. “For me, it was enough just to live for the hope it all,” she says. In folklore: the long pond studio sessions, a 2020 documentary for Disney+, she reveals that one line, “Meet me behind the mall,” had been sitting in her phone for years. This turn of phrase became the impetus for the song.
The Plot Thickens: “willow”
With evermore, Swift expanded on the mythology she had begun in folklore. The best listening experience for these “sister” albums, as Swift described them, is as a whole, and “willow” is the thread that binds the two chapters together, our bridge from the first half of the project to the next. “Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind,” she says over delicate strings and dreamy, wistful background vocals.
The overwhelming feeling of being caught in someone’s orbit and immediately being ready to change your entire life in order to remain there isn’t necessarily new to Swift’s work, but in evermore, partially thanks to the production choices and partially due to the emotional maturity with which she writes, it’s an idea that feels fresh and new yet again. “willow” sets the tone for the journey that remains in the rest of the record.
Taylor Swift In 10 Songs Playlist: