To say I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard a song by Taylor Swift would make it sound as though I am a diehard Swiftie, a dedicated fan with an obsessive knowledge of Taylor Swift’s life, loves, cats and #squad.
The truth is, though I don’t consider myself a member of her allegiant fan club, I am definitely a listener and I have been for years. The first time hearing a Taylor Swift song isn’t notable to me in the way that it profoundly changed my life or that it had me running to the store to buy her album, but it’s notable because it did symbolize the beginning of an era, the catalyst of a huge chapter in music and pop culture.
Taylor Swift’s debut album was released 10 years ago today, and ever since its release, Swift has dominated radios. Whether you love her, hate her, or have dated her, there is no escaping her. She is everywhere, whether it’s in her triumphant, record-breaking album sales, in sensationalized headlines, or in leaked Snapchat videos.
And beyond all of that, there are the lyrics that have backed up Taylor Swift’s success. I am the first to admit that Taylor Swift’s vocals and some of her practices are less than spectacular, but I will never claim that when I listen to some of her music I don’t feel things. At times it can be joy and at others heartbreak. She is a talented songwriter with a knack for capturing the many emotions that accompany relationships, whether they’re of friendship, family, first or former love.
The first time I heard Taylor Swift I was 13. My cousin, who was around 15, was laying on her stomach and saying, “it hurts,” as she sobbed about a boyfriend she had broken up with… on MySpace. It was 2006. It was dramatic. She pressed play and “Tim McGraw,” Swift’s first single, began to play, the soft guitar chords adding a melancholy energy to the already mournful room. I laid down on the floor and listened to the lyrics and as my cousin bemoaned what seemed to be was a great loss in her life, I felt the power of Taylor Swift in singing about things that resonated with the experiences of so many people. Taylor Swift was singing about love gained and love lost. And she still is.
In honor of 10 years since the release of Taylor Swift’s debut self-titled album, here are my picks for the 10 best Taylor Swift songs. These are obviously based on my opinion, so I invite you to choose your own, and there are plenty of choices from which you can pick a fave. And if you don’t have any, then I invite you to try escaping the melodies of Taylor Swift… Maybe (just maybe) in 10 more years you’ll succeed, but it doesn’t look like you’re going to be hearing the last of Taylor Swift anytime soon.
10. “New Romantics”
“New Romantics” isn’t a song about love. It’s not about heartbreak or falling for someone new.
It’s about friendship, fun and feeling free. It’s a perfect, catchy summer anthem and I’d call it arguably one of the best songs on 1989. This is Swift at her most carefree, which, for a popstar that manages and engineers every aspect of her image and narrative, doesn’t happen very often.
“Ours” is a musical example of character growth. Taylor Swift has gone from feeling self-conscious and nervous to a stage in which she can laugh off the naysayers and haters. In this song, Swift learns to forget what people say about her and her relationships with the comfort and help of a boy, but it’s a stepping stone to get to “Shake It Off” and “New Romantics.”
This is also a bit of a rebellious song disguised by Swift’s cutesy melodies and dreamy instrumentals. She’s saying she doesn’t care what the public says, and she’s also saying she’ll date who she wants… even if he has tattoos.
Think of this song as the one you might listen to when you date someone you know your parents might not like… but it doesn’t make him any less alluring or exciting.
8. “Forever & Always”
This one is for the clingers. I see you, I am one of you.
It’s upbeat, it’s angry. He said he’d be there forever… and he left!? Hell no.
“Forever & Always” is the sonic reincarnation of the moment in Legally Blonde when Elle Woods throws the chocolates at the TV screen and screams, “LIAR!” Summarily, it’s a bitter kiss-off to a person that made promises they didn’t keep and it’s also questioning whether they ever intended to keep them at all.
He ghosted you? Give this a listen.
Who wasn’t 15 thinking about love like this? It’s embarrassing, sure. But it’s also true. So many of us thought that high school would be the time of finding our first love and possibly THE ONE. In reality, that didn’t come true for most of us, other than some of our hometown Facebook friends.
I particularly appreciate Swift possibly cluing us into a good friend losing her virginity to a boy “who changed his mind” but I’m making assumptions as to that lyric and will stay in my lane, as it’s all up for interpretation.
6. “Our Song”
Let’s face it: this song is silly. It has the Pennsylvania-born Swift singing in a country twang about teenage puppy love. But not everything has to be serious or emotional. Taylor Swift is fun and young in this one and she isn’t afraid of divulging the small details of romance only for us to look back on now and giggle at.
It’s Taylor Swift before she started dating A-list celebs, and for those of us who haven’t broken up with Harry Styles, it’s by far the most relatable in terms of upbeat teen love songs.
5. “Begin Again”
This was a Taylor Swift song that said something different than her usual breakup anthems.
This song is hopeful, it’s resilient. It speaks of first dates, new loves, a boy that laughs at your jokes and holds the door for you when you get in the car. It does these things without bitterness or anger, but in a factual matter that feels like it’s smiling in the face of the future, not crying in the midst of the past.
It’s not as polarizing, not as dramatic, not classic Swift, but still moving.
I will admit that I’m a little biased in the placement of this one, as it’s a personal favorite of mine. I know not everyone loves it quite as much, but I stand by it as an amazing Taylor Swift song to sing-shout in the car on a long drive.
My main letdown here was the music video. This song has such a strong narrative and had so much potential for a music video that told an amazing, dark and glamorous story.
It’s redeemed by the oft-misheard lyric, “the lights are off, he’s taking off his coat,” which I thought was “taking off his clothes” for a good six months and was convinced was leading us to a sexier side of Taylor Swift. In due time, my friends, in due time.
3. “Blank Space”
One of the greatest staying powers in celebrity is self-awareness. Stars that lack self-awareness of the public’s perception of them are not only irritatingly pretentious, they are also unable to sustain.
This song is the penultimate of Swift self-awareness. And it goes beyond awareness to create a song that mocks us for mocking her. Have we made fun of her long list of ex-lovers? Have we called her insane? Yes, as a public we’ve done both of those things.
Swift is making sure we are not only aware of the lens from which we’ve decided to view her, she wants us to know she’s conscious of it and wants us to sing along as she plays a joke on us… It’s fun, catchy and the music video is a gem.
2. “Last Kiss”
This is my go-to cry song. You know those songs that you listen to when you’re in a sad place or haven’t had a good cry in a while, so you turn them on to remind yourself you have emotions and you listen and take a moment to feel? Just me? Ok, either way, this song is amazing. And it’s long, but it contains what feels like a whole story, beginning to end.
1. “All Too Well”
This song is Taylor Swift’s most heartbreakingly relatable and skillfully written lyricism. It’s written from a post-breakup perspective at the peak of emotion, beginning with a murmur and reaching its tantamount with a shouting cry. This song sounds like an audible range of emotions, fueled primarily by Swift’s lyrics, building from soft lamentation to yelling, emotional recollection and then a final searing, sniffling calm.
“You call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest.” I mean, holy sh*t.