In honor of Red (Taylor’s Version) being released today, I thought it would be the perfect time to share my top 13 Taylor Swift songs. If you’re somehow surprised that I’m a Swiftie…why are you surprised? The woman is a lyrical genius and I wrote a very long blog post about it last year.
Anyways, I’m gonna stop rambling here and get into the list. It’s way too hard for me to pick a definitive favorite so this isn’t in any particular order.
I ALMOST DO
There’s something about the way this song was put together that makes my heart happy. It’s one of those stare-out-your-window-on-a-rainy-day-and-pretend-you’re-in-a-music-video songs.
Taylor depicts the struggle of self-control so beautifully here. The sense of wanting to reach out and knowing it’s not the right choice. Wanting someone else to know how badly it hurts while not being able to say the words. Each moment you pick up the phone and force yourself to put it back down. Even the sense of pleading with the other person to understand that you’re not the bad guy for ending things because you’re in pain too.
The line “I bet it never, ever occurred to you that I can’t say hello to you and risk another goodbye” hits so hard each time I hear it. In fact, 80% of my love for this song lies in this one line. I don’t know how it’s possible to hear it and not feel that twinge in your heart.
When I went through my breakup, this was a song I had on repeat quite a bit. Not so much because my ex was worth running back to, but because the lyrics summed up how I felt about trying to explain to someone else why it wasn’t easy on me either.
ALL TOO WELL
This had to be on the list. We can’t talk about Taylor Swift's masterpieces without talking about this song. Critics say this is one of her best works and I agree. Lyrically, it doesn’t just depict the story of a relationship, it gives a glimpse into private emotions and memories of something shared between two special people.
Those unfamiliar with the backstories around her music probably think it’s just another song about heartbreak, and they’d be wrong. It’s not just about heartbreak. This is about someone letting you down while making you believe that they loved you. It’s that moment when you realize you’ve planned a life with someone decided you’re not part of their future anymore. Also, it’s a song about how Taylor deserved better than Jake Gyllenhaal (for goodness’ sake, the man decided not to show up for her 21st birthday).
The build-up to the bridge is pure magic, in my opinion. Sure, I’ve never experienced anything like this, but that doesn’t stop me from taking on the most heartbroken voice I can just to rage-belt this out at an imaginary man who robbed me of a love story for the ages. No matter how many times I’ve sung this, and it’s a lot, I still manage to feel the raw emotion of the words. You can’t deny that “You called me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in name of being honest” isn’t one of the greatest lines she’s ever written.
Other favorite lines include:
- I’d like to be myself again but I’m still trying to find it.
- Maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much, but maybe this thing was a masterpiece til’ you tore it all up (yes Andrew, I will fight you about the wording of this line and its magnificence)
And yes, the 10-minute version is entirely worth it too.
SAFE AND SOUND
If I were forced to pick one of her songs as my favorite, this one just might be it. She captured the intricacies of Katniss and Primrose’s sibling relationship so beautifully and made it sound like a lullaby. Though it’s not the kind of song people think of in relation to The Hunger Games, I think it highlights the one thing people often forget about the story - Katniss’ sacrifice was out of love for her sister. The entire foundation of the story is wrapped within the 4:00 of this song.
One of the reasons I love is because I very much understand what it’s like to reassure and protect a younger sibling. This feels like that. It feels like the pretending so they don’t have to worry, the reassurance that nothing bad will happen to them, the willingness to do anything for their safety.
I remember the day this dropped - how I did everything to download it (back in the days of Limewire) and how it became my most listened-to song within 24 hours. I remember hearing the way Taylor sang “just close your eyes” and marveling at the whispery-lilt that I still can’t achieve now. This was the song that solidified my love for her music and showed me that her talent was far beyond writing love songs.
To this day, I get chills when I hear the opening guitar picking and the “Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, oh, oh” from the bridge. Perhaps it's the ethereal tone of the whole song, the way it sounds like an angry lullaby of a promise, how it allows Taylor to show off her vocal control with whisper-words at the end of her lines. I consider this one of her most underrated songs, but that’s okay because it means I get to show it more love.
This song also has one of the most beautiful harmonies out of any of her songs. If you haven’t already heard it, I’d highly recommend looking up the YouTube and TikTok videos featuring the heavenly harmonies.
Okay okay, I have to admit that this one is because I have a soft spot for comparing experiences to colors. Some things feel like colors and this is one of those things.
The lines “forgetting him is like trying to know somebody you never met” and “Touching him was like realizing all you ever wanted was right there in front of you. Memorizing him was as easy as knowing all the words to your old favorite song” resonate with me the most. I know what that feels like. Especially trying to forget someone when you’ve memorized who they are.
I don’t think there’s a way to explain exactly how this captures me each time I listen to it. It’s not that it reminds me of one person or one experience. I don’t understand what driving in a Maserati is like either. What appeals to me at the end of the day, I think, is the desire to experience a love so wild and passionate because I’ve never had it. The song fulfills my longing for someone to show me how vibrant a relationship can be when someone else shows you that you’re worth it.
BACK TO DECEMBER
Ahh, the song about regret. Sure, my greatest regret in life is not buying a particular black dress, but that’s beside the point.
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about the “what ifs” and “could have beens,” I understand what it’s like to replay something over and over again to see where I could have changed things. And there are things I would go back to change if I could.
That being said, to me, this is more about unsaid things than about regret. Critics called it the first apology song Taylor ever wrote to an ex, but I’ve always felt like it was a way to admit a mistake. They’re not the same thing. Even though the song opens with Taylor seeing her ex again, the event never actually took place. Rather, this is her version of how things would go if she had the chance to speak with him again. To say all the words she locked away until it was too late.
In my case, it wouldn’t be speaking to an ex or changing the end of a relationship. My unsaid words would be things I was too afraid to tell people, things I wanted someone else to understand. Maybe even the chance to tell someone that he’s not half the man he thinks he is.
I KNEW YOU WERE TROUBLE (TAYLOR’S VERSION)
Have you ever had someone re-write a song for you on your birthday? That’s what my friends did for me with this song. Because it was widely known that it was my favorite when I was 16. The version my friends sang is unfortunately nowhere to be found. Once upon a time, I had the lyrics tucked away, but many moves have resulted in it being lost. Just know that it was a great birthday present and I still think of it each year.
While the concept of getting involved with someone who is trouble isn’t something I’ve ever done, I have made decisions that I knew weren’t right. This reminds me of those decisions and the aftermath.
The entire second verse could be about a particular person I know. Someone who knowingly used and hurt me and convinced themselves that they did nothing wrong. I live with the responsibility of my decision, but they have to live with knowing what they’re capable of.
And in all honesty, this song is, as the kids would say, a bop. It slaps. Whatever the cool phrase is nowadays for good music, this is it. You can’t tell me that listening to this doesn’t make you want to break things and yell at someone.
NO BODY, NO CRIME
It’s a song about getting away with murder, do I really need to say more? My true-crime-loving heart could (and has) listen to this all day and be content. The fact that it’s one of my favorite songs is also a pretty good warning to anyone who thinks about messing with me or the people I care about. I’ve seen enough crime shows to make it look like a crime never happened.
(For legal reasons, this is a joke. I’m not planning a murder.)
How it took Taylor nine albums to write a country song about killing a man is beyond me. I feel like that’s a hallmark of country music - taking revenge. Okay, she was young when she was still writing country-pop songs, but I feel like this song could have fit beautifully into her reputation era of angry music too.
Of all the songs off evermore, this is my favorite. Nothing else comes close. The lyrics, the musicality, the story - everything about this song is perfect.
THE MOMENT I KNEW (TAYLOR'S VERSION)
If there’s anything that convinces me Jake Gyllenhaal is not a likable person, it’s this song. If you like him as an actor, that’s fine. But let’s agree that leaving your girlfriend on the night of her 21st birthday is a shitty thing to do.
I love everything about this song. The lyrics, the instrumentals, hearing the realization Taylor had that she’d been stood up on one of the biggest nights of her life. Everything about this song screams of the disappointment you experience in your early twenties when a guy disappoints you in a new way. Admittedly, I love channeling all my teenage angst into singing this, pretending I have someone to direct this level of disappointment toward.
Writing-wise, this isn’t her most sophisticated work, but the straightforward sentences pack a major punch. Tell me the line “I try not to fall apart, and the sinking feeling starts as I say hopelessly, “He said he'd be here”” doesn’t make you feel something. How am I supposed to listen to this song and not feel that gut-wrenching moment?
Much like Safe and Sound, if you forced me to pick a favorite song, I might pick this. I don’t know what it is about this song that speaks to me so much but I’ve spent many, many hours listening to it on repeat and will gladly continue to do so.
Ooof, this one hits close to home. The idea that you would have chosen someone if they wanted to be there, and them deciding not to be. Having someone in your life who was almost perfect but not quite. Knowing that it could have been so much more except for the fact that it’s not.
I have a habit of unrequited feelings for guys and this song…this song is one person in particular. Nothing has captured what it feels like as much as this song. From the moment I heard it on folklore’s release day, I knew that it would be my favorite off the album. Over a year later, it’s still my favorite and I come back to this more than any other song on the tracklist.
Another reason it’s so close to my heart is that I read Six of Crows when the album came out. I had the whole thing on repeat while I read the book, and this reminded me of Kaz and Inej. Not the whole thing, but the concept of being telling someone that they could be “the one” if they chose to be, to remind them that what you have is special and unique. And since I want to find the Kaz Brekker to my Inej Ghafa, this song has etched its way into my heart.
If you’d asked me about my favorite Taylor Swift song before I had to sit down and think about all the songs I loved before folklore, this definitely would have been my answer. There was a period of time when I thought it was my absolute favorite, but then I had to admit that most of the songs that I’ve kept close to my heart are from Red and they all tied for first place.
THE LAKES (ORIGINAL VERSION)
Why they didn’t just release this version instead of the one we got on folklore is entirely beyond me. The violins are what make this version superior and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.
There’s a whimsical, ethereal quality to this version (how many times can I say that word in three sentences?) that I love so much. It’s very similar to what I love about Safe and Sound but less like a lullaby and more like a wish whispered to the wind. And of all her songs about running away from celebrity life for something peaceful instead, this makes me want that for her the most. Hearing the way she talks about the media’s scrutiny of her life, it’s heartbreaking. Yes, she chose to be in the spotlight, but that doesn’t change how draining and demeaning it can be to have your entire life at the fingertips of anyone who Googles your name.
On my more mopey days, I can relate to her desire to run off to a quiet English village and vanish from the hustle and bustle. But then I remember that I’m too much of a city girl for that. Still, this appeals to the part of me that wishes life weren’t so difficult, that there wasn’t an expectation for me to make something of myself. That I didn’t have the desire to be remembered for something I’ve achieved.
Favorite lines from this include:
- Is it romantic how all my elegies eulogize me?
- I’ve come too far to watch some namedropping sleaze tell me what are my words worth.
- I want to watch wisteria grow right over my bare feet ‘cause I haven't moved in years.
EXILE (FT. BON IVER)
Every relationship has two sides and this captures that perfectly. Two opinions of why something ended. One person who is still holding on and another person who has already let go. One person who thinks the relationship ended abruptly and the other who felt like they gave plenty of chances. I love the way everything about this song plays with contrasts.
There’s little for me to say about this one other than simply loving it. During my first listen of the album, this was another song that stood out to me and quickly solidified itself as one of my top songs. Apart from the 1, this might be my most replayed song from the album. And yes, I do try singing both parts even though I can’t actually do it. Try as I might, my voice just doesn’t go that low.
Hearing “I think I’ve seen this film before, and I didn’t like the ending” resonates with me in a different way than the song intended. I feel like I’ve experienced more of Bon Iver’s part, minus the breakup. Like I said earlier, I have a bad habit of developing unrequited feelings for guys who choose other women over me. It doesn’t surprise me when it happens, but it does feel like that line, and no, the ending never gets easier.
This reminds me of the Asian myth of the Red String of Fate. Though I don’t believe that it exists or that there’s “the one,” I do believe that there are special people whose lives line up with yours so perfectly that it feels like fate, divine intervention, destiny (a horse?), or whatever else you might believe in.
More than anything, I enjoy the sentimentality of thinking about someone this way. Of knowing that so many things had to happen for you to meet and have it all fall into place. That things like this can feel like magic. It’s also my little wish that I’d meet someone (not creepy) while reading in a park.
I reflect on this concept when I write. Being a fan of slow-burn romances, most of my stories feature two characters who don’t get together immediately. If their paths cross again, something might happen. But it’s never that simple for them because that would lack drama for the story. I like playing with how much I can tangle a string between two characters to see if they’re meant to be. Like the song says, for them “Hell was the journey that brought me Heaven.”
I wish, I wish so badly that this song was there for me during my teens and college years. Putting into words the pain of ending a relationship but recognizing that there were good things too. That it wasn’t all bad and choosing to allow both sides to coexist.
Admittedly, I tend to look at the end of any relationship with more negativity for how things didn’t work out, whether that be romantic or platonic. But hearing this song last year reminded me that it’s possible to remember and acknowledge the good parts without pretending the bad things didn’t happen.
“There'll be happiness after you, but there was happiness because of you. Both of these things can be true. There is happiness.”
No relationship is without its faults on both sides. Neither is exempt from pain when things end. Yet, there is always hope that happiness can be found again. And for my often pessimistic mind, this song reminds me to look for silver linings.
Soooo…..almost half of this list was off Red, which makes sense because it was my favorite album before folklore was released last year.
It was a lot of fun putting this list together. Choosing the songs was quite a challenge and took over three weeks. I was still tweaking it earlier today as I started writing the post. And by no means is this the full list of my favorites, there are so many more songs that have a special place in my heart. You can rest assured that I’ll have a Part 2 to this list sometime in the future.