At the age of 32, Taylor Swift has ten chart-topping records under her belt, over 200 songs to her name and a global fanbase to sing along. The next upcoming Taylor Swift endeavor? She is going on tour for the first time since 2018 with “The Eras Tour” following the release of her Midnights album. And looking back, each Taylor Swift era has been incredibly distinct and showed another side of the artist. In anticipation of her return to the stage, which she has described as a journey through each of her albums thus far, I thought I would attempt to rank her work over the years.
I’ve been a Swiftie since I was ten years old, discovering her at the very beginning of her career with “Teardrops On My Guitar”. The first album I bought with my own money was her debut 2006 album and this month I unwrapped her Midnights vinyl. That being said, I firmly believe that choosing one’s favorite Taylor Swift album is incredibly subjective and I wouldn’t expect you to have the same opinions of this ranking. Music is personal to each of us. I encourage you to check out my own thoughts and then determine how yours compare. I also want to prime this by saying that in doing this I realized that Taylor Swift has never really had a miss. All of her eras are incredible in their own ways, so this posed a challenge. Let’s get to it:
9. The Debut Era
Aww, baby Taylor. This was our girl’s first and purest form. The real ones started their Swiftie journey as the singer donned mermaid-like flowing curls, glittery eye makeup and cool-colored dresses, buying her CD to encode the lyrics' hidden messages. This was just the beginning, and the reason this is at the bottom of the list comes down to Taylor Swift growing so much as a person and artist since putting out her early hits like “Tim McGraw,” “Our Song” and “Teardrops On My Guitar.” In her debut era, she was just 16 and she caught on with audiences right away with her charm, style and catchy tunes. Fortunately for Swift, her early songs were only a jumping off point to become an iconic songwriter of a generation. It was all uphill from here and that’s not easy to accomplish in the music industry.
8. The Reputation Era
In my many years as a Taylor Swift fan (since day one), this was the first and only album cycle that lost me when it rolled out. After the pop goodness of 1989, this era had Swift really leaning further into the pop game with more collabs, group dance numbers and frankly, overproduced music videos. The way she went about it came off as especially dramatic, out of character and a tad tacky to me at first. But, later on I got into the many bops on this record, many of which were not even the singles, like “Dress” and “Don’t Blame Me.” I realized that Swift not only needed a villain era, but she absolutely owned it. The Reputation era took Swift to a dark place and I’m so happy she pulled back the sparkles and went for it.
7. The Speak Now Era
Bouncing on back to Swift’s country pop days came her third studio album, Speak Now, in 2010. After her viral success as a teen, in both music and pop culture, this was her first record of her 20s. Looking back, it was truly all over the place as she experimented with different sounds and deeper themes. And, there’s an intriguing juxtaposition between her sparkly outfits of the Speak Now era, sweet love songs like “Mine” and “Sparks Fly” with the heart wrenching deep emotions in “Dear John” with lyrics (“Don't you think nineteen's too young to be played by your dark twisted games, when I loved you so?"), calling out her bullies in the playful “Mean” and finding empathy for her MTV moment with Kanye West with “Innocent.” Swift really carved out a voice for herself here that continues to echo through her subsequent work.
6. The Lover Era
After being a singer for so many years best known for writing the best breakup tunes, Lover feels like the album that proved that she let happiness and love in and let that bleed into her music with absolute confidence. The singer dug herself out of a more intense pop era in Reputation to find the diamonds of her Lover era. Not only does the 2019 album balance its theme with a full spectrum of speaking on romance like in “Paper Rings,” self love with “Me!”, along with platonic love (“It’s Nice To Have A Friend” and “Soon You’ll Get Better"), it also signaled Swift’s decision to use her platform to speak on politics, by raising up the LGBTQ+ community with “You Need To Calm Down” and her song “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince”. Swift’s Lover era radiated positivity and levity, alongside more thoughtful music from the artist. It’s just too bad this era never received its intended tour due to COVID-19.
5. The Midnights Era
Upon my first listen to Taylor Swift’s Midnights, I heard a combination of sounds I’d heard during her Reputation, 1989 and Lover eras. As Twitter user @adorkablyswift so eloquently put it, it’s like she took all “the best aspects” of those albums, rolled it into a joint, “smoked it and hot boxed us all.” At first I wasn’t convinced Midnights was among the singer’s best work (and hey, this still may be recency bias), but ever since her tenth studio album has come out, I can’t get it out of my ears. And, the content keeps getting richer as you dive into Swift’s album concept. In addition to a ton of incredible Midnight tunes, even with TV-inspired meanings, including the massive bonus 3am version and the videos, she is directing herself, it all feels much more honest than anything she’s ever put out before. We went from some extremes with Reputation and Lover to a really authentic place with Midnights.
4. The Red Era
Taylor Swift’s 2012 album, Red, followed up Speak Now with even more leanings toward mainstream pop and I believe a second wave of Swifties formed thanks to the many hits during this era. Red is a very distinct era, with an impressive batch of songs that feels like a fall afternoon and reminds one of the singer’s influential fashion of fedora hats, high-waisted black shorts, heart sunglasses and bright red lipstick. Plus, I’ll give you three words: All. Too. Well. It’s arguably Taylor Swift’s best song and it’s been so satisfying to see the ten minute version come out, take it on another level along with her short film starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien.
3. The Fearless Era
Swift’s 2008 second album, Fearless album meant too much to me at the time it came out for it to make the top three. At just 19 years old, the singer took over the charts with viral hits like “Love Story,” “You Belong With Me” and “White Horse” and it was so big, new and really felt like an especially exciting time to be a fan of the artist. My true love for Fearless was really cemented when Taylor’s Version came out in 2021. The entire record is full of beautiful songwriting that shows a woman wise beyond her years and really feels like a soundtrack for what it can be like to come of age. It was a time when Swift really found a name for herself in our culture without the additional baggage that would weigh on the artist over the years too.
2. The 1989 Era
Just short of the top spot is Taylor Swift’s fifth album, 2014’s 1989, which was named after the year she was born and signaled a time of rebirth for her. Ahead of this era, there was a lot of talk surrounding if Swift would make the move to pop considering the content in Speak Now and Red. With 1989, Swift really went there with an ‘80s influenced record that is among her best collective work to date. Swift was in her mid-twenties and living it up as a resident in New York City and traded her flowing dresses and long locks for side-swept bangs, shorter hair and pop-star wear. Between the videos, fashion and collection of songs, 1989 remains one of her most successful concepts, including in terms of her girl gang and tons of amazing artists being along for the ride, in promotion and on tour.
1. The Folklore/Evermore Era
Coming at No. 1 for this Swiftie is the most surprising and lonely era for Taylor Swift and her fans, 2020’s folklore and evermore moment. Following the singer finding herself in quarantine like the rest of us and her Lover tour getting canceled, she decided to write, produce and drop two albums without much build-up except for a few things here and there. With those decisions, Swift was stripped from having a traditional era and album roll out, and yet, I find it to be her most dense, enrapturing and beautiful pair of albums she’s ever made. With this era, Swift showed that she oozes talent without the elaborate outfits, video storylines and so forth. She created her own world with folklore and evermore under her own volition, and during a time when she certainly could have sat back and taken a much needed break from it all.
Talk about a career! I’ll be curious to see how she weaves all these distinct eras during her 2023 tour and how this list may change as more of her albums get re-released. Either way, it’s certainly been a journey for fans of her music as she’s reinvented herself, music and consistently made great music.
YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.