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… Ready for it? Power ranking Taylor Swift’s lead singles

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Arts Editor | Senior Staff

APRIL 09, 2021

Does Taylor Swift ever sleep? This past year has been a stream of nonstop pop from Swift, who blessed us with three albums in a six-month span. With her first rerecorded album Fearless (Taylor’s Version) dropping today, let’s reflect on Swift’s incredible 15-year career with a power ranking of her nine lead singles.

9. “Me!” featuring Brendon Urie, Lover (2019)

Even for some of the most dedicated Swifties, it’s not too difficult to admit that “Me!” is pretty much a hot mess. The song, symbolic of Swift shedding her Reputation snakeskin, overcompensates for the era shift by being excruciatingly bubbly. Swift’s unfortunate “Spelling is fun!” bridge crumbles beneath her feet, solidifying “Me!” as a glittery, gummy pop song that should’ve stayed in Jojo Siwa’s notes app. Also, Brendon Urie?

8. “Look What You Made Me Do,” Reputation (2017)

The definition of a cultural reset, “Look What You Made Me Do” drives a stake through 1989’s digestible pop heart. The song gleams vengefully, the malevolent side to the seemingly perfect pop star. The hyperbolic track, however, is somewhat of a paradox as both the best and worst song on Reputation: While Swift’s songwriting satisfies here, her purposefully melodramatic obsession with karma feels a little too sensational. “Look What You Made Me Do” is a bit of an anomaly — it defines the Reputation era, but it also drags it down.

7. “Shake It Off,” 1989 (2014)

“Shake It Off” pulls off what “Me!” couldn’t. Here, Swift embraces “the girl on the bleachers” persona wholeheartedly, managing to infuse her bubblegum break/fake/shake rhyme with ebullience. 1989 Swift grinned from ear to ear, peppy and comfortable in her own skin. She laughs with her haters, not at them, and her high-spirited self-awareness makes this track refreshing despite its more cheesy qualities. Although Swift’s off-putting rap bridge goes a little bit too far, let’s just be thankful that there’s no “Shake It Off” Glee cover.

6. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Red (2012)

I’m telling you, I’m telling you: “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is the gem of Swift’s breakup anthems. As if recounting her breakup to a friend over the phone, Swift shares her exasperation with an exhausted sigh. The song is dramatic but declarative, its repetition mirroring the cyclic nature of her ill-fated relationship. Maybe the relationship wasn’t meant to be, but one thing’s for sure — her indie record is much cooler than his.

5. “Tim McGraw,” Taylor Swift (2006)

No debut album slander will be tolerated here. Seventeen-year-old Swift pulled us through her high school heartbreak with her debut: Together, we cried over Drew, hated that stupid old pickup truck and screamed at someone who definitely should’ve said no. One of the album’s standouts, “Tim McGraw” shines as a lively track that signaled Swift’s impressive songwriting skills. And 15 years later, it still has us tied together with a smile.

4. “Cardigan,” Folklore (2020)

Instantly a classic, “Cardigan” eloquently characterizes Swift’s musical history as folklore, referencing her Red, 1989, Reputation and Lover eras with just four lines (“Vintage tee, brand new phone/ High heels on cobblestones …/ Sequin smile, black lipstick/ Sensual politics”). As 1989 Swift would say, “Cardigan” breaks your heart, then puts it back together — seriously, who puts the lyrics “But I knew you’d linger like a tattoo kiss” and “Chasin’ shadows in the grocery line” in the same song?

3. “Willow,” Evermore (2020)

While it’s a near tie with “Cardigan,” Swift’s soothing “Willow” just manages to edge out its sister song. Swift sings “I come back stronger than a ‘90s trend” gently, her mature softness far from sneering “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now.” Its easygoing, buoyant melody sways like a sprightly spring breeze, and the warmhearted ode maintains a particular elegance that elevates Swift’s poeticism. Wreck my plans, that’s my woman.

2. “Love Story,” Fearless (2008)

No questions asked, “Love Story” is easily one of the best songs in Swift’s discography. Swift’s song was illustrious far before it became a TikTok trend: Taking after Shakespeare’s legendary tale of star-crossed lovers, Swift daydreams of romance in this classic pop escapist fantasy. This is what Swift does, fearlessly: She takes the thread of a simple story and spins it into gold.

1. “Mine,” Speak Now (2010)

“Mine” is one of the best examples of Swift’s enchanting storytelling — not just within these lead singles but across the stretch of her career. It feels like the plot of a romantic film translated into a timeless song, illustrating a college student/part-time waiter falling for a hopeless romantic. One moment, Swift wanders the coastside with a lover, admiring sparkling city lights, and the next, she’s tearfully stumbling into the street at 2 a.m. Joining the ranks of “New Year’s Day,” “All Too Well” and “Back To December,” the song is love portrayed not just hopefully but honestly. “Mine” details the ups and downs of love in a way that reminds us it’s better to love and lose than to never love at all.

Taila Lee covers music. Contact her at [email protected].
LAST UPDATED

APRIL 09, 2021


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