Taylor Swift. At this point, one may be sick at the mere mention of her name. The singer-songwriter has been in the spotlight for over 15 years, amassing 12 Grammys, 40 AMAs, 29 Billboard awards, 12 number 1 albums, 11 number 1 singles, and her Era’s tour already grossing over a billion dollars. To top it all off, she has become the first musician to be named TIME'S Person of the Year. This is a type of fame that most artists can only dream of. At the age of 34, and with no sign of slowing down, it is no short of a miracle that Swift still manages to accumulate more and more success further into her career. But what is it that makes Taylor so successful? Is it her extensive discography, with over 200 songs? Her deeply personal and relatable lyrics? Her marketing? Her relationship with her friends? Her cats? Simply put, everything.
With a discography this extensive, it is worth analyzing the sounds and themes of each album and how they exactly compare. Taylor Swift and her fan base have labeled her albums as Eras; each with their own aesthetic, ideas, artistry, and concepts.
Born in Reading Pennsylvania, Taylor and her family moved to Nashville to support her dreams of becoming a singer-songwriter. When she first appeared on the country scene with her self-titled debut album, Taylor was one of the first country artists to appeal to a demographic that was underrepresented in the music genre; teenage girls. With songs like ‘Teardrops on my Guitar’ and ‘Our Song’, Taylor was writing about the experiences of crushes, unrequited love, and other forms of typical teenage angst that are normally not expressed through country songs. Despite country music having a more middle-aged demographic, Taylor was able to make a name for herself in an industry that was mainly dominated by men.
With debut, Fearless, and Speak Now, her firmly established country albums had her trademark signature on the album cover, her fourth album Red however, saw not only a shift in her album cover design, which did away with her signature, but had more mature sounding tracks such as All too well, Sad Beautiful Tragic, and The Last Time. The glitter and spunk of her earlier country albums started to dwindle upon the release of Red, which undertakes a more somber sound and is dubbed as Swift’s ‘heartbreak album’. Unlike her first three albums, which are arguably quite similar in terms of sound and music, we start to see Taylor mingle not only with different styles of music, but in encompassing themes. After the release of Red, the heartbreak album which holds Swift's most agonizing songs, she went on to put her name in the history book forever with the pop album 1989.
It is usually unheard of for an artist to switch genres this suddenly, and much less so for them to do it in such a ground and record breaking way. 1989 went on to be one of the most awarded pop albums of all time, and for Taylor to not just make the change from country to pop, but to pull it off successfully and with overwhelmingly positive reviews earns her a spot among one of the most impressive artists of our generations.
Her 1989 Era is defined by her outing with friends, moving to New York City, and embracing the media’s comments of labeling her as a ‘serial dater’ with her number one single ‘Blank Space’. 1989 went on to win three albums at the Grammys, including album of the year. However, this height of fame could only last for so long. Not long after the 1989 tour, a string of events unraveled that would rapidly change Taylor’s life.
After an ugly internet feud with rapper Kanye West over her consent to being mentioned in a song, followed by extreme media backlash by new outlets and twitter, Taylor's appearance in the public eye dwindled exponentially. In early 2016, West called Taylor in regards to being mentioned in the lyric “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex” to which she accepted the lyric, however, upon the song's release, the full lyric was revealed to be “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex Why? I made that bitch famous.” Unsurprisingly, the lyrics made headlines. Taylor’s publicist stated how she did not co-sign the song while West and his then wife Kim Kardashian claimed that she did. The phone call however, was secretly recorded without Taylor’s knowledge, and in July 2016, Ms Kardashian released a short and edited clip of the phone call on Snapchat, painting a picture of how Taylor apparently had consented to the lyric. Later that month, Ms. Karshashian tweeted “Wait, it’s legit National Snake Day?!?!? They have a holiday for everybody, I mean everything these days!” Followed with a bunch of snake emojis. Taylor’s instagram comments became flooded with snake emoji’s and in her attempt to clarify that she did not consent to the entirety of the lyric, was just met with more internet ridicule. That same month, the hashtag, TaylorSwiftIsOverParty trended number 1 on twitter, with the snake emoji being thrown left and right at the mere mention of her name. It wasn’t until 2020 that the entire unedited version of the phone call was released, proving that Swift did not know about the full lyric and therefore could not consent to her name being used. But the harm was already done, and the product, Reputation.
In her words, “there will be no explanation, just reputation”. Reputation is most certainly Taylor’s most controversial album; taking a more edgy and darker tone than anything she had released previously. Similar to her release of ‘Blank Space’, where Swift decided to embrace the media’s portrayal of her once again. Only this time, instead as some kind of malicious woman who picks up men and have them fly her around the world just for her to break their hearts after a month, Swift decided to fully embody herself as the snake people made her out to be. Literally. From her album promotion to her stadium tour, images of snakes became a well known symbol of the Reputation album for the swiftie community. While it was not as awarded as 1989, Reputation was one of her highest grossing tours, earning 345.7 million dollars.
During one of her darkest moments, where she had to deal with the drowning spiral that is social media, Taylor was able to take the essence of her social downfall and allowed it to fuel her in creating an album that demonstrated her unbothered attitude towards her haters and reclaimed her narrative. After the Reputation era, Taylor’s attitude towards her social media and privacy drastically changed. She started to have her relationships and personal life be more private and disabled her instagram comments, likely saving her mental health in the process.
And from the darkest of Reputation, came Lover. An album characterized by rainbows, romance, pink, glitter, and all sorts of pastel colors. But during her Loverfest tour, came an event that changed the rest of the world, the COVID 19 pandemic.
While the world was in quarantine, Taylor used the isolation as an escapism from reality that shifted her song writing from autobiographical to storytelling. Unlike 1989, Reputation, and Lover, folklore takes on a more somber and acoustic melody. One of folklore’s defining features are three songs cardigan, august, and betty, that are described as the ‘love-triangle’, where each song features a different perspective. We have Betty, the girl whose perspective is shown through the song cardigan where she describes the emotional turmoil of being cheated on by her boyfriend James, whose perspective is shown in the song Betty, where he tries to win her back and downplay his ‘summer fling.’ And then there is Augustine, who we see in the song august about how she knows her time with James is limited and that he has someone for him back home.
A mere 5 months later, Taylor’s ninth album, and sister album to folklore was released, evermore. Unlike her previous albums where a distinct theme and aesthetic can be found in each, evermore is a continuation of the acoustic indie-folk sound of folklore.
Finally, the most recent album (or era) that Taylor has released in Midnights. In October of 2022, Midnights, a synth electro pop album was inspired by 5 topics: self-hatred, revenge fantasies, wondering what might have been, falling in love, and falling apart. Taylor expresses her own self criticism through the song Anti-hero (which is also her longest charting number one song at 8 weeks), and… love, anxiety, insecurity, and self-assurance
Needless to say, Taylor certainly knows how to keep herself busy. And through her albums, we can see a pattern that no mainstream artist seems to do. Constantly create and release albums with distinct sound, message, and themes. We see other artists stay safely in their lane and are loyal to the sounds they initially established themselves with, Taylor ventures fearlessly (get it?) into new artistic projects that are completely different from the last and possibly gaining new fans in the process.
In 2019 Taylor Swift’s original music label, Big Machine, was purchased by Scooter Braun who then held ownership over Taylor’s first 6 albums. Taylor claimed that she had been trying to buy her masters for years, however Scott Bruschetta, the original owner of Big Machine denied these claims. This dispute garnered a lot of publicity and introduced the idea of musicians having ownership over the music that they create. Due to this incident, Taylor took it upon herself to re-record her first 6 albums. So far, Fearless, Speak Now, Red, and 1989 have all been re-recorded.
While Taylor is certainly a versatile artist, it is important to notice her marketing tactics when promoting a new album. Upon the release of her first album, Taylor started making use of Myspace where she promoted her songs to a younger demographic. But one of her most genius marketing strategies is her use of easter eggs. From song lyrics, to music videos, to instagram comments, Taylor manages to sneak in details that hint to upcoming release dates and possible titles to songs and albums.
Before the title of her Album Lover was announced, Taylor had released a music video for her song ME! Which featured a sign of the word Lover in the background. In her music video for ‘I can see you’, which was featured on her album Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), a small sign featured 1989 tv, hinting that 1989 would be her next re-recording. Before the release of her album midnights, Taylor released the rerecording of her song ‘This Love’ off 1989, and on instagram, one of her posts contained the caption, ‘This Love (Taylor’s Version) comes out tonight at m i d n i g h t!’ Hinting to the title of her 10th studio album. These easter eggs and hidden messages have gotten the swifties scrambling. Videos on TikTok show the loyal fans attentively analyzing every last detail in her songs, music videos, instagram posts, furiously attempting to connect the dots and uncover the hidden meanings behind her every move.
It goes without saying that Taylor is widely successful, but it would be a dishour to the artist if this article didn’t cover her lyricism. In an interview with the New York Times, Taylor considers herself, above all else, a songwriter, a title that really goes to show when listening to her lyrics. From her early days as a country music star, Taylor wrote from the heart. Songs such as Teardrops on my guitar, You Belong with me, and Love Story, demonstrates Taylor’s vulnerability in her songwriting, showcasing feelings of love, loss, heartbreak, joy, and grief. Incredibly relatable emotions for everyone, but especially for young girls.
As a swiftie myself (in case it wasn’t obvious enough) having these songs to relate to, to know I wasn’t alone in feeling them, and to have my feelings captured in such a beautiful way made me cling on to Taylor with everything I had. And it is what millions of Swifties have done before me. Having a secret crush, going through a breaking, experiencing first love. Such universal feelings are perfectly captured in her 10 album discography.
For years society has dubbed girls as emotional and dramatic. Pushing down our accomplishments, invalidating our feelings, ridiculing our style, behavior, and the way we speak. But Taylor has managed to not only overcome those criticisms, but reassure us that our feelings and passions are valid and beautiful.
And while her music may not be to everyone’s taste, there is no denying that her success, artistry, and lyricism has touched the hearts of millions of people, young and old. Teaching us lessons and most importantly, telling us that we are not alone.