UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A beginner’s guide to Taylor Swift


A Taylor Swift fan listens to her music.

Taylor Swift has been a household name for almost two decades. Since her 2006 debut album, “Taylor Swift,” she has had the world watching her every move. Whether they love her or hate her, everyone knows at least one of her songs. She has nine, almost ten, studio albums, and two re-recordings with countless hits. For people who want to get into her music, where would they even start?
Her debut album—which was written during her freshman year of high school—released the year after she signed with Big Machine Records. “Taylor Swift” is definitely the most country album out of her discography, showcasing her guitar skills and “Southern” twang, as she grew up in Pennsylvania.
As any high school freshman would, she wrote most of this album about heartaches and teenage angst. “Our Song” and “Teardrops on My Guitar” have become the most popular on the album with over 300 million Spotify streams between the two. While these are the top-played, there are objectively better songs on the album that showcase more of her talent.
“Mary’s Song” describes a beautiful childhood love story reminiscent of the hit Amazon Prime Video series, “The Summer I Turned Pretty.” Another track, “Picture to Burn,” perfectly captures the anger that only a heartbroken person could have. While these tracks have fewer streams, they are favorites in the hearts of her fans.
Her second album, “Fearless,” was originally released in 2008, then was re-recorded and re-released in April 2021 with six new songs. Many people don’t really understand why she is re-recording her own albums, but she does it as a form of payback against the owner of her original masters, Scooter Braun.
After her contract ended with Big Machine Records, Swift wanted to buy back her masters from the company, but they were unwilling to sell them to her. They proposed a trade-back deal where she could earn the albums one at a time for every new album she released. Obviously, she declined, because she wanted ownership of her masters for all of her albums.
Instead, Scooter Braun bought the company in 2019 and acquired the rights to her music along with it. In her words, “my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.” Braun was known for his friendship with his client Kanye—who is known to have issues with Taylor after the whole 2009 VMAs fiasco. So, Swift took matters into her own hands and re-released her music, essentially making the originals worthless.
“Fearless” has two of Taylor Swift’s most popular songs of all time, “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story,” both of which are easily recognizable to anyone who was alive and had access to a radio in 2009. It also has many fan favorites, like “The Way I Loved You,” and the album’s title-track, “Fearless.”
This album puts a happier, brighter twist on the vocals Taylor was already known for. Many of the songs on this album are written about her ex, Joe Jonas, including “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” “Forever and Always,” and “You All Over Me (ft. Maren Morris).”
Her third studio album, “Speak Now,” was released in 2010, and immediately went to number one on the Billboard 200. “Speak Now” incorporates some of the older angst from her debut album with a newer, almost pop-rock-like sound.
Aside from hits like “Mine,” “Mean,” and “Ours,” this album is when Swift brought out her talent for writing a killer sad song. Both “Dear John” and “Last Kiss” showed the world her true songwriting ability. Another fan favorite, “Enchanted,” has been recently re-popularized on TikTok, but has had a special place in fans’ hearts since its release.
Her 2012 release “Red”—and most recent re-recording—was the bridge from her country music to pop music. Artists are rarely successful in switching genres mid-career, but it became Taylor Swift’s brand. The album features a couple of country songs, like “Better Man” and “I Bet You Think About Me (ft. Chris Stapleton),” blended seamlessly with the pop songs.
The pop songs became the most famous off the album, with tracks like “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” “22,” “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “Red.” Most of these songs—both country and pop—were written about her three-month relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal. When the re-recording dropped with “All Too Well (Ten Minute Version) (From The Vault) (Taylor’s Version),” the world really saw how much that relationship affected her.
“1989,” released in 2014, began the official entrance of Swift’s pop era. Both with almost 700 million streams each, “Blank Space” and “Shake It Off” are her second and third most streamed songs respectively, behind “I Don’t Want To Live Forever ft. ZAYN” with 1.1 billion streams.
“1989” is the most universally liked album in her discography. With songs like “Wildest Dreams” and fan-favorite “Clean,” Swift redefined the pop genre to be what the world knows it today. Other lesser-known songs, like “This Love” and “You Are In Love,” earned Swift’s title as one of the greatest songwriters of this generation.
Three years later, “reputation” was released, creating a whole new era of Taylor. From the snake-theme to synth-pop and R&B, the world had never seen this side of the artist. Track One, “…Ready For It?” was the first official rap song from Taylor—not counting “Thug Story” performed at the CMT Awards in 2009.
Also with this album came “I Did Something Bad” and “Don’t Blame Me,” which both give the essence of movie-antagonist-theme-song. “reputation” brought out an explicit side of Taylor Swift—both lyrically and thematically—that was new to the public.
A complete 180 from her last album, “Lover” dropped in 2019. “Lover” surrounds—as the name suggests—the central theme of love, including self-love, familial love and romantic love. Also during this era, Swift spoke up for the first time politically. Many weren’t sure where she laid in this regard but after “You Need To Calm Down,” a song bashing former President Donald Trump, her thoughts were clear.
Lover tackles many complex topics from “Soon You’ll Get Better (ft. The Dixie Chicks)” about her mom’s cancer, to feminism in “The Man,” while still remaining positive in most aspects.
Last came her sister albums, “Folklore” and “evermore,” released only five months apart. Lyrically, these are by far her best albums and most complex. She branched into a more indie-alternative style, including features from Bon Iver, HAIM and The National.
Swift describes these albums almost like stories. Each song is told from a different perspective of an individual character. Some of these characters overlap like Betty, James and Augustine in the songs “cardigan,” “betty” and “august.” Other songs, like “mirrorball,” describe her experience as someone in the public eye. The song “marjorie” is about her grandmother, and even includes samples from her grandmother’s own recordings.
Taylor Swift has a huge discography accumulating over 11 hours. To new listeners, it’s difficult to know where to start. Hopefully, this provided some guidance. Happy listening!


About the Contributor
Rena Weafer, Arts Editor