In a dramatic reversal of roles, the furore around Kanye West has been upstaged by the arrival of the new Taylor Swift album Midnights.

It’s basically guaranteed to sell about a bajillion copies because of the name on the front, but how did she reach this point as an artist?

Everyone knows the hits – you could hardly avoid them – but can we tell the story of Swift through her own music and lyrics? What makes Taylor tick? What is Tay-Tay trying to say-say?

Here are 10 songs that tell her story for your listening pleasure. And Kanye? On reflection we probably WON’T let you finish.

MARY’S SONG (OH MY MY) (Taylor Swift, 2006)

Written by a 15-year-old Swift for her neighbours, childhood sweethearts who grew up and got married, this highlight from her self-titled debut shows some rawness – “we’ll rock our babies on the very front porch”… how many porches are there? – but it’s better than anything you wrote at 15.

YOU BELONG WITH ME (Fearless, 2009)

It was second album Fearless that propelled Swift to success outside of country radio, propelled by singles ‘Love Story’ and ‘You Belong With Me’. The latter, detailing unrequited love for a friend, spoke to teenagers the world over with its plaintive pre-chorus: “But she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts/she’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers”.

SPARKS FLY (Speak Now, 2010)

In a pre-emptive clamping of Damon Albarn, Swift is the only writer and composer credited on third album Speak Now. Anyone doubting her prowess as a songwriter need only listen to the hook on this fan favourite: “get me with those green eyes, baby, as the lights go down/give me something that’ll haunt me when you’re not around”.


While she’d experimented with different genres on Speak Now, this cut from its follow-up saw Swift plunge head first into pure pop. If the synth drops were new bodywork the engine was very much the same, the 22-year-old dropping lines like “I guess you didn’t care/and I guess I liked that/and when I fell apart/you took a step back” into one of the year’s biggest bangers.

BLANK SPACE (1989, 2014)

The thing about doing jokes about Taylor Swift is she’s almost certainly got there first. One of her biggest hits takes the meme of the singer-songwriter using serial dating as grist to the songwriting mill and plays it up with a wink. “I’ve got a long list of ex-lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane” she sings in the chorus having declared herself “a nightmare dressed like a daydream”.

GETAWAY CAR (Reputation, 2017)

Reputation saw Swift take a volte-face from the shimmering 80s pop of 1989, as she embraced the ‘snake’ image of popular consciousness. In the album’s highlight she casts herself as an unscrupulous gangster of the heart, telling a deserted lover on arguably the best bridge she’s ever written that “I put the money in the bag and I stole the key/that was the last time you ever saw me”.


Lover, as the title suggests, is largely the portrait of an artist content and in love but, as before, she’s heard your jokes. Swift told NPR she wrote this break-up song just to see if she still could without the immediate heartbreak to fuel it and she absolutely nails it, describing emotional scarring as “paper cut stings from our paper thin plans”.

ONLY THE YOUNG (Miss Americana soundtrack, 2020)

Having had the example of the Dixie Chicks drummed into her at a young age, Swift was determinedly apolitical for much of her career. The rise of MAGA changed all that though, and she laid it all out on the table in this call to the youth vote that branded Republican hands “stained with red”.

EXILE (folklore, 2020)

Another switch in style for the first of two surprise lockdown releases, folklore took a folk direction with help from indie darlings like Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff. This collaboration with Bon Iver was a clear highlight, his low, growling vocal contrasting perfectly with Swift’s own delivery, the dichotomy echoing the lyrical theme of differing perspectives on the death of a relationship.

ALL TOO WELL (10 MINUTE VERSION) (Red (Taylor’s Version), 2021)

All Too Well was already Swift’s most beloved deep cut, and for her re-recording of Red she unleashed the much-rumoured 10 minute version, which became the longest song ever to reach the UK top three. Lyrically and musically it’s the highlight of her career, telling the story of a doomed relationship through the medium of a scarf. In turns bitter (“you kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath), angry (“you call me up again to break me like a promise/so casually cruel in the name of being honest”) and wounded (“they say all’s well that ends well but I’m in a new Hell”) before turning the tables on its subject as Swift asks “just between us did the love affair maim you too?”.


LONG LIVE (Speak Now, 2010)

You’ve either got to go epic or reflective to close an album and Swift goes for the former here. Just try not to fist-pump the second time she sings “I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you”.

BETTER MAN (Red (Taylor’s Version), 2021)

Written during the Red studio sessions, this deep cut was originally released by Little Big Town – earning Swift and the band a Country Music Award for best song. Even if you didn’t know who wrote it you’d work it out with lines like “push my love away like it was some kind of loaded gun”.

SHAKE IT OFF (1989, 2014)

It may have been omnipresent in 2014 and beyond but it’s also so catchy it should probably be illegal.

CLEAN (1989, 2014)

The arrogance of Ryan Adams re-recording 1989 as a boring indie white boy album knows no bounds. Imagine listening to this, a collaboration with Imogen Heap, and thinking it could sound better? Imagine trying to ‘find the depth’ in lines like “the drought was the very worst/when the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst”.

FIFTEEEN (Fearless, 2008)

If you needed an example of Swift being precocious beyond her years, take this track consoling best friend Abigail who “gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind”. After all, “when you’re 15 and someone tells you they love you, you’re going to believe them”, a presumably 17 or 18-year-old Taylor sagely notes.

Read more from this series:

10 Teenage Fanclub songs that tell the story of one of Scotland's best bands

10 Paramore songs that tell their story as This Is Why is released

12 Beatles songs that tell the greatest ever band's story

10 Red Hot Chili Peppers songs that tell the story of the punk-funk pioneers