Can’t shake it off: 10 best Taylor Swift songs

  • Music
  • Friday, 17 Nov 2017

From high school crushes to celebrity rivalry, Taylor Swift has built a reputation for baring her soul in her music. Photo: Universal Music

Taylor Swift said it best herself. “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now,” the 27-year-old pop sensation says to an imaginary caller in her recent Look What You Made Me Do music video. She continues: “Why? Oh, ‘cause she’s dead!”

Those few words, so catchy it’s now a meme, aptly encapsulates Swift’s music career so far – one that is based on the renewal and rebirth of one’s self.

At only 11, Swift, made her first visit to Nashville, Tennessee, after learning her idol Faith Hill had moved to the country music capital to kickstart her career. Young Swift’s persistence landed her an artiste development deal at 13, where she devoted herself to songwriting sessions after school.

She released her self-titled debut album at 17 and it didn’t take long for her to become country music’s darling. Her brand of catchy country-pop tunes about teen crushes and heartbreaks inspired by her own experiences was so warmly-received, 19-year-old Swift became the youngest person ever to win Country Music Association Awards’ most prestigious title, Entertainer Of The Year.

When her sophomore album Fearless rolled around, it was clear the frizzy-haired singer-songwriter was slowly switching lanes, veering closer to pop territory.

Its lead single Love Story, a fairy tale romance number, marked the first time Swift got her big break in pop music, catapulting the Pennyslvania-native to international stardom.

Taylor Swift
Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift as she gave her acceptance speech after winning Best Female Video at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Photo: Reuters

Swift’s next two albums Speak Now and Red became talking points, not just for its infectious tunes but the various celebrity exes the songs seemed to hint about.

Dear John was apparently about John Mayer, Back To December about Taylor Lautner and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together about Jake Gyllenhaal.

And let’s not forget, Speak Now’s Innocent, which saw Swift forgiving Kanye West for interrupting her during her MTV VMAs acceptance speech in 2009.

In her fifth album, 1989, Swift officially put to death her country stylings along with her wholesome, frizzy-haired persona and brought to life a heavy dance-pop influence and don’t-mess-with-me air.

She won’t apologise for being who she is in Shake It Off, and if you step on her toes, keep an ear out for a diss track the next time you turn on the radio; Bad Blood is rumoured to be about her famous feud with Katy Perry.

1989 was critically and commercially celebrated, earning her a second Album Of The Year Grammy (after Fearless won in 2010) and became the top-selling album of 2014.

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift's 1989 won her three Grammys - Best Album, Best Pop Album and Best Music Video (Bad Blood). Photo: AFP

Swift’s new album, Reputation, dropped just last week. In the months leading up to its release, she wiped out her Instagram posts and started anew by posting a video of a snake. The slithery creature also makes an appearance on her Reputation merchandises.

Last year, many took to social media with snake emojis and the hashtag #TaylorSwiftIsASnake when the singer hit out at Kanye West for a line on his song, Famous, which contained “a misogynistic message”.

However, West had apparently called Swift and gotten her seal of approval for the lyrics prior to its release. A Snapchat video later shared by West’s wife Kim Kardashian, which documented West and Swift’s phone conversation, seemed to show Swift giving him the green light on the song.

So are the snake insignias her cryptic way of owning up to what happened? Or is she just making fun of herself? Maybe she’s reinventing a new persona? Who knows.

What we do know, aside from all the drama and the controversy, is her ability to churn out one infectious tune after another, no matter the genre, which has always formed a big part of her reputation. Here's a list of 10 essential Taylor Swift songs:

1. Tim McGraw (2006)

Her debut single was probably Swift at her countriest. The sentimental love song about reminiscing her time with a past lover is a classic country ballad that’s perfect to slow dance to. And lyrics-wise, what better way to launch a career than by referencing the name of a big country star to arouse curiousity?

2. Teardrops On My Guitar (2007)

Way before her famous exes made it to her song, Swift wrote about her high school crush Drew Hardwick in the guitar-driven number about unrequited love. The song gave Swift her first breakthrough pop hit, peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Two years after the song’s release, Drew showed up at Swift’s house out of the blue. Too late, Drew!

3. Love Story (2008)

Written in a story format, Love Story offered a fairy tale, idealistic look at romance. And because who doesn’t want a happily ever after, the world took notice. Love Story gave Swift her first international hit, climbing music charts in Europe and Australia besides the United States.

4. You Belong With Me (2008)

We saw the beginnings of a music juggernaut in the massive earworm that is You Belong With Me. The uptempo hit alone, about liking someone who already has a girlfriend but she doesn’t treasure him, gave Swift three nominations at the Grammys, including Song Of The Year in 2010.

5. Innocent (2010)

Although Innocent was never released as a single, it addressed the shocking and painful moment when Kanye West interrupted her during her MTV VMAs acceptance speech in 2009. He said: “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!” In Innocent, Swift forgave him and graciously sang “who you are is not what you did”.

6. Mean (2011)

At first glance, Mean seems like a song for everyone who’s ever been bullied by the cool kids in school. But Swift actually wrote the song after a critic questioned her vocal abilities. She put her frustrations into songwriting and won herself a Grammy for Best Country Song in 2012.

7. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (2012)

Can you believe Swift only got her first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts six years after she debuted? It was the toe-tapping chorus of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together that finally did it.

8. Shake It Off (2014)

Besides waving off her detractors in Shake It Off, she officially waved goodbye to her country roots. The song became her second No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

9. Blank Space (2014)

With the media painting her as a player, due to her long list of celebrity exes, Swift makes fun of herself in Blank Space. It doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, this track proved she’s a real player in the music game, scoring her third No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100.

10. Bad Blood (2015)

Bad Blood definitely thrived on the famous feud between Swift and Katy Perry, but it also resonated with anyone who ever had a close friend who turned on you. And let’s not forget its music video which featured Swift and her girl squad Selena Gomez, Cara Delevingne, Ellen Pompeo, among others. It also started a conversation about female friendship.

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