Catalogue Check: Taylor Swift

The tumultuous unpredictability of 2020 forges on in its final few weeks, and with it comes more and more music from artists around the globe. Taylor Swift is one such artist, whose had as busy a year as any in her career. She has just announced yet another surprise album, her third record in just over a year. Before evermorefoklore‘s sister album, is released, take a look back at the sensation’s collection through the years.

A Definitive Ranking of Every Taylor Swift Album:

Taylor Swift AlbumsTaylor Swift Credit: Big Machine
Taylor Swift, Big Machine Records

8. Taylor Swift (2006)

Taylor Swift was just a taste of what would become of Taylor Swift. The pop phenomenon’s first record was her only true country album. It spawned the timeless hits “Tim McGraw” and “Our Song,” but simply does not compare to her subsequent, sweepingly epic saga of albums. There is a lot to love, and it provides enough intrigue to give the next few albums a listen, but Taylor Swift does not match up to the quality of Swift’s later records.

Best Track(s): “Our Song,” “Cold As You”

Taylor Swift albumsTaylor Swift - Speak Now Credit: Big Machine
Speak Now, Big Machine Records

7. Speak Now (2010)

Speak Now is a perfect example of growing pains. After the immense success of her second album Fearless, Swift was forced back to the drawing board. How could she top a multiple-Grammy-winning smash hit of an album? Switching gears, perhaps. Swift made one of the boldest moves in her ongoing career, penning the lyrics and composition of Speak Now completely alone. What came out of Speak Now were raw, unfiltered glimpses into Swift’s diary. The record is too long, but it possesses some of the singer’s most impressive, haunting songwriting. Though some songs are skippable, Speak Now would be considered many other artists’ magnum opus.

Best Track(s): “Dear John,” “Enchanted,” “Long Live,” “Last Kiss”

Lover, Taylor Swift

6. Lover (2019)

Lover is as imperfect as its unapologetic creator. In embracing the facets of her personality and the genre experimentation that has defined her career, Swift continues to prove her longevity. With the exception of the swift closing of the narrative to reputation in the album opener “I Forgot You Existed,” Lover is very much a direct sequel to Swift’s most culturally influential album 1989. Adopting a similar, 80s inspired pop sound, Lover exists as most sequels do– it’s bigger, more ambitious, and often less polished than its predecessor. 

Best Track(s): “Lover,” “Death By A Thousand Cuts,” “Daylight”

reputation, Big Machine Records

5. reputation (2017)

After Swift established world domination with the instant classic 1989 and its subsequent world tour, she faced immense backlash in the media. The singer was branded a snake and a fraud. Many saw this media storm as the abrupt end to the once prolific career of the country-pop goddess. In true Swift fashion, the singer-songwriter took back her narrative. She owned the snake, her past mistakes, and dropped one of the best videos of her career. Its accompanying single remains one of her worst tracks, but the album has a lot to offer. reputation shows Swift further experimenting with perspective and narrative writing. The sonically adventurous reputation is a violent, brash, cathartic reflection of Swift’s most turbulent year of fame.

Best Track(s): “Call It What You Want,” “End Game”

Red, Big Machine Records

4. Red (2012)

Red is a complicated record in that it showcases the best and worst of Swift. The album showed the singer at a crossroads. Released in her early 20s, Red represents the uncertainty of young adult life within its lyrics and sonics. Red is a lot of things, but boring is not one of them. The album contains elements of dance pop, country, alternative, folk, and rock. It is the most Taylor Swift of Taylor Swift’s albums. It features her best song to date, “All Too Well,” but drags on with overly melancholy cuts that could’ve been left off the final LP. With Red, Swift bid farewell to the country girl and laid the groundwork for what would become a pop phenomenon. Red marks the turning point of the singer’s career in a thrillingly chaotic way.

Best Track(s): “All Too Well,” “State of Grace,” “I Knew You Were Trouble.”

Fearless, Big Machine Records

3. Fearless (2008)

Fearless was just that. The 13-track LP was a cohesive, lyrically driven, country-pop smash. Each song said something compelling and found its place on the album. It is incomprehensible how, at 18 years old, Swift was able to articulate such a vast array of emotions through these traditionally arranged country songs. Its raw authenticity, emotionally resonant vocals, and strong production made Fearless Swift’s shining moment. It launched her from being an artist to watch to standing among the biggest pop stars in the world.

Best Track(s): “Change,” “You Belong With Me,” “Forever & Always”

1989, Big Machine Records

2. 1989 (2014)

1989 marks the best concept, promotion, production, and delivery from the artist. Swift managed to retain her good girl persona while growing up and adopting a bold new sound. It was the riskiest move in her career, and it very well may be her best decision. The album marked a rebirth in sound and mind. Swift named it after her birth year, drew influence from the music of that time, and astounded even the biggest of skeptics. 1989 was a true gift and will go on to be remembered as one of the best albums in 21st century pop music.

Best Track(s): “Blank Space,” “Wildest Dreams,” “New Romantics,” “Out of the Woods”

1. folklore (2020)

Reinvention, novelty, surprise, and quality. Pop stars are plagued with the task of accomplishing all of these, many times over. Those that withstand the brutal, often sexist tests of time become immortalized. Taylor Swift is one of those women. Though a far cry from maintaining a perfect public persona, Swift has always retreated from her mistakes and found solace in songwriting. In a year when the public was longing for solace in their respective isolated bubbles, Swift once again rebirth herself and her sound with folklore. Swept away were the heavily curated promotional cycles and replacing them were inspired, richly imagined songs that for the first time transcended Swift’s personal life and its incessant coverage. In many ways similar to the now classic 1989folklore has unlocked the latest chapter in the living legend’s career.

Best track(s): “august,” “invisible string,” “the 1,” “the last great american dynasty”

Catalogue Check: Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande has grown through popstar evolution and personal tragedy. With perhaps the strongest vocals out of any singer in pop today, the songstress has withstood countless heartbreaks, romantically and publicly, and dealt with far more than most people can say. The one constant, though, has been music. Through it all, the superstar has bared her soul to the world and picked herself to travel to new heights. As we await the arrival of positions later this evening, let’s look back at each of Grande’s studio albums, ranked.

A Definitive Ranking of Every Ariana Grande Album:

5. Yours Truly (2013)

From its inception, Yours Truly was meant as an experiment. Opener “Honeymoon Avenue” went through several reworks, and after the success of one of the strongest singles of Grande’s career in “The Way (feat. Mac Miller),” the remainder of the record opted for a contemporary doo-wop R&B sound. It has a lot of highlights, namely the aforementioned intro, as well as “The Way” doppelgänger “Right There (feat. Big Sean)” and deep cut “You’ll Never Know,” but it pales in comparison to the more fully realized artistry of her follow-ups.

My Everything, Republic

4. My Everything (2014)

Grande’s sophomore effort was less of an album and more of a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” project. Her most, industry speaking, political record, it offers the glossy EDM of its time in “Break Free (feat. Zedd)” and an impressive array of collaborations from the biggest names in R&B and Hip-Hop. In addition, who can forget that sax on “Problem” and the guest spot from now irrelevant Iggy Azalea. The album could not be more from its time. That said, it doesn’t have much of a voice or any real insight into who Grande is as an artist. Bangers? Quite definitely, but like from Yours Truly, compelling artistry is the missing piece in this bloated pop confection.

Sweetener, Republic

3. Sweetener (2018)

Sweetener is an incredibly complex project. Coming after the Manchester attacks in a time when Grande found joy in a new love, it’s a glimmer of hope in what continues to be a violent and uncertain cultural moment in history. Grande enlisted the help of the ever-present Pharell Williams and longtime collaborator Max Martin for the bulk of the album, which is as much an asset as it is a burden. The different styles of the aforementioned producers make much of the album a jarring, disjointed listen. It lends itself to trap pop in “God is a woman” and “everytime,” but also showcases Grande’s best N.E.R.D. impressions in “the light is coming” and title track “sweetener.” Some tracks are complete throwaways, while others remain some of Grande’s strongest work. As an entire project it’s messy and uneven, but its ambition alone elevates it from much of the singer’s past work.

thank u, next, Republic

2. thank u, next (2019)

The fact that this album, in all of its cultural ubiquity, did not win Album of the Year in 2020 was a huge shock to most. Led by dual smash hit singles “thank u, next,” the biggest and baddest ex kiss-off of the 21st century, and “7 rings,” a revamped Sound of Music banger, the album was undoubtedly the most talked about of the year. While the lyricism could have been stronger, the empowering narrative and personal growth Grande poured into the record remains an astonishing feat, only months after the Sweetener release and death of dear friend and partner Mac Miller.

Dangerous Woman, Republic

1. Dangerous Woman (2016)

From the moment “Dangerous Woman” was released into the world, pop Stans and music listeners everywhere did a double take. Here she was, a near fully realized superstar finally seizing the power of her own vocals. What followed was a decidedly “good girl gone bad” evolution for Ariana Grande. Does it cater to the cliches of pop albums that have come before it? Sure, but it does it ever so stylishly. Coming before a wave of grief completely and unfairly removed an innocent young woman from a joyous time in her life, the album showcased Grande at her most powerful and least problematic. There was no brown facing, instead a collection of timeless bangers cohesively stitched together in her strongest project to date. Dangerous Woman is peak pop.

Taylor Swift proves longevity on ‘Lover’

Taylor Swift’s narrative has become bigger than the artist herself. At this point in her career, having accomplished so much and broken innumerable records, Swift’s imprint on the music industry is a looking glass experts can utilize in analyzing the future of the industry. Her sales prowess and transition into the streaming age is equal parts an insight into the industry’s evolution as it is to the artist’s continued longevity as a pop superstar.

"Lover" Taylor Swift
Lover, Taylor Swift

With Lover, Swift attempts to equate the unparalleled successes of her past four records, each achieving first week sales of over 1 million copies domestically. As the week nears its end, Swift’s Lover already has the biggest sales week of 2019 and, although she may not eclipse the numbers of reputation, this success is no small feat.

The question is, why has Taylor Swift managed to maintain massive success for over a decade, when most pop stars only achieve this with, at most, a single project? The answer lays in her sweeping, epic 18-track seventh album. With her most cohesively produced, confident, and lyrically rich record, Swift creates an album that will perhaps be remembered as the defining moment in her impressively lengthy career.

With the exception of the swift kiss off of the narrative of 2017’s reputation in the album opener “I Forgot You Existed,” Lover is very much a direct sequel to Swift’s most culturally influential album 1989. Adopting a similar, 80s inspired pop sound, Lover exists as most sequels do– it’s bigger, more ambitious, and often less polished than its predecessor.

At 18 tracks, the album suffers from a lack of the refinement that made 1989 such a groundbreaking collective work. Without a “Blank Space,” “Style” or “Wildest Dreams” supporting the record, no single track feels like a huge standout upon initial listen. “The Man” is the biggest signifier of this pitfall, with an underdeveloped chorus retracting what could have been an incredibly powerful single. With that said, lyrics like “If I was out flashing my dollars, I’d be a bitch not a baller” make the verses and biting bridge strong enough to allow the song at least partially succeed. It shows Swift forgoing the Max Martin tinge in favor of an emphasis of lyricism and the storytelling that made her a mainstay.

Although Lover may not contain the strongest one-offs in Swift’s pantheon, it exists with the purpose of being an album. It presents the most expansive production of any Swift album, managing to blend genres in the vein of Red, the narrative depth of Speak Now, and the euphoric joy of 1989

This is encapsulated on the crux of the album, “Lover.”  The single sways with the ease of reputation sleeper hit “Delicate,” the 70s doo-wop of Red deep cut “The Lucky One,” and the immersive storytelling of Speak Now tracks “Mine” and “Speak Now.”

Building upon the single, the remainder of Lover showcases some of Swift’s strongest songwriting, proving her ability to create an easy to follow narrative under the guise of a glossy pop confection. This is evident on the Avril Lavigne inspired “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” and “Death By A Thousand Cuts.” On the former, Swift utilizes an extended metaphor of high school drama laced with the harrowing political climate to create a mini universe in which she and her lover undercut their noisy environment to inhabit their own nugget of existence. With the latter, Swift pops off with one of her most passionate bridges since “All Too Well.” These are just a few of the many well-written tracks on Lover.

Swift proves her growth further in vocal prowess on many of the collection’s more anthemic moments. This is notable on should’ve-been-single cut “Cruel Summer.” Co-written by frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff and alt rocker St. Vincent, the bop is reminiscent of “Style” with enough flair to stand on its own. Ms. Swift’s baby growl is an album highlight, as she chants “He looked up, grinnin’ like a devil!”

Just when Lover seems to begin to lose steam, the final act offers three incredible moments in “Afterglow,” “It’s Nice To Have A Friend” and album closer “Daylight.” Each track shows a rare perspective from Swift. On “Afterglow,” she admits her faults to her lover. On “It’s Nice To Have A Friend,” the singer incorporates Caribbean steel drums and a choir with a restrained, hook-less vocal. On finale “Daylight,” she cleverly alludes to past lyrics and exhibits how much she has grown as an artist.

For an album with this many tracks, its all the more impressive to see the quality song after song. The only truly ill constructed single is the album lead “ME!” featuring Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco. What could’ve been an alt-pop banger in the vein of Urie’s past work with his group, “ME!” comes across as a weak ploy to promote individuality and course correct Swift’s sound. It’s a truly puzzling track from a promotional standpoint. Is the effort to de-individualize her image and provide a clean slate? Perhaps. Is it successful in doing that? Maybe. Was it worth releasing one of the worst singles in her career? Probably not. Its conceit is ironically discredited by her catering to bubblegum pop cliches – something she pleasantly avoids with the majority of the record.

Lover is as intentionally imperfect as its unapologetic creator. In embracing the facets of her personality and the genre experimentation that has defined her career, Taylor Swift continues to prove her longevity.